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Do Latter-day Saints Need a Symbol?

Typical LDS faith claims, presented as statements, raise the question of truth: statements can be true or false. Symbols can’t really be true or false in the same way that statements can. Instead, they take on meaning, and there’s nothing to stop different people or different groups of people from ascribing different, even radically different, meanings to a given symbol. A particularly stark example is the cross, which for Romans symbolized execution and the power of the state, but for Christians came to symbolize Christ’s death and, by extension, the atonement and even the resurrection. But Mormons have not adopted the cross as a preferred symbol. It’s not clear what fills the gap left by the absence of the cross in the set of Mormon symbols: Gethsemane? The Christus statue in the Temple Square Visitors’ Center? The First Vision as a revelation of God and His Son? LINK

I couldn’t agree more with the first three sentences. I don’t think a lot of people really understand this principle; symbols are not inherently good or bad or true or false. There has to be some understanding and context that come into play when interpreting them in their usage.

As for the rest of the paragraph concerning a ‘preferred symbol’ for the Mormons, I don’t see why the church needs a particular ‘symbol’ per se. Christ himself is the greatest symbol of our faith since he epitomizes what we believe and what we are seeking to become like. Some may find it uncomfortable that we do not have a symbol and would prefer that we choose one like all the other faiths.

In the Old Testament, the vast majority of other religions had idols that represented their respective Gods while Israel had none at all; they didn’t need a symbol to represent their religion. I’m not equating religious symbols to idolatry here but I see a similarity in the attitudes of the people involved.

In the Hebrew temple there were images of Cherubim on the veil of the temple and on the Ark of the Covenant and brazen oxen under the laver but these were not representations of the faith. In like manner we incorporate an angel on the tops of our modern temples along with various celestial symbols, but these are not meant to be representations of the faith.

For whatever reason, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has just not adopted a particular iconic symbol to represent itself. People will sometimes use the figure of Moroni to represent the faith and I don’t really see a problem with it but in the end, I don’t believe that it really matters whether we have a symbol or not.

If we did choose a symbol, what should it be?

If we HAD to choose a symbol that would represent the faith, I’m not quite sure what I would choose, personally. Perhaps a viable candidate would be the symbol that we see most associated with the temples which is a circle within a square. This icon seems synonymous with modern LDS temples as it is used regularly in the architecture of most modern temples.

Temple work is one of the key components of the restoration and is really the defining work of this dispensation. Temple work provides the vehicle for the fulfilling of the covenant that God has made with man through Christ. The square within the circle, as I understand it symbolically, represents the eternal (circle) comprehended within the bounds of the temporal (square); or in other words, a temple is a physical place where we go to learn eternal truths.

The meaning of the symbol is a little more obscured, like that of the star of David and not plainly obvious like the cross, but it is distinct and memorable and maybe that is all that is important.

Conclusion

I don’t think Latter-day Saints require a symbol to be an icon representative of the faith. I still love the answer that Gordon B. Hinckley gave to a Protestant minister when he asked “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?” to which Hinckley replied “the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.” (LINK) It reminds me of something that Jesus once said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16).

Personally I think it is more important to be recognized as a follower of Christ because of his image in my countenance instead of the symbol hanging around my neck.

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Updated: June 1, 2011