For the benefit of my Evangelical friends who may be reading this, let me start out with some context. Mormons do not display crosses either inside or outside their church buildings or in their homes. They don’t wear cross necklaces or glue plastic crosses to their bumpers.
Many Evangelicals wonder why Mormons seemingly avoid the cross, and many even think of Mormons as un-Christian because of it. They may cite verses such as Matt. 16:24 or Mark 8:24 in defense of their judgement, but I would submit that they are misusing the passages. Jesus did not say, “take up your plastic cross necklace and follow me.” Obviously, the cross he refers to is a metaphor for the persecution Christians face in their walk, not an actual tangible cross.
Verses like 1 Cor. 1:18 get more to the point, but still shouldn’t bother a Mormon. Mormons claim to preach the cross; they simply don’t use the symbol of the cross in public worship or displays of piety.
The LDS Viewpoint
If you ask an LDS person why she doesn’t wear a cross, she may answer you with a question of her own: “If you had a friend who was shot to death, would you wear a little gun around your neck?” Mormons see the cross as a rather ugly symbol of Christ’s death.
Mormons will often claim that they would rather dwell on Christ’s resurrection and life than his death. Instead of crosses, their buildings are adorned with simple steeples. A steeple points to heaven, symbolizing, for Mormons, the ascension of Christ after his resurrection.
A Different Perspective
Something I never realized when I was LDS is that the cross is actually a symbol of Christ’s resurrection as much as of his death. Mormons reading this might ask how I can say this.
Evangelicals make a clear distinction between a cross and a crucifix. The difference is that a cross is empty, and a crucifix bears a disheveled little figure of Jesus. The crucifix is primarily used in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican circles. I’m not sure I’m opposed to crucifixes (I’m not necessarily opposed to steeples, either), but I, like many Protestants, definitely prefer the empty cross.
The empty cross retains the best balance in what it symbolizes. While, I believe, the crucifix overemphasizes Christ’s death and the steeple overemphasizes his resurrection, the empty cross succinctly represents both. Christ finished the work of atonement on the cross, came down from it, and has ascended to heaven.
The bottom line, of course, is that a person’s use or disuse of cross imagery should not be taken as a sign that they are a true Christian. It is nonetheless an interesting, if trivial, point of discussion.