Why Every Mormon Should Embrace Being a “Buffet Mormon”

During my Mormon faith crisis, I reached a breaking point. I wanted so badly to just throw in the towel. At the same time, I didn’t want to leave the Mormon community behind. It had been my spiritual home for as long as I could remember. For whatever reason, other churches just didn’t give me the same comforting feeling as my childhood religion.

In one of my most challenging moments, I made one last desperate search in Google: “What's the bare minimum I need to believe in order to be mormon?” and the fourth link in the search was “How to Stay in the Church” at StayLDS.com. This article was the exact guide I needed to continue with Mormonism after my faith crisis (See "Why I Almost Left the Mormon Church").

One part that really stood out to me was the idea that everyone is a “buffet Mormon” and that embracing the title of “buffet mormon” can help you approach Mormonism in a healthier way:

Proudly embrace the title buffet Mormon. No one can eat everything in a buffet, even if all of the food is healthy and good. No one, not even the prophets, can do everything that is expected within Mormonism. If you think about it, all Mormons are buffet Mormons. It’s just a matter of to what degree and how guilty we make ourselves feel about it.1

Over the past several months, I’ve found that proudly embracing the title of “buffet Mormon” has many advantages. In this article, I want to cover the 3 main benefits:

  1. No More Guilt
  2. No Need to Leave
  3. No Limits

Benefit #1: No More Guilt

It’s a Big Buffet. Enjoy it!

There are SO many beliefs and behaviors that make up the Mormon buffet. If you tried to make a list of every behavior suggested by a prophet since Joseph Smith, you’d end up with one long, scary list. This is why I think many of us can get overwhelmed by everything that is expected of us.

However, now that I’ve begun to adopt a “buffet Mormon” mindset, I see the vastness and variety of the Mormon buffet as a wonderful thing. A good buffet has many different foods to choose from. In fact, the more the merrier. As I get older and go through different life stages, I find that some foods lose their flavor and others become more appetizing. Thank goodness there is always more to choose from.

Recommendations are Good. Personalization is Better.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is constantly coming out with new, updated recommendations for healthy eating. Learning about these recommendations can be very helpful in making wiser dietary choices.

That being said, I think it is important to keep in mind that these recommendations are for the standard American. It is very unlikely that you fit every characteristic of the standard American. Thus, trying to strictly apply every single one of their guidelines is not the right idea. A better approach would be to try out each guideline and see how your body reacts. You need to personalize your diet to meet your body’s unique needs and preferences.

In a similar way, church leaders make recommendations that can be very good for the standard church member. But, once again, it is very unlikely that you fit every characteristic of the standard member. You will need to adjust the current recommendations to meet the unique needs of you and your family. 

It is very unlikely that you fit every characteristic of the standard member.

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For instance, our church start time recently changed to Noon. Our kids’ very-sensitive nap time starts at 12:30. So, staying through both hours of church would have a negative effect on our family life. The recommendation to attend all church meetings is a wonderful recommendation for the standard member, but we recognized that our situation isn’t standard. So, we currently attend the first hour of church and start the kids’ naps a little after 1. This allows us to maintain some level of participation at church while maintaining our family’s sanity. A win-win in my mind.

A Balanced Diet Beats Superfoods Anyday

Superfoods are all the hype these days in the diet-world. Don’t you just get warm fuzzies when you see these wonderful ads?: “Flush pounds from your system with the power of Acai!”, “Weight loss guaranteed in 7 days with green tea”, or everyone’s favorite: “Meet Kale. Your new friend with benefits.”

It’s not that these supposed “superfoods” are bad. It’s just that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Better than overconsuming a single food, it’s far more important to have a balanced diet that gets adequate amounts of each major food group: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.

Similarly, I’ve found that certain behaviors are presented in the church as superfoods: “As you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions—every day”2, “I promise you that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows you need as you make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples”3, and “Do you young people want a sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary in your life? Immerse yourself in searching for your ancestors”4

Reading the Book of Mormon, attending the temple, and doing family history work are all good things, but to think of them as having supernatural powers is unhealthy and unrealistic in my opinion. Afterall, why would God, who loves all of His children equally, bless less than 1% of the world’s population with such superfoods and not provide them to the rest of His children? 

Rather than get caught up in these superfoods, I think we are better off considering how we can have a balanced spiritual diet. For instance, reading the Book of Mormon belongs to the “seeking truth” food group. If you’ve read the Book of Mormon everyday for the past 10 years and it is starting to lack in taste, why continue force feeding yourself? You’ll just end up frustrated, which may cause you to give up on the “seeking truth” food group or give up on the Mormon buffet altogether (aka leave the church).

Instead, find another spiritual activity in the “seeking truth” food group such as general conference talks or even self-help books and chow down on that for a while. There is nothing wrong with replacing one good thing with another good thing, especially when they both provide similar benefits to one another. The Book of Mormon will always be there waiting for you once you’ve regained an appetite for it. In my mind, there is no need to feel guilty for giving up a certain Mormon superfood for a little while.

There is nothing wrong with replacing one good thing with another good thing, especially when they both provide similar benefits to one another.

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Food groups are like the overarching principles and values that form the basis of our religious practice: seeking truth, finding peace, serving others, cherishing family. To me, building a balanced life around these food groups is what being a Mormon is all about. 

Benefit #2: No Need to Leave

You May Not Enjoy Every Food. That’s Okay.

As I mentioned with Mormon superfoods, there are going to be some foods that are not delicious right now. There may also be some foods in the Mormon buffet that will never taste delicious to you. That’s okay too. The beautiful thing about a buffet, especially one as expansive as the Mormon buffet, is that there are always other foods to choose from. Why leave the entire buffet behind because one food didn’t sit well with you? 

For instance, the first presidency has taught that men are to “preside”5 over their families, and preside means “to occupy the place of authority: act as president”6 This belief doesn’t sit well with me. So, I’ll leave this belief behind, and go grab an extra helping of “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”7 Now that's a belief I can fit my mouth around. Yum.

You May Not Enjoy Every Ward Member. That’s Okay.

Another reason that people leave the Mormon buffet is that they had a bad experience with someone else eating at the same table (aka ward). I understand. Some people have been verbally or spiritually abused by another member, and that can be very hard to deal with. Such individuals may truly need to take a break from eating at that table for a while. But, I would beg and plead with them not to give up on the buffet as a whole. Maybe take a to-go bag for a while, but please don’t leave your spiritual life behind over something a fellow imperfect human did to you.

You May Not Even Believe in the Origin of the Food. That’s Okay.

One of the hardest parts about going through a faith crisis is realizing that the origins of your Mormon belief system are not the Mormon fairy tale you grew up with. This can be really hard to deal with. You may feel cheated. You may feel lied to, tricked, or swindled. I get it. But, that doesn’t necessarily make the buffet evil and completely bad. Such black-and-white thinking won't serve you.

Spiritual beliefs and behaviors can give us the fuel we need to effectively move through life. They can help us build a life based on good principles and values as previously mentioned. Should it really matter if those beliefs and behaviors actually came from God Himself? What matters to me is that I adopt beliefs and behaviors that add value to my life and the life of my family. Worrying about their origin fails to add any value to my life.

That being said, I understand how heartbreaking it is to realize that the origin isn’t what you were led to believe. In particular, after studying the origin of the temple ceremonies, I lost my appetite for the temple. I just don’t feel comfortable going right now. There’s still too much pain. 

But, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the temple entirely. After all, it’s a place that represents wonderful principles such as closeness to God, spiritual learning, and eternal families. Despite my doubts related to it’s divine origin, I have hope that someday I’ll be able to get something out of the temple again. It’ll always be there in the Mormon buffet waiting for me to regain my appetite.

Benefit #3: No Limits

As I’ve mentioned, the Mormon buffet is huge. In fact, Brigham Young said that "we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.”8

I really like this idea. The Mormon buffet includes all the beliefs in the world, whether they are religious or secular. Our goal as Mormons is to eat a steady diet of truth, no matter it’s source. So, when the standard Mormon diet isn’t sitting well with me, I’m grateful to know that the world is my oyster. I can try out beliefs and behaviors from a variety of sources.

The Mormon buffet includes all the beliefs in the world, whether they are religious or secular. Our goal as Mormons is to eat a steady diet of truth, no matter it’s source.

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For instance, since I don’t feel comfortable attending the temple right now, I’ve implemented other spiritual practices that bring me peace and help me feel close to God such as Yoga and mediation. We don’t hear about these practices over the pulpit at general conference, but they bring an amazing amount of peace into my life. They are a delicious part of my spiritual diet. 

This is one of the most amazing benefits of embracing the title of “buffet Mormon”: the whole world opens up to you. You’ll start to see beauty in the spiritual practices of everyone around you, no matter their religious affiliation. There is so much good in this world waiting to be tasted (See "What I Believe Now After My Mormon Faith Crisis".

Nowhere Else I’d Rather Eat

Looking back at my faith crisis, I’m filled with immense gratitude that I didn’t just jump ship and leave the Mormon buffet no matter how tempting it seemed at the time. Sure, some foods don’t always taste too great. Sure, some members and leaders can be hard to eat with at times. Sure, the origin of the food isn’t as magical as I once thought.

But, over time, I’ve found the foods I need to positively approach my life, my family, and all of my fellow humans. I’ve also found that even though I could always eat on my own, I enjoy the company. The Mormon buffet may not be right for everyone, but it’s definitely the place for me. For now, there’s nowhere else I’d rather eat.

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