The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. However, the cross is not used in any chapels or temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nor do church members generally wear the symbol.
Robert A. Rees, former editor of the LDS periodical Dialogue, addressed "On the Cross of Calvary: Mormons and the Broken Tree" at the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium Thursday morning at the Sheraton Hotel. He 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."
"Mormonism has no single identifying symbol." Rees said. "Where is our Mormon Star of David?"
"If you want to get a reaction in Sacrament meeting, just wear a cross," Rees said.
He stressed the absence of the cross is one of the "very large stumbling blocks" why other Christian churches consider Mormons non-Christian. Mormons aren't even neutral about the cross, as church beliefs seem to identify it as a symbol of the apostasy. Some songs in the LDS hymn book refer to the cross and that's the only way the symbol is openly celebrated, Rees noted.
He said the cross symbol has been found in Crete dating from 1500 B.C. Mesoamerica also has included some symbols of the cross. Rees' research revealed that many early LDS members had Puritan roots and Puritans swayed away from religious symbols.
"It is likely that Joseph Smith never saw a church decorated with a cross," he said. Then, because of the LDS Church's isolation in the West, it missed the cross' surge when Protestant churches began to adopt it.
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. He said the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that Mormons prefer the good news of the resurrection and choose not to dwell on his death, but the living Jesus Christ.
Rees also quoted the late President Gordon B. Hinckley in the April 2005 Ensign Magazine, where he said:
"I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian colleagues who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ."
President Hinckley then said the symbol of the LDS religion is: "the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship."
Rees said Elder B.H. Roberts, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, once stated he saw positive elements in the cross symbol. Also, the late LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball saw a cross symbol in a tree in the Colorado mountains as a confirmation that his call to be an apostle was indeed divine and to be accepted. He also said an original photograph of Brigham Young's daughters shows one wearing a cross. However, later versions of the picture have had that symbol omitted.
Recently, the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized LDS Church) began including some crosses in their buildings.
In essence, Rees said he'd like church members to rethink the cross as a negative symbol. It can challenge us to reexamine the beauty of God.
Sunstone has no official ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.• The Sunstone Symposium continues through today at the Sheraton Hotel. For a complete schedule, visit www.sunstonemagazine.com.