Are Cafeteria Mormons Starving?
I’m a picky eater. It’s not that I don’t like a variety of food, but I usually want my food to have perfect temperature, the perfect texture, and the perfect presentation. I NEVER clean my plate. There’s always just some bits of food that don’t combine to the perfect bite so they never get eaten. Despite my slightly OCD tendencies, I think we all have our own little strange eating habits.
In a similar way, I’m a little bit of a picky eater when it comes to the LDS church. I don’t expect perfection (well, maybe I do) but I’m definitely a Cafeteria Mormon. Despite the negative connotations, I think nearly all members of the LDS church are Cafeteria Mormons to some degree.
In my mind, Cafeteria Mormons are those who select which parts of church doctrine, practice, policy, and history to embrace and which to reject, or ignore. Considering the volumes of doctrine, the variance in practice and policy, and the disagreements over history, church members are always going to have to pick and choose what works best for them, which combination is most helpful in their quest for the spiritual nourishment.
So I enter the Mormon cafeteria with a tray and look very closely at what is being offered. I’ll take a bowl of unconditional love and forgiveness, but I pass on the extra helping of guilt for not doing X, Y, or Z. I’ll take a plate of saving ordinances, but pick off the painful and troublesome parts of the endowment and sealing ordinances. The humanitarian service looks great, but I’ll pass on polygamy, noticing that it is served on the same plate as celestial marriage. Hmm, that’s troubling. Curiously, I find myself drawn to less desirable dishes of history, like Mountain Meadow’s Massacre, and the church’s involvement in the ERA. Perhaps this is because these are hidden under the counter. I won’t touch the frequently over-served accounts of the first vision. I’ve been eating that every week since I was three. The more closely I look at the food, the more troubled I become. It seems that every plate of doctrine, policy, practice, and history are tainted with something that is unappetizing.
Then I realize my stomach is growling. I’ve been so critical of the food (and sometimes those who have prepared and served it) that I’m not actually enjoying that parts that are healthy and delicious. Perhaps my diet is more limited than some, but I hope it’s good enough for me as long as I focus on what IS helpful for me and not on those things that are hurtful.
Sometimes I think I’m just sitting around waiting for the cooks to change the recipes or offer something completely different (like egalitairan entrees). I’d like to see some dishes removed entirely, but I’m not the owner and there aren’t any comment cards.
Now of course the analogy breaks down at some point. But, for the most part it’s helpful because it reminds me that I am responsible to closely examine the parts of the church that I embrace and the parts I reject. I seem to be in a phase where I’ve been focusing more on what I reject and that’s not helping me very much in the spiritual department. I’m a little malnourished. Perhaps another solution is to incorporate elements from other faith traditions into my spiritual diet.
I’m interested to see if others have had similar experiences.
If you’ve given yourself permission to embrace parts but not all of the church, do you find yourself focused more on the bad than on the good?
If you don’t consider yourself a Cafeteria Mormon, why not?