When you got dressed this Monday Mormon I hope you put on clean underwear because, as my mum used to say, “You never know when you might be in an accident and how embarrassing when they get you to the hospital and find you’re not wearing clean underwear!” This latest in our 21 Questions we talk about Mormon temple garments. As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)
Q: Is there such a thing as Mormon "underwear"? if so, are all Mormons required to wear it? What does it symbolize?
A: Like members of many religious faiths, Latter-day Saints wear religious clothing. But members of other faiths — typically those involved in permanent pastoral ministries or religious services — usually wear religious garments as outer ceremonial vestments or symbols of recognition. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garments are worn beneath street clothing as a personal and private reminder of commitments to God.
Garments are considered sacred by Church members and are not regarded as a topic for casual conversation.
C: The Mormon temple garment is issued to each Mormon when they go through their first temple endowment ceremony. It carries significant Masonic marks that mirror marks on the temple veil referred to earlier. Mormons wear these garments at all times, and they act as a continuous reminder of covenants made in the temple. To not wear your temple garment is as serious an offence as can be imagined.
Qu. “Wearing the temple garment has deep symbolic significance. It represents a continuing commitment. Just as the Savior exemplified the need to endure to the end, we wear the garment faithfully as part of the enduring armor of God. Thus we demonstrate our faith in Him and in His eternal covenants with us.” (Russell M Nelson, Mormon apostle, Liahona, July, 2001)
C: Note the reference to armour. Like other churches and religions, Mormonism has its apocryphal tales, including anecdotes of ten foot angels, timely encounters and divine appointments and peoples lives being saved from peril by temple garments; truly like armour, although if a Mormon didn’t experience protection guess whose fault it is?
Nothing in the Bible even hints at the wearing of such garments in relation to the every-day devotional life of Israel or of the Christian Church. Members of different faiths, both in the Bible and in history, have worn special vestments, garments or jewellery etc. designed to distinguish them in society, much as a priest’s surplice distinguishes a priest, or as a wedding ring distinguishes a married person. Temple garments cannot fall into this category since there is nothing distinguishing about them because they are invisible to society.
For some the temple garment is an occasion for mirth and mockery but it is quite wrong to take such an attitude to something that is important to someone’s faith. Trivialising it also detracts from the important fact that, actually, it is a first class method of control since its presence acts as a constant reminder and sort of “silent policeman”.
In a person’s most private and intimate moments its presence is a check on the wearer and can be like a bridle, reflecting perhaps the power and control leaders wish to have as well as their lack of trust in their followers. It must be said that it is also a profoundly effective passion killer except perhaps for those few who might get a kick out of strange underwear and I suppose there are those.
Furthermore, it imposes someone else’s definition of modesty in that you have to wear clothes that cover the substantial (neck to knee) garment. Of course modesty is a characteristic of Christian life but one elects to be modest under the influence of the Spirit and Christian teaching.
This practice of imposing a standard by effectual dictate has been problematic for the church down the years as “eternal standards” change with society’s trends and fashions. The design of the garment which, like so much Mormon doctrine and praxis was considered unchangeable, has changed, from a neck to ankle one-piece item to a neck to knee two pieces, to reflect changes in fashions.
It also encourages an elitist attitude in followers who regard themselves as “superior” because of their involvement in secret ceremonies and their wearing of special clothing compared to others who are not initiated as are Mormons. In all these ways it forms a real barrier on so many levels.