Mormon underwear: Church says there’s “nothing magical or mystical” to see here, folks

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Mormon temple apron etcOver the weekend, the LDS Church released a four-minute video about temple garments (worn daily by temple-endowed Mormon adults underneath our street clothing) and temple clothing (formal white dress and vestments worn only inside the temple itself).

The video is below and on YouTube for public consumption.

I’m pleased by this video and the way it seeks to normalize something Mormons see as sacred, not weird. For years as I’ve tried to explain Mormonism to friends and readers, I’ve been saying that most religions worth their salt have some kind of holy garment that is worn for priesthood and for prayer. (And I’m hardly the only one to make this argument — check out this terrific post on garments from religion professor Bob Rees from a couple of years ago.)

The only difference in Mormonism is that our ora et labora approach to worldly life has laypeople rather than clergy girding ourselves daily for that holiness. Granted, for most of us, the holiness is aspirational; we’re terribly imperfect people on a spiritual journey toward a perfect God. The garments remind us to pray a little harder, do a little better, be a little more loving.

I can understand why it seems strange to non-Mormons that our holy garment is underwear. (Seriously? Underwear?) But to me that is exactly the most beautiful thing about it. What article of clothing could we choose that would be more profane, at the end of the day? What could be more tied to the messiness of being human?

Temple garments remind me that I belong, body and soul, to Jesus. There is no part of me that he has not redeemed. To use Paul’s metaphor, I regard the weakest parts of myself with the greatest honor.

So maybe the Church’s refreshing transparency about garments and temple dress — both of which are shown in the video — will help to persuade gawkers that there’s nothing to see here, folks. Let’s move along.

 

  • TomW

    What I like about the video is that it treats the subject matter with the dignity it deserves, and provides Latter-day Saints with an ‘official’ response which takes away concern over delving into what we generally consider a taboo sacred topic. I don’t think the world will ever be rid of the irreverent, callous, malicious mockers, but a clip like this goes a long way toward answering questions of the innocently curious, and exposing those who chortle for the intolerant jerks that they really are.

  • Sally

    I just hope people understand that the temple robe is worn over other clothing; kinda wish they’d shown a shirt/pants and dress too. I’d hate for people to think that we’re going around in sheer togas.

  • TOGA! TOGA!

    OK, returning now to our more dignified regularly scheduled programming. But the toga idea has merit.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    When I went to the temple I was told the garment would be a “shield” and a “protection” against the “power of the destroyer” (recalling from memory, so the wording may not be exact). Various Mormons interpret this differently, some saying that it’s a protection from physical harm and others saying that it’s protection from Satan.

    But either way, whether it’s protecting people from bullets (e.g., Paul Dunn and his famous lies), or from an imaginary spirit called the Devil (aka “the destroyer”), it’s clearly, by any rational meaning of the word, “magic”

    Mormons may ascribe all sorts of “spiritual” significance to the garment as well, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s stated purpose of “protection” is indistinguishable from other magical objects, whether they be garlic hung around the neck as protection from vampires, or a cross to protect from the Devil; superstitious material objects used as protection from superstitious invisible monsters is a classic characteristic of “magic.”

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    TomW wrote: “I don’t think the world will ever be rid of the irreverent, callous, malicious mockers…”

    Exposing and criticizing superstition may offend you, but it’s actually a good thing. If not for the irreverent mockers, Christians would still be burning (or drowning) witches, and Mormons would still be practicing blood atonement.

    Be glad you have “mockers” to shame you into changing your doctrines. After all, it’s the only way you’ll ever make progress.

  • Richard

    Jana,

    I love your writing.

    As a resigned life-time very active member of the LDS church, I continue to be interested in Mormon culture, and I try my best to be completely respectful of Mormon beliefs and practices.

    Three things strike me:

    1) An observation: The first several decades of my life was spent learning how very different we Mormons were, consistent with Joseph Smith’s declaration that the creeds of all Christian faiths were an abomination in the sight of God and only the LDS church had the fullness of the Gospel. I now marvel at how much the message has changed. In this video recognition is given to the notion that temple garments are not unlike so many other religious vestments. I think that is fascinating. (As an aside, I now hear Mormons using the term “Jesus” to refer to Christ outside of Primary (something I never heard growing up). I also now read in the many press releases and news stories Bishops referring to themselves as “pastors.” I never heard that just a very few years ago.) There is major re-messaging going on.

    2) The irony in second video example at the beginning made me laugh. A young girl (the fourth person) was adorned in her red religious clothing walking across the dais in a church, acting as (I assume) an altar girl. Oh my goodness! A GIRL, performing a priestly duty!

    3) I found the comment “there is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments” completely at odds with so many “faith promoting” stories by Mormon prophets that those garments provide physical protection. I’m not sure how I would characterize that, but “magical” certainly comes to mind.

    It sounds to me the LDS church is (again) changing its message to appear less odd. If the temple garment was truly inspired of God when it was first “revealed,” why have ankle-length garments become knee-length garments? (And I suppose we could talk about so much that has changed in temple practices, but that’s beyond this discussion.)

  • TomW

    By that loose definition, Debbie, any divine protection of any kind is “magic” and praying for God is nothing more than a petition for magic to be invoked on our behalf. Bottom line is that the moment someone crosses the line of using the term “magic underwear” he or she has exposed him- or herself as a religiously intolelrant, immature jerk.

  • TomW

    [This comment has been edited to remove insulting content that did not contribute to a constructive discussion of issues, resorting instead to personal attacks. Reminder: we are not here to judge other people’s righteousness or the state of their salvation.]

  • Richard

    [Some of the specifics of this comment have been edited out, since they were responding to a rude personal remark that has also been redacted. — ed.]

    You surely are painting an ugly image of Latter-day Saints with those kinds of posts.

  • Really good points, Richard. I had not noticed about the altar girl (which is probably not surprising in my case, since my daughter is an altar girl and chalicist so those things are not unusual around here).

    I liked your question about how Mormons themselves talk about garments. I have certainly heard many “faith-promoting stories” about people’s garments allegedly protecting them from calamity — though I’d say those stories are less common than 20 years ago. Certainly, whenever Mormons tell those tales, they contribute to the myth of “magic underwear” without any help from outsiders or the media.

  • TomW

    Richard, do you reserve at least as much criticism for the mockers as you do for those who expose them for what they are?

  • TomW

    Yet Jana, people’s personal spiritual accounts of divine protection fail to warrant immature underwear references, do you not agree?

  • Kurt

    The video was really good. I’m glad to see the church’s explanation of clothing out there, and not just the bitter people with faulty memories of their old faith.

  • Richard

    Richard,

    When they are rude, of course I do.

    As someone who has been on both sides of Mormonism, as a very active person, bishop, stake callings, etc., and now as a non-member by choice, I think we should all strive to be civil in our discussions. There is nothing to be gained for anyone to be insulting or demeaning.

  • Porter

    Great comments Richard. I have been truck by the fact that this topic has been a huge taboo for discussion outside of the temple until, well, the church put out a video on it. Prior to last week you would have been hauled into the bishops office for posting comments about garment or temple clothes (let alone photos) on facebook! What changed? Are these topics now open for discussion?

    And I was taught my whole life that garment DID have magical properties. Even in the temple we are told they will protect us. So it seems disingenuous, at best, for the church to now deny that is the case.

  • Julie

    Debbie, I don’t believe there is anything “magic” about Satan or God as they are real forces of good and evil. (I will leave Paul Dunn out of this, he was released from church service after it was found out he lied.) In my opinion, the fabric of the garment is not magical, but when one is worthy to wear the temple garment, they are adhering to Gods commandments. Living such a life is a spiritual protection by virtue of ones choices and actions. Maybe you have heard of the millennium (1000 years of peace) when Satan will be bound. I believe he will be bound because of the people righteousness and not because of anything magic. The superstitions you list are just that, but there is real power in righteousness.

  • Felicity Thunder

    [Comment deleted. People, again: this is not a forum for your personal vendettas. Grow up.]

  • lawguy

    TomW: Surely you can defend what you regard to be Jesus’s church without referring to its opponents as things like “intolerant, immature jerk[s].” When you speak like that (which you have done on several posts that I’ve read on this site), you’re running directly contrary to repeated pleas from apostles recently for us to be kind and gentle in our online discourse, even (and particularly) when talking to those with whom we disagree.

    From one church member to another: please stop. You’re very likely turning people away from the truth, not towards it.

  • TomW

    Porter, I don’t think that anything has changed with regard to the sacred nature of temple ordinances and corresponding clothing. While we have always been discouraged from discussing such things outside of temple walls, even among each other, the fact of the matter is that we live in a world where the immature and the malicious harbor no inhibitions about holding up the sacred beliefs and emblems of others for ridicule, as is readily evidenced proven by the comments on this very thread.

    I don’t believe that the church’s posting of this YouTube clip suddenly opens the floodgates for Latter-day Saints to run amok sharing their own photos of temple clothing and encouraging detailed discussion. Whatever you were taught your “whole life,” Porter, I’m pretty certain that “magical” didn’t enter the equation.

    The fact of the matter is that the Lord permits the rain to fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous. People who do all the right things can still suffer harm and death. Just within the past 24 hours a young man from my ward, serving his mission in Montana, was in a car accident and had to be air lifted to another state for emergency surgery on his aorta. We pray for the divine intervention of God to heal him. That’s not seeking for magic any more than wearing clothing which symbolize sacred covenants is placing faith in magic. Our faith is in God. Our protection, whoever we are and whatever faith we adhere to, is from God. We pray for His blessings, and accept what comes. Those who engage in ridicule say far more about themselves than the object of their scorn.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Debbie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments to Tom. However, I do Not agree with your analysis of the motivational power of shame. Love and respect are much more powerful as a motivating force, at least in my life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a Gospel of love and forgiveness, not shame, guilt, fear, and anger. They can indeed be effective in the short term, but in the long term they are exhausting and usually counterproductive. In the end, the Gospel invites us to do the right things, with the right attitudes, and for the right reasons. While I can find some scriptural exceptions mocking and shaming are generally contrary to the principles of our Heavenly Father. Of course we are all welcome to express our own opinions especially on the internet.

    I wish you well in all of your positive endeavors.

  • Yes, I agree. Tom, you are obviously passionate about your faith, and I respect that, but you will be civil in your comments. There is no name-calling on this blog.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Debbie,

    I think your memory of the wording the part of temple ceremony you mention is accurate, but of course the understanding of all of us may be somewhat limited. The public words of the sacrament prayers (see D&C 20: 77 & 79) are also simple, but they effect me more powerfully the more I ponder the atonement of Jesus Christ and my own walk with Him. Remembering and pondering are key elements of religious observances.

    While I was earning a BA in Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara in the late 1960’s, one of the most delightfully entitle courses I took was “Magic, Religion, and Witchcraft.” A brief Google search shows that this a fairly common Anthropology course in undergraduate curriculum. In academic studies there are both parallels and differences among these 3 topics. Both similarities and differences are important.

    There is folklore and folktales in all cultures including Mormon culture. They often contain important truths, and should neither be dismissed out of hand nor thoughtlessly mistaken for objective reality. It is easy to make light of and even mock those things we don’t fully understand. However, speaking through Hamlet, Shakespeare gives wise counsel when he says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    I find temple garments are a frequent reminder to me of my covenants with God. They also remind me that I have missions to complete in this life and that while I am diligently about them, the Lord will be with me so I have no cause to fear (See D&C 84:88). Again, remembering and pondering are key elements of religious observances.

  • @Wayne Dequer,

    “I do Not agree with your analysis of the motivational power of shame….gospel of Jesus…”

    Um..Then you don’t know your religion.

    “Have nothing to do with him, that he may be Ashamed.
    (2 Thessalonians 3:14)

    We mock religion for a reason. Its right hand always denies what its left hand is doing.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Thank you for your comments, Max! You said of religion: “Its right hand always denies what its left hand is doing.” and “Um..Then you don’t know your religion.” You seem to be ignoring, or at least minimizing, my statement: “While I can find some scriptural exceptions mocking and shaming are generally contrary to the principles of our Heavenly Father.” That scripture is certainly one of several examples including 1 Kings 18. However, you only quoting half of the thought in 2 Thessalonians 3:14. In the Amplified Version 14 and 15 together read: “But if anyone [in the church] refuses to obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but simply admonish and warn him as [being still] a brother.” Mormons are encouraged try to be civil and polite in public dialogue (See http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-mormon-ethic-of-civility ).

    Again. We are all welcome to voice our opinions on the internet. For those who are familiar with the Book of Mormon, we expect a significant amount of shaming and mocking (See 1 Nephi 8:25-28 and 11:35-36). For several decades I have found myself to be pretty resistant to manipulative guilt-tripping from secular and religious source. However, thank you for sharing your views and giving me the chance to share mine!

  • DougH

    I remember one General Authority’s comment on the folklore of the physical protection provided by garments: “It works, except when it doesn’t. Don’t count on it.” I’ve always figured that pretty much sums it up, garments are no more magical than baptism, blessings or the sacrament, and we need to avoid the magical thinking that some Mormon folklore supports.

  • nobody important

    Wow! On what planet is TomW’s comment more inappropriate than Debbie’s?

  • ElliottJM

    Every planet outside of Kolob.

  • lucas

    Why does religious underwear deserve any more “respect” than normal, non-magic underwear?

  • DougH

    Why does a nation’s flag deserve more respect than, say, your bedsheets?

  • TomW

    lucas – How is it dignified for you or anyone else to treat other people’s sacred things with lightness?

  • I remember the first time I attended an LDS temple ceremony. That was over thirty years and hundreds of times attending ago, but I still remember being a bit freaked out my first time seeing people in the temple wearing the ritual robes. So I’m glad, for the upcoming generations, that they don’t have to be so surprised by this. Over the years, the symbolism of the robes and everything in the temple has become very deeply meaningful to me, but looking back, I wish I had been more prepared before my first visit for what I would see in the temple.

    Therefore, I salute the LDS Church leadership for taking this needed step.

  • Christian

    Tom, I think it’s a mistake to assume you know the motivations of those who criticize the church. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate someone saying you’re a hateful bigot if you don’t support gay marriage. People can be critical of the church for a lot of reasons, some well intended, some not. Referring to people as malicious or immature isn’t helpful.

  • TomW

    Christian, one can criticize the church without engaging in juvenile behavior.

  • Todd

    Because my bedsheets aren’t magical.

  • DougH

    And Old Glory is somehow magical? Not that I’ve ever heard.

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  • TomW

    Gary, how can mocking people’s sacred things be anything less than malicious by definition? I don’t recall encountering loving, tolerant mockery. Certainly haven’t seen it here.

  • TomW

    Richard, with regard to your observations, I think the church has concurrently sought to point out both its differences AND similarities, and I don’t think that that’s even problematic. If we weren’t different, there would be no point in conversion. There are absolutely distinct substantive differences which warrant pointing out. At the same time, these differences do not warrant the opposite extreme where other denominations seek to define the Latter-day Saints outside the greater family of Christendom altogether. Therefore it is sensible to make a big deal about the similarities/commonalities as well, even to the point of adapting our vocabulary when speaking to non-LDS in order to be better understood on their own terms. It makes sense sometimes to refer to a bishop as a “pastor” so that people do not mistakenly liken the calling to what the same term means in some other faiths. Seeking to be better understood isn’t such a bad thing.

    With regard to showing the altar girl, I don’t know that it is necessarily ironic. Her clothing is representative of the varying forms of symbolic attire used by people of faith. If the LDS church had declined to use any examples of women participating in such duties in other faiths, I’m certain someone somewhere would have complained about that.

    With regard to the comment that “there is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments,” it is a fair point to make, the “faith promoting” stories of various people notwithstanding. Why? Because we also speak of divine protection as the result of prayer, obedience, priesthood blessings, etc. People of other faiths often believe in these exact things as interpreted through their respective lenses of faith as well. Most people of faith, and respectful people without faith, would refrain from referring to these beliefs as practicing magic. Even if it “certainly comes to mind,” decency can cause a person to refrain from expressing the sentiment.

    With regard to the design of garments, I am personally grateful that the days of ankle-length, one-piece garments are a thing of the past. I don’t think there is anything particularly noteworthy about the specific cut. It’s the covenants which matter, and it has always been so.

  • Scott Roskelley

    I remember while on my mission, my grandfather mailed to me an article from BYU Studies 33, no.2 (1993), pg 215 – 243 where Dr. Griggs, Marvin Kuchar and a few others did an excavation in Fayum, Egypt where they discovered an early christian settlement and did studies on the well-preserved textiles, royal robes, and so forth. They found a few robes with scenes of animals sewn into the robes using well-preserved dye colors. They also found other layers of clothing which had woven rosettes over each breast and a large 6in slit near the abdomen. A few years ago I contacted a scholar involved Dr. Kanawati from a university in Australia but he directed me to Prof. Jana Jones. I’ve asked Dr. Griggs at BYU to share more photos, but he hasn’t sent them to me. Anyone at BYU willing to speak with Dr. Griggs about early christian burial clothing?

  • Scott Roskelley

    One last note, which I know will sound too radical for some, is that I think we should get those new nano-ink transparent, which fluoresce under UV light as tattoos of the temple symbols, and do away with the inner garments. At the very least the women’s temple garments need to be redesigned, I don’t know if that can be accomplished with temple rosettes woven into a “goddess” series of brassieres, or if we can re-adopt what they did in the early days of the church where up until the 1920’s or so you would take your own under clothing to the temple and they would sew in the temple rosettes. Considering that God/Goddess designed our bodies in their likeness and image, I think newly designed clothing should enhance or encourage a holy dance of intimate communication, rather than detract from unifying eroticism.

  • TomW

    Another dignified contribution, Scott.

  • Garson Abuita

    The video didn’t answer two questions which I as a non-Mormon can’t seem to find a good precise answer: (a) is regular underwear worn underneath the temple garments? What about a bra? Or is that sewn into the women’s garment? (b) are the original Masonic-type symbols still on the garments or have those been totally removed?

  • Garson: Good questions.

    The garments generally replace regular underwear, except in such cases as bras, which are worn separately. On a related note, I personally choose not to wear temple garments when I exercise because (a) I sweat so much 😉 and (b) because the male garment bottoms don’t provide the requisite support that spandex undershorts provide.

    “Masonic-type” symbols are still included in the garment. In the military, interestingly, officially authorized t-shirts to be worn under the army combat uniform top can be made into temple garment tops by have the markings silk-screened onto the inside of the t-shirt.

  • “But if anyone [in the church] refuses to obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he may be …

    ashamed
    ashamed
    ashamed
    ashamed
    ashamed

    “Do not regard him as an enemy… [thought he shall be treated as one as in forcing him to be ASHAMED]
    but simply admonish and warn him [SO JUDGE HIM OPENLY AND BRAZENLY IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY.]
    as [being still] a brother.”

    With tribalist ‘love’ like this it is a wonder anyone survives.

    This is how the evil starts.

    Then Jesus commands this harsh lesson
    from the Parable of the Minas:

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and EXECUTE THEM IN FRONT OF ME , JESUS (LUKE 19:27)

    This entire Jesus cult is an invitation to cruelty, barbarism, primitive superstition and various other bronze age, hare-brained garbage.

  • Wayne,

    What is the payoff?
    How much is God paying you to be so mean?

    Thessalonians preaches HATRED.
    It preaches judgement against someone in your community for being a sinner – to subject that person with cruelty !

    What on earth do you think you are defending here? What did God promise you in return for shaming and shunning?

    What special favor is he handing you – in return for acting with such abject cruelty?

    Is it eternal life FOR YOU? Is that the present you think you will get?
    Do you expect wishes and prayers to be granted in your favor
    IN RETURN FOR SHAMING PEOPLE AS THESSALONIANS DEMANDS?

    I mock Christianity. It is transparently evil.
    You think you win points with God for being cruel to others.
    What could be more sinister?

  • Katherine

    The video implies Mormonism is an ancient religion…so far from the truth. I see this as another attempt to make their religion appear more normal to outsiders…another revelation maybe?

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  • Wayne Dequer

    Max,

    It seems from your reply, including bold type and all caps, that shame is a very large issue for you. I’d like to reply with a few comments:
    1. As I have said twice before: “While I can find some scriptural exceptions mocking and shaming are generally contrary to the principles of our Heavenly Father.” The general principles are to be slow to judge, especially harshly. If questioning and/or reproof is truly necessary, do it in private showing for afterwards an increase in love (See especially Sermon on the Mount–Matt 5:43-48 which counsels and commands Christians to labor to be perfect in compassion for all, and D&C 121: 34-46 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121?lang=eng ).
    2. You are correct that 2 Thessalonians 3:14 is harsh and seems to suggest shunning. However, it is considerably clarified by verse 15 which says “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” I take these verses to mean there are times when it is best to walk away from escalating conflict, but we are to maintain loving relationships rather than disowning family and friends.
    3. You are correct Luke 19:27 is very harsh if taken literally. But you have noted it is part of a parable which is to be taken figuratively (symbolically) and which certainly provides context including Luke 19:12-27. There are very hash things in the Bible and there are also clear teachings to be slow to judge, quick to forgive, kind, and compassionate. To deny the existence of either is disingenuous.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your views and concerns. I wish you well in all your positive endeavors.

  • @Wayne Dequer,

    I cannot comprehend how you square this circle.
    Explain please.

    You are told by God:

    1. Judge your friend harshly.
    2. Shame your friend.
    3. Publicly disgrace your friend.
    4. Executing your friend is not out of the question since
    it is okay to take Jesus literally.

    All of this appears okay with you.
    I am very glad you are no friend of mine.

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  • bob

    I would have to agree with Richard, on the changing message that the LDS Church is trying to send. While avoiding the history of why the members of the Church have to wear the garments, or as Richard mentioned the changes in the garment design over the years or changes in the temple ordinance to receive the garments (pretty sure you can find this out).

    Its feels more like a marketing veneer to make the LDS Church seem more normal, and because investigative journalism is a thing of the past, the media pass on this promotion ( of “we are normal”) without blinking an eye, and say “oh thanks now we understand what they are now”, no mention of masonic signs, rules on wearing them or the fact that only LDS Church members that have been through their endowment in the temple wear them, which is not all members.

    Although in the past their leaders have spoken of them protecting them physically, currently the doctrine of spiritual protection to someone who is wearing them is – “It will be a shield and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer…”.
    So to a normal person, if you told them that your underwear protects them from “the destroyer”, then it wouldn’t be normal to say they are “magical”? But the message is being sent, is that calling them “magical” is offensive to LDS Members, really?

  • bob

    Good point Garson, the garments are to worn next to the skin, and bra over the top.. they offer no support, which is one thing that could be changed to bring them into this century – rather than spending money on glossy video campaign to try to explain LDS garments to those that don’t know how to use the internet.

    Just ask a well developed lady to wear a bra over top of her t-shirt, she will tell you how uncomfortable it is (or how bad it actually is).

  • TomW

    Yes, bob, really. To invoke the term “magic” is to intentionally make light of something sacred to those who believe. We don’t tell people of various faiths that they are praying for magic when they petition God in prayer for protection, or healing, or other desired blessings. This term is directly applied in this case to mock certain believer’s faith in divine protection, whether physical or spiritual, and isn’t a particularly tolerant thing for people of goodwill to do.