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John Hilton III

The Symbol of the Cross: A Bridge, Not A Barrier

John Hilton III
John Hilton III 2
Associate Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University

John Hilton III is an Associate Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle. He served as a missionary in the Colorado Denver North Mission. He received a Masters in Education from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University.

John has authored over one hundred articles and written twelve books, including Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. John and his wife Lani have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China. Currently, they live in Utah. In his spare time John enjoys practicing magic tricks and learning Chinese.




The Symbol of the Cross: A Bridge, Not A Barrier

Good morning my friends, it is a joy and an honor for me to be with you. I’m grateful for the music we just sang and heard. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the hymns. But sometimes, I didn’t understand what the words were saying. Has that ever happened to you? LDS Living recently wrote an article about kids and how they misheard hymn lyrics.1 For example, one person heard: “Find in thee my strength, my bacon.” It’s actually “Find in thee my strength, my beacon,” although bacon can definitely strengthen you.

Another child thought she heard the words, “When appeared two Heavenly Beans.” Can you see a little kid trying to imagine two heavenly beans? But of course it’s “two heavenly beings.”

Miscommunication happens not only with hymn lyrics, but also with symbols. Imagine I were to give you a thumbs up sign. You would probably interpret this as a positive signal; however, in some countries this same symbol has a negative connotation.2

Understanding symbols and their meaning is important. Which brings me to the reason I am here today—to talk about a symbol that is nearly universally known, and, unfortunately, can often be misunderstood. Elder Dallin H. Oaks once said, “The most significant talks [change] the listeners’ way of thinking about an important subject.”3 I hope to change the way some of us think about an important symbol. Let me begin by sharing three short stories with you. As I do, see if you can spot the symbol and the possible misunderstanding of it in each story.

Story #1: A Latter-day Saint woman invited a neighbor of another faith to attend her daughter’s baptism. The neighbor brought a gift to the child, giving the eight-year-old a cross necklace. When the child opened the gift, she froze because she had been taught not to wear crosses. The mother also froze and wasn’t sure what to do. Sensing their discomfort, the neighbor took back the cross and said she would get the child a different gift. Regretfully looking back on this experience, the Latter-day Saint said that she wished she had seen this as a bridge to connect with her friend in their shared belief in Christ rather than become a barrier.

Story #2: A student shared the following: “I was raised attending a Lutheran church. As with most Protestant churches, the cross was a central and revered symbol. When I was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I learned about the suffering Christ experienced in Gethsemane, which greatly added to my understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I moved to Utah to attend BYU one week after being baptized. I regularly wore a necklace with a small cross pendant that my grandmother had given me. On campus, I had a few experiences where students would start talking to me in a really kind way and I would realize they thought I was not a member, probably because of my necklace. One of my friends even asked me to stop wearing the necklace. I know the Savior suffered for my sins in Gethsemane and on the cross. I have hesitated to share my thoughts and experiences about this, always wondering if my testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not enough because I have a different balance between both Gethsemane and his Crucifixion.”4

Story #3: A college student who had grown up in the Church had an institute sticker on her car that allowed her to park in the institute parking lot at her university. She also had a cross hanging from her rearview mirror, which for her signified her belief in the Savior’s Atonement. One day she found a note on her car that said, “Why do you have an institute sticker and a cross on your car? Pick one!”5

You probably noticed a common theme in each of these stories—each is about the cross as a symbol of belief in Christ and sad experiences that occurred because well-intentioned people were confused about the meanings of the cross. The symbol of the cross could have been a bridge that connected people; unfortunately, in these instances, it became a barrier.

There are two billion, three hundred million Christians in the world; and for the vast majority of them, the cross represents their belief in Jesus Christ. Take a moment and ask yourself, what meaning does the symbol of the cross have in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? What does it mean to you personally?

My purpose today is to help us build—or rebuild, as you’ll soon see—a bridge where a deeper understanding of the symbol of cross can both connect us with fellow Christians, and draw us closer to our Savior.

One challenge with studying the history of a symbol is knowing where to begin. We could start in 600 BC, with Nephi who asked a question about the love of God. In response to Nephi’s question, he was shown Jesus Christ “Lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:33). Or we could begin in 34 AD, when Jesus visited the Nephites and defined his gospel saying: “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 [people] unto me” (3 Nephi 27:14).

We could start with the apostle Paul who wrote, “I…glory…in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Or we could explore events related to the emperor Constantine in 312 AD, which led to the cross becoming a common Christian symbol.

A Protestant-Catholic Divide

Today I’d like to begin a little closer to our own place on the timeline—the 1500s and the Protestant reformation. Prior to this time, the cross was a commonly accepted symbol of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the cross was empty, and sometimes a crucifix, which displays Jesus on the cross, was used. However, during the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants became sharply divided over the meaning and significance of the cross. Catholics tended to find spiritual power in its symbolism; some reformers, such as Martin Luther, agreed and believed the image of the cross was appropriate in Christian worship.

However, many Protestants felt that the cross was a superstitious symbol. For example, Puritans did not use the symbol of the cross, and by the late 1600s, the Anglican Church, the dominant church in England, had essentially stopped using the cross and the crucifix.6

Many Pilgrims brought this perspective with them to North America, creating an environment in which the cross was largely unused as a Christian symbol. You might be surprised to hear that most Christian churches in the early-nineteenth-century United States of America, including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, treated the cross “as a foreign symbol.”7 Thus most church buildings in the newly formed United States did not display crosses, with the Catholic Church being a notable exception.8

The Restored Church, 1820s–1940s

This sets the stage for the soon-to-be restored Church in relation to the cross. In 1820, only 124 Catholic church buildings existed in the United States, with just five in the entire state of New York.9 In contrast, during that same year there were about 5,400 Methodist and Baptist meetinghouses in the United States, and many more church buildings from other denominations.10 In other words, relatively little Catholic influence existed in the area where Joseph Smith grew up

In America, during the 1820s, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and many other Protestant churches did not typically display crosses on or in their buildings. That was a Catholic practice, and at that time Catholics comprised a very small minority of Christians in America. This means that when Joseph envisioned church buildings, he would have likely pictured Protestant ones without crosses. Historian Richard Bushman has pointed out that Joseph Smith did not consciously reject the symbol of the cross since such a choice would have “required no decision on Joseph’s part. No one around him used the cross.”11

Some early Church leaders metaphorically spoke of the cross as a positive symbol of Jesus Christ. For example, Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, wrote to Joseph Smith, “We have fought in the name of the Lord Jesus, and under the shadow of the cross we have conquered.”12 In 1835, when Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery ordained an individual to the Seventy, they promised him that he would be “a swift herald of the cross.”13

Notwithstanding these positive ideas regarding a figurative cross, some viewed the physical symbol with suspicion. Although Joseph Smith spoke favorably about the Catholic Church in his last recorded sermon,14 many Protestants at that time were very harsh in their views of Catholicism. It is therefore not surprising that early Latter-day Saints, many of whom converted from Protestant churches, brought this attitude with them, which included a bias against the cross as a symbol.15

During the period when the Restored Church was relocating to Utah, the Catholic Church grew more prominent in the United States. Between 1820 and 1860, the number of Catholic churches in the U.S. jumped from 124 to more than 2,500 as hundreds of thousands of Catholic immigrants arrived in America.16 As the number of Catholics dramatically increased, American Protestants began to accept the cross as a Christian symbol. Between 1840 and 1870, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians—all of whom had fought against using crosses in their church buildings in the early nineteenth century—began to welcome the image, and their members found spiritual significance in the symbol. By the 1870s, the cross was a common Christian symbol, used by most Christian denominations. Significantly, one researcher noted, the symbol of the cross helped unify different denominations and allowed them to “identify their particular faith with a broader Christian religion.”17 The cross, which had been a barrier between Catholics and Protestants, became a connecting bridge among different Christian denominations.

Being largely isolated in the Intermountain West, the Church as an institution did not participate in this near-universal adoption of the symbol of the cross. However, the image of the cross was still meaningful to many Latter-day Saints.

Numerous early Latter-day Saint marriage certificates, quilts, and funeral programs featured crosses, as did the 1852 European edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.18

Crosses were displayed at the funerals of prominent Church members such as Eliza R. Snow and John Taylor.19 Crosses even appeared on some Latter-day Saint church buildings, and continue to do so today.20

Photographs indicate that Latter-day Saint men and women of prominence wore crosses in jewelry. Multiple relatives of Brigham Young and other Church leaders had portrait photographs taken of them wearing cross jewelry.21 Males, including Benjamin F. Johnson, a former secretary to Joseph Smith, also wore crosses on watch chains or ties.22 The fact that they and many others wore such accessories when posing for formal photographs indicates that cross jewelry was relatively common. At that time there was nothing unusual, and certainly nothing inappropriate about wearing a cross.

Church magazines included positive statements about the cross as a symbol. In 1915, the The Young Woman’s Journal published these words: “The cross that was…a sign of disgrace has become a symbol of love and salvation.”23 Approximately twenty years later, an article in the Relief Society Magazine said, “Christ changed the cross into a symbol of Glory.”24

One of the best indicators of the Church’s openness to the image of the cross is the proposal to build a monument featuring a cross on Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City. This idea was suggested by the Presiding Bishop and approved by the prophet, President Joseph F. Smith. An article published in the Deseret Evening News stated, “The monument is intended as an insignia of Christian belief on the part of the Church which has been accused of not believing in Christianity.”25

Although the proposal to erect a cross on Ensign Peak was eventually shelved, the fact that it was approved by the President of the Church shows that during this time the cross was viewed by some as an appropriate symbol for Church members. Shortly after the Ensign Peak proposal, Latter-day Saint Boy Scouts, accompanied by future Church President George Albert Smith, erected a cross as a monument in Emigration Canyon.26

Another indication that the cross was not taboo among Latter-day Saints is the headstone of Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy, which is inscribed with a large cross.27 During the 1940s, Elder Spencer W. Kimball shared experiences indicating he perceived the cross as a positive religious symbol.28

The Restored Church, 1950s–Present

In the 1950s there was a shift in how some church members viewed the cross. During this decade, President David O. McKay wrote in his private journal that Latter-day Saint girls should not wear crosses.29 In 1958, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote negatively about wearing a cross,30 and in 1961, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that “the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste.” 31 Elder Marvin J. Ashton more softly wrote, “We. . . try to teach our people to carry their crosses rather than display or wear them.”32

It’s interesting to note that none of these statements discouraging wearing or displaying crosses were official church declarations, and all are decades old. Clearly, we should follow the counsel of living prophets, seers, and revelators. At the same time, we know that specific practices and applications can shift over time. For example, there are several public statements from Church leaders in previous decades that discourage drinking caffeinated soda. The statements cautioning against caffeinated soft drinks are more severe and vastly outnumber the statements discouraging wearing or displaying crosses. Caffeinated soda no longer carries a stigma in Latter-day Saint culture—should displaying or wearing a cross?

Clearly, one should not worship the cross. At the same time, wearing or displaying a cross is a cultural issue, not a doctrinal one. In fact, in the same article quoted previously, President Joseph Fielding Smith said that for some, the symbol of the cross could be helpful. He wrote, “We have never questioned the sincerity of Catholics and Protestants for wearing the cross, or felt that they were doing something which was wrong. The motive for such a custom by those who are of other churches…is a most sincere and sacred gesture. To them the cross does not represent an emblem of torture but evidently carried the impression of sacrifice and suffering endured by the Son of God.”33 This statement illustrates that how one views an image of a cross can vary. For some, a cross necklace might be “in very poor taste,” while for others, it could represent the sacred “sacrifice and suffering endured by the Son of God.”

To be clear, no church leader has said in General Conference that members should not wear or display crosses. No church handbook has ever forbidden this practice.

When Latter-day Saints are asked why our church buildings do not typically display crosses, they often paraphrase words stated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1975. Although President Hinckley did not directly discourage individuals from wearing or displaying crosses, he explained the Church’s institutional practice of not having crosses in our buildings by relating an experience he had while giving a tour of the Mesa Arizona temple. A Protestant minister asked how Latter-day Saints could claim to be Christians without the image of the cross. President Hinckley responded, “I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross…But 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 only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”34

Some may have misinterpreted President Hinckley’s statement as a deemphasis of the atoning importance of Christ’s death, glossing over President Hinckley’s later statement in the same talk:

“No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer, who gave His life that all men might live . . . This was the cross, the instrument of His torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace. . . . We cannot forget that.”35

In other words, whatever one might think of the cross as a symbol, we must remember that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is central to his atoning sacrifice. Joseph Smith called the death of Christ one of the “fundamental principles”36 of our religion.

The Saving Significance of Christ’s Crucifixion

I’d like to step back from the symbol of the cross for a moment and look at how our perception of that symbol could be a bridge or a barrier to our understanding of what happened on the cross. As you know, the Savior’s atoning sacrifice includes the events of both Gethsemane and Golgotha. However, many Latter-day Saints tend to focus primarily on Gethsemane perhaps causing them to miss important lessons from Christ’s Crucifixion. The Savior’s gift from Golgotha is central to his Atonement. In fact, the scriptures, Joseph Smith, church leaders, and the Savior himself heavily emphasize the saving significance of Christ’s Crucifixion.37

Sometimes there are doctrinal misunderstandings about the importance of the Savior’s death. I have heard members talk about “Christ’s Atonement” and his “Crucifixion” as being two separate events. That is inaccurate. According to Elder Gerald N. Lund, some Church members have thought that Christ atoned for our sins and overcame spiritual death in Gethsemane and then separately conquered physical death on the cross. Elder Lund called this a “doctrinal error” and wrote, “Nowhere in the scriptures do we find indications that the cross alone overcame physical death or that the Garden alone overcame spiritual death.”38

Some people believe that Jesus Christ suffered our sins and pains only in Gethsemane. That is not true. President Russell M. Nelson specifically said that all the suffering Christ experienced in Gethsemane “was intensified as He was cruelly crucified on Calvary’s cross.”39 As we come to more fully appreciate Christ on the cross, we can find comfort in our trials. Let me illustrate this with two stories—one ancient and one modern.

The prophet Enoch had “bitterness of soul” because of an extreme trial he faced. He said, “I will refuse to be comforted” (Moses 7:44). Have you ever experienced “bitterness of soul”? In response to Enoch’s heartache, the Lord showed him a vision of Jesus Christ, “lifted up on the cross” (Moses 7:55). Enoch’s “soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain” (Moses 7:47). The answer to the pain Enoch felt, was found in the cross of Christ.

This is a powerful insight for those facing severe physical or emotional pain. Individuals who are suffering bitterness of soul, can find comfort in the cross. Consider a modern experience from Jessica Brodie: She wrote,

“Ugly tears coursed down my cheeks. Why? How could this have happened? The betrayal hit me like a gut punch. I wanted to scream it all away, or at the very least tear someone apart with my bare fingernails. But even that wouldn’t make it better, wouldn’t erase what I was going through…I felt so alone…

“Talking to a counselor brought temporary relief but no real solutions. Blocking it out and staying as busy as possible only worked for so long. Then came Jesus. In the darkness, in the depths of my pain, I realized: He knew…He’d experienced the worst pain, the deepest betrayal, the hardest suffering—none of it deserved… and it hurt Him—so very, very badly. But for some reason, I’d never before understood this.

“Growing up, I’d been taught Jesus died on the cross, but His suffering seemed abstract. In paintings depicting the crucifixion, the holes from the nails had a bit of blood, and Jesus was frowning beneath His crown of thorns, but it was all rather contained—a PG version of what He’d really been through.

“Then His suffering was over and, whoosh! Our Savior was dressed in head-to-toe white with a glowing golden halo, smiling like He’d never been gasping for His last breath or sobbing from the pain of being sold for thirty pieces of silver by one of His twelve best friends.

“But when I encountered Jesus in my sorrow, it wasn’t the Sunday school, family-friendly version kneeling beside me as I collapsed before Him in a darkened room with my prayer of surrender.

“It was the scarred-up Jesus, the One who remembered the ragged bloodstained holes from where they’d driven the nails in, who didn’t wince as they beat Him but cried out in agony, who didn’t just quietly and stoically accept that Judas let Him down but ached over the treachery. This Jesus understood. And when I realized that, and I allowed him to meet me in my suffering, I was no longer alone.”40

When we connect with the suffering Christ on the cross, we open ourselves to healing. I wonder if sometimes in our hesitation to focus on Christ’s Crucifixion, we rob ourselves and those we love and teach, of opportunities to find healing through the Christ on Calvary. Although some of us prefer to focus primarily on the resurrected Redeemer, in our deepest despair, we can also find fortitude in a suffering Savior.

One person who drew strength from the Crucifixion was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian who actively worked against the Nazi regime. Eventually he was arrested and put into a concentration camp. In a letter written from his prison cell, he said “Only the suffering God can help.”41 Our awareness of Christ’s sufferings can help us know that he empathizes with our sufferings.

As one young adult recently wrote, “The Savior we see on the Cross is the one who truly knows how we feel.  He is broken, he is suffering. When we see Him like that, it is a reminder of everything He went through for us, and a reminder that he knows every pain, every sorrow, everything we go through, and he can comfort us.” 42

A Multifaceted Symbol

Now, returning to the symbolism behind the cross, the importance of worshipping the living Christ cannot be overstated. At the same time, we know that symbols are multifaceted: they permit, even invite, layers of meaning. Indeed, were a Church member to say to a fellow Christian, “Why do you focus on Christ’s death by wearing a cross?” the result would likely be misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Eric Huntsman, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, recounted the following:

I remember being surprised once when a . . . Presbyterian friend corrected me when I told her that we preferred to worship a living rather than a dead Christ; she responded that she did too. The cross reminded Protestants that Jesus died for their sins, but it was empty because he was risen and was no longer there on it. I was chastened by her response, realizing that just as we do not appreciate others mischaracterizing our beliefs, neither should we presume to understand or misrepresent the beliefs and practices of others.43

Although this instance focuses on the empty cross, additional examples could be provided to show how crucifixes remind some people of Christ’s love and devotion, not torture and death. Thus, while the cross can be a symbol of the dying Christ, it also has many other meanings, including that of a loving Christ.

Church leaders have similarly commented on the positive influence that crucifixion imagery has had on them. Elder Edward Dube of the Seventy said that one of the “defining moments” in his life occurred when he was pondering an image of Christ’s Crucifixion.44 Elder F. Enzio Busche described how looking at a crucifix while on a hospital bed gave him “a tremendous hope.”45

So, what does all of this mean for you right now? Will this help you pass your accounting class or get a date? Probably not. But, allow me to offer a couple of ways this understanding could bless your life.

First, building bridges with other Christians. Coming to a deeper knowledge of the history of the cross as a symbol will give you more love and awareness as you interact with some of the billions of Christians for whom the cross is the primary symbol of their belief that Christ was both crucified and resurrected. As we talk with other Christians about our shared faith in Jesus Christ, we can highlight that the Book of Mormon itself testifies that Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins (see 1 Ne. 11:33). The cross can help us build bridges.

In the past, some of us may have said something like, “Would you wear a necklace with a dagger on it if your friend was killed by stabbing?” That phrase totally misunderstands the meaning of the cross and is insulting to Christians. In fact, that phrase was anti-Catholic rhetoric that was used to attack Catholics centuries ago. The reality is, someone wearing a cross is often sending the signal, “I believe in Jesus.”

When I was a full-time missionary, if I saw somebody wearing a cross, I probably would have perceived it as a barrier. I might have thought, “They’re different.” If I were a full-time missionary today, I would see it as a bridge. I would say, “Hi, I can see from your jewelry that you believe in Jesus Christ. Could you tell me about your beliefs?” Maybe the person I’m talking to will say, “Oh it’s just a fashion item,” or maybe they’ll tell me why they love Jesus. Either way, we’ll have an opportunity to talk about Christ.

One missionary recently wrote the following: “We knocked on a home that had a floral cross next to the door. The woman who answered wasn’t interested and was about to close the door when I said, ‘Hey, I love your cross! We love Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon testifies all about Him! Can we share a chapter with you?’ She let us into her home!” 46

Another missionary wrote, “As a Spanish speaking missionary, I found that making connections with people because of a cross on their door was very effective! Many good conversations were had because I pointed out a cross and said, ‘You believe in Jesus, too?’ Without my knowledge and testimony of the cross and Jesus, I would have missed those opportunities.”47

The cross can also help build bridges among neighbors. One Latter-day Saint woman felt inspired to start wearing cross earrings. Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance approached her and said, “I didn’t realize you were Christian until I saw your earrings!” This opened the door for a wonderful gospel discussion.48

Second, I believe that understanding the history of the cross as a symbol allows us to feel more connected to Jesus Christ because of his death. If we shy away from the Savior’s Crucifixion, we will miss spiritual power. Ancient prophets and the Savior himself have commanded us to contemplate Christ’s death. Mormon wrote to his son Moroni, “May [Christ’s] … death . . . rest in your mind forever” (Moroni 9:25). Similarly, Jacob wrote, “We would to God that we could persuade all [people to] . . . view [Christ’s] death, and suffer his cross” (Jacob 1:8).

These words from Book of Mormon prophets become even more impactful when we consider what Jesus Christ has directly revealed in our day. In Doctrine and Covenants 6:36, the Savior said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” Immediately after telling us to look unto Him, Jesus commands, “Behold [meaning “fix your eyes upon”], the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet” (D&C 6:37). In our day, the living Christ has personally invited us to fix our eyes on his Crucifixion wounds.

Jesus understands what you have experienced, what you are experiencing, and what you will experience. Because Jesus knows and loves you, he extends an invitation to behold his crucifixion wounds. This does not mean we need to constantly stare at pictures of the Savior’s death, although some of us might benefit from pondering such images. Seeing Christ on the cross can bring feelings of sorrow; however, it can also help us feel joy and hope as we remember “the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:39).

Understanding the varied meanings of the cross can help us feel more love for Jesus and more deeply feel his love for us and what his atonement can provide. He is the living Christ and the loving Christ; Jesus personally defined his crucifixion as his greatest act of love (see John 15:13).


I began with three stories, let me conclude with one more. A friend of mine shared the following:

“While I was serving in a Bishopric, a family got baptized. The primary age girl came to church following her baptism wearing a cross necklace. Her grandma, who was not yet baptized, also came to church wearing a cross necklace.

During a later visit with this family, they shared with me that the primary age girl was told by one of her classmates, “You shouldn’t wear that cross. It’s bad.” The Grandma was also told by an adult church member, “You shouldn’t wear that necklace at our church.”

I asked the girl and her Grandma to tell me why they wore the cross. They shared with me their gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for them. I told them, “Please continue to wear your necklaces. I will wear the symbol of the cross on Sunday as well.” I purchased a pair of cross cufflinks and wore them each Sunday to church.

On occasion, I was asked by members of the ward about my cross cufflinks. One asked me, “Why would you wear a symbol of Christ’s death?”

I answered, “The cross is not a symbol of death. It is a symbol of life. It is a symbol of the Savior’s triumph over death.”

The member replied, “I have never thought of it like that.”

I’m grateful my friend was there to ease the pain of some people who could have been easily offended at the way they were treated and for his efforts to build a bridge.

I’m not suggesting that church members need to wear or display a cross, although of course you can if you want to do so. I am suggesting that you and I as individuals can let go of any stigma we feel about the cross, and never put down somebody who wears or displays one. Symbols hold things of the soul. And no one should be made to feel shame for loving the Savior, especially not by disciples who bear his name.

Let us build bridges, not barriers. Let us celebrate those who believe in Jesus Christ and are willing to publicly proclaim their belief in him—however they manifest it. The doctrinal significance of Christ’s Crucifixion is much more important than whether or how one uses a specific symbol. For most Christians, the cross is a symbol of belief in Jesus Christ. It is for many Latter-day Saints as well. The cross doesn’t have to divide us, it can unite us.

Our shared understanding in the saving significance of Christ’s Crucifixion can help us build important bridges. Taking Jacob’s invitation to “View [Christ’s] death” can strengthen our witness of the living Christ.

I conclude with my testimony that I know Jesus Christ lives. He loves us. We will feel of this love in increasing abundance, as we strive to study every aspect of the Saviors]’s life and his atoning sacrifice—including the cross. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] A thumbs up in some countries has a similar meaning as the middle finger in the United States. See David Anderson, Matthew Stuart, Mark Abadi, Shayanne Gal, “5 everyday hand gestures that can get you in serious trouble outside the US” Jan 5, 2019,
[2] Danielle B. Wagner, “Hilarious Misheard Hymn Lyrics That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud.” November 03, 2018. .
[3] Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing,” BYU Devotional. .
[4] Personal communication.
[5] Personal communication.
[6] Ryan K. Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs in the Nineteenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 58.
[7] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 58.
[8] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 52–53.
[9] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 19.
[10] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 19.
[11] Richard Bushman, email to Seth Payne, November 17, 2006, cited in Michael G. Reed, Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo (Independence, MO: John Whitmer Books, 2012), 2.
[12] “Letter from Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, between 22 and 28 May 1838,” 48, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed July 15, 2020, .
[13] “Minutes, 17 August 1835,” 100, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed August 25, 2020, .
[14] Joseph Smith said that the “old Catholic Church is worth more than all,” with “all” apparently referring to Protestant churches. “Discourse, 16 June 1844–A, as Reported by Thomas Bullock,” [5], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed October 25, 2019, .
[15] See Matthew J. Grow, “The Whore of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations: Nineteenth-Century Catholic and Mormon Mutual Perceptions and Religious Identity,” Church History 73, no. 1 (2004): 139–67.
[16] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 20.
[17] Smith, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses, 79.
[18] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 70, 76–78.
[19] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 76–78.
[20] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 73–74.
[21] These images, along with several others are found in Reed, Banishing the Cross.
[22] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 80–83.
[23] “The Drawing Power of the Risen Redeemer,” The Young Woman’s Journal 26, no. 4 (April, 1915): 260
[24] “The Light of the World,” The Relief Society Magazine 20, no. 4 (April, 1933): 235
[25] Deseret Evening News, May 5, 1916, 2, cited in Ronald W. Walker, “A Gauge of the Times: Ensign Peak in the Twentieth Century,” Utah Historical Quarterly 62, no. 1 (1994): 14.
[26] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 99–101.
[27] Reed, Banishing the Cross, 110–11.
[28] See Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977), 194.
[29] David O. McKay, diary, April 29, 1957, cited in Reed, Banishing the Cross, 115–16.
[30] Elder McConkie wrote, “In apostate days the degenerate Christian Church developed the practice of using symbolic crosses in the architecture of their buildings and jewelry attached to the robes of their priests. . . . All this is inharmonious with the quiet worship and reverence that should attend a true Christian’s remembrance of our Lord’s sufferings and death.” Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), 160. This statement also appeared in subsequent editions of Mormon Doctrine.
[31] Joseph Fielding Smith, “The Wearing of the Cross,” Improvement Era, March 1961, 144. These President Smith’s remarks were republished in Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 4 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 17–18.
[32] Marvin J. Ashton, Be of Good Cheer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 31.
[33] Smith, “Wearing of the Cross,” 144. Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Christ,” Ensign, May 1975. This talk was slightly modified to become a First Presidency message in the April 2005 Ensign and also appears in the March 1989, April 1990, and April 1994 editions of the Liahona. This phrase has been quoted more than twenty times in Church magazines, manuals, and other writings of Church leaders. Elders M. Russell Ballard and Bruce D. Porter have also made statements similar to President Hinckley’s regarding why the Church does not use the cross as a symbol. M. Russell Ballard, Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to Understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 13–14; Bruce D. Porter, The King of Kings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 91.
[34] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Christ,” Ensign, May 1975. This talk was slightly modified to become a First Presidency message in the April 2005 Ensign and also appears in the March 1989, April 1990, and April 1994 editions of the Liahona. This phrase has been quoted more than twenty times in Church magazines, manuals, and other writings of Church leaders. Elders M. Russell Ballard and Bruce D. Porter have also made statements similar to President Hinckley’s regarding why the Church does not use the cross as a symbol. M. Russell Ballard, Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to Understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 13–14; Bruce D. Porter, The King of Kings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 91.
[35] Hinckley, “Symbol of Christ.”
[36] “Elders’ Journal, July 1838,” [44], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed August 13, 2019, .
[37] For an overview, see John Hilton III, Anthony Sweat, and Joshua Stratford, “Latter-day Saints and Images of Christ’s Crucifixion,” BYU Studies Quarterly 60, no. 2 (2021): 49–70.
[38] Gerald N. Lund, “The Fall of Man and His Redemption,” in Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 94.
[39] Russell M. Nelson, “The Correct Name of the Church,” Ensign, November 2018.
[40] Jessica Brodie, “Finding Jesus in the Center of My Pain,” WhollyLoved (blog), July 15, 2019, .
[41] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 479.
[42] Personal Communication.
[43] Eric D. Huntsman, “Preaching Jesus, and Him Crucified,” in His Majesty and Mission, ed. Nicholas J. Frederick and Keith J. Wilson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 73.
[44] Edward Dube, “Gaining My Faith One Step at a Time,” New Era, April 2020.
[45] F. Enzio Busche and Tracie A. Lamb, Yearning for the Living God: Reflections from the Life of F. Enzio Busche (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 52.
[46] Personal communication
[47] Personal communication
[48] Personal communication


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