Mormons Defending the Cross

by: Mormon Heretic

November 7, 2011

There are 13 memorials similar to this one dedicated to Utah Highway Patrol Troopers killed in the line of duty.  The Atheist Association Inc of New Jersey, sued to have the crosses removed because they claimed the crosses violated the separation of church and state.  A federal court ruled for the Atheists.  Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on the case, meaning that the crosses likely will need to be removed

Mormons have a strange relationship with the cross.  We don’t like to show the cross. It is one of the reasons why many say that Mormons aren’t Christian.  When I attended the MHA meetings last year in Independence, I was surprised to see a cross on both the outside and inside of Independence Temple.  Most Mormons find displays of the cross to be distasteful.  On my mission, I remember being asked why Mormons don’t show the cross.  My standard response was that if Christ had been killed by a knife, gun, or electric chair, would we hang one of those weapons around our neck in remembrance.  The cross was a very gruesome, tortured way to die.

But the sign of the cross dates back thousands of years.  Constantine had a dream in which he saw a cross on the sun, and felt this was a sign that he should merge with Christianity.  He outfitted his army with the cross in a major battle, and won the empire.  Christianity became the official religion of the empire.  The cross is synonymous with traditional Christianity.  Mormons rejection of the cross causes other Christians to question our Christianity.

But since the atheists are attacking the cross, Mormons are coming down on the side of the cross.  LDS member and state Senator Carl Wimmer of Herriman, Utah plans to introduce a bill to allow the crosses to stay.  It should be noted that the Supreme Court seems to have had some conflicting opinions on whether crosses constitute a state-sponsored form of religious preference.

Quoting from the Deseret News article,

Past high court rulings on the issue have “confounded the lower courts and rendered the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government property anyone’s guess,” [Justice Clarence Thomas] wrote.

Thomas suggested the case would have been a good vehicle for a major review and revision of Establishment Clause jurisprudence. “It is hard to imagine an area of the law more in need of clarity,” he wrote. The court “should not now abdicate our responsibility to clean up our mess.”

[Utah Attorney General Mark] Shurtleff agrees.

“I’m upset at our Supreme Court for not taking the case,” he said. “They clearly need to resolve a question that differs depending on where you live in the country.”

The appeals court decision, he said, applies to the six states in the 10th circuit — Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah — making crosses illegal in those states, but permissible in every other state.

But Barnard [attorney representing the atheist group] said the case is limited to Utah.

“There are no similar government approved displays or memorial programs for law enforcement officers in other states,” he said. No other states allow similar large crosses with state emblems in front of the state offices.”

I know that the Community of Christ has a cross on their temple, and I know most Mormons don’t like the cross on their temple, feeling they are too cozy with Protestantism.  I also wonder if representative Wimmer’s response is more against the atheists, than it is in support of the cross.  What’s your take?

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22 Responses to Mormons Defending the Cross

  1. Syphax on November 7, 2011 at 7:20 AM

    Last year after careful consideration, I decided to buy and wear a cross. I know all the standard reasons why Mormons say they don’t like crosses, but once I weighed them all in the balance, I came out on the side of, I still want to wear one. So I’ve been searching for a year trying to find one that isn’t tacky and isn’t flashy and is simple and doesn’t just look like a fashion piece.

    I still haven’t found one.

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  2. Paolo on November 7, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    Good post! I often wonder about the church’s dislike of the cross, when Jesus himself urged his followers to take up the cross and follow him. I also think it interesting that we would have the “idol” of Moroni on all temples, but the “symbol” of Him, whose church we claim is his, is not allowed.

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  3. Jon on November 7, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    I was wondering about the cross too. I see many of our ordinances use the death of Christ in them (like baptism) and it has made me wonder where the tradition against the cross came from. So is there a dialog paper that talks about the history of the cross and mormonism?

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  4. Jeff Spector on November 7, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    Well, I’ve always bought into the explanation that we worship a “Living Christ,” not a dead one which would make the cross negative symbol, not a positive one.

    The Moroni status is also a positive symbol. Mormons have plenty of idols, so I don’t think it has anything to do with idol worship….

    I always had a problem with the “take up the cross” statement since it occured long before Jesus was actually killed on a cross. It would have seemed like a foreign idea to Jews who did not identify with a cross except as a manner of torture and death.

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  5. mark gibson on November 7, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    LDS also participate in the Christmas season even though it’s not the “authentic” birth-date in our beliefs.

    It should not be surprising that the CofC would have a cross as part of their temple. My set of RLDS scriptures (1966) had cross ornaments.

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  6. NewlyHousewife on November 7, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    Why no mention of how commercialized the cross is?

    I see it liken unto the whole ‘Pink’ movement. The majority of ‘Pink’ products don’t really go anywhere donation wise–it’s a marketing tool that has become overdone.

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  7. Jettboy on November 7, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    Mormonism has a rather mixed history with the cross, and so does Christianity. Depending on the denomination it has gone in and out of favor. During Joseph Smith’s time avoiding the cross as a physical symbol wasn’t unusual as a rejection of idols and particularly the Catholic Church.

    For Mormonism, the rejection doesn’t have a clear reason. It has its more revelatory uses in ritual, if not architecture. I think there are plenty of other less iconographic symbols that the cross is superfluous and mostly fashion statements. A few years ago the Deseret News ran a story about Michael G. Reed who studied the issue and concluded that Protestants used to be equally ambivalent. The conclusion is that not using the cross isn’t “anti-Christian,” but “anti-Catholic” in nature.

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  8. Jettboy on November 7, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    sorry about the formatting above. The links do get to where I want them to go.

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  9. Clean Cut on November 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    At the end of my post on the cross (in the comments section) I include a few links exploring the relationship/history between Mormons and the cross. http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/04/glorying-in-cross-of-our-lord-jesus.html

    I, for one, am one Mormon who would defend the symbol as well.

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  10. Glass Cesiling on November 7, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    I like the cross and would defend it., I wish it was ok to wear one. I like the symbol. Maybe it is because I have seen it all my life, but it is comforting. I don’t tell nonmembers this. I give them the same rhetoric about why elevate a symbol of death, but I secretly love the cross and would wear it if I could.

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  11. Jeff Spector on November 7, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    GC,

    ” but I secretly love the cross and would wear it if I could.”

    Then why not wear one? If it is meaningful to you, then do it. It beats a Moroni tiebar any day!

    I am sure you are concerned about what other Church people might say? Why?

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  12. Will on November 7, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    MH,

    I think the objection with the athiests has more to do with their poor understanding of 1st admendment than with the actual cross itself. The government allowing people to put crosses on the road does not violate this amendment. If a VERY small portion of the populace objects, they can go and pound sand.

    As for Mormons objection of the display of the cross, I have always supported this position. I like to remember the life of Christ, not his death.

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  13. BrotherQ on November 7, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    It seems to me that crosses and their proper place are one more stumbling block that people create, like tattoos, like modesty teachings, etc. Are far as personal use, couldn’t this be left to individual choice? As far as uses on churches, it seems like people read to much into the fact that our churches are not adorned with crosses. In the end, as we all know, what is written in our hearts is what counts.

    As an aside, how much money do you think has been spent on lawsuits involving this cross issue? I am aware of one in San Diego involving the Mt. Soledad cross that has been going on for at least 20 years, and has cost many millions of dollars. It is just mind boggling!!

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  14. LovelyLauren on November 7, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    In memorials, I think the cross can function less as a religious symbol and more as a symbol of respect for those that have passed on. Certainly it comes from a Judeo-Christian tradition, but I don’t see it as overtly religious in this particular context.

    I attend my meetings in the oldest operating LDS chapel in Arizona (over 100 years old) and you can see where crosses used to be on the pews and were removed. I heard that one of the prophets (McKay, maybe?) simply didn’t like crosses and so the church followed. There’s also a stained glass window in our chapel that I think is really lovely.

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  15. FireTag on November 7, 2011 at 3:01 PM

    Jeff:

    I think the take up the cross statement is a bit of retconning by later theologians AFTER they recognized the significance of the crucifixion. It’s GOOD theology, though, because anyone who really seeks to follow Christ is going to catch flak for doing so.

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  16. Jeff Spector on November 7, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    Firetag,

    :It’s GOOD theology, though, because anyone who really seeks to follow Christ is going to catch flak for doing so.’

    Fully agree, I’ve just had a problem with what seems like a Constantinian statement, rather than a Jesus type statement.

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  17. mh on November 7, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    I appreciate the comments everyone, especially the links jettboy and clean cut. I wonder if this culture of ‘no cross’ is part of the attempt to maintain ‘peculiar people’ status. I have nothing against the cross, and wouldn’t mind it if we didn’t make a big deal out of it. I also understand that 1st century jews would have been repulsed by the cross as a horrible form of execution.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 7, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    I think that without the beehive you might get a different result

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  19. Badger on November 7, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    As I remembered the story, it was a Chi Rho (Jesus’ “Monogram”) rather than the cross. Wikipedia gives the Chi Rho version, but talks about a “cross of light” later in the same article. Since I’m not up for more than speed reading at the moment, I’m not sure how it all fits together.

    Will (or anyone), this specific cross issue is rather inconsequential, but in general terms, telling a very small minority to pound sand is more or less what the US did to 19th century Mormons over polygamy, rather brutally in my view. What’s your take on this from a present-day perspective? Or in different terms, what sort of protection, if any, do you expect or want from the first amendment? I’ve heard a lot of comments from Mormons in recent years that suggest either a preference for majority rule (“pound sand” to unpopular groups like Muslims and atheists) or a lack of confidence in constitutional protections for minority religions (“they’ll make us perform gay marriages in the temple”), which is the other side of the same coin, I suppose.

    How far do you think majority-rule does, or should go? Also, which do you think is more likely in the future for Mormonism: greater acceptance and integration into a cultural majority, or increasing distinctiveness and separation from the majority culture?

    Personally, I’m fine with what the courts did here and in general with strong judicial protection of religious minorities, but at the same time I expect Mormonism to become slowly more integrated in the foreseeable future with a mainstream Christian-Conservative culture.

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  20. Don Bradley on November 7, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    The use of a cross to memoralialize a fallen person is a well-established cultural practice that has little to do with one’s religion. It’s an easy, reverent, and recognizable way to mark a grave, the spot where someone died, or a memorial to that person. The crosses should be allowed precisely because they are not particularly religious in this context (e.g., Mormons never use the cross, not even for graves, most of these officers were probably Mormon, and this is being done in an overwhelmingly Mormon state; so, *obviously* the intention of memorializing them with crosses isn’t religious).

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  21. Glass Ceiling on November 8, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    Jeff,

    …because I am generally insecure as a person.

    Just kidding. I don’t know. The cross is often misunderstood when worn on a Mormon. And I have little tolerance for other Christian faiths’ willful misunderstanding of Mormon Christiandom. I love the symbol of the Cross for how it relates to Christ, not its association with Catholic and Protestant dogma. The trinity bothers me ad does rhe the works/grace fallacies.

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  22. John Mansfield on November 8, 2011 at 6:05 AM

    This relates to the memorial issue (“Suburban Chapels and Urban Decay”): “For a start, whereas to pagan eyes an entire landscape could be numinous, to Christian eyes only specific cult-sites were so, points of light in an otherwise secular space.” “It was also linked to some real changes in ideas of the sacred, and of what caused spiritual pollution. Traditional Graeco-Roman religion regarded dead people as very dangerous and polluting; no adult could be buried inside city walls or in inhabited areas, and cemeteries were all beyond the edges of settlements. Martyrs and other saints were seen by Christians as different, however: not as sources of pollution, but the opposite, as people to venerate (in some cases, indeed, as not really dead).”

    I’m fine with the cross as a not-especially-religious symbol of the deceased, but I don’t want highways to have memorials at the sites of every fatality.

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