Ever since I began engaging in apologetics with Mormons, back in the 1980s, their skittishness about and rejection of the cross, as a symbol of Christ and His atoning sacrifice, has always seemed odd to me. After all, St. Paul himself proclaimed to scoffers, "We preach Christ crucified" and "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2).
The rationale I've heard from many Mormons for their aversion to the cross as a Christian symbol has included rejoinders such as, "We don't use them because that's a Catholic thing," and, "Why would I want to see a reminder of the thing that killed Jesus? That's morbid!" The fomer president of the Mormon Church, Gordon B. Hinkley, had this to say: For us [Mormons], the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ.”
One Mormon missionary who, along with several LDS confreres, attended one of my parish seminars on Mormonism some years ago, told me in all earnestness, "We don't use crosses because Jesus died on a cross. If your brother were murdered with a knife, you wouldn't hang a little knife on chain around your neck, would you?" I told him that this was precisely the point. "What happened on the cross is, in itself, the reason we Catholics display the cross," I said. "The most important event in history took place on the wood of the cross at Golgotha, upon which Christ suffered and died for our salvation."
I could see from the look on his face that that Mormon missionary didn't accept my reasoning.
In a future post on this blog, I'll supply a précis of the Catholic reasons for venerating the cross, whether it be a crucifix (i.e., with the corpus of the Lord affixed) or an empty cross. But for the moment, I think the primary reason, at least from the explanations given by Mormons I've discussed this subject with over the years, is that the cross of Christ is inextricably identified in their minds with the Catholic Church. Until recently, the Mormon Church has been up front in its opinion that the Catholic Church is nothing other than the "counterfeit" church which, Mormons say, arose out of the maelstrom of syncretism, corruption, and heresy which occurred when Christ allegedly withdrew the "keys of authority" from the Church He had established, thus (c.f., Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979 ed.], 42-46, 172-174, 712, James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1968], 130 ff.; and Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1987], 282-288).
In any case, in light of the above, here's an interesting blog piece about Mormons and the cross and why they eschew it.