First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol 6 no. 1 (1995)

ANSWER: The first law of heaven is obedience. If a leader tells us to do something, we should do it; if it turns out that what we did was wrong, the sin will be on the head of the leader, not ours.

QUESTIONS: What is the point of having a conscience, what is the point of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, if we are willing to overrule both conscience and Spirit in deference to a human leader's commandments? An earthly tribunal at Nuremberg found the excuse of "I was only following orders" morally bankrupt. Why would a heavenly tribunal find such a rationalization any less reprehensible?

Obedience is "the first law of heaven" onhj when it is defined as "obedience to correct principles." Is blind loyalty to leadership more important in the eternal scheme of things than loyalty to righteousness and godliness? Is there any virtue in being obedient to evil, in doing what one knows in one's heart to be wrong? Isn't such "obedience" tantamount to denying the Holy Ghost?

Sociologist Stanley Milgram's famous experiments clearly showed how willingly most people relinquish personal responsibility for their actions. Most people obeyed orders even when those orders went counter to their own sense of justice and morality; afterwards, they were quick to shift all culpability to the authority figure.

The desire to duck personal accountability seems to genuinely characterize mortal human behavior; if we are expected to "put off the natural woman" in this life, then is it not required of us to take responsibility for our own actions, to "act and not be acted upon"? Isn't it more courageous and Christlike to stand for what is right and good, even if we risk the displeasure of leaders, censure or punishment, or even death? What is a life without integrity? Can we become godlike if we fail to act according to godly principles?

Finally, who besides Jesus Christ can take on someone else's sins? Isn't it the ultimate presumption for a fallible mortal, no matter his position, to promise that "if you do what I say, God will hold me responsible for what you do"? Has God ever ratified such a rash claim? If we believe and act on such claims, we are putting our trust in the arm of flesh, searing our consciences with as a hot iron, and dooming ourselves to spiritual infantilism.

If we are to progress, we must learn to discern right and wrong for ourselves; we must learn to negotiate the grey areas, cope with ambiguity and make hard choices according to our own best knowledge and judgment, rather than continually defer to others, some of whom are only too happy to acquire more and more power and control over others. If a leader's orders cannot pass the litmus test of personal conscience, we obey such orders at the peril of our spiritual integrity, and possibly our eternal life.

The war in heaven was all about our agency—our freedom to choose good or evil. Perhaps, then, it is more accurate to say that it is freedom to obey, and not obedience itself, that is the first law of heaven. Ultimately, to obey evil is to negate God's plan of eternal progression. Did we win that war in heaven only to lose it here on earth?

—Now if only I could get my kids to do what I say without question!