Latter-day Saints and the symbol of the cross

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Latter-day Saints and the symbol of the cross

Why do the Latter-day Saints not wear or use the cross?

One scholar noted, "During the first Christian centuries, the cross was a thing accursed. No one professed allegiance to Christ by wearing a cross."[1] After the 4th century, the cross slowly became accepted in the Catholic tradition.

In the United States of America, before the mid-19th century, the cross was seen as a uniquely Catholic symbol. As a result, Protestants were adamantly opposed to using the cross in their worship or on their buildings. Eventually, Protestants began adopting the cross as a church symbol. By the late 19th century, the cross had become firmly entrenched as a symbol of Christianity generally, not just Catholicism.[2]

Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in the mid-19th century, most converts came from religious traditions that did not use the cross. Nor did Latter-day Saints join the general Protestant movement to adopt the cross as a symbol in their worship. However, the Saints did not reject the cross altogether.

In 1957, Church President David O. McKay counseled against using crosses on jewelry because he viewed it as "a Catholic form of worship."[3] In 1975, then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley explained that he viewed "the cross [as] the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ."[4] Even though many Protestants view their empty cross as a symbol of the living Christ, the cross is focused on the death of Jesus Christ instead of His living reality.[5] Hence the recent adoption of Thorvaldsen's statue Christus as the centerpiece in the Church symbol.[6]

In addition, Church leaders have taught that the best symbol of our belief in Christ is following His example in how we live. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: "From Matthew 16:24-25: 'Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' We in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in response to these questions, try to teach our people to carry their crosses rather than display or wear them."[7] This counsel echoes that of then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who taught that "the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship."[8] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reiterated this principle:

These considerations—especially the latter—bring me to what may be the most important of all scriptural references to the cross. It has nothing to do with pendants or jewelry, with steeples or signposts. It has to do, rather, with the rock-ribbed integrity and stiff moral backbone that Christians should bring to the call Jesus has given to every one of His disciples. In every land and age, He has said to us all, “If any man [or woman] will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”[9]

In summary, in the 21st century the cross reflects the culture and tradition of Christianity generally, and there is nothing doctrinal about using or avoiding the cross as a decorative symbol. We respect other Christian groups that use the cross in that way. And we acknowledge the inestimable sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, for as he said, "My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me."[10]

Do Latter-day Saints believe that Christ suffered on the cross?

Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of all people in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, "It was the redemption which He worked out in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary which made His gift immortal, universal, and everlasting."[11] This was also taught by Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King."[12]

That Christ suffered in Gethsemane is attested to in the New Testament and latter-day scripture. Luke records that Jesus "kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."[13] This event was prophesied by an angel speaking to King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon: "And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people."[14] And the Savior Himself spoke of this suffering: "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."[15]

Latter-day scripture also affirms that Christ suffered the sins of all people on the cross. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw Jesus as he "was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world."[16] Latter-day prophet Joseph F. Smith saw the spirit world after Jesus died and saw the preaching that "redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross."[17]

Was the cross just a pole?

In the original Greek of the New Testament, accounts of Jesus' death only say he was put to death on "a pole." It is true that the Greek word σταυρος (stauros) used in the NT means a "pole" or "stake" driven into the ground, and not specifically a cross. Calling the upright portion a "pole" does not, however, tell us whether a crossbeam was attached to it or not.

The most common form of Roman crucifixion was to use the crux commissa, which used a permanent pole driven into the ground, to which a cross beam was attached at the time of execution. This formed the shape of a capital 'T' and therefore is also called the Tau Cross (it is also referred to as St. Anthony's Cross). This is different than the Latin cross, which has a lowered cross piece, forming the classic "cross" shape (somewhat like a lower-case 't').

Accordingly, when the scripture talks about Jesus carrying his cross to the place of execution, it probably was not a huge Latin cross as depicted in the movies (such as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), but a crossbeam called the patibulum, which would then be placed over the permanently entrenched stauros or stake.

Thus, it is true that the Greek does not specify a cross per se. However, historical evidence regarding the Roman practice of crucifixion makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was crucified on a type of cross, even if not quite the traditional Latin cross commonly portrayed.

For Latter-day Saints, the key point is not Jesus' precise method of execution, but that his suffering, death, and resurrection atoned for the sins of all humanity. (See 2 Nephi 9:7–8, Alma 34:12.)


  1. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "'Even death on a cross': Crucifixion in the Pauline letters," in The Cross in Christian Tradition: From Paul to Bonaventure, Elizabeth Dreyer, ed. (Paulist Press, 2000), 21.
  2. Ryan K. Smith, "The Cross: Church Symbol and Contest in Nineteenth-Century America," Church History, 70:4 (December 2001), 705-734.
  3. Gregory L. Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, 121.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Symbol of Christ," April 1975 general conference.
  5. "Early and traditional Christian figures such as Martin Luther’s associate Andreas Karlstadt (1486–1541) were arguing by the late Middle Ages that 'the crucifix [on its own] depicted only Christ’s human suffering and neglected to display his resurrection and redemptive [powers]' (in John Hilton III, Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ [2021], 17)." Jeffrey R. Holland, "Lifted Up upon the Cross," October 2022 general conference.
  6. See Russell M. Nelson, "Opening the Heavens for Help," April 2020 general conference.
  7. Marvin J. Ashton, "Carry Your Cross," address given at Brigham Young University, 3 May 1987.
  8. Hinckley, "The Symbol of Christ."
  9. Holland, "Lifted Up upon the Cross."
  10. 3 Nephi 27:14.
  11. Gordon B. Hinckley, "A Season for Gratitude," Ensign, December 1997.
  12. Bruce R. McConkie, "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane," April 1985 general conference.
  13. Luke 22:41-44.
  14. Mosiah 3:7.
  15. Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19.
  16. 1 Nephi 11:33.
  17. Doctrine and Covenants 138:35.