Mormons, the Cross, and the Power(lessness) of Christ

February 16, 2007 | 25 comments
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Over the past couple of weeks, four things I’ve recently read have continued to stick in my mind: Nate’s post on the power (or lack thereof) of prayer, Kaimi’s post–and the ensuing long thread–on his daughter’s desire to wear a cross, an extremely thoughtful FARMS review of an apparently equally thoughtful book about Mormonism by an Anglican priest…and finally, Matthew 5. Taken together, they make me wonder why we Mormons think about Christ’s atonement the way that we do.

The Sermon on the Mount is so deeply embedded in nearly everyone’s intuitive understanding of Christianity–love your enemies, turn the other cheek, etc.–that I think sometimes (certainly for me), the radicalness of its message gets lost. Here is the Savior, telling his disciples not to turn to the courts, not to attempt to turn conflicts to their own advantage, not to expect or seek praise, not to limit one’s charity or forgiveness or love to those who are decent and kind, but to extend it to every person. At every point throughout this chapter, and throughout the whole Sermon, Jesus is telling us to submit to authority, to refrain from judgment, to embrace every burden and confess every sin. The overwhelming message is one of humility–or indeed, passivity. That is, Christ is calling upon those who follow Him to allow the world to act upon them, rather than to arrogate to themselves the authority and power to act upon the world.

Obviously, the Sermon on the Mount is not the totality of Jesus’s teachings. But the notion that Christ preached passivity is not some completely incongruous doctrine that somehow sneaked into the tradition through the back door. “Passivity” and “passion” are, at their roots, talking about the same thing–allowing oneself to be used, to be filled, to be moved by and subject to others and their needs. Hence the traditional description of Christ’s suffering and death as His “Passion”: He made himself powerless and weak before the mobs, the Romans, the Sanhedrin, the devil, the sins of all human history, He let it all act upon Him, and in that passivity, He transcended the logic of death and hell itself, and thus triumphed. From the ultimate weakness, from submission, comes the power to remake the world.

Nate, in his post on prayer, talked about the odd kind of comfort that comes from acknowledging his own powerlessness in regards to the things he prays for and about. As I read his post–I suppose reading at least some of my own experience into it–I found myself nodding in agreement: I have prayed and begged and pleaded for certain outcomes many times in my life, especially in recent years, and my every attempt to make myself into the sort of person who had some sort of control or claim over God or the fates that would ultimately answer (or not answer) my prayer only made me more unhappy. And yet, to not pray and beg and plead felt not just irresponsible, but also ungrateful. And so I tried to learn–and am still trying to learn–how to pray with the kind of powerlessness that Jesus’s example and teachings seem to suggest: to confess God’s hand in all things, to abase oneself before Him, and yet also implore Him for certain outcomes. Not out of a wish to control certain ends, but out of a love and hope for better ends than the world presently enjoys. In short, to not be afraid of one’s own dependence.

This is not an easy perspective to maintain, especially in 21st-century America, the land of instant gratification and complaint. And that is where, I think, I find the cross most useful. When I wrote on Kaimi’s thread that I’m something of a “closet Lutheran,” I was thinking primarily of Luther’s fundamental description of humankind–simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and saved–and how that line comes closer to capturing my own intuitions about my own condition than any other work of Christian commentary I have ever read. There’s a lot that Luther was wrong about, but he was right about this: we all (as individuals, as the human race) stand in the shadow of the cross. The command to be “perfect” which Christ issues at the end of Matthew 5 is bound up with the notion of being able to express love not only despite but through abasement, powerlessness, weakness, submission. The cross is where the Savior was defeated; where they killed Him. No other could ever descend so low; consequently, no other could ever provide such grace, such service, to all the rest of us who still, as fallen mortals, pray selfishly and stand defiantly and insist on maintaining our (ridiculously pathetic) power and pride. So taking up the cross–symbolically and otherwise–becomes a way to make oneself beholden to one’s indebtedness, to acknowledge the weak and humiliating end which made and sill makes a new beginning for us all.

Of course, talking this way isn’t typical at all for Mormons. Many of the comments on Kaimi’s thread argued (appealing to various statements by various general authorities at various levels of “officialness”) that a cross focuses too much on death, and not enough on Christ’s life. And we are, it cannot be denied, a church that likes to think of itself as life-centered, affirmative, building Zion and doing good works. (Consider our rhetoric of “activity” for those who are committed to the church.) This, of course, is what lays at the heart of the common evangelical critique of Mormonism as a religion with only a minimal concern for grace. Douglas Davies, the Anglican priest who authored the book mentioned above, doesn’t bring up that lazy and easily disprovable accusation, but he does dig deep into the assumptions which make it plausible in the first place. He acknowledges that Mormons do indeed have a sense of grace, but also observes how our doctrines of the temple and covenant-making tend to lead us to see our rituals as more “pro-active” than passive, and we pass that ritual understanding all the way up to Christ–as Davies sees it, we Mormons see Jesus’s suffering as primarily operating through His active agency (He volunteered in the pre-existence, He made the world in which He would be sacrificed, He chose the time and place of His atonement, etc.). This is why, in part, we have tended to emphasize Gethsemane rather than the Cross–the atonement was primary a function of Jesus’s brave choice (look at Him, sweating blood there in the garden, going at it alone while His disciples slept…) to take on the sins of the world, and not of the actual suffering and death which Jesus passively embraced following that choice.

I suspect many of us, to the extent we think about these things, would say that Davies has a point; that he’s gotten at something deep and correct in Mormon thought. But David Paulsen and Cory Walker, in their FARMS review, disagree. They acknowledge that Davies’s treatment of Mormon thinking about Christ–and thus also the way we often depict Him in art and symbols–is profound, but they argue that he reads too much into all our future-oriented covenant-making, and thus misses the equal soteriological importance we attach to the sacrament, which can only be understood as a reminder of Christ’s brokenness on our behalf. (They also argue that there is no real doctrinal basis for the lack of cross imagery in Mormonism, and that perhaps the only reason we don’t use crosses in our worship is that, by the time evangelical influences trumped Puritan ones and American Protestants started using the cross widely in the late 1800s, we Mormons were too geographically isolated to follow suit.) The insight of Mormon revelations about Christ, they say, is not to affirm a proactive rather than a graceful, passive Christ, but rather to show that both were always present in His ministry, and that being perfect means, among other things, not being distracted by ancient theological categories, and recognizing instead that Christ’s redemption and our human (and thus flawed, but still worthy) responses to that redemption are equally necessary.

I like this conclusion, though I suspect in some ways it is too pat. It is one thing to say that submissive weakness and responsible affirmation go hand-in-hand in salvation; it is another thing entirely to understand how to live that way. Which, perhaps, is itself simply another way of pointing out that only Christ knew how to act perfectly, while yet being acted upon. For the rest of us…well, as we make our way through the world, in the shadow of Christ’s saving work, I suppose we have to just self-correct as necessary–and as we are guided to do so, by prophets and the Spirit. Certainly our religion gives us more than enough resources to be able to grasp both aspects of salvation. Still, it is perhaps worth reflecting upon just how much the church has done over the last 20 years to make certain that grace, and the love of Jesus, and His suffering, are on our minds and in our curricula and thus hopefully in our hearts. In today’s work-hard-and-play-hard-to-get-ahead world, reminders of powerlessness–or, rather, the power of powerlessness, of passivity, the power manifest by a Savior who, once He made His choice, truly did give Himself over to be acted upon by His Father as well as His enemies–are probably much needed. And if a cross can serve as such a reminder…well, let’s just say, it works for me.

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25 Responses to Mormons, the Cross, and the Power(lessness) of Christ

  1. A. Nonny Mouse on February 16, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for this post, Russell. I really like that Martin Luther quote. Do you have a source for some place I could read more about it, being unschooled in the ways of Luther as I am?

  2. mfranti on February 16, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    “The Sermon on the Mount is so deeply embedded in nearly everyone’s intuitive understanding of Christianity–love your enemies, turn the other cheek, etc.–that I think sometimes (certainly for me), the radicalness of its message gets lost. Here is the Savior, telling his disciples not to turn to the courts, not to attempt to turn conflicts to their own advantage, not to expect or seek praise, not to limit one’s charity or forgiveness or love to those who are decent and kind, but to extend it to every person.”

    I realize that this is only a small part of what the savior taught but it’s so vital to our own understanding of what our membership in his church is about.

    We Mormons,we know so much, right? we have so much truth right? But it seems that we get so hung up on being a Latter Day Saint, that we forget about being a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ.

  3. mfranti on February 16, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    RAF.

    Love the post!

  4. Keith on February 16, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Russell, thanks for this post. Interestingly, for those who have little place for remembrance of Christ’s death, we need only to look at the symbols of that death that we partake of in the sacrament. We remember and bring into ourselves the emblems of his sacrifice and death — and these give us life. Of course, this is not divorced from the resurrection through which Christ’s death becomes more than a act designed to move us to good works — as would the death of any good person for a good cause.

    You might be interested in reading Richard Neuhaus’ _Death on a Friday Afternoon_ (a thoughtful, mostly devotional, work on the crucifixion) and Jurgen Moltmann’s _The Crucified God_ (a much more philosophical/theological work). You can find an excerpt of the Neuhaus book here: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/18/story_1851_1.html

  5. Norbert on February 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks for this, Russel. It crystalizes some thoughts I’ve had recently.
    When we recently had the temple open house here, we were instructed to say that Christ was at the center of everything we do at the temple. I was actually surprised by that statement. The focus on covenants and the need to keep them exactly to achieve exaltation seems to de-emphasize the dependence on Christ and his sacrifice. It would not be impossible to imagine someone thinking, ‘Hey, all I’ve got to do is W, X, Y & Z, and I’m in!’ I realize there is an intellectual argument that puts this all together, and I have prayerfully considered the place of Christ in relationship to those covenants and come to my own satisfactory conclusions, but it remains that the spirit of total dependance on Christ doesn’t ooze out of those teachings.
    Likewise, the sacrament is sometimes presented as a means of recharging your spiritual battery so you can get through the temptations of the week. It seems to me the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us is more meaningful and taking his name upon ourselves means more than just obeying his commandments, although that is a key element.
    Here’s what struck me recently: I’m reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea with a class, and this idealized old man whom the author makes into a Christ figure is both proud and humble, both weak and strong, both independent and dependent. While my students, in their youthful invulnerability, struggle to understand what they see as contradictions, I think I’ve felt the same paradox in my relationship in Christ.
    Those qualities Christ gives us in the Sermon — as well as the qualities of charity given by Paul and Moroni — remind us of the type of heart that is required of us and should motivate not just our moral behavior, but also our understanding of our relationship with the Father and his Son.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on February 16, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Nonny,

    Luther used that formulation many times in different contexts. Probably the clearest statement of it can be found in his lectures on the Book of Romans. But there are a lot of good Lutheran commentaries available which explore it in greater depth.

    Mfranti,

    Thanks for the compliment; I’m glad you like the post.

    Keith,

    Thanks also for the kind words, and your good thought about the sacrament being a symbol of not just Christ’s body, but quite literally His death. As for Neuhaus, I’ve read quite a bit of him (including an essay of his on Easter which I used in an old T&S post here, but I’ve never read Death on a Friday Afternoon, though it’s been recommended to me several times. Thanks for the reminder.

    Norbert,

    It’s always great when you comment. I particularly like your thoughts about the “recharging your spiritual battery” reading of the sacrament. I’ve heard that plenty of times myself–and, of course, there’s some truth and value to thinking about things in that way. But yes, the sacrament has to mean more than just that.

  7. JKC on February 16, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    “The focus on covenants and the need to keep them exactly to achieve exaltation seems to de-emphasize the dependence on Christ and his sacrifice.”

    Really? I was a little surprised to read this. Honestly, I’ve always thought that the need for exact obedience greatly emphasizes dependence on the Savior. I mean, we’re required to keep these covenants exactly, and if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us do it, so the only option is repentance and forgiveness through Christ. I guess you’re right that it isn’t impossible to imagine somebody thinking that simply making the covenants and superficially going through the motions would make them saved, but that has not been the most natural conclusion for me. Maybe that’s just because before my mission I was inoculated against that thinking by my stake president, who emphasized the symbolic nature of the temple ceremonies.

    I think aspects of the temple clothing are some of the most powerful expressions of atonement imagery in our liturgy. Finding themselves in sin, Adam and Eve attempt to cover their sins without Christ’s help, on their own, and the resulting fig-leaf aprons are woefully inadequate. Instead, the Savior sacrifices his own body (symbolically, through a proxy victim) to make them coats of skins. But to wear the coats, they have to first divest themselves completely of their own puny fig leaf efforts. This, to me, is a powerful image of dependence. It is only after we put on Christ that our own efforts can be an acceptable part of the garments of salvation.

    I’m not sure this is what Russel was getting at, but in some ways, I think temple garments for Mormons (should) play similar roles to the cross for Evangelical Christians and or the crucifix for Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I haven’t read the FARMS piece, but I agree with Russel that that conclusion is too pat. In general, I think that when we are confronted with valid criticisms of the way our culture sometimes prevents us from relying on (ie having faith in) Christ, we need to recognize our faults instead of engaging in apologetics to explain them away. Self-justification is kind of antithetical to atonement.

  8. Mike Parker on February 16, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    The overwhelming message is one of humility–or indeed, passivity. That is, Christ is calling upon those who follow Him to allow the world to act upon them, rather than to arrogate to themselves the authority and power to act upon the world.

    Which is why I am continually baffled at the overwhelming support among the Saints for U.S. wars of aggression in general, and the Iraq war in particular. Has no one ever read D&C 98?

  9. Matt B on February 17, 2007 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for this, Russell. I’ve recently begun thinking of myself as a Mormon by way of Reinhold Niebuhr, and this has helped me enunciate why.

    The most important Conference talk in my recent memory is, I think, Oaks’s on becoming, because it takes a step back from our culture of works and tries to make us think about why they are important. So many of Mormonism’s guiding metaphors are legal – we have a de facto substitutionary atonement, we tend to understand covenants as though they were contracts, and at the end of the day many, many of us believe that goodness should be rewarded with circumstantial happiness, that we can earn things from God.

    For me, though, Christianity is much more profound when it starts with teaching me how to look at the world, how to orient myself in it and understand humanity. How to act in it follows, naturally.

  10. Sterling on February 17, 2007 at 9:14 am

    Martin Luther King Jr. has been on my mind because I will be using the King Archive in a couple of weeks. I wonder what King would think of this discussion. I think he would agree there is a certain submissiveness that comes with Christian love. However, I think he also saw in Christianity a formula for changing the social order. Non-violence and love, which might be seen as powerlessness, became tools in King’s hands for bringing out the best in others and hastening the end of segregation.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2007 at 9:34 am

    JKC,

    I have to say, I’ve never thought of temple clothes and garments in that way before. I’m not sure the liturgy of the temple supports your symbolic reading of the Savior sacrificing His own body to make a “new skin” for us, but it is intriguing. And, I suppose, anything that gets us to think in terms of dependence and submission is potentially helpful. (A cross would be a lot more direct, though, wouldn’t you think?)

    You’re probably correct that, properly understood, the emphasis on covenant-making and obedience should make us both forward thinking and pro-active and more deeply aware than ever of our inability to pull off that progress without Christ’s grace. However, in practice, I don’t think it always works that way. Speaking just for myself, I know I often find myself in the position of comparing myself with others, just to see “how well I’m doing” at keeping the commandments. That leads to either personal confidence or competition, not submission.

    Mike,

    I’m not sure the imperative for peace (and thus, presumably, Anti-Nephi-Lehi-type behavior) is necessarily always a direct tie-in with the doctrine of passivity; what people do and what nations do are not always morally or methodologically compatible. That caveat aside: yes, I agree with you. The command to love from and through a position of weakness doesn’t seem to fit very well with the idea of fighting wars to “liberate” or “civilize,” does it?

    Matt,

    Beautiful comments; thank you. Yes, our metaphors and symbols are in many ways usually read in a legalistic way; perhaps that’s unavoidable in America today. But it’s good to try to see things differently sometimes. (And Niebuhr, incidentally, really is a great, quasi-Lutheran guide to doing so.)

  12. Russell Arben Fox on February 17, 2007 at 9:42 am

    “I wonder what King would think of this discussion. I think he would agree there is a certain submissiveness that comes with Christian love. However, I think he also saw in Christianity a formula for changing the social order. Non-violence and love, which might be seen as powerlessness, became tools in King’s hands for bringing out the best in others and hastening the end of segregation.”

    An important observation, Sterling–and, given that Matt and I just mentioned Reinhold Niebuhr, an appropriate one. There was, during the early days of the civil rights movement, an incredible moment of live television, when a news program hosted a debate between James Baldwin and Niebuhr over King’s emphasis on nonviolence. Baldwin was suspicious (as a lot of northern blacks were of King), and he wanted to know why Niebuhr, who fifteen years earlier had written eloquently and respectfully against Christians who had taken pacifist stands during WWII, was so gung-ho over King. Niebuhr responded that there were two types of nonviolence–the retiring, “I-must-stay-pure-for-Christ’s-sake” kind (which, really, if you think about it, is just another example of works righteousness), and the engaged, “I-will-trust-in-God’s-power-to-see-me-through-even-though-my-enemies-have-guns-and-I-don’t” kind. Niebuhr saw King as an example of the second. And I take King seriously enough as an example to think that he really did show exactly the sort of committed, loving, determined “weakness” that Christ calls us all to, even if King’s specific circumstances are unlikely to be our own.

  13. Emma's Son on February 17, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Having been raised a Lutheran I always had a natural belief in Jesus Christ and knew by the power of the Holy Ghost that he was indeed the very Son of God. However, in my mid-teens I began questioning “the just believe and be saved teaching”. In fact I used this logic to leave the church and seek for greater answers out in the world. I reasoned that I already believed and thus I was saved so why go to church. Mind you I was a teen who wanted to justify going out into the world and experiment upon life without feeling guilt. However, I sincerely believed there was something more I needed to do to be saved. I safe guard my exit with a promise to God that if I didn’t find this greater answer and died in my sins I would call upon the name of Jesus to be saved. My journey took me to Woodstock in 1969 where I had a NDE and called upon the Lord who delivered me from my hell and gave me another chance at this life. Within 9 months of that experience I was led by the Holy Spirit to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So by his grace I was saved to come into the greater light.

    On another note I read that the First Presidency together with a number of apostles went to the Gate Way Mall movie theater in SLC a few weeks ago to see a private viewing of the new movie “Amazing Grace”. I feel we should embrace all things Christian and take ownership of such things as the cross, grace and being born again in the greater light God has given us. Just look up these words in our topical guide and I think you will see what I mean.

  14. Razorfish on February 17, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    “The cross is where the Savior was defeated; where they killed Him. No other could ever descend so low; consequently, no other could ever provide such grace, such service, to all the rest of us who still, as fallen mortals, pray selfishly and stand defiantly and insist on maintaining our (ridiculously pathetic) power and pride. So taking up the cross–symbolically and otherwise–becomes a way to make oneself beholden to one’s indebtedness, to acknowledge the weak and humiliating end which made and sill makes a new beginning for us all.”

    Thanks for the great post.

    The quote above is why I love the imagery of the cross. The cross is more than the medium by which the Savior layed down his life, it is a powerful imagery of the work and life of Christ – sacrifice, obedience, transcendence, and atonement. This is what (in part) you are speaking to in referencing the cross in your post (I believe).

    To suggest the cross is only a “reminder of the death of Christ” is to take a very narrow interpretation of perhaps the greatest symbol of Christendom. Outside the LDS Church, the cross is the greatest unifying symbol of faith across all of Christianity. It is a symbol of faith, of sacrifice, of triumph and of death and so much more. It is a symbol to those both inside and outside the faith, that one’s life is devoted to the life and teachings of the Master himself.

    The Savior himself spoke of the imagery of the cross as a requirement of discipleship when he said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Matt 16:24).”

    In our liturgical ceremonies, we place a heavy emphasis on the role of symbols to convey very profound ideas and thoughts on simultaneously multiple levels. Personally, I feel the cross is symbol we have ignored too much in reminding ourselves of the power, the reality, and the wonder of the atonement as well as a symbol that embodies the convictions of our faith.

  15. Jettboy on February 17, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    As I summarized in my post (t)Cross Talk a few months ago:

    I believe, from my research, that the absents of a Cross is an “accident” of history. Not that I don’t think there were deliberate reasons – as the LDS Church has been using other symbols since almost the start. The Angel Moroni seemed to have replaced the Cross as a symbol because it represented many of the key teachings of the Church. It carries the Book of Mormon in one hand and a trumpet in another. This represents Restoration of the Gospel, calling of the Elect, Resurrection and Judgment, and etc. The Cross did not get added to the plethora of other symbols available for iconography.

    It isn’t that Mormons are fearful of the Cross or should be against anyone who uses it for religious devotion. Obviously, some LDS leaders have expressed serious reservations as to its iconographic meaning. What has happened is that the leadership of the Church have tried to internalize the Cross as a personal approach to the struggles of life. Historically there isn’t a view of the physical Cross either positive or negative, so much as simply a lack of attention to that particular “logo” with so many other choices. That means that, not taking into account cultural norms, a Cross isn’t against LDS belief or possible expression. Still, there are serious statements of concern over what it represents or how other symbols might be better reminders of faith. As with other things, even CTR rings, we must be careful drawing the line between symbol and idol.

  16. JKC on February 19, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Russel, rereading this reminds me of the Dream of the Rood. I’ve never understood the cruciphobia of LDS culture, but reading that poem made me want to claim the cross as my own, not just allow others to see it.

    The old Assembly hall on Temple Square is built on a cruciform layout, like most cathedrals. Jacob urges us to “believe in Christ and view his death, and suffer his cross.” Are there other crosses in Mormon symbology or architecture that we overlook because they are so downplayed?

  17. Russell Arben Fox on February 19, 2007 at 9:39 am

    Emma’s Son,

    Thanks for that beautiful story! I appreciate the significance of your spiritual journey, and certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think that I doubt grace operates with restored vigor in the LDS faith, even beyond what the Lutheran tradition has to offer. You own experiences prove otherwise. But if reflecting on that tradition helps us to, as you put it, “embrace all things Christian and take ownership of such things as the cross, grace and being born again in the greater light God has given us,” then we’ll all benefit. Thanks again.

    Razorfish,

    I think your comment grasped the point of my post perfectly; your thoughts complement my own very well. Thanks.

    Jettboy,

    I understand what you’re saying, and I agree that it’s rather unlikely that any leaders of the church today truly feel any hostility towards that symbol. Still, I would suggest that the more we try to figure out where we differ and where we don’t differ from the Christian tradition–a figuring that inevitably comes along with thinking about how we present our message of Christ to the world, as President Hinckley has spent much of his administration doing–the more it becomes a little disingenuous to treat the cross as simply a logo or brand. We certainly think of the Angel Moroni as more than just a sign of identity; we think it communicates a powerful message–one that should be “internalized,” for certain, but one that we also respect enough to make literal. Perhaps the cross should be the same way.

    JKC,

    I’d never thought of that about the Assembly Hall; does anyone know if it was intentional, or if it was just an accident of the architectural training of those behind building it? It’d be a data point worthy of Dan Brown if we discovered cross-imagery lurking in the corners of 19th-century Mormonism, unacknowledged by the rest of the faithful…

  18. JKC on February 19, 2007 at 10:26 am

    yeah, Russel, throw in some Danites, a dash of cult paranoia, season well with Masonic imagery, and we’ve got the makings of a lame bestselling novel…

    According to a cursory Wikipedia search, the Assembly hall was designed by Obed Taylor, whom I could find nothing about; and it was built by Henry Grow, who also built the tabernacle. Wikipedia also said that the Assembly Hall used to have an angel weather vane like the Nauvoo temple. The idea of a cruciform building adorned with stars of David and topped with the Nauvoo-era Moroni (I wonder if it also kept the compass and square from the Nauvoo weather vane) seems an unlikely combination of symbols. But my gut feeling is that the Assembly Hall is probably laid out on a cross because it was in some ways an imitation of the great cathedrals of Europe. But whatever the reason, I like it. I like to point it out to my orthodox Utah-dwelling relatives when we go to conference and see them squirm and try to explain it away. At the very least, it gives the cross a toe-hold somewhere in Mormonism, even if it is only historical.

  19. Steve St Clair on May 7, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    BYU Professor Robert Millet gave a talk called \”Where did the Cross Go?\” to the BYU Hawaii Faculty and student body, in which he lays out the many references to the cross and crucificifixion in the uniquely LDS scriptures, and in the teachings of the Prophets from Joseph Smith on down, and suggests that our doctrine based on those sources cannot help but be that the Atonement took place both in the garden and on the cross. He seems to think that our stress on Gethsemane really came from thinkers who perhaps unwisely were \”emphasizing differences that weren\’t there while we were in isolation in Utah.
    Many exerpts are on my blog at this link: http://ldschangingfocus.blogspot.com/2007/04/latter-day-saints-cross.html

    Based on this, I am now going out of my way to make sure I include the cross whenever I speak or teach, and frequently appear before city councils imploring them to let churches build their crosses a lot taller. I even have a necktie with a cross on it, and show it off to other Latter-day Saints.

    Steve St.Clair
    LDS Interfaith Relations Director, Orange County

  20. David on May 7, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    It does seem like we LDS got distracted when you look at the passage in the book of Luke: “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.(Luke 22:43-44)”
    Note it doesn’t say he sweat blood at at all, it’s a simile. And certainly nothing about bleeding from every pore as they say in Sunday School.

    Also only the book of Luke includes this detail. Doesn’t it seem that if this was the central part of Christ’s sacrifice that it would have been included elsewhere?

    Further, this passage is not even in the older manuscripts:

    “Let me give just a few examples, from many which could have been chosen. Take This is not present in the very earliest Greek manuscripts p66 and p75 from the third century. (P66 stands for papyrus number 66, p75 for papyrus number 75). Will they be dropped from future printings of the King James Version because they are not in the earliest manuscripts we have? Somehow, I doubt it.”

    “These verses are also omitted by Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus (4th century), Codex Washingtonensis (5th century), etc., but are in Sinaiticus (4th century) and the great majority of later manuscripts…”

    (from http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1997/6/976which.html)

  21. It's Not Me on May 8, 2007 at 12:18 am

    #20 “Note it doesn’t say he sweat blood at at all, it’s a simile.”

    Perhaps not, but in modern times the Lord himself said he did:

    D&C 19:18 Which asuffering 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 bnot drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

  22. David on May 8, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Well I hope that’s not one of those times when the revelation gets compromised by faulty scripture reading. For example, when Jesus tells the Nephites things that would only relate to people on that side of the world. Such as the part of the sermon when he instructs people to follow the Roman custom of carrying a citizen’s burden a mile.

  23. Russell Arben Fox on May 8, 2007 at 7:42 am

    Steven,

    Thanks very much for stopping by to comment on this old thread, and for providing the text to that talk by Professor Millet. As you note, he completely embraces the explanation provided by David Paulsen and Cory Walker, which I mentioned in the original post, to the effect that the “crosslessness” of Mormon worship and thought pretty much has everything to do with accidents of history and geography, and nothing to do with doctrine. I don’t expect the old “the cross is a symbol of His death, and we believe in the living Christ” thing to die out anytime soon, unfortunately, but it’s nice to see at least some pushing for a revision in our thinking coming out of BYU.

    David and It’s Not Me,

    I have to own up to believing that the “bleeding from every pore” thing was probably, if not just a simile, than at least a serious a bit of literary exaggeration. And my understanding of revelation is loose enough to allow for the possibility (even the likelihood) that, in trying to put into words the ideas and concepts exploding into his mind, Joseph was sometimes guided by (or even to a degree locked into) the words he knew best, even if his understanding of those words were faulty, or the words themselves were inaccurately recorded.

  24. Adam Greenwood on May 8, 2007 at 9:09 am

    the “crosslessness” of Mormon worship and thought pretty much has everything to do with accidents of history and geography, and nothing to do with doctrine

    I am of the mind that the “accidents of history and geography” have a lot of doctrinal significance. We can’t be abstract Mormons.

  25. Russell Arben Fox on May 8, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Well, that’s true Adam; I wouldn’t want to say that our 19th-century, intermountain west history and geography was culturally–and therefore religiously–meaningless. On the contrary, it’s very important. However, I would disagree that it is significant doctrinally. By doctrine, we mean the teachings of the church, by which we mean the teachings of Christ, correct? And such teachings are by their very nature evangelistic–which isn’t the same as “abstract,” to be sure, but it does mean they have to be portable, not tied to specific historical and geographic contexts. Which I leads me to believe that “doctrine” and “religion” are complexly interrelated. I certainly don’t think we should uproot all our embedded religious practices in response to the slightest doctrinal re-emphasis…but then again, if our religious practices lack doctrinal support, and the history and geography behind them can be countered with other, more broadly Christian and equally valid embedded practices, then I think that makes room for valid critiques.

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