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The Cross

Anyone else dissatisfied with this explanation as to why Mormons don't use the Cross as a symbol of our faith:

True to the Faith, Cross, 45–46
"Because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith."

I raise this issue because of one of the criticisms I heard used by some Mormons about Mel Gibson's The Passion: "We all know the Atonement really took place in Gethsemane, so we don't need to focus on all this flogging and crucifixion stuff".

This bothered me for a number of reasons, and I find the explanation given by "True to the Faith" disingenous. This is why:

1. If the Atonement was fulfilled in Gethsemane, why could Jesus only say, "it is finished", whilst on the cross?
2. Go through the LDS hymnbook. The vast majority of sacrament hymns, when referring to the Atonement, do so in the context of the crucifixion. So we do remember his death.
3. The Book of Mormon, surely our best source for the doctrine of the Atonement, often uses crucifixion imagery when speaking of Jesus' sacrifice. Gethsemane is not mentioned once.
4. In the Temple, we twice use a symbol of the crucifixion as a "symbol of our faith".
5. The sacrament bespeaks the crucifixion, and unambigously so in the case of the bread.

I think we don't use the Cross not because of the tidy reason given above, but for a much simpler reason: the Cross is not only a symbol of Jesus' death (which we do commemorate contrary to our claims) but of the Christian Church. Despite our belief in Jesus, we are not members of the Christian historical tradition, for which the Cross is the pre-eminent symbol. For a Christian, the Cross symbolises the love of God, but it has also been the symbol of countless horrors, including anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Ku Klux Klan etc. These are the horrors of the Apostasy and we rightly disassociate ourselves from them.

So this is our reason for not using the Cross: we want to be seen as different to other Christians. It's a valid reason. We are different. But I think we could be more honest. Also, we should be careful not to despise the Cross, nor disdain those Mormons who choose to wear one as an expression of their love for Jesus.

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Rebecca said ... (October 20, 2004 9:47 AM) 

I would like to add that the symbol of the empty cross is actually a symbol of the living Christ. The crucifix (used mostly by the Catholic church) is a symbol of His death, so I feel the cross is a positive symbol proclaiming 'Jesus Lives' and I follow Him.


Ronan said ... (October 20, 2004 9:58 AM) 

Well put. I hadn't thought about that. One other point: what is the symbol of Christ's own sacrifice that he carried even after the Resurrection?


Rebecca said ... (October 20, 2004 11:16 AM) 

Correct - the symbols of the cross in His hands, feet and side are what He displays. I also wanted to comment that I thought 'The Passion of the Christ' was the most wonderfully faith-promoting film of the atonement, and I'm saddened that more church members haven't seen it because of their perceived 'rule' on R-rated films. And as you rightly point out, the atonement started in Gethsemene and finished on the cross. Both are essential to the atonement being fulfilled.


john f. said ... (October 21, 2004 1:27 AM) 

Becky, I have mixed feelings about how you seem to condescend to those Latter-day Saints who don't watch R-rated movies merely out of obedience to Church leaders (i.e. the many, many members who would gladly enjoy r-rated films but for the counsel not to see them). I understand that since you are British and not American, you probably do not feel bound by the admonition since the British rating system is different. Consider yourself lucky! But be tolerant of Latter-day Saints who have chosen their path by following President Benson's counsel not to see them.

Ronan, what do you think of the theory (I think it was put forward by Harold Bloom, but I am probably mistaken on that) about the progress of Christianity as exhibited by the development of the cross? It progressed from an image of a tortured Christ hanging conspicuously on the cross, i.e. the crucifix (Catholicism), to an empty cross (Protestantism), to no cross at all ("Mormonism").


Rebecca said ... (October 21, 2004 9:26 AM) 

John - I respect everybody's right to choose what films they watch. My problem has been especially since living here, that most members of the church are ignorant of the fact that America is the only country to have the 'R' rating. That in itself bugs me, as it often comes with the attitiude, that the church outside America means little, and perpetuates the idea that this is an American church. I also wonder that most Mormons of our generation are propbably not even aware that under the present First Presidency, the 'For Strength of Youth' pamphlet, they have removed the 'R' rated wording and done it differently. I believe this has been done for 3 reasons.

1. 'R' rated means nothing to more than half of the church who do not live in the USA

2. There are films of lesser rating that may be also inappropriate

3. There may be R rated films worthy of watching (especailly films such as Schindler's List and The Passion of the Christ)

There is no rule as is often perceived (and I have been lectured about and looked down on, for my watching The Passion of the Christ by peers) about R rated movied. The current 'administration' allows us to have the freedom to choose and make our own informed decisions. I feel to follow their counsel rather than a previous Prophet.
My sounds of condescending (although I don't think I was) probaby comes from the fact that I have been judged for some of the films I have seen. I judge no-one on their choice of films to watch and just wish others would grant me the same courtesy.

R rated films aside, I'd be interested to hear more of your thoughts on the topic of this blog - the cross. Expand on your comments to Ronan!!


Ronan said ... (October 21, 2004 9:53 AM) 

I don't know Harold Bloom's particular theory on this one. Care to reference it?

What I would really like to know is whether we were always crossless, and which Christians in the 19th century were too. Quakers don't have crosses, right? Who else?


John C. said ... (October 21, 2004 4:48 PM) 

I feel it a right and a privilege to judge people based on the films that they watch. I go so far as to say that anyone who paid money or will pay money to go see "Shark Tale", "Shall We Dance?", or "Ladder 49" (to name three movies in the top 5 of the current US movie standings) should be forced to spend an eternity being lectured by Gene Siskel on the value of making good movie choices.


Peggy Snow Cahill said ... (October 25, 2004 12:08 PM) 

I used to be a Baptist, back in 1979, and the missionaries pointed out my small gold cross necklace and told me that I had to stop wearing it since I was going to be baptized. I wasn't exactly sure why, although their explanation was that "if Christ was killed by a gun, would we wear guns around our neck?" seemed mildly plausible. My husband used to be a Catholic, and he has a good-sized Crucifix that belonged to his mother (which he used to keep on the wall). I must say, I found the crucifix disturbing.
As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about the cross. I also think of Christ himself saying "take up your cross and follow me..."
Now, the point of this comment. There is a website called which has a wonderful talk by Ezra Taft Benson to a Canadian audience with a goodly portion of Jewish listeners. He said :
"We hope you, who are of Judah, will not think it an intrusion for us to present our message to you. You are welcome to come to our meetings. We display no crosses. We collect no offerings. We honor your commitment to your unique heritage and your individuality."

That got me thinking! We display no crosses. Sometimes we do not as individual members understand exactly why the Lord tells His servants to teach us what they do, but if we remember that the Lord sees the whole picture, and although a particular directive may not make sense to us, we can trust the prophet's counsel.
Perhaps the reason we do not use crosses is to not alienate the non-Christian people who would want to investigate the Church??? Anyway, it made me think....


Ronan said ... (October 25, 2004 1:22 PM) 


Thank-you for those interesting points. The tenor of my post was not that we should display the cross, but an explanation as to why we don't. And I think what you say fits: we do remember Christ's crucifixion, and we even symbolise it. But the cross is a symbol of more than just the Atonement.

Pres. Benson's comment reminds me of a point that was made about Gibson's The Passion - show the cross to a Christian and he will feel the love of God, show the cross to a Jew and he may be reminded of what it has symbolised for the Jews: centuries of Christian hatred.

But should a Mormon wish to wear the cross I don't think he/she should be given a whole bunch of bogus reasons against it.


Anonymous said ... (February 05, 2005 12:41 PM) 

I want to say that I totally agree with Ronan about the cross.

I have often wondered about the source of the doctrine that the atonement primarily took place in Gesthemane. Does anyone know the history of that doctrine? 

Posted by ed


Anonymous said ... (February 05, 2005 1:15 PM) 

I can't prove this right now, but my sense is that Gethsemane was not emphasised in the early LDS church (evidence would be the crucifixion imagery in the Endowment, and the cross-centricism of the Book of Mormon and early hymns). I suspect that Gethsemane has been emphasised simply as an explanation for our current cross-phobia.

Not, of course, that the Atonement as beginning in Gethsemane is a modern idea. D&C 19 proves that. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (February 05, 2005 2:25 PM) 

This is a great discussion. For some reason, I did not see it until today.

I think that you’re right that our rejection of the “cross” is implicitly tied to our iconoclasm (in the literal sense as well as the figurative). While I now love 13th century gothic architecture, when I first saw such a cathedral as a youth, I think I was conditioned to think: whore of Babylon, idol worship, and apostasy.

Especially during the McConkie era, this iconoclasm was taken to an extreme. I should probably post the rest of this in your post on your Anglicanism, but I believe (gratefully) that there has been a drastic shift away from this perspective. I’ve also realized that Mormons have developed their own iconography. And while we don’t pray to our framed proclamation on the family or picture of the Savior, it serves virtually the same purpose – the focusing of our thoughts.

Posted by J. Stapley


Anonymous said ... (February 05, 2005 3:21 PM) 

The cross was not the symbol of Christianity until well after the 3rd century, the fish was the original symbol. Because "christian" churches have chosen it as their symbol doesn't mean we should, anymore than their choosing sprinkling for baptism.

There are many symbols the christian churches choose that we don't.

If we want to represent the love of Christ there should be a better symbol than that which other churches use / with some who use it to represent his suffering and death. 

Posted by Don


Anonymous said ... (February 05, 2005 6:46 PM) 

J, you are right, as ever. This was an old post that I reposted because it belonged with the one on Anglicanism.
Don, as I alluded to in my post, it is the symbol of the crucifixion of Christ that in the Temple draws us through the veil. In my view, that is the ultimate Mormon symbol. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (February 06, 2005 12:23 PM) 

J., you mentioned the McConkie era, and I am not going to say you are wrong (I don't believe you are) but that era is more "nuanced" in this regard than you are letting on. After all, McConkie made very clear, if I am not mistaken, that the Atonement was performed both in the Garden and on the cross. I have always thought that the "orthodox" LDS position on this was that he suffered in the Garden and then he suffered again on the cross for the sins of the world.

Iconoclasm is the key, I think, and the reason that Ronan gives in the original post does indeed form the basis for this belief in LDS faith: that we celebrate his Resurrection and Eternal Life, and not his tortured death (even though we don't deny that we desperately need and are grateful for what he did in Gethsemane and on the cross). 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous said ... (February 06, 2005 7:23 PM) 

"one of the criticisms I heard used by some Mormons about Mel Gibson's The Passion: "We all know the Atonement really took place in Gethsemane, so we don't need to focus on all this flogging and crucifixion stuff"."

I've heard this "atonement only took place in Gethsemane" idea before, and it drives me nuts, because it's false doctrine. I recently got into a discussion with a member on another forum about this. I ended up researching articles in the Ensign to support my position:

And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.

"The Purifying Power of Gethsemane"
Elder Bruce R. McConkie,
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Ensign, May 1985
The Atoning Sacrifice
Jesus’s atoning sacrifice took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. In Gethsemane He submitted to the will of the Father and began to take upon Himself the sins of all people. He has revealed some of what He experienced as He paid the price for our sins:

“I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

“Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:16–19; see also Luke 22:44; Mosiah 3:7).

The Savior continued to suffer for our sins when He allowed Himself to be crucified—“lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:33).

On the cross, He allowed Himself to die. His body was then laid in a tomb until He was resurrected and became “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Through His death and Resurrection, He overcame physical death for us all. He later said:

“I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

“And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

“And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Nephi 27:13–16).

from True to the Faith entry on Atonement
There is no more poignant picture in all history than that of Jesus in Gethsemane and upon the cross, alone: the Redeemer of mankind, the Savior of the world, bringing to pass the Atonement.

I remember being with President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. We could sense, if only in a very small degree, the terrible struggle that took place there, a struggle so intense, as Jesus wrestled alone in the spirit, that blood came from every pore (see Luke 22:44; D&C 19:18). We recalled the betrayal by one who had been called to a position of trust. We recalled that evil men laid brutal hands upon the Son of God. We recalled that lonely figure on the cross, crying out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet, courageously, the Savior of the world moved forward to bring about the Atonement in our behalf.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Living with Our Convictions,” Ensign, Sept. 2001

I think that the lack of crosses is mostly to make us stand out from other Christian churches.

By the way, I have a gold cross from Russia (that I bought long before I converted) that I often wear. I've only ever had one person comment that I shouldn't be wearing it. I informed her, "It's not an Orthodox cross any more. I was wearing it when I was baptized and when I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost. So I figure that this cross is LDS now." 

Posted by VeritasLiberat


Anonymous said ... (February 08, 2005 2:50 PM) 

I refused to go see the Passion for a few reasons... Number one... the money it was taking in.

Number two... I read the book.

As for issues of the cross... I always felt a little shy when belting ou the "Gun explaination". However, if what we are really ceebrating is his life, or the ressurection, wouldn't it be more fitting to wear a simple stone around our neck? (not a mill stone)

It seems to me that the stone rolled from the tomb, and the angels explaining to Mary that she should not look for the living among the dead would be just as meaningful as the cross. Or they could symbolize the garden where Christ suffered such great pain that it caused him to bleed form every pore.

Yup.. the stone is the winner for me...

SO here is the question of the day... What was more significant, the suffering in the garden, or the actual death on the cross?

I guess i have my own ideas... 

Posted by Jake


Anonymous said ... (February 08, 2005 3:38 PM) 

Is no-one listening to me? The pre-eminent and most holy symbol (sign) of the Gospel is a direct allusion to the crucifixion, not the Resurrection, not Gethsemane. I speak, for those who have not yet challenged this, of the Temple and the sign that draws us through the veil and seals families.

As for Gethsemane vs. Calvary, or discussions of what the suffering was like where and when, I find that discussion fruitless. Christ descended below all things both mentally and physically; his descent began in the Garden and ended on the Cross. They belong together.

But again, don't think for one minute that Mormonism is crucifixion-shy. It isn't, therefore we need better reasons for our cross-aversion. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (February 08, 2005 4:31 PM) 

Ronan, excellent point of our own incorporation of the crucifixion through symbols and signs as done in the temple. Hadn't considered that yet.


Posted by john fowles


Anonymous said ... (February 08, 2005 4:34 PM) 

Maybe it's a good enough reason simply that the cross is a symbol of Christianity in its apostate form; a symbol adopted by men to worship in an almost idolistic fashion. Our justified iconoclasm is thus perhaps truly the key. Latter-day Saints' own way of invoking the crucifixion, as in the temple, is much more intimate and meaningful in an active sense. 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous said ... (February 08, 2005 4:39 PM) 

Thanks John. At last the truth! Why don't Mormons use crosses? Because we have an iconoclastic aversion to a symbol which is as much representative of a Christianity with which we have significant historical and theological differences as it is to Jesus Christ's death. But we do remember and honour Christ's submission to the Cross in other, more subtle ways. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (February 09, 2005 12:36 AM) 

John: you are correct that I over generalized and I concur with your thoughts. 

Posted by J. Stapley


Anonymous said ... (February 09, 2005 5:23 AM) 

So what are we supposed to tell people?


remeber, not all saints speak Ronanese... 

Posted by Jake


Anonymous said ... (February 09, 2005 9:24 AM) 

Jake, here's the un-Ronanese version:

Friend:"How come you Mormons don't use the Cross? Is it because you're not Christian?"

LDS:"No, we are Christian, but different Christian groups have different ways of remembering the crucifixion. The Catholics use a crucifix with the dying Jesus on it, many Protestants have an empty cross, and Quakers and Mormons, for example, don't have a Cross at all."

Friend:"Is it because you have different ideas concering the Passion?"

LDS:"Not really. We commemorate the Passion of Christ in other ways, especially in our taking of Communion every week."

Friend:"So, if you do honour the death of Christ I still don't understand why you don't use the Cross. Isn't that the best symbol of his death?"

LDS:"Yes, I guess it is. Maybe Mormons just want to be different!"

Friend:"You don't sound too sure".

LDS:(Laughs)"Look, sometimes religions develop a certain style of worship without any kind of official doctrine behind it. Culturally, Mormonism grew out of an iconoclastic form of Christianity...


LDS:"An aversion to the overuse of icons. Some Protestants have thought that the Catholic use of icons amounted to idol worship and so went the other way entirely and did away with all religious images. That's the kind of Christian thought from which Mormonism developed."

Friend:"So it's a historical thing".

LDS:"Perhaps. And remember, the Cross has not always been used as a symbol of Christ's Passion. What about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Ku Klux Klan? Mormons rightly disassociate themselves from these things. We believe that we are a Restoration of the Primitive Christian Church. The Cross was not the symbol of earliest Christianity.

Friend:"Maybe you should use the fish then!"

LDS:"Hah! Sorry, that's already been taken! And the people that use the fish don't always like Mormons, so we should perhaps not offend them further!"

Friend:(laughs)OK, but if you're so against icons, why do you have that angel on your Temple, and pictures of Christ in your home."

LDS:"Well, we try not to use such images as an object of devotion themselves. And many Mormons will tell you that a picture of Jesus denotes the living reality of Christ, not just his death. Listen, at the end of the day there are many quirks in religion that defy neat explanation. I personally find the Cross to be a beautiful symbol, but Mormonism is so different in many ways to traditional Christianity that perhaps it is appropriate to use another symbol or none at all. But rest assured, Mormons do love and honour Christ for his death on the Cross. Now, let's get to class!"  

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (February 09, 2005 1:57 PM) 

Sounds good... do we give them a CTR ring before or after the conversation... ;) 

Posted by Jake


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