Heavy competition in the C’s, including Chastity, Church Administration, and Coffee, but I chose the Cross because I have rarely seen more than a cursory one-sentence discussion of why the LDS Church declines to use the image of the cross in its churches and its literature. The standard explanation is that the cross is a sign of Christ’s death, whereas in the LDS Church we celebrate His Life. In this post I’ll review the seven sentences of the TTTF entry, then discuss the pros and cons of the LDS position.
The entry is mildly and surprisingly positive toward the cross as a symbol of Christianity: its use in Christian churches is described as "a symbol of the Savior’s death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith." It then repeats the standard LDS position ("[B]ecause the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith"), not explaining why Mormons, too, are not able to use the cross as a symbol of His resurrection as well as His death or as a sincere expression of faith. It’s worth noting that the TTTF article The Atonement of Jesus Christ notes that the Atonement "took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary." So the cross could also now serve for Mormons as a symbol of the Atonement. The article notes that LDS chaplains are the only Church officials who wear a cross, a pleasant sign of the pragmatic Mormon approach to such issues.
This determination to avoid using the cross in LDS iconography and architecture is puzzling given the insistence by LDS leaders and scholars that the Church should be considered a fully Christian denomination. They have even gone so far as changing the title of the Book of Mormon itself (adding "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" as an official subtitle) to emphasize our Christian bona fides. Simply putting up a few crosses here and there would be an easy way to signal that the LDS desire to be considered more Christian is sincere. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the LDS Church’s studious avoidance of Christianity’s universal symbol represents a considered rejection of identification with mainstream Christianity.
On the other hand, the LDS Church has been fairly successful in establishing its own religious identity. "Their churches don’t have crosses" is one of several distinguishing features of the modern LDS Church, and if you want to be recognized as a distinct denomination, you need distinguishing features. I don’t feel especially deprived to attend church in a chapel that’s devoid of crosses. Personally, padded benches and air conditioning do more to enhance my worship experience than a variety of religious symbols beveled into the woodwork or chiseled into stained-glass windows. So it’s hard to argue that the lack of crosses really has any particular negative effect on the LDS image or on the experience of individual Mormons.
Here’s my parting question: What then is the defining symbol of Mormonism? The Moroni image? The Book of Mormon? A pair of Anglo missionaries in white shirts and ties? These and perhaps a half-dozen other symbols are candidates for the defining symbol of Mormonism. What’s your favorite symbol of the Church?