Moral Discipline

A Way of Life, D. Todd Christofferson

During World War II, President James E. Faust, then a young enlisted man in the United States Army, applied for officer candidate school. He appeared before a board of inquiry composed of what he described as “hard-bitten career soldier[s].” After a while their questions turned to matters of religion. The final questions were these:

“In times of war should not the moral code be relaxed? Does not the stress of battle justify men in doing things that they would not do when at home under normal situations?”

President Faust relates:

“I recognized that here was a chance perhaps to make some points and look broad-minded. I knew perfectly well that the men who were asking me this question did not live by the standards that I had been taught. The thought flashed through my mind that perhaps I could say that I had my own beliefs but did not wish to impose them on others. But there seemed to flash before my mind the faces of the many people to whom I had taught the law of chastity as a missionary. In the end I simply said, ‘I do not believe there is a double standard of morality.’

“I left the hearing resigned to the fact that [they] would not like the answers I had given … and would surely score me very low. A few days later when the scores were posted, to my astonishment I had passed. I was in the first group taken for officer’s candidate school! …

“This was one of the critical crossroads of my life.” 1

President Faust recognized that we all possess the God-given gift of moral agency—the right to make choices and the obligation to account for those choices (see D&C 101:78). He also understood and demonstrated that, for positive outcomes, moral agency must be accompanied by moral discipline.

By “moral discipline,” I mean self-discipline based on moral standards. Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard. It rejects the self-absorbed life in favor of developing character worthy of respect and true greatness through Christlike service (see Mark 10:42–45). The root of the word discipline is shared by the word disciple, suggesting to the mind the fact that conformity to the example and teachings of Jesus Christ is the ideal discipline that, coupled with His grace, forms a virtuous and morally excellent person.

Excerpt from D. Todd Christofferson’s October 2009 General Conference Address, Moral Discipline. Elder D. Todd Christofferson is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. View D. Todd Christofferson’s full address here.