Mormons, Jesus and the Peace Symbol
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had never been under greater scrutiny in the year of the 9/11 attacks, because of the upcoming Winter Olympics to be held in February 2002 in Salt Lake City. The Mormons found themselves alternatively sharing cover pages of magazines and newspapers with ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and Osama Bin Laden. A faithful, while referring to the widespread attention the international press had given to Mormon fundamentalists, was troubled with the fact that Mormonism was becoming known as a violent faith:
“Could we go on the offensive to counteract that image? If we were to take a pro-peace, anti-war stance, who could doubt we would engage widespread attention, and what today comes with higher stakes than our response to the rising tide of violence that surrounds us?” (Moloney, “Wicks, Modems, and the Winds of War” in Dialogue, Journal of Mormon Thought).
the peace symbol
One of the most widely known symbols in the world, the peace symbol is recognised in Britain as standing for nuclear disarmament – and in particular as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In the United States and much of the rest of the world it is known more broadly as the peace symbol. It was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Arts.
The Direct Action Committee had already planned what was to be the first major anti-nuclear march, from London to Aldermaston, where British nuclear weapons were and still are manufactured. It was on that march, over the 1958 Easter weekend that the symbol first appeared in public. Five hundred cardboard lollipops on sticks were produced. Half were black on white and half white on green. Just as the church’s liturgical colours change over Easter, so the colours were to change, “from Winter to Spring, from Death to Life.” Black and white would be displayed on Good Friday and Saturday, green and white on Easter Sunday and Monday.
LDS church leaders raise concerns over nuclear weapons
In fact, during the 1958 April General Conference of the LDS Church, around the same time as the above-mentioned march was being planned, President J. Reuben Clark Jr., Second Counselor in the First Presidency, elaborates on the dangers of new technology in a nuclear era:
“We are living in perilous times. That is trite. Man has discovered and is trying to learn how to use some of the great forces that evidently were operative at the time of the creation of the universe. We know nothing about them, we play with them as a child plays with the live end of a high voltage transmission wire. We know not how to control them nor what they will do. We are equally challenged in all walks of life, economic, financial, social, religious, with new theories, new problems, new solutions. We live in a maze of unknown, untried ideas and concepts.
Be not dismayed. Christ is our answer. Christ is our salvation. And remember, you who may be influenced by discoveries of science today, that the discoveries of science in my day have been thrown away and given up and in so far as present discoveries are not in accord with truth, they will be thrown away and discarded. “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
the genesis of an idea
Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector as well as an artist, explained that the symbol incorporated the semaphore lettersN(uclear) and D(isarmament). He later explained the genesis of his idea in greater, more personal depth:
I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.
Eric Austin added his own interpretation of the design: the gesture of despair had long been associated with the death of Man and the circle with the unborn child.
Latter-day Saints, if they look carefully, may recognize in the description of the peace symbol above by Gerald Holtom a description of the Resurrected Christ. In many images and LDS representations of Jesus among the peoples of the Book of Mormon, as well as the well known image of his Second Coming, the Savior is portrayed as standing with palms outstretched outwards and downwards, inviting people to come unto Him.
“Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters freely.” (Alma 5:33-34)
come unto Christ
“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.”
And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come. (3 Nephi 11:14-15)
Gerald Holtom had originally considered using the Christian cross symbol within a circle as the motif for the march but various priests he had approached with the suggestion were not happy at the idea of using the cross on a protest march. Later, ironically, Christian CND were to use the symbol with the central stroke extended upwards to form the upright of a cross. This adaptation of the design was only one of many subsequently invented by various groups within CND and for specific occasions – with a cross below as a women’s symbol, with a daffodil or a thistle incorporated by CND Cymru and Scottish CND, with little legs for a sponsored walk, or our very own “angel Moroni on a peace symbol”.
Well worth remembering, nine years after the violent attacks of 9/11, are the lyrics of the LDS hymn “how firm a foundation”. Who, rather than what, must we consider the capstone of our religion, the author of our faith:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word! What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed! For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”