I am a Cafeteria Mormon, and You are too.

by bookgrl on Flickr“Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break,” Elder Nelson taught last April.

So in an attempt to keep every commandment from our leaders, I’ll do just that: you are going to encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. In fact, those “people” aren’t a faceless, amorphous blob. They are you.

In the winter of my freshman year in college, I had an experience that shook me to the core. I had to face my demons, and they told me I didn’t have faith. And I didn’t know how to refute that.

For weeks, I was in faith-limbo. I read and reread Hebrews 11 and Alma 32 trying to figure this whole “faith” thing out, but it wouldn’t click. When the theme of our stake conference was declared to be “faith” I went to each session, journal and pencil in hand, hoping to figure out what “faith” was. I came home with empty journal pages and disappointment. I prayed for a spark of enlightenment daily. But it didn’t come. And then one day in my New Testament class, it came. I wrote down my inspiration, highlighted it, circled it, memorized it.

When General Conference came, I listened for similar thoughts. When I went home for the summer, my comments in Relief Society focused on this newfound insight on faith. I bore my testimony about this throughout the next year. It was all I thought about, all I studied about. Everything else was “extra.” For that year, I chose “faith” as my main dish.

And now I don’t.

It’s not that faith isn’t important to me anymore. And it’s not that I’ve lost my testimony. It’s just that right now in my life, I’m focusing on other things. I’m picking and choosing what I want to pursue.

You know that person who always talks about family history work? Or that person whose every testimony is about tithing because of the hard financial trials they are experiencing? Or the newly-returned missionary who is sure everything, even running into you on the street, was directed by God? Or the ward mission leader who only talks about every member a missionary?

Do you think that each of those people go into a church meeting and remember and follow and believe everything said 100%? I don’t. We all go in with things on our mind and we take away instruction based on our lives. And that’s ok.

So when last spring, Elder Nelson spoke against “the cafeteria approach to obedience.” I was sad. I think it separates people into “us” and “them.” There’s “us” who obey everything. And “them:” those cafeteria Mormons who don’t. And I don’t find myself included in “us.” I’m a “them.”

I don’t obey every commandment. I’m not working on my family history and I haven’t submitted names to the temple in years. This morning, I didn’t pray. Sometimes I don’t read my scriptures for weeks or even months. Whole sections of my life are missing from my journals. I don’t actively hand out pass along cards to my neighbors or invite them to church. In fact, I don’t bring up my Mormon-ness to them at all if it doesn’t come up on its own. I’ve gone years in my life where I didn’t even think to pray about the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. Sometimes I zone out and ignore whole conference talks. Or whole conferences. And most shamefully, sometimes I don’t love my enemies. Or even my friends.

Because I’m a cafeteria Mormon like that. And you are too.

And that’s ok.

Everyone is a cafeteria Mormon. With such a long list of  what is important to do as a Mormon, we have to choose what to focus on. Because we really can’t do everything. We can’t entertain every belief in our minds at every point in our lives. We do what we can: discerning what is important for us and prioritizing. But we don’t keep every commandment and principle. We don’t believe everything. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to be a cafeteria Mormon. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be ok to be human. It wouldn’t be ok to repent. The atonement wouldn’t be necessary.

So let’s all take cafeteria Mormonism more seriously. In fact, let’s preach cafeteria Mormonism and wear that label proudly! Do what you can and not what you can’t. You need to pick and choose what’s important for you right now? Great! I trust you to do that and I hope you’ll trust me to do that, too. Let’s live it.

The cafeteria of Mormonism is filled with lots of good things and it’s ok if I don’t want all 5 flavors of jello today. I’ve been craving some mac and cheese and you want the chicken.

And we will all be filled.


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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63 Responses

  1. margie palmer harris says:

    Love your writing style, Tophat. And I appreciate the message of this post. We are all cafeteria Mormons, aren’t we?

  2. MissRissa says:

    THANK YOU!!! Wonderfully put and I agree. It is very refreshing, and somewhat relieving, to hear someone else say that they can’t and don’t do everything. Sometime I sit in Relief Society and listen to people’s comments about “trying their best to do everything but feeling that they’re not doing it all perfectly” and so they feel overwhelmed and like they failed. I think OF COURSE you feel overwhelmed and like a failure. No one can be perfect at everything-it’s too much!!! I can’t focus on obeying ALL the commandments ALL the time. Sometimes I can only focus on being a good mom and saying my prayers. Other times I forget my prayers but I do manage to serve others. Sometimes I cannot/forget to help others but I manage to not judge. And you know what, I think my heavenly Father accepts what I give when I can give and I don’t think He thinks I’m a failure. I wish that the general feeling (especially amoung women) in the church were “I am working my best on ____” instead of I am failing at _____”. Thanks for this- its always nice to know you’re not the only one feeling a certain way!

  3. Alisa says:

    I really appreciate these thoughts, TopHat. In a more generalized sense, I hear you saying, “I’m not perfect. I have sins. We all have sins. We are all choosing what parts of ourselves to improve while ignoring other parts.” (I like to say “I sin” rather than “I’m a sinner”–the whole labeling an action rather than the person.) What that means is 1) there’s room for progression and improvement, 2) we can be less hard on others (“forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”), and 3) we need some kind of saving grace. For me, this grace comes theologically through the Savior, but even if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus, there are still graces: forgiveness, mercy, humility, time creating a healing distance, and growth.

    From the start of our first parents, we as the human race don’t have a good record for being able to keep all of the commandments all of the time all at once. I think there’s a lesson to be learned in that.

    • thebookofarmaments says:

      Amen, Alisa! I hopped on here to point out exactly that – Eve (and subsequently Adam) was a “cafeteria” follower, too. I’ve learned from her story that we are to “choose the better part,” and that the “better part” is going to change depending on our life circumstances.

  4. Jessica says:

    Great as always. I think that there is no one way to be a good member of the church, and I think that has taken me a lot of growing up to realize that. And that we do all pick and choose and that my faith and spiritual journey is mine and everyone else’s is their personal journey too. And that is OK. And sometimes I wish I felt like that was ok more when I went to church, but in the end I have to be ok with where I am at in life and where everyone else is too.

  5. Megan B. says:

    I really appreciate your thoughts. I wish it could be the way you said. Right now, though, I know if my son went to primary (if he was a few years older), he’d likely come home having heard about something we don’t do as a family or we don’t do good enough. That’s one of my fears as a cafeteria Mormon.

    • Libby says:

      Megan, this is one of my big worries: my daughters DO go to Primary, and they DO hear that we should be doing things that we aren’t, and I think they’re too young to handle the cognitive dissonance.

  6. Kip says:

    I’m not sure I see any actual commandments in there. Good suggestions maybe, but except for maybe the last one, no commandments.

    • TopHat says:

      I agree. Commandments are to love one another and God.

      I was responding to Elder Nelson’s talk (linked in the post) which is overwhelmingly about obedience and uses the examples of prayer, tithing, temple covenants, etc. The “obey obey obey” message was coupled with “do all the things! no picking and choosing!” and not once mentioned the atonement and that there is hope if you don’t/can’t do all the things. And I wanted to address that because I do know people of the “all or nothing,” “you’re in or you’re out” persuasion and wanted to remind all that if we’re in or we’re out, then we’re all out. We all pick and choose: even Elder Nelson.

      • Kip says:

        I reread the talk a couple of times. The only commandments I see mentioned specifically are to pay tithing, follow the word of wisdom and to educate our children in faith if/when we have them.

        Even prayer is not presented as commandment, just a way to fortify our faith. He says, “Unfailing faith is fortified through prayer.”

        I guess I bring this up because I see this as something we do to ourselves as a culture/community, which is take a suggestion heard at GC and turn it into a commandment in our heads and drive ourselves crazy trying to follow them all.

    • Jessica says:

      But to me sometimes the “suggestions” are treated like commandments. And I do feel judged against them by myself and by others. And I have served in enough leadership callings to know that the “suggestions” are judged when considering a person for a calling. And that is a whole post, but it does happen. But yes, I agree that we as a group should focus more on the real commandments to love and become more like God.

  7. Kip says:

    I’m not working on my family history and I haven’t submitted names to the temple in years. This morning, I didn’t pray. Sometimes I don’t read my scriptures for weeks or even months. Whole sections of my life are missing from my journals. I don’t actively hand out pass along cards to my neighbors or invite them to church. In fact, I don’t bring up my Mormon-ness to them at all if it doesn’t come up on its own. I’ve gone years in my life where I didn’t even think to pray about the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. Sometimes I zone out and ignore whole conference talks. Or whole conferences. And most shamefully, sometimes I’m don’t love my enemies. Or even my friends.

    I’m not sure I see any actual commandments in there. Good suggestions maybe, but except for maybe the last one, no commandments.

  8. Andria says:

    I loved this post. In my own life, I definitely pick and choose because I feel like I am only able to do so much without breaking down completely. Sometimes I feel like the Atonement is only brought up for the more “serious” sins we are warned against. To apply it each day, with all the little (and big) things we aren’t able to do….that is a gospel that appeals to me so much more.

  9. Jessica says:

    You forgot to add- Show up at every single ward activity or sponsored event.

  10. Ru says:

    I think an even bigger issue than the things we all actively pick and choose to pursue are the things we have to leave alone.

    The us/them dichotomy that is so pervasive in Mormonism is particularly damaging to people who have bigger issues than a lack of interest in journals or family history or food storage. What if you struggle with issues in church history? Gay rights? Feminism? What about the nature of God? Good and evil? What if you struggle with substance abuse? Or morality? Or anything? Well, apparently you have to take it all or leave it, which seems so counter-intuitive to Jesus’ message of inviting all to come to Him.

    I think the message should really be, “Hey, if all you want/need/can handle right now is a glass of milk, that’s ok. We’ve got enough milk for everyone.”

    • TopHat says:

      I’m glad you caught that. That was definitely one of the points I was trying to make and I’m glad it was made! We’re all in this together: that’s what Zion is, after all.

  11. Abigail says:

    I love this. It’s hard for me to accept that it’s the truth, because Elder Nelson (and others) words have made me feel guilty because I don’t try hard enough to do everything. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I figure, if I can raise my children to at least believe in God and do their best to be Christ-like (and therefore be kind, loving, giving, and non-judgemental), then I’ve done good. I hated…I think it was April 2011’s conference when they just went on and on about everything a mother is supposed to do and be and I seriously walked away from that conference thinking “I’m screwed, I’ll never be all that even if I devote every moment to what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing.”

    Granted don’t ever let my mother read your blog post and then read that I agree…….Oh what I’d hear from her…………

    • DefyGravity says:

      Abigail, that makes me so sad. It’s so wrong to make people who are doing good things and doing what they can feel bad for not doing more. No one can do everything, and I can’t believe that God would expect that of us. Often leaders are trying to encourage, but end up just making people feel horrible, which is sad. They want people to improve, but just aren’t always good at expressing that.

  12. Erin says:

    For me, I am a cafeteria Mormon is terms of behavior (temple work, missionary efforts, scripture reading, etc.). I figure that someday (maybe not in this life) I’ll do the behaviors.

    I also am a cafeteria Mormon in beliefs. I don’t know how much I believe in a lot of things, frankly, but like the behaviors, I am willing to believe that someday I’ll understand the beliefs, at least in a way that makes sense to me.

  13. DefyGravity says:

    This is wonderful. I just sent it to my sister, who has expressed concern about not being able to do everything in the church. There seems to be a high rate of burn out; people quit going because they just can’t handle doing it all. It makes me sad to see people feel guilty, because it’s ok to not do it all! You simply can’t do every good thing that you are asked to do! It’s just not possible.

    I realized a few years ago that I will never become perfect. I can improve, but I won’t ever do everything right. It was so freeing to realize that! I think many people say that we can’t become perfect, but actually believe that if we try hard enough we can. We also interpret “we are saved after all we can do,” as “all” rather then “we.” We focus on the all, thinking that means that in order to be saved we literally have to do everything. But I’d see the focus of that phrase more on “we.” What can we do? Sometimes all we can do is get up in the morning and not kill anyone. 😉 Sometime all we can do is pray, or read scriptures. And that’s ok, because we’re doing all we can do. That’s life, and that’s how we are made. If God made us as imperfect people, then why should we feel guilty for that imperfection?

    As life goes on, the things we can do change. We’ll probably get to everything at least once in our lives. We don’t need to do everything at once either.

  14. There is also something to be said of the tendancy we have to hear more of the things that discourage us or make us feel we are not enough than to hear the messages that we can’t do everything. It is like we take the talk about “good, better, best” and decide that absolutely everything from the Church -must- be in the “best” category, then also take the messages of not being able to do everything we see as good as being applicable only to others.

    We shouldn’t turn up our noses and categorize those who are doing things differently as “those people”. We’re all in this together, this cafeteria of life.

  15. Karen says:

    I have nothing enlightening to add, but do want to say thank you for this. This is the conclusion that I have come to over many years also. If we could all be free of the constant guilt for not being able to do it all, think how much better we could be at the things we choose to work on at any given time.

    It feels so good to know that there are others who think and believe the way I do. Thank you everyone for your comments!

  16. Lisa C says:

    We are taught to obey the commandments, and we are taught to be perfect. But we are ALSO taught that we only need to do our best, that perfection isn’t expected NOW, but is more of an eternal goal. We have a looooong time to work at being perfect.

    When I read/listen to talks like this, what I hear is NOT “be perfect right now” but rather “the more you obey the commandments, the happier you will be.” I do not pick and choose commandments, as you suggest, but neither do I keep them all perfectly. I have a desire in my heart to obey all the commandments and I do my best. To me, this is keeping the commandments. When a person “picks and chooses” commandments the way Elder Nelson is suggesting, they are not seeing the value to those commandments and believe they “aren’t for them.” They are depriving themselves of happiness because they aren’t even trying. They have literally cast those commandments aside with no intention of ever working on them.

    I know a lot of people get confused, thinking they are required to do everything perfectly right now. I was once there. I felt overwhelmed. I think we just need to keep reading and listening to God’s word and we will realize that we aren’t expected to be perfect RIGHT NOW. There is a reason the gospel is centered on the Atonement. What really changed my perspective on this issue was reading the book Believing Christ. If we really believe Him, we will realize that He loves us perfectly and He has given us this wonderful gift called the Atonement, which we can use daily–not just for repentance, but to bolster us, knowing that Jesus understands our difficulties. And if we believe Christ, then we will believe that ONE DAY we can be perfect. Even the prophet isn’t perfect yet, so how can we expect ourselves to be? Anyway, I recommend that book for anyone who struggles with the whole perfection issue.

    • Kip says:

      Just want to pop and say I really like your post, especially the second paragraph.

    • TopHat says:

      I definitely agree that we don’t have to do everything at once and that Christ makes up the difference and that’s why the atonement is so important. But Elder Nelson doesn’t mention the atonement AT ALL in his talk. It’s “Keep all the commandments. Period.” And I wanted to address that because if you take his talk at face value, then there’s no atonement at all. There’s no hope for those falling short.

      • Jessica says:

        I wish we spoke more of the Atonement in church. I feel like too often we don’t even talk about Jesus let alone the atonement. And that too me in frustrating. I did a survey of my ward sacrament meetings for 6 months. And the most times anyone even said Jesus or Christ or savior ( I was very generous) other than at the end of a prayer. Was 7. That is right 7 times in a hour is not very much to me. And that was not even talking about Jesus that was just saying His name. To me that is sad, and we would be much much much better off if we taught and really tried to apply the atonement in our lives. Like you said, but for me that was a personal journey and not one that I found on Sunday or in GC.

  17. Mitch says:

    This was a wonderful post. And a great way for us to recognize and accept our humanness. It’s not possible for us to be all things, to all people, at all times. Only our Savior can do that–and while it’s good to emulate Him, we must also recognize that we are limited, and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. it matters less how fast we are traveling, and more in shat direction our feet are pointed.

    And I intend to join you for some macaroni and cheese!

    • Mitch says:

      Wow, nice typo, Mitch! It’s what I get for multi-tasking!

      How about this one: “It matters less how fast we are traveling, and more in *what* direction our feet our pointed.”

  18. I like your message, but I admit I thought it was going to go somewhere else. I always thought of a Cafeteria Mormon as someone who does not follow all the commandments by CHOICE. What you describe as not being able to do everything or focus all of our energies on ALL of the doctrine seems an unavoidable consequence of being human. But because you’re trying and working and doing your best, you’re really not picking and choosing what commandments to follow.

    As for me…well. I pick and choose with deliberation. I am a Cafeteria Mormon. I am very aware that I’m not towing the line in all commandments. I haven’t worn my garments since…….um….it was in the summer a couple years ago. It’s not because I’m trying my hardest to wear them and just haven’t been able to. It’s not even that I *want* to wear them and I have some sin to overcome before I can. No. It’s simply that I do not believe that garments are for me. They are the lima beans in the cafeteria–and I realize other people like them and get nourishment from them, but I don’t.

    I don’t think that drinking alcohol is a sin, and indeed, I buy into the science that shows moderate drinking is more healthy than not. Cafeteria Mormon.

    I don’t always pay a tithe directly to the church because, while I believe that giving 10% of your income is a commandment, I also believe in donating to organizations with transparency and gender equality in the managing of charitable funds. Ergo, Cafeteria Mormon.

    I’ll take the Families are forever and the doctrine of eternal progression. I’ll absolutely keep a big heap of Mother in Heaven on my plate. But I reject the above “dishes.”

    I think the difference between a Mormon who tries her best and just can’t do it all and a Cafeteria Mormon is that lack of desire to partake. I have no desire to partake from the lima beans.

    • CatherineWO says:

      I think I’m some variation of this type of Cafeteria Mormon too. I want to be Christ-like, as in loving, caring and merciful, but I don’t agree with all of what some LDS leaders and members refer to as “commandments.” So, I choose not to do those things that seem unnecessary.

      • Yes! This is me. The bishop called all of us to repentance last sunday and told us to keep the commandments. My husband, who will very occasionally have a beer and me, who is garmentless in eden, turned to eachother and said “But…we don’t believe that those really ARE commandments.”

        Love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself. I’m trying to be like Jesus. I’m really not great at it and I wish my upbringing in the church focused on that more than making sure my shorts came to my knees.

    • TopHat says:

      I didn’t mention this in the post, but there are definitely things on my list of “things I don’t actually ever want a testimony of.” I’m definitely not working on them and have no plans to work on them. I’m content with saying, “I don’t believe that.”

  19. CatherineWO says:

    It has been touched on in other comments, but I don’t think leaders or members of the Church even agree on what the commandments are, let alone how they should be obeyed. Many of the things we are told to do are based on love, but some don’t seem to have anything to do with it. I agree that we are all cafeteria Mormons, in both what we do and what we believe. I have been a much happier person since I gave myself permission to not do it all and to not believe it all.

    • TopHat says:

      I totally agree about people not know which things are commandments and which are not. I think the “standard” answer of what commandments are important (besides loving God and loving others!) is what is on the temple recommend question list.

  20. maili says:

    This article is good. We are all “cafeteria mormons as to how the author wrote. However the author misinterpreted Elder Nelson’s comment. “People who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery.”

    First off, he is talking about literal commandments, where if broken would affect entrance to the temple. These would be the ten commandments and any other issue required for temple attendence (i.e. law of chastity, keeping covenants, tithing, word of wisdom, and wearing garments). This does not include simple encouragments like family history or principles like working or faith or charity.

    Secondly, he states “ignore others that they CHOOSE to break”. Therefore he is clearly talking about where our hearts desire is, which is really the only thing that matters after covenants and can only be judged by God. Trying to read your scriptures and say you prayers daily but forgeting is very different than deciding that you are not going to read scriptures and say prayers. Elder Nelsons’ point is that if we are CONSCIOUSLY CHOOSING to not follow certain commandments (lying, stealing, not keeping the Word of Wisdom, etc. . . ) then we following a “cafeteria approach” and it will not work.

    • TopHat says:

      So you are looking at this as sins of commission vs. sins of omission. I can understand that. But whether by commission or omission, we are all picking and choosing. My point is, though, that pointing to people and saying “Look! They are CONSCIOUSLY disobeying!” we are forgetting the beams in our own eyes. And that’s what divides us: this “other” rhetoric. There aren’t any “others” out there. We are all the other.

      • CatherineWO says:

        I agree. We can argue over semantics, but on any level or by any interpretation, I believe we are all making choices and we are, indeed, all the other.

  21. Stella says:

    Wonderful post! Thank you! I know that when I let go of these ideas of perfection I became a lot more healthy…physically and mentally!

  22. C. says:

    Fantastic post, brava!

  23. amelia says:

    Several commenters have pointed out that there’s a difference between not being able to do it all and being a cafeteria Mormon who consciously chooses to disregard certain commandments. They’ve also pointed out that not all of these things are commandments. I think this is likely the kind of reaction most actively practicing Mormons would have. When they hear a talk like Elder Nelson’s, they hear him saying that it’s not acceptable to consciously choose to disregard the commandments that we, as a culture, use as definitional and boundary markers–chastity, word of wisdom, tithing being the big three, along with a slew of others and the ten commandments (or at least the major ones; probably most of us would weight certain of those as more inviolable than others when push comes to shove).

    I think these commenters are right that there’s a difference between the kinds of failures you’re talking about in the OP and the kind of willful disregard for definitional commandments Elder Nelson (at least by implication) is discussing. That said, i don’t think the difference is that one set is Commandments (with a capital C) and the other set is counsel (little c), as other commenters have suggested. Nor do I think it’s a matter of intent/consciousness (frankly I think there’s a degree of willfulness in all failure to conform or live up to expectations). I think the difference is merely one of perception. As Mormons, we perceive certain directives as vitally necessary to the self-definition “Mormon.” If I violate the law of chastity by having premarital sex, drink alcohol and coffee, and give my charitable contributions to other organizations, many, many Mormons would declare that I’m not really Mormon. Even if I believe the faith’s central tenets. Or, if they’re willing to grant that I’m Mormon, I’m a cafeteria Mormon and that’s a slur.

    At the end of the day, I’m completely in the camp of the OP. We all of us pick and choose which tenets we really believe, which practices we’ll really perform, which obligations we genuinely feel a need to meet. But until the church really and truly embraces Jesus’ teachings–that there really is only one basic commandment, to love God, self, and other and, based on that love, then interact with others and in our world–until that happens, the argument made in the OP will never take hold in the church. We have as strong of a hedge around the law as the ancient Israelites ever did. All of these other things, including things like chastity and tithing, are merely mechanistic–they make the church as an institution work, or they (in theory) lead us to love god, self, and others better. But they are not, in and of themselves, what really matters in my reading of Jesus’ teachings. As such, they can be an enormous distraction and a weakness insofar as they justify us in looking at others, or even ourselves, and casting judgment (even internal never-voiced judgment). But the way we perceive them is as the gateway into Goodness. As a culture, we cannot conceive of the possibility that one can embrace the tenets of Mormonism and then violate certain guidelines without also necessarily violating the central guideline of loving god, self, and other.

    I’m not suggesting it’s advisable for everyone to throw out every guideline, counsel, commandment ever given. Most of them have pretty solid underpinnings, if we bother to tease them out. What I am suggesting is that if we want to be people of integrity, we must know ourselves and what will actually lead us to love god, self, and other more perfectly. Maybe for some of us, it will be as perfect a performance of commandments as possible–or at least the intent to make that effort. For others it won’t be. But I’m totally with Top Hat when she says that rather than warning others about how they’re going Cafeteria, we should recognize that we too make decisions about what will help us best realize the ideal of loving God, self, and others and just because their decision is different doesn’t mean we have any right to make a judgment about that decision. And “warning” demands we make such a judgment.

  24. wilt says:

    A bumper sticker on my car reads:

    “I am not a buffet believer.
    I am a balanced diet child of God”

    Works just fine for me.


  25. Janna says:

    I believe this post is true! But…

    “It’s ok to be a cafeteria Mormon. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be ok to be human. It wouldn’t be ok to repent. The atonement wouldn’t be necessary.”

    This comment suggests it is still a sort of “failing” to be a cafeteria Mormon. I do not do some of what the Mormons say I should do, and I don’t feel the need to have the atonement make up for it. It’s not that I’m “just a human,” so I couldn’t possibly do all of it. I don’t do all of it because I don’t want to and think that doing some of those things keep me farther from God rather than closer.

  26. Mike H. says:

    Anyway you slice it, you would be very hard pressed to find a member who is NOT a Cafeteria Mormon. Law of Consecration? Food storage? Emergency preparedness? Anyone follow the W of W 100%? Have you done a dedication of your home? How often do you split with the missionaries? Send out a BOM lately?

    I think conscious choice defines how serious our failings in this area are. 2 scriptures show ideas for this subject:

    D&C 10:4 Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.

    This was to Joseph Smith. While we are not translating like he was, we also should not try to do too much. Yet, some things we need to do to get a strong testimony of them:

    John 7:17 If any man will ado his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

    Of course, I was in charge of the Temple & Family History Committee of an Elder’s Quorum for many years. Yes, I heard all kind of crazy excuses for ignoring such things. I also know of the other extreme on following, like one BYU Religion Professor was claiming that ALL health issues are caused by a violation of the W of W by them or their parents.

  27. Lonnie says:

    Very well said! I agree with you, we can’t do everything because we cannot stop and be fussy about all our actions in our daily life.

  28. Ben P says:

    “It’s ok to be a cafeteria Mormon. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be ok to be human. It wouldn’t be ok to repent. The atonement wouldn’t be necessary.”

    This. My gosh, this. Thank you for this.

  29. Steven says:

    I think the post misses the point of Elder Nelson’s comment completely. I think he’s referring to people who proactively and purposefully acknoweldge some things as commandments, and then for whatever reason (lack of testimony, pride) proactively ignore and/or break other commandments. I think Elder Nelson’s got enough experience under his belt to know we aren’t perfect, have different seasons in our lives, etc. There’s no shame in trying to improve ourselves slowly and surely. Mosiah 4:27. It’s those commandments that people choose ‘to break” that he’s warning about. I am not a cafeteria mormon because I don’t “choose to break” certain commandments. While I’m human and have weaknesses, short comings and failings, I hope I never get to the point where I am so stiff necked and prideful that I don’t feel Godly sorrow when I truly ignore commandments.

    • amelia says:

      I don’t think the distinguishing factor here is as simple as “choosing” to disobey. I think every single one of us consciously chooses to disregard certain counsel for a variety of reasons. The actual distinguishing factor is that Nelson, and many mainstream Mormons, perceive different kinds of counsel in different lights. Counsel to tithe 10% of one’s entire income? Inviolable in the eyes of mainstream Mormonism, yet in the 19th century that was not how tithing in the church was handled and there are those Mormons who do not subscribe to this definition of tithing. Counsel to abstain from 100% of alcohol? What about cough syrup? And if one can use cough syrup for medicinal reasons as allowed by the WoW, then why couldn’t one also use a shot of whiskey that way? Yet I’m pretty sure Nelson and mainstream Mormons would see the former as acceptable and the latter as not.

      At the end of the day, we all choose to disregard certain counsel. Even the most stalwart of us. The difference is that there are certain pieces of counsel that the church leadership wants us to perceive as definitive, as absolutely mandatory; and most of the active membership goes along with that and agrees. It’s only when some of us consciously choose to disregard those pieces of counsel that we’re labeled “cafeteria Mormons” in what is an undeniable slur. Always such choices are seen as evidence of a failure of character and faith. Never could they be understood as a choice of conscience or a choice pursuant to one’s own examination and in consideration of one’s spiritual health.

      That, right there, is the problem that I think Top Hat is getting at. If it’s necessary to your spiritual health to choose, consciously and willfully, to forever forget FHE because it just. doesn’t. work. for your family, then most people will just see it as you’re busy and at this time in your life it’s not doable and it’s no big deal. But in reality, that’s no different than someone making the conscious choice that because they suffer from serious headaches and caffeine helps, but they don’t want to be ingesting all kinds of chemical by-products with soda, they’ll drink green tea instead–in other words, they consciously choose to violate the word of wisdom. Both are “cafeteria Mormons.” It’s just that the first is of a kind that most people are comfortable with, while the last is one that we’ve been taught to consider “Sin” and an indication of a willful absence of faith and obedience. They’re no different in any way other than perception and the kinds of social judgments we’ve been taught to attach to such decisions.

  30. Janna says:

    I think you are missing the point that many of us do not believe that some, much or most of the commandments in the Mormon church are not “true.”

  31. Janna says:

    p.s. When I say “you,” I mean Steven – not TopHat.

  32. Eileen says:

    Years ago I read a talk that emphasized that we can do it all, but not at the same time. We have to do things sequentially. I had little time for family history and temple work until my children left home, and that was OK. Now that I am in my 60’s, my priorities have changed and I submit names and attend the temple weekly. The world was not created in one day! Each day had its own focus, and so it is in my life.
    I think it is a deception of Satan that we have to do it all at the same time and understand it all immediately. When I hear the term ‘cafeteria Mormon’, I don’t think he is talking about us having to load our trays with every option, every day, and just swallow everything that is put out. I think he is referring to those who pick and choose what they will believe: those who call themselves members of the church but think various commandments are irrelevant and outdated. A true member of the church will see everything on the cafeteria line as wholesome and delicious, even if chicken is all we want and can handle at the moment.

    • TopHat says:

      Please be careful with phrases such as “A true member of the church…” It’s that sort of rhetoric that divides the church into “us” and “them” and what I was trying to speak against. Like I said in an above comment, whether by commission or omission, we are all picking and choosing and are all cafeteria Mormons. I certainly don’t believe everything all at once and do pick and choose what commandments to keep and what tenants to believe, but I am still a true Mormon.

  33. wendyl says:

    I loved this post! I have heard variations on this theme for years and always been uncomfortable with it. The term “Cafeteria Mormon” the way I have heard it presented has always been a derogatory term.

    We definitely all pick and choose what our focus is depending on life circumstances. Here’s one personal example: when my husband was the Bishop, we probably looked like the perfect model mormon family attending the temple, reading scriptures, holding fhe, attending every ward activity etc, and partaking of ALL the dishes in the cafeteria! But the truth is that those years were the absolute worst on our marriage. He was simply not around enough to invest the time and energy our young family (and young marriage) needed and so it REALLY suffered severely. There was just no way he could put our marriage and family first and be the kind of Bishop he wanted to be…..so he had to make a choice. There were probably many families in the congregation who outwardly didn’t look so perfect, but had a MUCH higher functioning and happier marriage than we did at that time. And, in hindsight, maybe their choice was the better one…..

    Who am *I* to say that my cafeteria choice was better than theirs??

    That is one thing that drives me crazy, that we judge each other so darn harshly for what our choices are when very rarely do we have all the facts!

    • CatherineWO says:

      Yes! I could have written the same story about when my husband was bishop. The way we all judge each other is the worst part of it, which I think is what TopHat is trying to say–we all make choices, so we need to give each other room to make those choices.

  34. Jenny Larson says:

    I am so grateful for this article this morning. I sometimes feel so alone in my habit of picking and choosing. I really would love to do it all, but I struggle with parts and pieces. I feel like I eat the meat, but skip the veggies.
    I feel like if we do the basics (and I don’t do them all) those other folks like the avid genealogists (I am one of those) pick up the slack for the people who can’t fit that in. For example, I am really glad that there are people who love teaching primary. I don’t get enough xanax prescribed each month to do that, but I really appreciate those who do (teach, not get the extra xanax). As a community, I think we all kind of pull it together nicely where those with strengths fill in for others with weaknesses, and in the end, we are all ok.
    Thanks for making me feel less lonely.
    Your writing is great!

  35. Andrea says:

    The author is purposely twisting the meaning of this talk, as she has admitted, which is really sad. This talk sheds a lot of light on being a cafetaria mormon, “His Grace is Sufficient” by Brad Wilcox.


  36. Gwen says:

    Amen. Amen. Amen. A THOUSAND TIMES! I so needed to read this today. I feel so bad if I don’t do it all, and then i get sick and stressed if I do try to do it all. I’m printing this and putting it in my dusty, unused journal 😀

  1. July 28, 2014

    […] Paradox: Accusing others of being “bad” Mormons while ignoring the cafeteria-sized beam in our own […]

  2. November 19, 2016

    […] Alma grants utmost patience to the germination process, stating that we are to experiment, exercise a particle of faith, desire to believe, and give place for a portion of the gospel word. In the buffet of beliefs, we’re free to go back for seconds on the words-of-Christ-whole-wheat-bread-with-honey, while guiltlessly passing by the pickled-pigs-feet-patriarchy and pimento-loaf-polygamy. A wise-woman elder once encouraged me, “You can be any kind of Mormon you want to be! Let’s not use ‘Cafeteria Mormon’ as an insult to anyone. We’re all Cafeteria Mormons.” […]

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