Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Is There a Deeper Reason Why Mormons Don’t Use a Cross?

Posted by Kerry on February 7, 2008

Most modern Christian churches use the cross as the symbol of their worship. More specifically, it represents and memorializes Christ’s death for them. They place the cross on the walls of their churches, hang it around their neck, even tattoo it on their arms. To most Christians, it serves as a reminder that Christ suffered and died for them. But still, I have to admit that in today’s world, seeing a cross around a person’s neck is a gratifying sight to me, because I know that in that person’s mind the cross is one way to demonstrate their love and devotion for the Savior.

Now, for some reason I grew up thinking that the cross was bad…that people who wore it were mocking Christ…that it was a ghastly symbol that should be shunned…that we as Mormons didn’t use the cross because it represented and reminded us of His horrific death. And focusing on His suffering and death on the cross was bad. It was like I was taught to avoid all of those appalling Catholic illustrations and statues of the Savior with a crown of thorns on his head and blood running down his cheeks, to get those images out of my mind because the cross is a reminder of his suffering and death, which is something we shouldn’t focus on.

I don’t know why I felt that way, but I seem to remember that doctrine being influenced/taught at church and in my home. Do any of you that are my age (30 somethings) feel the same way?

President Hinckley: “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian colleagues who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.” (The Symbol of Our Faith)

I wholeheartedly agree with President Hinckley, in that “our message is a declaration of the Living Christ”. Without disagreeing with him, would it be permitted for me to carefully add to or complement President Hinckley’s teachings by describing another possible reason?

I believe that a very important reason why we don’t physically attach the cross to our buildings and books and clothing is because the cross is in fact TOO sacred for that activity. Look at every other aspect of our worship:

  • In sacrament meeting and Sunday school we talk about the cross and what happened on it
  • In our scriptures we read about the cross and what happened on it
  • During sacred ordinances we sing about the cross and what happened on it
  • In other special un-named places, symbolism of the cross and crucifixion are VERY abundant (if you know what I mean) (also see Isaiah 22:23-25).

Seems like we do just about everything with the cross BUT attach it to our buildings, books, and clothing. So why do we not attach a cross to a long stick and march it around in our meetings? Because the cross, what happened on the cross, and what the cross represents is TOO sacred for that (this is not meant as a bashing of other religions and their use of the cross; like I said above, their use of the cross within their understanding is quite gratifying for me).

Instead of thinking that the cross is “bad”, maybe we should respect the cross and its symbolism. What happened on the cross was part of the atonement. Literally, it is His suffering and “the wounded Christ”[1] that makes it possible for us to repent and be justified. It was His death on the cross that completed His mission. It was His death on the cross that started the process towards resurrection.

“The cross is not bad. We just don’t wear it around our neck or put it on the dashboard of our car. It’s too sacred for that. And we diminish its importance by making it too plain.” Hartman Rector Jr. [2]

Some of my close family members say that they don’t want to look at crosses or see graphic images of His death because it reminds them of His suffering. It is not something they want to be reminded of; they don’t want to focus or think about His graphic suffering and death (this perspective seems somewhat prevalent among church members too). But aren’t we supposed to focus on that? Isn’t the quickest path to repentance to “remember always” what He has done for us, especially His suffering? If that isn’t the case, what in the world are we singing?

I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget?[
3]

Let me not forget, O Savior,
Thou didst bleed and die for me.[
4]

Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.
[5]

President Hinckley: “No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer, who gave His life that all men might live-the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of His trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at His flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of His heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced His hands and feet, the fevered torture of His body as He hung that tragic day…” (The Symbol of Our Faith)

Do we focus on His life? Absolutely. Is our message a declaration of the Living Christ? You bet. A recognition of the sacredness of the cross and what it symbolizes wouldn’t hurt either.

____________________________________________________________

1. Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘This Do in Remembrance of Me‘,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 67
2. From fireside Jan 20, 2008. Audio clip in possession of post author. Happy to distribute on request.
3. “I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 193.
4. “In Humility, Our Savior,” Hymns, no. 172.
5. “Reverently and Meekly Now,” Hymns, no. 185.

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20 Responses to “Is There a Deeper Reason Why Mormons Don’t Use a Cross?”

  1. Mike L. said

    I agree that it seams inconsistent to say that we don’t use the cross because we focus on the ressurrection, but then talk and sing about the cross.

    Mormons do use symbols, but I think we use them for personal reminders of commitment, rather than public expressions of faith. That goes for the symbols of the temple, as well as the sacrament, and olive oil for the blessing of the sick. The sacrament is done in a group normally, but that seams to be out of convenience, not because it’s supposed to be public. Interestingly, we don’t go to the front of the chapel to participate as some faiths do. And we are encouraged to personally reflect. This seams to be the reason we don’t wear the cross, in my opinion. But why don’t we use them as expressions of faith? Are they too sacred? Maybe, or maybe it’s because we are supposed to express our faith in word and deed, or maybe it’s some of both.

    One notable exception is the angel Moroni. We do use this symbol partially as an outward expression of faith. Some of us wear it on ties and other articles of clothing. But I’m not so sure that this was perpetuated by the church or by the culture. Granted, it is on our temples and was on the Book of Mormon, but interestingly it was taking off the BOM. I wonder if that was just a design decision or a sign that the church thought it was becoming too public. In any case, if I’m not mistaken that symbol is man-made, not God-given, so perhaps is not subject to the same consideration as other symbols.

    I agree that we shouldn’t view others who wear the cross as somehow sinful. I think it’s possible to respect (and even appreciate) that expression in others, while not participating ourselves due to our own beliefs. In the same way I appreciate Jews expressing their faith by wearing yamacas, I suppose.

  2. Kerry K. said

    You bring up some interesting points, Mike. The removing of Angel Moroni from the Book of Mormon is an interesting issue. For more information on public displays of piety, there is a post from Shawn here: https://burningbosom.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/are-you-down-with-pdp/

    My objective in this post wasn’t necessarily to “bring to light inconsistencies”, but instead to discuss some other reasons on why I agree that we shouldn’t use the cross.

    One issue with which I am not clear is the history of the use of the cross in the our church. I have heard proposed, but NEVER seen documented, that the earliest leaders of the church specifically chose to not use a cross to provide a visible differentiating factor between Mormonism and the rest of Christianity. Has anyone ever read anything from the early days of the church confirming or rejecting this idea? Does anyone have any background at all on the history of the use (or non-use) of the cross in the our church? Why did Joseph Smith or Brigham not use a cross initially? For the same reason explained by Pres. Hinckley?

  3. Shawn L said

    Kerry — great post! I, too, was raised with the notion that use of the cross was somehow a sacrilege to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, I think that bit of folklore is still with us. Just a few weeks ago, I had a visitor in my 12-13 Sunday School class who asked, “why aren’t Mormons allowed to wear the cross?”

    I have to say, I’ve never thought of the cross as being “too sacred,” but I like the idea. We have certainly have precendent for such an approach (a la the temple). Do have any thoughts as to how we could incorporate the cross into our meetings/worship? Adding them to our steeples? Including them in art inside the building? FYI: I have poked around for, but have been unable to find, the historical info. you mention in your comment.

    Mike — I agree that “Mormons do use symbols . . . for personal reminders of commitment, rather than public expressions of faith.” Can’t we add the cross to that mix? I don’t think we need to add murals depicting the violence of the crucifixion, but I could see how subtle inclusion of the cross in our worship could help us focus our personal reflection on the Atonement. And, for what it’s worth, I own no Moroni-related paraphenalia. 🙂

  4. Andrew said

    To answer your question succinctly: I agree that the cross should be treated as sacred and that we should treat it with reverence. That being said, I don’t think that is the actual reason why Mormons have not traditionally displayed or used the cross. I think the reasons we don’t use a cross is because we want to avoid idolotry or anything that can lead to idolotry (the same reason we don’t have images in our chapels), and also to simply set us apart from the other Christian denominations. However, I am not sure those rationales withstand critical analysis.

    Now for a longer explanation: When I was a Boy Scout, I noticed that the religious-duty-type awards (e.g. “Duty to God”) had different symbols depending on which church the scout belonged to. While the Christian churches usually had a cross on their awards, the Mormon one had Moroni (or maybe it was the spires of the Salt Lake Temple or both). I thought that was odd because I knew that Jesus is the center of our worship as Mormons, and so I thought it would be more fitting to have a symbol representing Jesus–like the cross, or if not that, maybe an Empty Tomb or just a picture of a living Jesus.

    This little anecdote demonstrates the inevitable fact that every organization will at some point need a symbol to represent itself, as demonstrated by the fact that we use Moroni, or sometimes the spires of the Salt Lake Temple, to symbolize Mormons. Remarkably, we don’t seem to be concerned that the mere use of Moroni on our temples or awards or manuals will degenerate into Moroni or Temple Spire worship. We also have pictures of Jesus all over the hallways and classrooms of our church buildings, and we don’t seem to be worried about people prostrating themselves before those images. So I don’t know how much sense it makes to avoid the cross to avoid idolatry.

    Another possible reason we don’t use the cross is that we just wanted to separate or distinguish ourselves from other Christian denominations. That makes a lot of sense to me considering what Joseph Smith reported he was told in the First Vision. And that explanation makes more sense to me that the “avoiding idolatry” explanation.

    I don’t know whether the explanation that we worship a living Christ rather than a dying Christ really explains why we don’t use the cross. As Kerry has excellently illustrated, we remember the dying Christ every Sunday at our Sacrament tables, in our Hymns, in our Sunday lessons, in our sermons, etc, etc, etc. So although the “we don’t worship a dying Christ” explanation is often cited, I honestly don’t think it holds up.

    One last anecdote: when I was a missionary, converts would often continue their tradition of wearing crosses around their necks, or having them in their homes. And I never felt moved by the Spirit to tell them they should discontinue that practice. Stripping away all of the “rules and regulations,” I have to think that what’s truly important to Christ is that we REMEMBER Him in our daily lives. And I really don’t think He cares whether it’s a cross, a Moroni, a fish, a temple spire, or any other symbol that reminds us of Him. I think any symbol that helps us remember Him is acceptable to Him so long as He remains the object of our love and devotion, and that the symbol remains simply a REMINDER, rather than a material object of worship, or a Pharisaic “look how religious I am” false symbol of piety.

  5. Kerry K. said

    One thing to keep in mind….there is one select group of Mormons that DO wear the cross on their clothing: LDS military chaplains (Many references, here is one: Gordon B. Hinckley, “Our One Bright Hope,” Ensign, Apr 1994, 2)

    That being said, I am completely comfortable with the current use / non-use of the cross in our worship. My point in writing the post was to shed light on another potential reason why we do not use the cross. I am not advocating that we start to place crosses on the walls of our chapel or replace Moroni with a cross, just that maybe we shouldn’t disdain it or think of the cross as “bad”, especially when we consider what happened on the cross and the amount of attention we give that act in our common worship services.

    Andrew, I really like your point about how we DO have pictures of the “wounded Christ” and pictures of the cross in our chapels. Those pictures seem like a very appropriate way for us to remember Him.

  6. Not all people who wear crosses are good people. Notice Madonna wears them in many of her videos, and then burns them in others….

    I know plenty who wear them as just jewelry, and couldn’t care less about going to church. Many protestants find these people very offensive.

  7. Candy said

    Besides the angel you refer to as “Moroni,” do you consider the shield with the letters “CTR” a Mormon symbol. I notice lots of Mormons wearing “CTR” rings. What does that mean? Thank you.

  8. Andrew said

    Hi Candy, to answer your question, CTR stands for “Choose the Right.” Mormon children typically receive a CTR ring around the time they are baptized (age eight) to help them remember the promise they made to God when they were baptized to love and follow Him. Many Mormons continue to wear CTR rings into adulthood for the same reason. So one could certainly say that a CTR ring is a Mormon symbol, similar to the WWJD rings that are popular among other Christian denominations.

    Welcome here to the blog, you’re welcome back anytime!

  9. Shawn L said

    Kerry: It seems you have your finger on the pulse of something. I just got a preliminary program for the Sunstone West Symposium and there is a workshop entitled, “Mormons and the Cross.”

  10. Kerry said

    Wow, I must really be inspired. Now if I could just figure out where the inspiration is coming from….

    Maybe someone will give us a summary of that workshop. Will probably be very interesting.

  11. JB said

    To add to what Andrew said about having the cross in our home, as long as folks don’t start praying to the cross or kneeling in front of it as a representation of Christ, I agree. I had a similar experience in my mission, but in my case recommended the person remove the cross so they don’t feel the need to worship in front of it.

    However, Mike brought up an interesting point as well… what symbol does represent the church. Andrew hit it on the head with Christ being the ultimate “symbol” of our faith. However nowadays, with all the logos and conceptual representations of everything from the USC Trojan to BYUs Cougar, or Apple’s… well, apple or Microsoft’s… window… or whatever that is, we try to represent everything conceptually these days. That said, do we have a conceptual image for the church?

    For two possible answers, I’d point out the landing page of http://www.LDS.org. Two things come to mind. First, the Christus (spelling?), or statue representing Christ. Second the name of the Church. In many ways it is a conceptual image of the church that is branded throughout church material, etc. Other thoughts?

  12. Hi Kerry, I am about the same age as you and I too grew up thinking that the cross was “bad” in our church. Since then I have come to find out the things you have already mentioned. The reason that we don’t worship the cross is because we try to celebrate the life of Christ but not that we want to forget his death and the great sacrifice he made. Thanks so much for the post!

  13. Shawn L said

    Kerry — found an interesting essay on this very topic, written by a presenter from Sunstone West. Enjoy:

    http://www.mormonstudies.net/html/cross.html

  14. Kerry said

    Thanks Shawn. That was intriguing. I had heard some members say that the reason we don’t use the cross is because Joseph Smith wanted the newly born church to have a visual identity that was seperate from the other Protestant churches. To show everyone that Mormons actually were different than other religions.

    I guess that myth can be thrown out now.

  15. joe said

    There is a webpage from a bible fundementalist that explains that many symbols that people associate with christians either aren’t christian or not exclusively christian. The cross, and fish are two examples. He also questions the use of church steeples as well.

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  17. Mike Reed said

    Contrary the theories held by several well respected scholars of Mormon Studies, the LDS aversion to the cross is a late development in Mormon history. It started at the grass-roots level at the turn of the 20th century, and became institutionalized as protocol in the 1950s under the direction of President David O. McKay–and the reason he gave was because it was a “Catholic” tradition. Prior to this time, several prominent Saints (including Church authorities) embraced and promoted the symbol of the cross. They embraced the symbol despite the fact that many mainstream Protestants (at the time the LDS Church was first being established) had rejected it. It is true that current LDS condemnations against the cross have echoed protestant polemics of the past (a fact that evangelical critics of Mormonism need to be aware of). But by the time the Saints started recycling these anti-cross arguments (of previous generations), mainstream Protestantism had already become more accepting of the symbol. The mainstream Protestant opposition to the cross was a phenomenon that teetered out around the 1840s and 50s, while the mainstream LDS opposition to the cross didn’t even start until a generation or two later.

    I am a grad student who has nearly finished writing his MA thesis on the development of the Mormon cross taboo.

    –Mike Reed
    mike_g_reed@yahoo.com

  18. Jeanne Rodgers said

    As a Protestant convert to the church decades ago, I was always puzzled about the Mormon dislike of Christians wearing crosses. To most Christians the cross, especially worn on the body, emphasizes Christ’s resurrection and the surety it brings mankind of salvation and atonement. Very few think of it as a symbol of His death without linking the meaning with His resurrection. I think it would compare to the “CTR” jewelry some Mormons wear.

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    Is There a Deeper Reason Why Mormons Don’t Use a Cross? « Burning Bosom

  20. Dennis said

    It is my understanding that the Mormons belief salvation was achieved through the Agony in the Garden. Thus the cross, so much a part of other religious as being the source of salvation is not found on LDS Churchs. It was only his means of death.

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