Use of the cross among Latter-day Saints is rare, both in personal jewelry and in the decoration of church buildings. Why don’t Mormons use the symbol of the cross today? Paul says that that those who think preaching the cross is foolishness are those that perish (1 Corinthians 1:18). How can Mormons believe in Christ without believing in the cross?
A Declaration of the Living Christ
It is true that the LDS Church does not use the symbol of the cross any longer (see the appendix for commentary on this). Responding to a question about the lack of crosses in a temple, Gordon B. Hinckley said,
“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 most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship” (The Symbol of Our Faith).
In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, it says,
“[Members of the LDS Church], like the earliest Christians, are reluctant to display the cross because they view the “good news” of the gospel as Christ’s resurrection more than his crucifixion… No one symbol is sufficient to convey all [that took place in the Savior’s life]. Moreover, the cross, with its focus on the death of Christ, does not symbolize the message of a living, risen, exalted Lord who changes the lives of his followers.“
But does this lack of crosses make Latter-day Saints unchristian? Of course not. We believe it is important to remember the sacrifice of the Redeemer, for many reasons (for example, see Licked by the Fog). President Hinckley continues,
“No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer, who gave His life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of His trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at His flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of His heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced His hands and feet, the fevered torture of His body as He hung that tragic day, the Son of God crying out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)... We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave Himself, a vicarious sacrifice for each of us” (The Symbol of Our Faith).
Remembering the Atonement
How is the Atonement and sacrifice of Christ remembered in the worship of Latter-day Saints if they do not use the cross? The Atonement is symbolized and memorialized in baptism (Romans 6:3-6), in the weekly ordinance of the Sacrament (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79), in temple ordinances, and in hymns and testimonies.
What’s more, these ordinances and teachings help members to remember the purpose for which the Atonement was accomplished. The purpose, Lehi tells us, is to
“To answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit… Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Nephi 2:7-8).
The symbolism in these teachings and ordinances could be compared to the symbolism in various crosses found in different sects of Christianity: in Catholicism the crucifix (the cross with the dead Christ hanging on it) symbolizes the crucifixion of Christ and invites meditation on the Atonement; the plain cross used by Protestants symbolizes not only the crucifixion but also the resurrection of Christ, for the cross is empty; in the Eastern Orthodox crucifix, Christ hangs on the cross, but as the living Lord, his head not bowed in death but raised in triumph, thus the crucifixion, the Atonement, the resurrection, and the Lordship of Christ are all graphically presented (Encyclopedia of Mormonism). Each of these symbols has a particular purpose, a meaning which it emphasizes, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chooses the above mentioned ordinances and teachings for the meanings they emphasize.
The Atonement and suffering on the cross is a vital part of what Latter-day Saints consider “the gospel”. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith outlines what Latter-day Saints consider the gospel:
“And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us— That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleans it from all unrighteousness; That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:40-42; see also 3 Nephi 27:13-21 for greater detail).
This is the same message Paul preached. He said that he was not sent to baptize, but to “preach the gospel,” including the cross, “sav[ing] them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 21).