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Lifted Up on the Cross

Lifted Up on the Cross June 30, 2021

Christian cross necklace
Photo by Maurício Eugênio from Pexels

Ali’s Experience

A student I’ll call Ali recently shared a story with me. Ali is an active Latter-day Saint, and, while perhaps this is unusual for Latter-day Saints, Ali feels that the symbol of the cross connects her with Jesus Christ.

When she was younger, a Christian friend had given her a cross necklace, and ever since, the cross had been a special symbol to Ali of her belief in Christ. She loved the opportunities her cross gave her to have conversations with others about Jesus. In addition to her necklace, she had a cross hanging from the rearview mirror of her car.

While Ali was participating in a university institute program, she had a sticker posted on her car that allowed her to park in the institute parking lot. One day, she came out to her car and found a note that said, “Why do you have an institute sticker and a cross on your car? Pick one!”

Although Ali laughed it off, she wondered why somebody would feel like an institute sticker and a cross on the rearview mirror were incompatible. I wish I could tell you that Ali’s story is an isolated incident, but unfortunately it’s not.

The Symbol of Our Worship

My guess is that if we could ask the person who gave Ali this unkind note what he or she thinks of the cross as a symbol, he or she would paraphrase words stated by then Elder Gordon B. Hinckley in 1975. In context, Elder Hinckley was recounting a tour he gave to a Protestant minister at a temple open house. When the minister asked why there were no crosses in the temple, Elder Hinckley responded, “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels. . . . But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ. . . . The lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”

In making this comment Elder Hinckley was careful to be respectful. He also, later in the talk, emphasized the atoning significance of Calvary.

Now, there can be no doubt that we believe in the living Christ. As then Elder M. Russell Ballard explained, “Without the living Christ, our fondest expectations will be unfulfilled.” At the same time, if we focus on the cross exclusively as a representation of a dying Christ, we ignore the fact that symbols are multifaceted.

The Cross in Church History

A brief look at church history indicates that the symbol of the cross has been viewed in positive ways. For example, multiple nineteenth century Latter-day Saints posed for formal photographs while wearing cross jewelry, including a wife and a daughter of Brigham Young. A floral cross was present at the funeral of President John Taylor, and a large cross is on the gravestone of Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy.

Consider a few quotes that illustrate the diversity with which the cross has been viewed by Latter-day Saints:

  • Eliza R. Snow referred to “the triumphs of the cross.”
  • An article published in the Young Woman’s Journal in 1910 referred to the cross as “an eloquent symbol of love.” A 1915 editorial stated, “The cross…has become a symbol of love and salvation.”
  • A 1933 editorial in The Relief Society Magazine said that “Christ changed the cross into a symbol of Glory.”
  • Elder F. Enzio Busche wrote that looking at a crucifix helped him develop “a tremendous hope” in the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.
  • Elder Edward Dube referred to seeing an image of Christ’s Crucifixion as one of the “defining moments” of his life.

The Cross in Christianity

In sharing these quotes, I’m not suggesting that Latter-day Saints all need to start wearing or displaying crosses. I do think it’s important that we remember that for approximately 99% of all Christians, the cross is a symbol of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and triumph over death.

It is interesting to note that Jesus Christ Himself has consistently emphasized His Crucifixion, and prominently featured the cross in His definition of His gospel (see 3 Nephi 27:14). Many Latter-day Saints (both past and present) view the cross as a sacred symbol of their faith in Jesus Christ. We have nothing to gain and much to lose from denigrating this symbol of Christ’s Crucifixion.

Regardless of whether we personally display or wear crosses, I hope we can accept the reality that for many Christians, the cross helps them connect with Christ. And connecting with Christ is something we can all celebrate.

 

If you’re interested in more details about the cross as a symbol among Latter-day Saints, check out this video (by Saints Unscripted) or this one (by yours truly). You can also study Christ’s Crucifixion from the list of resources I’ve compiled here. What have been your experiences with the cross as a symbol? Do you have an aversion to it? Did you use to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

About John Hilton III
John Hilton III is an Associate Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He received a M.Ed. degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University. John has authored over ninety articles and written twelve books, including Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. John and his wife Lani have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China. Currently, they live in Utah. In his spare time John enjoys practicing magic tricks and learning Chinese. You can read more about the author here.

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