I've been engaged in a discussion of agency on another blog, Eric Nielsen's Small and Simple. Thanks, Eric for the discussion and for getting my thoughts churning.
Eric's blog looks at the terms "free agency" and "moral agency." The phrase "moral agency" showed up in three talks in the November 1990 General Conference (President Faust, Elder Packer and Elder Nelson), and in 2006, Elder Christopherson spoke to the term "moral agency" at a BYU devotional (and was subsequently quoted in the Ensign last year):
“In years past we generally used the term free agency. That is not incorrect. More recently we have taken note that free agency does not appear in the scriptures. They talk of our being 'free to choose' and 'free to act' for ourselves (2 Nephi 2:27; 10:23; see also Helaman 14:30) and of our obligation to do many things of our own 'free will' (D&C 58:27). But the word agency appears either by itself or with the modifier moral: 'That every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment' (D&C 101:78; emphasis added). When we use the term moral agency, we are appropriately emphasizing the accountability that is an essential part of the divine gift of agency. We are moral beings and agents unto ourselves, free to choose but also responsible for our choices” (“Moral Agency,” ENSIGN, June 2009, pp. 45-53, from a BYU devotional delivered January 2006).
I'm a simple guy, and I prefer the simpler term agency, as defined at lds.org:
"Agency is the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation. Without it, we would not be able to learn or progress or follow the Savior. With it, we are 'free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil' (2 Nephi 2:27)."
Agency relates to the description of Adam and Eve after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: “And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment” (Moses 6:56).
As such, it seems there are some things agency is and some things it isn't. Agency describes our present state, where we as humans can and do make choices about how we live and what we do. We choose to keep the commandments or not. We choose to obey the law of the land or not. We choose to marry or not. Those choices are made possible because we are agents unto ourselves, because we have agency.
Agency (Free, Moral, or just plain Agency) does not suggest that I should be free to do whatever I want without consequence. It does not suggest that less government is better. It does not suggest that more government is better. It does not mean that teenagers do not need to listen to their parents. Nor does it mean that I can justify ignoring the commandments of God.
In fact, because I have agency, I am accountable for the choices I make. When I choose to act in one way or another, I also choose the consequences of that action. My agency does not free me from the consequence. And the imposition of a consequence does not limit my agency in any way. In fact, I would argue that the imposition of a consequence increases my agency, because it gives weight and meaning to my choices.
When Adam chose to partake of the fruit, he did so knowing the consequences of his choice, good and bad, and then chose. And we can do the same.