The Symbol of the Cross

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. End mark

  • Thank you for this post. It opens my eyes just a little bit more, and it is very even spirited. The subject is also interesting, although trivial ;).

  • “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!” — Galatians 6:14

    :-)

  • Terry Patton

    Good explanation. We should not judge a person by outward appearances, as Samuel did with David. What is the definition of an evangelical, as it seems to be used often by you and those who comment? What is a true Christian, as many in America claim to be Christian?

  • If you ask an LDS person why she doesn’t wear a cross, she may answer…

    I just received the April 2005 Ensign. The First Presidency Message, written by President Gordon B. Hinckley, is entitled, “The Symbol of Our Faith.” It’s almost as if President Hinckley wanted to add his thoughts to this thread.

    President Hinckley first delivered his message during General Conference in 1975. Since then, it has appeared in at least six church publications, including this April’s Ensign. Perhaps the topic of this thread isn’t so trivial after all.

    Here is a portion of the talk:

    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 alters 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 lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.

    The rest of President Hinckley’s message and his testimony of the Living Christ is thought provoking.

    To fully understand why Mormons do not use “The Symbol of the Cross,” please read President Hinckley’s message.