I am a Cafeteria Mormon, and You are too.
“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.