Why Don’t Mormons Use the Cross as a Symbol of Their Faith?

Easter liliesEaster is more than colorful eggs and chocolate bunnies. It’s a time of remembrance and celebration of Jesus Christ, as well as a time of commitment and forgiveness. As Christians, we remember the final days of Jesus Christ’s life and the sacrifice he made for all mankind. We celebrate Jesus’ victory over death. We commit to having faith in Jesus and repenting of our sins, of which we’re forgiven because of Jesus’ personal sacrifice for each of us.

Suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane

After the Last Supper, Jesus and his apostles walked to Gethsemane, an area on the hills of the Mount of Olives. Jesus then left his apostles and prayed to God in a garden. This is when the process of Jesus’ atonement began.

During this time—no one knows exactly how long—Jesus suffered and bled from every pore as he felt every pain and suffered for every sin. When Jesus finished, he returned to his apostles and saw a group of Roman soldiers approaching. Even though Jesus knew this was going to happen, he didn’t run. He stayed because he knew it needed to happen in order for him to fulfill his atoning mission.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

After Jesus’ conviction and death sentence, Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on his head, mocking him as King of the Jews, whipped him, and made him carry his own cross to the hill called Golgotha. They then nailed him to the cross and raised him up to die in between two thieves. Jesus hung and suffered there for hours. While hanging, he forgave those who did this to him and told his Father to forgive them.

Jesus died on that cross on Good Friday, and then was taken down and placed in a tomb. (Passover covers all the events from the Last Supper through Jesus being buried as the Jews measured a day from sundown to sundown.)

Three days after Jesus’ crucifixion is the day Jesus rose from the tomb he was buried in. It’s what we now call Easter Sunday.

The Cross Is Just One Part

Since Jesus Christ died and voluntarily sacrificed himself on the cross, why don’t Mormons use and wear the cross as a symbol of their faith in Jesus?

Mormons believe Jesus died on the cross. But to them, Jesus’ death on the cross was only part of his mortal mission—that all three parts that make up his atonement are important: his suffering for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins, we can all be forgiven of them, and because Jesus rose from the dead, we will one day be resurrected and live again (1 Corinthians 15:22).

How Mormons Honor the Atonement

The miracle of Jesus’ atoning mission isn’t limited to his physical suffering and death on the cross. The miracle is evident in his divine ability to overcome death through his resurrection. That’s why during the Easter season, and every day of the year, Mormons choose to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, the greatest miracle, rather than just focus on His death on the cross.

Like other Christians, Mormons attend a special Sunday worship service on Easter Sunday. Their talks and lessons are centered around Jesus Christ, his crucifixion, resurrection, and surrounding events, while their church chapels are decorated with white lilies and other things that symbolize life. The church choirs and congregations also sing Easter hymns.

Also on Easter Sunday, and every Sunday, Mormons remember the sacrifice Jesus made, the blessings of that sacrifice, and the hope for eternal life by partaking of the sacrament Jesus and his apostles participated in with the Last Supper: Mormons eat bread and drink water in remembrance of the body and blood Jesus personally sacrificed for everyone.

Many Mormons will also take time during this religious holiday to recommit themselves to living Jesus’ gospel better and serving others as he did.


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7 responses to “Why Don’t Mormons Use the Cross as a Symbol of Their Faith?”

  1. The cross was, until about 150 years ago, identified by Protestants with the Catholic Church, which they did not like. The cross was not a Protestant symbol when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830, and the isolation of the Mormons from Protestants kept the new fad for Protestant crosses from affecting Mormon Church architecture. Mormons are satisfied by placing the words “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord” on our temples, and the name of the church, prominently featuring the name “Jesus Christ”, on our houses of worship. If the words don’t tell you we worship Christ, that is your problem.

  2. Cannot cite the source but have read that Joseph Smith had a cane the head of which had a cross embossed upon it, that early in the existence of the Utah Territorial Legislature LDS members tried to authorize the construction of a cross atop Ensign Peak but we’re thwarted by non–LDS legislators who did not want Mormons passing themselves off as Christians, and that a cross was erected at the spot where it was believed that Brigham Young was first able to see the Valley. Of course, time and weather obliterated that structure soon enough. Obviously, nearly all early members had been Protestants and perhaps saw no reason to quickly forsake every feature of their former faith. Just remembered: at the funeral of John Taylor there were said to be cruciform floral arrangements. So the LDS avoidance of the use of the symbol of the cross in art and architecture would appear to be something that just sort of happened. And that’s okay by me. As you probably know, the words “Holiness to the Lord” we’re once inscribed above the entrances to the ZCMI department stores. Times change.

  3. The cross has been the primary symbol of Christian faith since the early decades within Christianity. Originally, the simple cross was used; however, the crucifix, with the corpus or Body of Christ added into the basic cross during the middle ages with the renewed emphasis on His passion during about the 12th century, esp. supported by the Franciscans. By Luther’s time (16th century), the crucifix was the normal form found in the churches But in the century after Luther, as the various protestant congregations were setting themselves apart from Catholicism, the crucifix and cross became distinguished from one another. By the 19th century, it was virtually unheard of to have the two symbols switched in parishes. One of the primary distinctions was that Catholics used the crucifix, as a reminder of the cost of Christ’s suffering; while Protestants used a cross without corpus (“the empty cross”) to show that we believe Christ is no longer dead but the risen Christ. It is only since Vatican II in the 1960s, and the new liturgical movement on both sides that has come from the development of the vernacular Mass among Catholics and the openness to the common language of the Church in worship and the rediscovery of the structure of the Mass among many protestants that there has been more freedom on the part of Protestants to adopt the crucifix in worship spaces and as devotional images. I wear a crucifix as a Lutheran pastor. Every day it serves as a reminder that the cost of the atonement was brutal for Jesus; that he suffered and died for us. And I know that his death was not the end, as I learned in the Creed. Some churches I have served, a crucifix was found on the altar; in others, the empty Cross. The conflict over this symbol and which is the most “appropriate” or correct form has been resolved and individuals are free to use whichever form they find more meaningful.

    Pr Chris

  4. When you say protestants did not like the cross as it was a Catholic symbol, are you referring to the building architecture or the inside worship space? My experience has been that many protestant churches had a bell tower outside the church instead of a cross, but in the worship space there would be a cross hung from the ceiling, or affixed to the wall behind the altar. often a cross would stand on the altar along with a bible. I don’t know of a period when Protestants did away with the cross, although the crucifix WAS seen as a Catholic symbol.

    Pr Chris

  5. The churches built by the pilgrims in New England did not display crosses, and this was also true for Quakers in Pennsylvania (who were hated by the Puritans to the point of arrest and execution.) A history of the adoption of crosses by Protestants in the US indicates that it was a trend that took place after the Mormons had been driven to Utah, and the use of cross emblems was sporadic and definitely a minority practice, and therefore viewed by the majority of Mormons as “Protestant”.

  6. I understand your argument, but if you look at Quaker and Puritan history, they are from the radical right of the 16th century reformation period (the anabaptist group is the traditional archetype for these groups). But the Quakers and Puritans are among those pietist groups which abandoned all art in their churches. Most Protestant Churches didn’t go as far as the Quakers and Puritan did, and have used crosses–but not crucifixes–in their churches. The cross was used on pulpit robes by clergy. There wasn’t uniformity among the churches in their denominations, but the cross was retained after the Reformation; just not the crucifix.

    The decision among the early Mormons and the congregations which which they interacted reflect at least one period of protestantism; the more basic buildings on the frontiers where art was an unaffordable luxury, at least for some. Many, if not most buildings were used for multiple purposes and didn’t have art in the building. It wasn’t a theological reason so much as an economic issue. But as the small towns developed into larger towns and churches became single use, designed to stand out as a church. Typically bell towers would be on the roofline, with a coss on the front wall above the entrance, while inside a cross would be placed or hung somewhere near the altar. As I’ve visited historic churches in the US over the years, almost every one had a cross somewhere in/on their buildings. The battle was between the cross (Protestants) and crucifix (Catholics) and that is not as hard a line as it used to be. There are a number of Lutheran churches which have adopted a crucifix; sometimes as the primary cross; other times as a Lenten worship emphasis. Some of the more liturgical denominations among Protestants are slowly adopting it, usually as a local initiative.

    PR Chris