Originally Posted by Mike Reed
I am pleased that the first formal review (from Dr. Boyd J. Peterson of UVU and BYU) my book received was extremely positive. If you'd like to read it, you can find it at the following link: http://forums.mormonletters.org/yaf_...rsen.aspx#2532
Merry Christmas everyone!
From the review:
In the early years of American society, contempt for Catholicism was rampant. As immigration to the United States from Catholic nations rapidly increased in the first half of the nineteenth century, Catholicism was seen as a threat to both democracy and true Christianity, and tensions between Protestants and Catholics grew. The cross was regarded as an expression of papist sentiments, and iconoclasm was common: a church in Philadelphia was destroyed by arson, a cross was torn down from the steeple of a Boston chapel. The cross served as a sign of Catholicism, un-American, and idolatrous.
Many early Mormons shared their neighbors’ anti-Catholic sentiments, identifying the Catholic Church as the “mother of harlots and abominations” spoken of in the book of Revelation (17:5). Reed notes, however, that “despite [Mormons’] employment of Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric, the condemnation of the cross is noticeably absent in the early years of Mormonism (33). Reed offers three explanations for why early Mormons embraced the cross: their involvement with folk magic, their connections with Freemasonry, and their interest in pre-Columbian archaeology that they believed confirmed the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
One of the most wonderful aspects of Reed’s book is its bountiful supply of illustrations, and chapter five, “Mormon Crosses before the Institutionalized Taboo,” provides plentiful documentation that Mormons once embraced the cross as a symbol of faith. Reed provides photos of crosses in quilts, in the stained glass in LDS chapels, in funeral arrangements (at John Taylor’s funeral, no less!), and in jewelry worn by prominent Mormons (one of Brigham Young’s wives and two daughters). It was even emblazoned on the spine of an 1852 European edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The taboo against the cross likely crept into Mormonism as later generations lost touch with the symbols of folk magic and masonry and as Mormons began to assimilate into larger American culture. Reed documents growing tension between Mormons and Catholics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a series of missteps and miscommunication: In 1916, the Bishop of the Utah diocese criticized Mormons for holding dances on Good Friday. In 1930, Catholics aired a series of radio shows on LDS Church-owned KSL to strengthen their parisheners' faith, which was misinterpreted by the Mormon leadership as an attempt to convert Mormons. And in 1948, Catholics published a tract entitled “A Foreign Mission Close to Home” and Mormons misunderstood the use of the word “mission” as an effort to proselyte rather than to designate a small, underfunded parish.
This increasing tension, combined with some anti-Catholic prejudices of some Church leaders. combined to create an official antipathy toward the symbol of the cross. Mark E. Petersen saw it as nothing but a cruel form of torture, Joseph Fielding Smith saw it as “repugnant and contrary to the true worship of our Redeemer,” and Bruce R. McConkie called it the “mark of the beast” (118-20). The taboo against the cross became solidified as President McKay warned of the "two great anti-Christs in the world: Communism and that [Catholic] Church" (115).
While many Mormon historians have noted correctly that early Mormons echoed the anti-Catholic attitudes and polemics of their nineteenth-century neighbors, Reed conclusively shows that early Mormons had no aversion to the cross. He persuasively demonstrates that the taboo against the cross arose as Mormons lost their connection with folk magic and masonry, as anti-Catholic bias grew within both the membership and leadership of the Church, and as relations between Church leaders and Salt Lake area Catholics grew more tense. What is fascinating about Reed’s analysis is that the institutionalization of the taboo occurred quite late in Mormon history and is not based on any strong theological reasoning.
With contemporary Mormonism's more ecumenical focus, a tremendous lessening of anti-Catholic rhetoric, and greatly improved relations between all denominations of Christinanity and the LDS Church, it is not hard to imagine a world where Mormons can once again embrace the symbolic power of the cross. Reed’s book is a wonderful addition to Mormon history and a helpful guide in rethinking our contemporary aversion to the central symbol of Christianity.