Last week (August 9, 2008) Deseret News reported on a lecture given at the Sunstone Symposium by Robert A. Rees, the “former editor of the LDS periodical Dialogue.” “On the Cross of Calvary: Mormons and the Broken Tree” discussed the Mormon view of this “universal symbol of Christianity.”
Deseret News reported:
“[Rees] said there are ‘no good reasons’ why Mormons could not make the cross more central to their religious experience and that rejecting the cross is ‘illogical and unnecessary.’
Mr. Rees pointed out that Latter-day Saints often view the cross symbol negatively. Here in the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission a manual was distributed to missionaries in the mid-1990s that contained a “sample presentation” including a short discussion of the cross. It went like this:
LDS Missionary: “In the end, Mr. Brown, what did the people do to Jesus? That’s right, they crucified him. They rejected the word of God by killing God’s son, Jesus. And after they killed him, they gradually fell into another apostasy. They went through the dark ages and didn’t progress spiritually for hundreds and hundreds of years. …Of course, these people in apostasy were very religious. There were a lot of different churches here on earth, but none of them had a living prophet which means they had no guidance from God – only the wisdom of men. They did remember Jesus and so they used the cross as a symbol of Christianity. But they made many changes in his teachings. What did the Jews use to crucify Jesus? That’s right, a cross. Then really, Mr. Brown, the cross is a sign of what? ‘APOSTASY.'”
If Mormons view the “universal symbol of Christianity” as a sign of apostasy, it makes perfect sense that they would reject the symbol of the cross.
Another reason for the rejection of the cross symbol brought up in the Deseret News article was this:
“Rees said the fact that LDS Church members believe the most crucial elements of the Atonement took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and not on the cross also tend to shift importance away from the cross.”
Late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained,
“The sectarian world falsely suppose that the climax of his torture and suffering was on the cross…a view they keep ever before them by the constant use of the cross as a religious symbol. The fact is that intense and severe as the suffering was on the cross, yet the great pains were endured in the Garden of Gethsemane.” (Mormon Doctrine, page 555)
LDS professor Robert L. Millet suggests this is the reason that “for LDS people the acceptance of the Atonement is not symbolized by the cross” (The Mormon Faith: Understanding Restored Christianity, page 168).
But for Christians the cross encapsulates our hope. As pastor John Piper said,
“…for redeemed sinners, every good thing – indeed every bad thing that God turns for good – was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from the death of Christ, sinners get nothing but judgment. Apart from the cross of Christ, there is only condemnation. Therefore everything that you enjoy in Christ – as a Christian, as a person who trusts Christ – is owing to the death of Christ. And all your rejoicing in all things should therefore be a rejoicing in the cross where all your blessings were purchased for you at the cost of the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. …Every blessing in life is designed to magnify the cross of Christ, or to say it another way, every good thing in life is meant to magnify Christ and him crucified.”
In the Old Testament, God told us through the prophet Isaiah,
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; …we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
In the New Testament we are told that we are to glory in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14). The cross represents the amazing and unsurpassable gift of our redemption through the atoning death of our Savior. This is our focus as Christians. For us, the word of the cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
In 1999 I attended a “VIP tour” of the St. Paul Minnesota Temple. The tour group consisted primarily of pastors and other clergy, led by LDS Seventy Hugh W. Pinnock. In response to a question someone asked about the absence of the cross in the temple Mr. Pinnock explained that, while they respect others who use the cross as a symbol, Latter-day Saints do not use it because “our focus is different.”
So, unlike Mr. Rees who reportedly thinks “there are ‘no good reasons’ why Mormons could not make the cross more central to their religious experience and that rejecting the cross is ‘illogical and unnecessary,’ I think there are several good reasons that Mormons reject the cross, including the fact that the focus of LDS devotion and worship is elsewhere. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
“…the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”