Symbols of Faith

April 14, 2005 | 69 comments
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President Hinckley’s home teaching message for April is about symbols. It was prompted by that well-worn question: why don’t Mormons use the symbol of the cross? President Hinckley was asked that question by a Protestant minister, and offered the missionary response: “[F]or us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.”

I am happy that President Hinckley prefaced his statement with the words “for us” because the cross stands for much more than “the dying Christ” to other faithful followers of Jesus. Within the Church, the cross evokes powerful associations and serves as sort of an anti-symbol or symbol of how not to worship, but I think it is important to remember that this version of the cross is our caricature or redefinition.

The Protestant minister (a persistant fellow) then asked: “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”

President Hinckley’s response surprised me: “I replied that the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.” And later in the message:

As His followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing His image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of Him whose name we have taken upon ourselves. And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the Living Christ, the Eternal Son of the Living God.

Although I am not certain about this use of the word “symbol,” I see something revealing about the current state of the Church in President Hinckley’s response. We are people who view our service and charitable works as a form of worship. As a people, we have internalized King Benjamin’s wisdom: “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

One piece of evidence for this ethos is our chapels, which are almost completely devoid of symbolism. Indeed, other than the spires, the only symbolic architectural features in most chapels are the baptismal font and arguably the sacrament table (though this is probably more functional than symbolic). We have thus limited symbolic worship to our ordinances, particularly our temple ordinances. In short, we are a people of action, not contemplation.

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69 Responses to Symbols of Faith

  1. Steve Evans on April 14, 2005 at 11:59 am

    What about the angel Moroni?

  2. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    The temple and its incidents are symbol rich.

  3. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Considering temples and garments, there seems to be a distinction for mormons between symbols with inside significance (i.e., inside the building, inside our clothing, inside our hearts and minds) and outside signficance (i.e., useful like a cross on a necklace or bumper-sticker fish for insiders and outsiders alike to identify us from a distance).

    I think the aversion to the latter in Mormonism presents a significant challenge: our “sign” to the world must be lived Christianity—or as Gordon puts it, internalization of King Benjamin’s service to fellow man = service to God formula

  4. Clark Goble on April 14, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    That’s a fairly Jewish notion to. Indeed many say there isn’t a Jewish theology because Jews focus more on behavior rather than ideas as such. (Which is more a heritage of the Greek/Roman takeover of Christianity) While I think that notion is pushed way too much, there is some truth to it, I think.

    Having said that though I think we do have many symbols. Some are sacred and simply not talked about too openly. Some are, as Steve mentioned “realistic” portrayals of figures like Jesus in the Garden or Moroni blowing the trump. Indeed most of the symbols that mean so much to us are very real and concrete historic situations. Thus the constant appeal to the stripling warriors.

    It’s interesting since in the 19th century we actually used a lot of abstract imagery and symbolism. If you visit old meeting houses or temples you can see them. Most were taken or adapted from masonry. Yet around the time of the “Americanization” of the church early in the 20th century, we also started moving away from such abstract imagry. It is, I think, more than a little sad.

    It’s interesting that most religions moved the opposite direction due to various prohibitions on represenational art. The most radical example is Islam, where words become highly stylized and in effect become the symbolism. Yet even in early Christian iconic art we have a conscious move to two dimensional fairly stylized figures. Yet we seem moving more and more towards representational and highly realistic symbolism. Consider one of my favorites (and actually one of the few art pieces I like) – the painting of Jesus praying at Gethseme. You see it in many homes and frequently in chapels. Likewise with the “infamous” and ubiquitous Book of Mormon paintings.

  5. FranH on April 14, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Mormon symbology is in its blandness.

    The functional, deliberately ascetic decor of Mormon chapels, coupled with the priesthood uniform of white shirts and groomed hair, conditions members to associate righteousness with plainness, sterility, and order. Mormons often have a reflexive, uncomfortable response to the ornate, earthy, evocative imagery of Catholic and Orthodox churches with their frescoes of a suffering Christ or a weeping Mary, or the Anglican crosses, candles, and pulpits.

    Overt symbology encourages transference of individual thought, creativity, and expression in a personalization of worship. When loud laughter is frowned upon, voice patterns are modulated, and signs and symbols are removed from the weekly services, the greater requirement for conformity is maintained.

  6. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Gordon:

    Thanks for the post.

    My theory has always been that there was a historical reason for our practice of not having crosses in our chapels that had its roots in New York or Ohio–anti-Catholic sentiment, Puritan/Congregational plain style, Campbellite doctrine or mere poverty–but I’ve never been able to really track this down.

    The “symbol of the dying Christ” I assumed (perhaps wrongly) was a later formulation by well meaning leaders and members, which may have had it’s roots in the historical reasons, but gradually obscured them. I’d be interested if anyone knows the historical answers here.

    Like the use of water (rather than grape juice or wine) for the sacrament or our past practice of not ordaining blacks to the priesthood, I believe this is one area where tradition has (temporarily?) overtaken doctrine, and could be changed easily–especially in light of the positive uses of the cross as a symbol in the Book of Mormon

    I’ve therefore suggested to those that have complained that the world just doesn’t understand that we’re Christian that the most effective thing we could do to convey to the world that we are a Christian religion (especially in Africa and Asia where we are less well known) is to put a cross on every missionary name tag, on every tract and publication, and on top of every temple and chapel. Now it may be that we really don’t want to be quite that Christian, but if we did I think this is a tradition the prophet could easily change.

    I agree that we are people who worship through action and service and agree with President Hinkley’s message that our indivdual lives are the best symbol of Christ. But I don’t think adopting the cross as a symbol would necessarily change any of that.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    “In short, we are a people of action, not contemplation.”

    Which has its downsides, unfortunately.

    “I’ve therefore suggested to those that have complained that the world just doesn’t understand that we’re Christian that the most effective thing we could do to convey to the world that we are a Christian religion…is to put a cross on every missionary name tag, on every tract and publication, and on top of every temple and chapel.”

    I wouldn’t object to this. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for temples; I like the Angel Moroni (even though they’ve given him a haircut), and especially on the older temples the addition of a cross would throw the architechtural design of the spires all off.

  8. Nate Oman on April 14, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Russell: Do you see any value in simple historical continuity? The absence of crosses has formed a core part of Mormon self-presentation and identity for so long that perhaps it has become embedded in the community in a way that reversal of our practices would do violence for to our identity. Frankly, the eagerness with which you seem willing to adopt protestant motiffs, ideas, and symbols strikes me at times as insufficiently sensitive to the uniqueness of Mormon identity and history. Putting crosses on temples would be a problem not because it would “throw the architectural design of the spires all off” (for many temples, including the older ones, it would not), but because it would represent yet another capitulation to protestantism and betrayal of the Restoration.

    At the end of the day, I would much rather be thought a Mormon than be thought a Christian.

  9. Seth Rogers on April 14, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    The danger of symbolism is that people might start obsessing about the icons and forget to do their home teaching.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    A “betrayal of the Restoration”? So the Restoration was all about, or even significantly about, the absence of crosses on buildings? I find that highly doubtful Nate.

    As for historical continuity, I’m all for it. But I also believe that the prophet can change the arc of our continuity as revelation (or prophetic wisdom and prudence) dictates. It would, indeed, be terribly weird and disturbing of our self-understanding if President Hinckley told the crosses to go up tomorrow. I suppose that polygamy thing was similarly weird and disturbing. This is why I find trying to work out Mormon political theology fascinating: a community that insists that God can trump its own collective context is a very odd sort of community indeed.

  11. Derek on April 14, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    …the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ…

    Christ is dead?

  12. Nate Oman on April 14, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    “Christ is dead?”

    No, but he did die…

  13. Matt Jacobsen on April 14, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    I must admit to a little religious envy when it comes to the cross. It seems that the cross was important enough for it to be mentioned in the scriptures several times. You’ve got people talking about crosses before Christ was even born, you’ve got Christ himself saying that He must be lifted up and that we should take up His cross. Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to be reminded of Christ’s cross. Of course, like all symbols or artifacts there is the danger of putting too much importance into it while forgetting what it represents. But this is true whether one considers a portrait of Christ or a piece of the Nauvoo temple too. The reason I don’t use crosses has more to do with offending my fellow Mormons than it does offending God. I don’t know if I should call that fear of man or being considerate.

    Nate, didn’t your dad once have a crucifix above your front door? Very bold. Did your mom get him to remove it?

    Speaking of symbols, where have all the beehives gone?

  14. Nate Oman on April 14, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Matt: I don’t recall the crucifix, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past my symbolism-besotted father. ;->

    As for the beehives, they don’t seem to have completely disappeared. The new pulpit in the coference center has beehives. Apparently the interior designers originally were not going to have them, having decided that they were an irrelevent “pionner” symbol. President Hinkley personally insisted on beehives on the pulpit. It is one of my father’s favorite faith-promoting story of prophets rescuing Mormon symbols from the Church bureucrats.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    “It seems that the cross was important enough for it to be mentioned in the scriptures several times. You’ve got people talking about crosses before Christ was even born, you’ve got Christ himself saying that He must be lifted up and that we should take up His cross. Doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to be reminded of Christ’s cross.”

    I couldn’t agree more, Matt.

    Incidentally, insofar as one wants to talk about the actual content and meaning of symbols, and not just what their use represents, there is an important difference between a crucifix and a cross. I prefer the latter.

  16. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 2:12 pm

    You can make an argument that the use of water rather than grape juice or wine for the sacrament now has historical continuity, and even honors of our traditions of pioneering poverty and teetotalism. And it may be the only practical option given that 14 year old boys are in charge. But this is being given lemons and making lemonade. From a ritual and scriptual point of view we would be better of with grape juice or wine.

    I think the same holds true for the non-use of the cross. What was probably in its inception not a big deal, maybe even just an economic expediency, has now, as Nate says, become imbedded in our community. But that doesn’t mean we’re better off for it.

    During Joseph’s lifetime, there was a better understanding (both inside and outside the church) that Mormons were Christian. Not orthodox, but still Christian. Not using the cross was no big deal. Over time, and as we have grown and sent missionaries to more places where Christianity is less well understood, Mormonism is more often not understood to be Christian. Not using the cross has fostered that misunderstanding.

    I don’t think adopting the cross as a symbol will have much impact on attitudes of hard core evangelicals, but I think it would change the attitudes of people in Africa and Asia, and also attitudes of Mormons themselves.

  17. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    No doubt the Salvation Army would sound less militaristic and threatening to those in countries where it is an unfamiliar institution if it changed its name. Still, Salvation Non-Violent Helpful Nice People just doesn’t have the same edge.

    Adopting the cross as a symbol would change my attitude in the following way: it would make my mormon-ness feel less distinctive.

  18. Mark Martin on April 14, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    Re #3:
    “there seems to be a distinction for mormons between symbols with inside significance … and outside signficance (i.e., useful like a cross on a necklace or bumper-sticker fish for insiders and outsiders alike to identify us from a distance).”

    Well, it seems that several Mormons have created or gladly used many symbols for outside significance and recognition by others. While I favor the inner symbols over these, anyone want to add to the list?

    1. CTR rings
    2. Bumper stickers
    (a) Families are Forever
    (b) Happiness is Family Home Evening
    (c) RU LDS 2?
    3. Knee-length shorts

  19. Mark Martin on April 14, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    Curse those symbolic conversions from simple text! The ‘c’ surrounded by parentheses was by NO MEANS intended to copyright that silly little bumper sticker.

  20. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    Mark (no. 18): It does seem that at the official level the church eschews all of these tacky symbols, with the possible exception of the CTR ring, which seems to enjoy limited (i.e., for small primary children only) institutional approval.

  21. Mark Martin on April 14, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Shawn (#19), thanks for the comment. I am happy to observe, however, based upon the photo of a young family on a still-used pass-along card, that the Cleveland Indians are the official baseball team of the Church. Good choice!

    (The cap on the toddler boy is sideways, but still reveals the Chief Wahoo logo.)

  22. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    Shawn:

    But aren’t we, as cross-less Christians, more like your hypothetical Salvation Non-Violent Helpful Nice People than like the Salvation Army. We’re the ones who have rejected the essential symbol of the Christian faith.

    And do you think it would be good or bad if your Mormon-ness felt less distinctive? I think we have a strong tendency to over emphasize our distinctiveness.

  23. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    First of all the Cross is a man made symbol, it is not a holy or sacred symbol. We dont use the Cross for many reasons. JS said that many of the masonic symbols were perverted sacred symbols, that once were used in the temples of old. These symbols were from God, were sacred, had power, and purpose in their use. This makes perfect sence. Many of these symbols have been perverted over the years by Satan through movies, and pop culture, occult practices etc. The world at large sees these sacred symbols as Satanic, or Occult. These symbols can be found decorating our temples, and sacred places.

    Sunday we had a lesson on this very subject. The Cross is also a symbol of Christs suffering and death. The basis of our religion is not Christs suffering and death, but rather his conquering of death. We concentrate on his ressurection, his gaining of eternal life. He conquered the bands of death, and made it possible for us to do the same. Yes he suffered and died, and that should be remembered, but for US it should not be the focus. The focus is that he still lives, and we will one day be ressurected and can become like him.

    The Church uses sacred symbols. It does not attempt to change them or apoligize for them. Think of how much anti literature focuses on the fact the we use these sacred symbols, calling us non christian,occult,satanic etc etc. Sure it would be easy to take it all down and start putting up crosses. The Church however does not conform to the world. The world will one day be like the Church. The symbols we use are from God, have meaning and purpose. The Cross is man made, not sacred.

    More food for thought. The Cross does not even represent “mainstream christianity anymore. Everyone wears crosses now. From Priests – PornStars, people just wear the cross cause its a cool thing to wear. I think it shows the truthfullness of our Church that we have never adopted the cross that in the end has lost whatever symbolim man made on not that it ever had.

  24. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    M.J. (no. 22):
    Answer to query one: taking seriously what the Two Personages said to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove regarding other religions (“all wrong,” “an abomination,” etc.), we may have rejected a central symbol, but all the rest have rejected (or fallen short of) much more. Thus, I am suspicious of the desire to assimilate ourselves too much with “mainstream” Christianity.

    Answer to query two: It would be a bad thing. As far as overemphasizing distinctiveness is concerned, see the answer to query one. If we are focusing on the marvels of the Restoration (or even traditions incidental to the Restoration and the rich history that followed—traditions which have their value), I have no concerns about over-emphasis.

  25. Shawn Bailey on April 14, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Mark (no. 21): Should I be interested in hearing more about the pass-along card? Or am I reading something that is not there?

  26. Jed on April 14, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Matt Jacobsen (#13) and Nate (#14): There is confusion with the beehive symbol, and this confusion explains its partial disappearance. The heart of the matter is its being spread thin on things state and church. On the state side, of course, the beehive appeared on all the early State of Deseret material–coins, flags, official documents–and was later incorporated into the Utah flag, where it remains today. On the church side, the beehive appeared in and on temples, cooperatives, meeting houses, and lesson manuals. But note that the church’s involvement in state affairs has long been a refrain in anti-Mormon circles, never more so than in the Main Street Plaza wars of the 1990s. The church, being sensitive about its public image during this time, started to deemphasize the beehive, perhaps unconsciously–for example, by removing it entirely from the BYU logo on the claim that it was already in the University of Utah’s logo (which is true). The beehive was everywhere at BYU in the 1970s and now it is nowhere. I think the beehive on the Conference Center pulpit is a holdover from earlier times when church and state were more entertwined in Utah than they are today. All of this suggests that the church may be on the course towards reinventing itself with a symbol or symbols of its own more recent make, symbols not under state control. Just what that symbol would be I cannot fathom.

  27. ed on April 14, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Everyone should read this excellent post by Ronan at United Bretheren on the symbolism of the cross:

    http://headlife.blogspot.com/unitedbrethren/2005/02/cross.html

    Don’t miss Ronan’s excellent comment at the end of the thread, where he imagines a dialogue explaining to a non-member the real reason why we don’t “use” the cross.

  28. ed on April 14, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Bryan Robert says:
    “The Cross is also a symbol of Christs suffering and death. The basis of our religion is not Christs suffering and death, but rather his conquering of death. We concentrate on his ressurection, his gaining of eternal life. He conquered the bands of death, and made it possible for us to do the same. Yes he suffered and died, and that should be remembered, but for US it should not be the focus.”

    Bryan, you should read through the sacrament hymns in our hymnbook, and then tell me if you still think we don’t focus on Christ’s suffering and death.

  29. Matt Jacobsen on April 14, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Bryan #23 -

    Do you really think that anyone who would use a cross only cares about the death and suffering of Christ? If they cared about his life, teachings, resurrection, then obviously they wouldn’t use a cross?

    During Christmas time my family puts several nativity scenes on display in our home. One of my previous wards put on a very large creche exhibit that was well-attended by the community. The scenes do a good job of reminding us of what we celebrate, but all things considered the details about the Savior’s birth are of very little importance to anyone’s salvation. I would argue that the suffering and crucifixion of the Lord are much more applicable to our salvation than a manger scene. Yet we have somehow managed to turn depictions of His death into an evil to be avoided. While it doesn’t seem necessary to adopt the cross as the “symbol of our church”, I don’t see why having a cross in one’s home should be seen as a betrayal of our faith.

  30. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Sorry Ed, just because we remmeber it does not mean we focus on it. Even when we talk about his suffering, we as members know he suffered far more in the Garden then he did on the Cross.
    Mainstream Christians do not know that, and feel that the Cross represents Christs suffereing for our sins.

    We still however do not at all focus on his death. How many lessons from sunday school to seminary-to priesthood have you ever had in your whole life that was about Christs suffering on the Cross. That the lesson was all about that? Probably zero. Sure it is talked about, referenced, even sung about, but that is not our focus, it is his ressurection, and the attonment.

  31. Frank McIntyre on April 14, 2005 at 4:01 pm

    Ed and Matt, I think you guys are twisting Bryan’s intent. What he is saying is not all that different from what President Hinckley says here:

    “And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of his death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when he said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) …It is that simple, my brethren and sisters, and that profound and we’d better never forget it.”

    We do not ignore or disdain Calvary, we may even use Golgotha symbolism in our worship as appropriate. Certainly we read about Calvary and sing about it. But we reject it as the symbol of our religion. Note the definite article.

    By the way, Matt, are you Matt Jacobsen once of Palo Alto, or some other Matt Jacobsen that I don’t know?

  32. Jed on April 14, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    Bryan, Ed: The common ground between you two is Christ’s suffering. It is true that Mormons do not emphasize the suffering on the cross, but we can’t very well say we emphasize the Garden Tomb any more than we emphasize the suffering in Gethsemane. Our Christ is a suffering Christ, but a kneeling not hanging Christ. We acknoweldge the cross but think the legwork of the atonement (to use a crude formulation), bleeding from every pore, etc, was performed before that time.

  33. Mark Martin on April 14, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    Shawn (#25, and my #21),

    No, the pass-along card comment was intended only as a joke. Being a Cleveland Indians fan, I was delighted when I first saw that card 2 or 3 years ago. Few others would have even noticed the logo, since it was just a little sliver with the ball cap turned sideways. However, it was still noticeable enough for “Tribe” fans to see.

  34. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Matt,
    I dont personally know why people use the cross themselves. Many probably for what they feel is the right reasons, many probably for the wrong reasons, and most probably just wear it or have it because its something to wear or have. I never said that having a cross in someones home is a betrayal of our faith. Personally it does not bother me, and I dont see how it is a betrayal. The Church does not use it because we do not focus on his death per say…see THE PASSION. That movie hits the nail on the head..it embodies everything that is mainstream Christianity. It focuses on his suffering and death on the Cross. Not his ressurection, and our attonment.

    Besides you missed the whole point of my post. The Cross is not a sacred symbol. Our Church is a reformation of Christs orginal Church. The symbols that we use have meaning and power and are sacred. If the orginal Church used a Cross then im sure we would too. We are not going to use it just because after the Great apostacy, people started using Crosses at Church. It was obviously not a symbol for Christs church when he was on the earth, nor is it a symbol for his Church now. What someone does themselves, or in their home is one thing, but I think you will have a better chance of GBH getting a tatoo then the Church adopting a Cross.

  35. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks Frank,
    I was at work and could not find that quote. Was going to post it when I got home.

  36. ed on April 14, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    The entire sacrament ordinance focuses on Christ’s suffering and death, from the hymns to the prayers to the symbols we eat and drink.

    “we as members know he suffered far more in the Garden then he did on the Cross.”

    How do we know this? I’ve asked this question several times in the bloggernacle and never got a response.

  37. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 4:24 pm

    “The Church does not use it because we do not focus on his death per say…see THE PASSION. That movie hits the nail on the head..it embodies everything that is mainstream Christianity.”

    I can, if you wish, point you without much effort to about 100 internet reviews of The Passion by “mainstream Christians” who were profoundly turned off by Mel Gibson’s bloody traditionalism, seeing in it nothing similar to the teachings and grace which informed their faith life. Also, if you’re still interested, I can also point you to about two dozen very strong and “passionate” endorsement of The Passion written members of the church, probably about half of whom may be reading these words right now. So at the very least, let’s admit that what it means to focus on Christ’s “death” (meaning His condescension? His mercy? His love for us all? His complete submission to the Father?) is a bit more complicated than all that.

    Moreover, if the cross is an apostate symbol, so are spires on the tops of holy buildings. Steeples even. Why don’t we embrace the plain meeting houses of the Quakers, according to that line of reasoning? Was the Restoration incomplete?

  38. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    “We as members know he suffered far more in the Garden then he did on the Cross.”

    I’ve heard this many times in my life as well, and I’m not sure I’ve ever believed it. Like Ed, I’d be interested to hear if there is scriptural warrant for believing this to be the case.

  39. Matt Jacobsen on April 14, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Frank –

    I was in Palo Alto 1995-1999. The creche exhibit gave it away, huh. I worked with the deacons almost my entire time and went to the combo choir/sunday school, so I didn’t get to know many of the elders. Were you one of them?

    I do realize that I am pushing back a bit on the cross issue. That is only because I think we’ve taken our bias against crosses too far. When we hear that the cross is not the symbol of our faith, I think we mistakenly assume that means that the cross cannot be any part of our faith. I brought up nativity scenes because we seem to encourage the use of these images common to all of Christianity, even though the birth of Christ is not the focus of our worship. But I’d bet there are very few Mormons with crosses or pictures of the crucifixion in their home (mine included), even at Easter time.

    I think our attitude and actions can easily come across as meaning that no good Christian should attach any spiritual meaning to a cross. I don’t think we (or President Hinckley) intend to do that.

    For the record, let it be known that I am against parades with life-size crucifixes.

  40. ed on April 14, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    Here’s a list of things that don’t mention Gesthemane but do mention or reference the crucifiction:

    The Book of Mormon
    All but one of the sacrament hymns
    The sacrament prayers
    The temple

  41. Kevin Barney on April 14, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    When I was in high school, I saw a girl wearing a cross, and asked her why she insisted on celebrating the death and suffering of Christ by wearing the instrument of his torture around her neck. I have many, many times wished I could take those words back!

    I’m no longer bothered by crosses the way many LDS are. But if we’re not going to use them at all, I would hope we would tone down the rhetoric and at least teach our young people to be respectful and not to be arrogant jerks about it–the way I was on that occasion.

  42. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    Todd Compton in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism attributes the lack of crosses to the plain New England style of our early churches.

    What is surprising to me is that, given what a hot topic our non-use of the cross is in anti-Mormon circles, no one on either side of the debate seems to quote anyone earlier than McConkie on why we don’t use crosses in our buildings. How did this tradition become so strong when apparently none of the prophets have said anything about it until recently? Especially when the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, seem to be on the side of the cross.

    I just can’t believe there isn’t a dissertation, or even a Dialogue article, out there on this. Unless, there is just isn’t any historical discussion of the topic. But then how did the tradition become so strong? Especially in the early days when building construction was much less corelated?

  43. Clark on April 14, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    I have to agree with Nate. While there are definite downsides to not using the cross as a fashion or architectural symbol, I do think it helps “define us” as a unique people and differentiates us from Protestants. I recognize that the last decade and a half has focused on building on common ground. But that has also (IMO) had unfortunate doctrinal consequences on the population as well as I believe leading to the decrease in conversions the last 5 – 8 years.

    To me it is like the change of emphasis on the Word of Wisdom back in the 30′s. Yeah perhaps alcohol in small doses is beneficial. Yes, perhaps our focus on such appearances keeps out of church some who might otherwise have come. But overall the benefit to maintaining an identity can’t be underestimated (IMO). I think one need only look to the RLDS to see the dangers of “mainstreaming” too much.

  44. Clark on April 14, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Just to add, something brought up at United Brethren. When Christ appears and displays his symbols of the cross, they are the holes in his hands and feet. We have a lot of cross symbolism in the church as all know. But they truly are symbols of Christ off the cross. When the scriptures frequently speak of taking up our cross, I don’t think the symbol of the literal cross is the best way to symbolize it. Rather I think the scriptures themselves tell us the best way to symbolize taking up the cross. “follow me, and feed my sheep.” (D&C 112:14)

  45. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 4:53 pm

    And look to the “so-called Mormon fundementalists” to see the danges of not “mainstreaming” enough.

  46. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    Sorry,
    No offence to Ed or Russel, but I have to go with the Prophet on this one. You are also taking out of context what I have been saying. You are alsoing ignoring the main part. I dont think that their is anything wrong with the Cross personally. It however was not , is not, nor will ever be THE symbol of Christs Church. The Cross was not used until hundreds of years after Christs death. Just because other apostate churches adopt it, does not mean that we should jump on the bandwagon and adopt it.

    I dont look down on people that would wear it or have it in their home. I surely dont think its a sin, or a “betrayal” of you faith. I also think that it is not a sacred symbol. The sacred symbols of our Church decorate our temples. Even these though are not THE symbol of our Church.

    As far as the Garden of Gesthemane. How many people have been crusified? Millions probably. How many people have bled from every pore? I havent heard of anyone but Christ. How many people have been tortured far worse than Christ was on the Cross or anyone that has been crusified? Millions probably. His suffering on the Cross was only part. It started in Gesthemane. It was finished on his death. I want to say it was Benson that stressed Gesthemane, but I dont remember. I would like to find out that myself.

  47. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    “To me it is like the change of emphasis on the Word of Wisdom back in the 30’s. Yeah perhaps alcohol in small doses is beneficial. Yes, perhaps our focus on such appearances keeps out of church some who might otherwise have come. But overall the benefit to maintaining an identity can’t be underestimated.”

    I don’t disagree, Clark: I’m not encouraging us to put crosses up on our buildings and temples, or adorn our chapels with them. (I’m not sure anyone is.) As I said to Nate, historical continuity is a virtue in itself. But if President Hinckley decided tomorrow we should use crosses–of if, more likely, it so happens that the antipathy so many Mormons have to the use of the cross as a symbol were to die out over the course of a few decades, and more Mormons started using them as part of their lives–I hardly think anything essential to the Restoration would have been lost. It would not be a betrayal of our “identity,” because going cross-less never was and probably never has been an “affirmative” expression of our identity, faith and uniqueness (because it’s not unique, of course: talk to Quakers, Mennonites, the Amish, Seventh-Day Adventists, etc.), but rather has developed almost entirely, from what I can tell, by way of a kind of rejectionism: i.e., “we don’t do what they do.” Such negative expressions can, I suppose, serve as a valid mark of identity, but not, I think, as a particularly robust one.

  48. Jed on April 14, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    Bryan (#34); “[The cross] was obviously not a symbol for Christs church when he was on the earth.”

    Was the Angel Moroni statue a symbol of Christ’s church when he was on the earth? A church built on revelation can do just about anything it wishes; the modern church doesn’t need a mandate from the ancient church. I don’t see anything written in stone tablets prohibiting us from making more of the cross–and if there were such a positive teaching, it could be overturned at any moment.

    I see our indifference to the cross having more to do with our cultural effort to differentiate ourselves from other churches than evidence of some deep doctrinal difference. Our earliest converts were plain people who would have run the other way at the first signs of high church symbolism.

  49. ed on April 14, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Bryan,

    I’m not at all saying that the church should adopt the cross as a symbol. In fact, I never even mentioned the cross in my comments to you.

    I’m only taking issue with your assertions that we don’t/shouldn’t focus on Christ’s death and suffering. Maybe you are right that we don’t focus on it enough, but it’s a pervasive image in the BOM and in the central elements of our worship, much more than the resurrection or the garden. Maybe we should focus on it more.

  50. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    I also had a discussion with a missionary the other day. He said that in the garden he suffered for our sins, spiritual death. On the Cross he had to suffer for our physical death. It was 2 parts. He had to attone for our sins, and over come the bands of death. This complete the cycle and starts the ressurection. It also allows us to be ressurected. This makes sence as they were both equally important, just 2 different types of suffering. McConkie I believe said something along those lines.

  51. Frank McIntyre on April 14, 2005 at 5:14 pm

    Matt,

    OK, you are the first Matt Jacobsen who was marrried to Nate’s sister, as opposed to the second Matt Jacobsen who moved in later and was Eric’s brother. Got it.

    I got there in 98 and left when they re-organized. One of my favorite creche’s at the annual display was the one with the polar bears.

  52. Bryan Robert on April 14, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Jed,
    The angel moroni is not however the symbol of our church eaither. It is on our temples, but so are pentagrams. We do not have it on our churches, and it is definitly not THE symbol of our church.

    You are right though, a Church build on revalation can do pretty much what it wants. I highly doubt that God will reveal to take upon us the Symbol of an apostate church that abomination in his eyes. (Gods words not mine)

  53. Gordon Smith on April 14, 2005 at 5:43 pm

    About the Angel Moroni … isn’t that now more about branding than worship? In other words, isn’t Angel Moroni included on temples as much for non-members as members?

    When I think about symbols that are designed for members — to increase understanding and devotion — (almost?) every one is closely associated with an ordinance. The older temples had external symbols that might have served this function, but I can’t think of a single symbol today that is used in general worship, in homes, in cars, etc.

  54. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    Here’s an interesting (if not quite coherent) quote from a random web hit unrelated to Mormonism. Note how the author claims the risen Christ vs. dead Christ is the reason Methodists and Baptists use the cross and shun the crucifix.

    Also note his description of the emerging tradition of “Seeker chuch [or "Seeker friendly church"] eliminating all Christian symbols to reach out to those who reject institutional churches.

    So maybe we should forget about bringing in the cross or stained glass, and give up the white shirts and ties and beef up our audio/visual systems instead.

    “Symbols are very important in some traditions, optional in some traditions and virtually prohibited in others. The Orthodox and Roman churches not only employ symbols. Many of these symbols become icons. These statues and paintings become a means of God’s imparting his Spirit to us. There is a full embrrassing but less sacramental position in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition. Churches in the evangelical tradition – most Baptists and Methodist as well as many independent churches take a position that, while they don’t want to be accused of worshiping idols (graven images of God or statues or graphical representations of any of the saints), they will embrace some symbols. This is most commonly used symbol is a cross. There will be crosses in the church, on the pulpit, the communion table and even perhaps on the trays that hold the communion cups. They will permit artwork as an expression of Christian truth. It is critical that these crosses will not ever be a crucifix, a cross with Jesus depicted on the cross. The common expression when a crucifix is that they worship a risen Christ, not a dead Christ, implying that certain traditions focus on Jesus’ death too much or that there is no belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the grave. There is an emerging third position on the use of Christian symbols in Christian worship. For some time the Seventh day Adventist movement has taught that any visible symbol such as the cross or crucifix or statues of Christians is sin. The “Seeker movement” or “user friendly” church now feel that any use of Christian symbols, such as crosses, altars, stained glass, traditional choirs and even organ music, might make a person who is not in the Christian tradition feel uncomfortable. The spaces in which these churches gather will resemble concert halls and municipal auditoriums. Any thing that would bring to mind in a secular person the image of “the institutional church” will be carefully excluded from being a part of their worship environment. In fact many non-traditional items now can be seen as the emerging symbols of this tradition. These would include things such as a major investment in audio/visual systems used in the meetings. Large screens and overhead projectors and synthesizer led small musical groups are a given in this expression of “church”.”

  55. M.J. Pritchett on April 14, 2005 at 6:28 pm

    Here’s a quote from H. A. Ironside (1876-1951), pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago:

    We are not preaching the Gospel of a dead Christ, but of a living Christ who sits exalted at the Father’s right hand, and is living to save all who put their trust in Him. That is why those of us who really know the Gospel never have any crucifixes around our churches or in our homes. The crucifix represents a dead Christ hanging languid on a cross of shame. But we are not pointing men to a dead Christ; we are preaching a living Christ. He lives exalted at God’s right hand, and He “saves to the uttermost all who come to God by Him.”

  56. Seth Rogers on April 14, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    I believe Talmage postulated that Christ suffered more in the Garden than on the Cross in “Jesus the Christ.” However, that’s his own opinion. Physiologically, it seems to make sense that bleeding from every pore would be more painful than having nails driven through the central nerves in your forearms. But I have absolutely no evidence for that either.

    Just an aside.

    If we did adopt the cross as a symbol, imagine what a self-congratulatory field-day they would have over at ex-mormon.org. There’d probably be several newspaper stories as well claiming that the LDS church was finally seeing the error of its ways and becoming more “hip.” That might be a little hard to stomache.

  57. Hans Hansen on April 14, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    I am reminded of a quote from the late comedian Bill Hicks (cleaned up a bit for this website):

    “A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. Do you think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a freaking cross? It’s kind of like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on.”

  58. Gordon Smith on April 14, 2005 at 11:47 pm

    It occurred to me tonight that the Angel Moroni on the Nauvoo Temple faces west. Then I found this (scroll down): “Unlike most temples, the Seattle Washington Temple, Nauvoo Illinois Temple, and Taipei Taiwan Temple all have angel Moroni statues facing west.”

    Now I assume that the other Angel Moronis face east though a member of my ward told me tonight that he had once heard that they all face Missouri. Well, given that the earth is a globe, perhaps it all works out.

  59. Derek on April 15, 2005 at 8:43 am

    Bryan Robert (#50),

    I can’t speak for what missionaries are teaching these days, but the doctrine of the central role of the cross in the atonement seem pretty clear from scripture. It goes far beyond just suffering physical death. The scriptures are filled with references to the cross and how Jesus was “lifted up on the cross and slain for this sins of the world” (1 Ne 11:33). Christ himself says the very purpose the Father sent him to earth was “to be lifted up upon the cross” (3 Ne 27:15) and that everyone should “take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Paul talked of “preaching of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18). There are numerous other references I could note in all of the standard works both prophesying of Christ’s death on the cross and explaining its central significance. In contrast, I can find only 3 scriptures citations that make explicit reference to the importance of the suffering in Gethsemane—Mosiah 3:7, D&C 19:15-20 and Luke 22:42-44.

    As already mentioned, this doctrinal drift of singling out Gethsemane as the place where Christ suffered for our sins seems to begin with Talmage in “Jesus the Christ.” But many fail to note that Talmage goes on to speculate that the horrors of Gethsemane returned and were intensified on the cross, thus eliciting the terrible cry “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” McConkie picked up on this and basically made the same points in his 4th Mortal Messiah book, quoting Talmage.

    In the end, we need not choose where the suffering for our sins actually “happened” (Gethsemane vs. Golgotha) because we know they were all part of the “offering for sin” (Isa. 53:10). But to try to minimize the crucial role of the cross in the atonement is to deny an overwhelming amount of scripture. Whether we shy away from the cross as the symbol of our faith, we cannot shy away from its central importance in the story of the Lord’s sacrifice for us. I find it a shame that sometimes in our zeal to distinguish ourselves as different in our beliefs, we forget or marginalize these fundamental teachings of scripture.

  60. Mark Martin on April 15, 2005 at 9:02 am

    #36, #38, #50, #59,

    Suffering greater in Gethsemane or the Cross of Calvary? We don’t seem to have any scriptural basis for the Gethsemane suffering being greater, because it is quite possible for the suffering for sins to have also occurred on the cross, in addition to physical suffering. Derek captured it well in #59. In Elder Bruce McConkie’s final testimony in General Conference (May 1985 Ensign) he said:

    “Then the cross was raised that all might see and gape and curse and deride. This they did, with evil venom, for three hours from 9:00 A.M. to noon.

    “Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours, as it did among the Nephites. There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony.

    “And truly he was, for while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 P.M., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred.”

  61. Drew on April 15, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    I was impressed by a History Channel insight into the cross about 2 years ago (yes, inspired by a television program), from which I learned of early Christians who adopted the cross– then a widespread symbol of the Roman Empire’s fierce tyranny– and converted it into a symbol of peace. I like to think of the cross in this grassroots rebellion kind of way, remembering Christ and the early Christians who would not be quelled by threats.

    Therefore I concur with Bryon in #34 that this manmade symbol be left off of our sacred structures, but that it be more highly respected among our members as an important representation..

    Furthermore, I have felt from so many LDS individuals a tendency to regard the cross as inferior and “dirty”. If we are the symbols of our own religion, is it not be beneficial to shed condescending attitudes for that which we don’t ourselves embrace?

  62. Jon on April 15, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    I suspect the last thing Christ wants to see when He returns is a cross! ;-)

  63. Shawn Bailey on April 15, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    Good point, Jon. Displaying a cross in His presence might be bad form! Very bad form.

  64. JA Benson on April 15, 2005 at 10:06 pm

    There is a legend among the Cherokee Indians concerning the Cross. Many years ago when the world was young; there in the mountains lived a race of good little people called the Nunnehi. One day as the Nunnehi were gathered around a deep spring; dancing and singing; a messenger came to visit them from a city far away in the East. The messenger delivered sad tidings that the Son of the Great Spirit had been taken away by evil men and had died upon a cross. So sorrowful were the Nunnehi that their hearts were broken and they wept. As their tears fell to the ground the tears changed into small stones. These stones were in the form of beautiful brown crosses. The happiness was gone from the hearts of the Nunnehi people and so they disappeared from the earth.
    These “fairy cross rocks” as they are called by the whites are a type of rock called staurolite which is a combination of silica, iron and aluminum. These minerals crystallize in twin form creating a naturally occurring cross shape. These stones can be found in Georgia and Virginia. There is a state park in Virginia called Fairy Stones State Park.
    A legend tells of Pocahontas who gave one to John Smith. Many people carry cross rocks as good luck charms. It is not known when the Cherokee created this legend; only that it is a very old one.
    I have a cross rock that I purchased at a low cost. I wear my cross rock around my neck as a pendant. My cross rock reminds me of my Native American Ancestors who I believe are the children of Lehi. For me I like to think of my cross rock as my Book of Mormon Cross.

  65. J. R. Knight on April 16, 2005 at 7:15 am

    This topic came up awhile ago on the FAIR board and went in all directions, but I’d like to share some thoughts because I’ve gained more respect for the cross as I’ve become more aware of its history.

    Bryan said: “The Cross is not a sacred symbol.”

    The cross is probably the oldest Israelite symbol, dating back to at least Egyptian times. In the Egyptian alphabet the cross symbol is a biliteral, combining the symbols of the snake (lifted up by Moses in the wilderness?) and water (strong Messianic relationship – drink the water Jesus gives to receive everlasting life). Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar (my 1964 edition has it on page 577) shows the cross is part of a hieroglyph meaning ‘protector’ or ‘salvation’ or ‘savior’ and may be not only a symbol for Messiah, but also His name.

    Some are of the opinion that the cross was the symbol painted above the doors of the Israelites on passover night. When Israel was in the wilderness they set up camp around the tabernacle with the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin on the west; Dan, Asher and Naphtali on the north; Judah, Issachar and Zebulun on the east; and Reuben, Simeon and Gad on the south. Using the population given in Numbers chapter 1 we have 108,000; 167,000; 186,000 and 151,000 respectively. Someone looking down from a mountain, such as Balaam, would see the camps laid out like a large cross in the valley.

    The cross also represents a scale or balance wherein the conflicting perfections of God’s justice and mercy are reconciled. In the Kabbalah, the emmenation of ‘beauty’ lies between them. Beauty exists when these paradoxes are in balance and justice is not robbed nor mercy denied to those who believe.

    Further; in Jacob chapter four, he accuses the Jews of ‘looking beyond the mark’, referring to looking past Jesus to their old traditions. The Hebrew word for ‘mark’ is ‘tav’ which is also the name of the last letter in their alphabet. The ancient form of this letter is the same as our lowercase t, or a cross. The Jews looked past the cross and refused to come to Christ for life.

    There is also a symbol of the repeating tau or cross in the Kirtland temple. The tau is also a symbol of eternal life and is the mark placed by the angels on the foreheads of the righteous to identify them as righteous followers of Jehovah (Eze 9, Rev 7 & 9). Matthew Brown discusses this in his Symbols in Stone, page 66.

    We shouldn’t be afraid of the cross; it is much more than an instrument of death, but rather an instrument of life. In 3 Nephi 27:14 the Lord says He was lifted up in order that He might draw all men unto Him that they might be lifted up. It is a beautiful symbol, which, sadly, has lost much of its meaning among most Christians, and holds very little meaning among the LDS.

  66. JA Benson on April 18, 2005 at 10:05 am

    J.R.Knight
    What a thoughtful and informative post. Thanks.

  67. Bryan Robert on April 18, 2005 at 11:01 am

    Very nice post J.R. I was thinking of the cross in just Modern Christian times. 300 A.D. until the present, when I made that comment. I was comparing it to say the pentagram, or a truely old sacred symbol. I didnt realize it had very old roots also.

  68. J. R. Knight on April 18, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks for your comments. Sometimes I wish we acknowledged the cross a little more, but I suppose it will have to be a personal choice.

  69. N Miller on April 18, 2005 at 4:32 pm

    I think we often get caught up in the thick of thin things. Let me add to the thickness of this thin thing.

    May I make the one point of what the prophet stated.

    “But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.”

    It was not stated that the cross is not a symbol. Just a symbol of the dying Christ. And as there have been many good points concerning what that can and perhaps should mean for us, we declare that Christ lives. Both are important. How can One be resurrected without going through death? But, as we all will die, it is only through Christ that we live. I will celebrate and symbolize that through what I do in my life. No better symbol could come than that of a life lived as Christ would live.