This is a common question we get at Mormon Women. We’ve addressed it before (“Why do Mormons wear special underwear?“), but with Mitt Romney (himself a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in the presidential election spotlight these days, we figured it’s a good question to address again.
And there is a recent Buzzfeed article (“A Brief Guide to Mormon Underwear“) that responds to the question both thoroughly and respectfully, so we wanted to share some of that as part of our response.
As Brenda said in her Mormon Women article, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can “get uncomfortable when people ask [us] about [our temple] garments.” In his Buzzfeed article, McKay Coppins notes something similar: “Because garments are considered so sacred, Mormons tend to recoil when they hear non-Mormons make casual reference to their underwear–especially in a political context” (which is happening all the more these days).
But Coppins makes a good point…that this question is out there (the Book of Mormon musical and these presidential campaign contribute to people’s curiosity). And I think most Mormons would want people to understand that the principle behind garments is pretty simple. For all that people (e.g., Howard Rodney-Browne, Craig Bergman, Robert Jeffress) accuse us of being a cult, and some want to associate Mormon garments with cultish behavior, garments are simply, as quoted from lds.org in the Buzzfeed article, “an outward expression of an inward commitment.” Coppins notes:
[T]he principle behind Mormon garments would be familiar to any Baptist who’s worn a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, or any Jew who’s worn a yarmulke or tzitzit (woven threads Orthodox Jews wear on shawls under their shirts).
Mormon garments are tied to Mormon temples. Again, from McKay Coppins:
In temples, Mormons pledge to obey Biblical commandments, live chaste lives, and serve in the church–and the garments are worn to remind wearers of those promises.
Mormons begin wearing garments when they “go through the temple” for the first time–a spiritual rite of passage that typically coincides with leaving to serve a mission, or getting married. Children in the church don’t wear garments.
Find answers to other questions about Mormon garments in Coppins’ article, such as:
“What do [Mormon garments] look like?” (no photo is attached (they are sacred to us, and we appreciate when people respect that), but a simple description is given)
“How often are [temple garments] worn? Where do Mormons get them?”
“Are they magical?”
With regard to that last question, Coppins notes:
Mormons are taught that by putting on “the whole armor of God”–a Biblical metaphor regularly employed in LDS discussions of the subject–they are afforded protection from temptation, in that they have a physical reminder not to sin. But there’s no magical guarantee involved. Just as cheating spouses ignore the vows symbolized by their wedding ring, plenty of garment-wearing Mormons sin. The power is in the symbolism of the garments, not any kind of miracles that result from wearing them.
Let me add that the idea of “power” we may associate with the temple garment is, as he notes, not in wearing the fabric, but instead reflects our belief in God’s power. We believe as we seek to obey His commandments (keep our covenants), and as we remember, follow, and rely on the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can feel and experience God’s power in our lives.
Simply put, temple garments help remind us both of our need to obey God and avoid sin (works), and remind us how all hope that we have depends on the Savior, Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that it is only through Him that we are saved (grace). This testimony of Jesus Christ is fundamental to the teachings in the Church and in the temple.
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For more information about “Mormon underwear” (Mormon temple garments), see the following articles:
from lds.org, temple garments explained in a manual for Mormons preparing to “go through the temple” for the first time
LDS Church Temples: Mormon Underwear
Why Mormonism: Mormon Underwear
Not to be sacrilegious, but the thought came to mind how people tattoo something special to them to remember a certain something. Garments are sort of the same thing, only removable.
Thanks for tackling such a sensitive subject. I really appreciate McKay Coppins thoughts on this subject.