From the Salt Lake Tribune, Michael Reed argues for inclusion on the Christian cross in modern Mormonism:
It’s no accident that Mormon steeples, temples and necks are free of Christian crosses.
LDS leaders long have said the cross, so ubiquitous among traditional Christians, symbolizes Jesus’ death, while Mormons worship the risen Christ. Some Latter-day Saints go even farther, condemning the cross as some kind of pagan or satanic symbol.
Now a historian at California State University in Sacramento claims in a just-completed master’s thesis that Mormon aversion to the cross is a relatively recent development in LDS history, prompted in part by anti-Catholic sentiments.
“It first started at the grass-roots level around the turn of the 20th century, ” Michael Reed argues in the thesis, “The Development of the LDS Church’s Attitude Toward the Cross.”
“It later became institutionalized during the 1950s under the direction of LDS Prophet David O. McKay,” Reed writes.
Before that, Reed says, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used and promoted the revered Christian symbol as a potent expression of personal and collective faith.
That’s a welcome conclusion, says Mormon scholar Bob Rees of southern California.
Reed’s research explains Mormons’ “ambiguous, confused relationship to the cross,” says Rees, a former LDS bishop. “At one time there was an informal acceptance of it as an overt symbol, but in the 20th century its use has been discouraged by church leaders. Wanting to maintain its distinctive identity among Christian churches, the church essentially rejected outward manifestations of the cross, one of the most compelling symbols in all of Christendom – even though there’s nothing doctrinally, theologically or scripturally that keeps us from embracing it.” …
Reed argues that: In pioneer Utah, crosses of various styles were common in jewelry, church art and funeral arrangements. Amelia Folsom Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives, sported a cross necklace, and a floral cross was prominent on the caskets of Daniel H. Wells, Young’s first counselor in the First Presidency, and John Taylor, the third LDS president. Architects designed the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City as well as LDS tabernacles in Vernal and Loa, Utah, on a “cruciform” plan.
But the clearest example was Charles Nibley’s 1916 proposal to place a giant cross on top of Ensign Peak as a way to honor the Mormon pioneers. Karl A. Sheid, Salt Lake City’s commissioner of public affairs and finance, emphatically supported the move, saying: “That the ‘Mormon’ Church, which has so frequently and so unjustly been accused of not being a Christian church at all, should volunteer to place Christianity’s most sacred emblem on Ensign peak – that place so hallowed by the memory of pioneer days — is to my mind an event of first importance: One that should be and doubtless will be heralded to the four quarters of the globe, to the ultimate benefit of this commonwealth.” …
Reed concludes by saying: “If someone is wearing a cross, we get very uncomfortable, yet we believe the scars of his crucifixion is how Christ identified himself in ancient America, ancient Israel and to Joseph Smith. If Christ so openly displayed the marks of the cross, shouldn’t we be more open to its symbolic possibilities?”