Religion News Service: In-depth. Impartial. Engaged.

Blogs » Jana Riess - Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood has moved: Click here to read the latest posts

A Mormon Take on “Holy Underwear”

I was in college when I first heard about "magic Mormon underwear." It was discussed derisively, as in "Can you believe that Mormons actually wear that?" I couldn't, actually. I was not Mormon myself, and such things as "holy underwear" seemed laughable.

Obviously, my opinion about temple garments (the preferred term) has changed pretty drastically. I wear them myself. I harbor no illusions about temple garments being magical, or offering me protection in anything but a spiritual way. They function as a daily memo to myself of who I am and what I stand for. They remind me that I belong, body and soul, to Jesus.

Mormons don't talk much about the temple, which unfortunately contributes to the air of secrecy that surrounds garments. It's totally understandable that people are curious. But as guest blogger Bob Rees says below, there's nothing unusual about them, since most world religions have some form of ritual clothing. For him, they are an infusion of the sacred into daily life.  --JKR

 

Is Nothing Sacred? Thoughts on Mormon Undergarments
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D.

It is not uncommon for Latter-day Saints to hear jokes, ridicule and derisive remarks about the sacred underclothing Mormons wear. On late-night television, on blogs, on YouTube and the Internet one hears these garments referred to as “weird,” “bizarre,” or “magic” underwear, often accompanied by sniggers (or more likely guffaws) and rolled eyes. Because Mormons tend to be regarded as square rather than as simply quaint, media commentators have less compunction in mocking their sacred clothing than they would a Jewish yarmulke, a Sikh turban, or the mitre worn by Catholic bishops.

As someone who teaches religion, I am aware of how easy it is to ridicule the beliefs of others, to take what some believers consider sacred and make it seem silly or ridiculous. In my classes at Graduate Theological Union, I sometimes begin a course by showing clips of Hindu rat worshipers, Pentecostal handlers of poisonous snakes, Catholic exorcists, or Day of the Dead celebrants. I do this not to ridicule any of these practices but to demonstrate how difficult it is for believers to consider their own religious rituals and practices as strange and how easy it is see others’ rituals and practices so. That is, every religion has liturgical practices, rituals, ceremonies, or rites of passage that they see as sacred but which others might see as strange or even aberrant. And so it is with sacred undergarments worn by Latter-day Saints.

Sacred garments (outer and under) have been a part of religious practice for millennia. Genesis speaks of “coats of skins” made by God for Adam and Eve, Exodus speaks of “holy garments” worn by Aaron and other priests, the Secret Gospel of Mark alludes to Jesus teaching the “mystery of the Kingdom of God” to a young man “wearing a linen cloth” over his naked body, and other early Christian Apocrypha describe both Jesus and his disciples as clothed in special white garments and associate the donning of such garments as clothing oneself with the Holy Ghost or with Christ himself. Thus, in wearing such garments, Latter-day Saints signify that they are putting on the new man or new woman or, in biblical language, the armor of God (Eph. 6:11).

Orthodox or Hasidic Jews wear an undergarment called a tallit katan in remembrance of covenants made with God (see Numbers 15:39-40). Sikhs wear Katchera, cotton underwear signifying their commitment to purity, as well as a variety of outer clothing and accoutrements. Holy clothing or vestments (robes, cassocks, surplices, veils, tunics, etc.) are a part of nearly every world religion, ancient and modern, and have special symbolic significance for adherents. Latter-day Saints wear sacred clothing under their regular clothing because it represents their personal, private covenant with God. It is a way of taking the temple into the world without making it open to ridicule or mockery.

I have worn such garments (as Mormons call them) from the time I was eighteen and first went to a Mormon temple. On that occasion and on numerous subsequent visits, I have made or renewed covenants to be a better, more faithful person, including trying to be a better Christian. Each symbol on the garment represents a specific devotional covenant, the totality of which can be summed in Christ’s two great commandments—to love God and to love others as ourselves. Thus, Latter-day Saints attempt to show their inward covenants through outward acts of devotion and service.

We live in a world in which the secular seems increasingly to triumph over the sacred, in which the number of sacred spaces and experiences seems to be diminishing as a part of our lived human experience. In actuality, we lose an essential part of our collective culture when we lose the sacred. To consider nothing sacred is, to paraphrase Rumi, to create a division between our hearts and our ability to act in the world. Believers of all persuasions (and hopefully non-believers as well) have a responsibility to preserve the sacred, to keep at least some flame of the holy alive. If Thoreau was right in stating, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” we might also say, “In the sacred is the preservation of humanity.”

 

Robert A. Rees teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Mormon
Tags: flunking sainthood, graduate theological union, henry david thoreau, jana riess, lds temple, mitt romney underwear, mormon temple garments, mormon underwear, ritual clothing, robert rees, sacred clothing

Comments

  1. Daniel Peterson introduced this piece at Patheos with the following observation [excerpt]:

    “However weird and bizarre others may find such things, believing Latter-day Saints such as I regard them as sacred and, thus, deserving of a certain amount of deference and, yes, in this case, of privacy. Just as I don’t interrupt the prayers of others, or walk between Catholic worshipers and the altar at mass, or even remain seated when the priest asks the congregation to stand, or stroll between praying Muslims and the mihrab of a mosque, or even gobble down pork in front of my devout Jewish and Muslim friends, I believe that the boundaries of the sacred — even of the sacred in other people’s faiths — ought to be respected.

    “Was it really necessary to display ‘Mormon underwear’ on national television?  As somebody wrote yesterday, ‘How on earth, now, can American voters possibly be expected to make an intelligent decision in November, unless they have a chance to see Barack and Michelle Obama’s underwear, too?’”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2012/08/a-mormon-take-on-holy-underwear.html

  2. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t ridicule people for their unfamiliar religious practices. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of faith; either you believe or you don’t. We can disagree and still remain friends and brothers. However, I do sometimes object when such matters—particularly those not mandated in Scripture—are held up as an indispensable test of orthodoxy. To ascribe spiritual power to any physical object—a garment, a Rosary, an icon, a building—is nothing short of superstition.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  3. My gripe is not so much about various religions, denominations and sects donning religious attire… I cannot believe a professor at a Theological Seminary and a self professed practicing Mormon could include the “Secret Gospel of Mark” among Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Ephesians. As for Steven Hutson’s comment “...I do sometimes object when such matters—particularly those not mandated in Scripture—are held up as an indispensable test of orthodoxy.” I agree totally… However, just like the Mormon garments mentioned here, the “power” does not come from the object itself but more from the faith of the person who uses the object in their own belief. After all, the Bible itself is an object, but because of our (Christian) faith in that object, our faith and belief in the Word has been strengthened.

  4. I very much agree with Jason’s last comment: “...the ‘power’ does not come from the object itself but more from the faith of the person who uses the object in their own belief…”

    My question for Professor Rees is: Has there has ever been serious dialogue within the Mormon Church hierarchy—or within independent Mormon discourse groups—regarding the scriptural origin of the temple undergarment?

  5. To those commented above, I feel that it is clearly stated in this article, that the Latter Day Saints don’t place power in the garment, rather in the faith, reminder and spiritual boost that is given when they are worn each day. They are unlike rosaries, idols or other such items. to quote from above “Latter-day Saints wear sacred clothing under their regular clothing because it represents their personal, private covenant with God.”

    also, they are similar as quoted from above again, “Holy clothing or vestments (robes, cassocks, surplices, veils, tunics, etc.) are a part of nearly every world religion, ancient and modern, and have special symbolic significance for adherents.”

  6. From the time I began thinking for myself, if not before I went to the Mormon temple with my first wife to be sealed “for time and eternity”, I wondered about the Biblical question asked by God to Adam after Adam ate the “forbidden” fruit in the Garden and hid himself: “Who told thee thou wast naked?”  Adam answered that it was Lucifer who suggested that there was something “wrong” about being naked. It is ironic that this suggestion is what has led to the Biblical experience of shame.  The idea of covering up one’s nakedness is NOT a God-given requirement, but an acceptance of the first great LIE of Lucifer. God has allowed us to live with and live through this lie until we choose not to accept it.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  7. I totally agree with Steven above. We don’t need any of these garments or other symbols to worship GOD in truth. They might be tradition but they are “traditions of men”. (Mark chp.7)
    @ Eugene- I just read the account at Genesis where Adam hid from God because he was naked. I says nothing about Lucifer telling Adam it was wrong to be naked… when Adam told God he was afraid because he was naked and so he hid, God understood that to be proof that Adam had sinned and eaten of the fruit which God had said to to eat. That’s why Adam was “afraid” because he KNEW that God would know he ate it and would be upset. Adam literally felt naked and exposed and was uncomfortable in God’s presence. Many scriptures say it is shameful to expose your nakedness (to anyone other than your marriage mate).  So we are told to “be modest” in walking with our God (Micah 6:8)

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  8. As an Biblical Christian….and not an LDS believer….I have the HOLY SPIRIT covering me every day….since a gave my life to JESUS CHRIST…and do not feel the need to be reminded by wearing sacred garments…the SPIRIT reminds me everyday….and the BIBLE.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  9. “Holy clothing or vestments (robes, cassocks, surplices, veils, tunics, etc.) are a part of nearly every world religion, ancient and modern, and have special symbolic significance for adherents.”

    When I was an Anglican I used to dress up in some very strange kit indeed: cassock, surplice, preaching-scarf and hood for choir offices and sometimes, for High Mass, amice, cassock-alb and dalmatic. Now I’m a Quaker I wear cords and a sweater (and an overcoat and completely non-liturgical scarf to keep me warm in winter). We don’t have “liturgical practices, rituals, ceremonies” or anything very much else, apart from sitting in silence for an hour on Sunday mornings. Nor do we have an awful lot in the way of doctrine or belief. It certainly would not suit everyone, but for me it is a very healthy release from a lot of intellectual clutter.

    “Faith”, Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “is believing what you know isn’t true.” If people want to wear turbans or yarmulkes or whatever, fine: let them do whatever makes them feel happy and secure. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter one jot what you wear – or even what you believe:  what counts is how you behave. Loving God is all well and good, but loving your neighbour is massively more important.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  10. @CMR & @Steven Hutson

    ” To ascribe spiritual power to any physical object—a garment, a Rosary, an icon, a building—is nothing short of superstition. “

    Yes, how ‘bout them crosses.

    Peace…


    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  11. Since Mormonism is a CULT and not in any way a Bible-based religion, it hardly merits calling anything,especially “underwear” sacred. Amazing how a desparate people fall for such demonic deception under thr guise of respectability….a wolf in sheep’s clothing is more like it.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  12. Hi Ben,

    Perhaps you should spend an evening with someone from the LDS faith.  You may find that LDS followers know as much or more about the Bible than most Christians and Jews.  It is unfortunate to read a blog asking for religious tolerance and respect and immediately label a religion a CULT.  That does more to reveal a lack of familiarity on your part than it does to denigrate the group you are targeting.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  13. Reading these comments really makes me wonder if any of you actually read the article. This was a great article not only talking about the LDS garment but also about sacred clothing worn by many others to remind them of promises and covenants they have made with God. They don’t believe that garments have special powers or that they give power. It’s not superstition or anything like it. It is just to help remind them Christ is most important and that he suffered and died so that we can be forgiven. I invite all of you again to re-read this article without your hatred towards something you know nothing about.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  14. As a former Mormon for who wore garments 20 years…I know the meaning of the symbols on the garments and the bondage they put you under.  I did work for the dead in the Temple (as we were counseled to do) over 75 times in that 20 year period.  I since realized the garment symbols embroideried on the garments actually are from Free Masonry.  Talk about shock on my part!  You must wear the garments 24 hours a day, and we were counseled in the Temple that they protect you and keep you from the attacks of Satan,  and what danger you will be under if you stop wearing them. It took me a year after leaving the church to take mine of gradually…I actually was conditioned to be afraid of what might happen to me.  People have no idea of the teachings in the Temple.  We were told to not discuss the temple with anyone including our spouse.  The covenants one takes in the Temple are not to god but to the Mormon church. Give your life, give your time and money to the building up of the Mormon church, and have sex with no-one but your legal mate.  After becoming a Christian later, and realizing that Father God is not a glorified man who earned his way by his good works to godhood…that that is blasphemy…and coming to know the Triune God of scripture and becoming a Christian, I found and still find that my Mormon family chuckle at the concept of a Triune God and call it a false doctrine.  Of course, Joseph Smith and leaders said that also.  They called the creeds an abomination.  Mormonism is a works religion and they fully expect if they live like Christ taught in scripture and stay faithful to the Mormon covenants, honor their Priesthood all men are ordained to, then they will be exalted and become father gods of their own planet.  Many gods, many worlds as leaders fervently preached…maybe not publically now… but certainly in their doctrine and privately.  Of course in our culturally correct time, who can even speak the truth?  Does anyone even want to know the facts?  Let’s just get along…seems to be the mantra.  I know the Mormons may attack me, but, I don’t care, I must say the truth.  Thank God I was delivered from that bondage and deception.  The God I worship is not an exalted man who earned his way there by his works on earth.  I know that Jesus Christ is not just an older spirit brother from a pre-existence world…but, He is God the Son.  Mitt Romney will probably make a much more honest and capable President than President Oboma…but, who knows in this day when the Presidency seems to be bought by big money.  Only the rich need apply.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  15. @ Lorna. Joseph Smith was a Free Mason and saw how their “temples” were constructed. He and other Mormon leaders saw the Free Masons as a way of protection and help during the heavy persecution (if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours), so some ideas of how to construct temples and use the garments was prayed about and used in the temple as a way for others to worship. You have to remember, the Free Masons also believe in the Bible and use temple ordinances and symbols based on those in the Old Testament, so it’s not a “Let’s copy the Free Masons.”

    Also, many of the things you say are in the temple are not. No where does it say you have to give money, not to discuss the temple even with your spouse (in general conference talks the General Authorities even talk about things in the temple), and the words “Mormon Church” are not in the temple whatsoever. If you watch very closely during the ceremonies, everything is representative of Jesus Christ and God the Father instructing what we should be doing to worship Him. Nothing about God receiving Godhood through good works. Either you didn’t pay much attention or you had some weird dreams while you were sleeping, or you’re trying to act like you were LDS when you weren’t because most of what you say isn’t true.

    The one thing I agree with you is we just need to all get along. Christ teaches to love one another, not to persecute or hate. Even LDS people are guilty of this burden and ridicule others’ beliefs. We need to just let people worship as they may and choose their path of righteousness. If you were LDS and left that’s your choice, but making up stories isn’t the way to go.

    (This comment had to be re-posted due to a technical error — The Management)

  16. I agree with Joe as to what he said to Lorna.  It’s a shame that you will feel it necessary to spread such untruths.  Also, I think you missed the point of the article.  We don’t have to all believe in the same things, or practice in the same ways.  However, we should respect each others rights to practice how we may.  What does it matter to another if I choose to wear a garment that will help me remember Christ on a daily basis.  Does it really affect anyone else.  No.  Just as it does not affect me if others choose to wear a cross around their neck to remind them of Christ, or anyother reminders.  What is sacred to them is sacred to them and should not be mocked.  I only ask for the same respect in return.

  17. I don’t understand how any so-called Christian can mock the Latter Day Saints for wearing their sacred undergarments when their own ministers and priests wear their white collars every day of the year ... these spiritual leaders of the Protestant and Catholic faith are even known as “men of the cloth,” a direct nod to the importance of the vestments they wear to remind themselves of their commitment to God. The difference is that the LDS have a lay priesthood and every member of their church who enters the temple is allowed to wear their particular religious vestment - whereas in Protestant and Catholic faith only the minister and priest can wear the white collar or other robes and vestments on days of worship.

  18. I’m grateful for Bob’s excellent editorial.I have been meaning to write one myself, but he saved me the task and did a better job.  I want to add one aspect to his accurate and thorough treatment.  While the LDS temple clothing are most often compared to Jewish sacred underclothes or Masonic garb, both of which offer useful parallels, the sacred clothing which LDS temple clothes most resemble are the sacramental Christian layered vestments used historically by Catholic and Gr. Orthodox clergy. 

    Sacramental clergy wear under garments that are white, that symbolize the divine or spiritual (especially the alb and amice which are nearly identical in purpose to the LDS undergarment).  These white undergarments are covered by outer vestments visible to others symbolizing the specific order of priesthood.

    All of the items of clothing are sacred, symbolic, cermonial, and they all work together as parts or layers of an integral multifaceted ensemble.  This is exactly how the LDS temple clothes function—as parts of a collective ensemble, with the white under garment and priesthood robes overlaying them.  They are not designed or intended to be interpreted separately from the whole ensemble of priestly garb worn during the temple rite—which is the LDS version of Mass

    Temple clothing are priesthood garb, just like sacramental vestment garb, both the under and over garments.  I noticed this having been initiated in both traditions, LDS and sacramental Christian.  See this link for more info.  http://www.fisheaters.com/vestments.html

  19. Nice to hear this from a scholarly view. I addressed the issue similarly in my blog, from a faithful Mormon woman’s view. I am always amazed at how many views that one page gets. (they probably think I am posting photos of my underwear). http://www.eveoutofthegarden.com/2012/04/my-mormon-underwear.html

Sign In



Forgot Password?

You also can sign in with Facebook or Twitter if you've connected your account to them.

Sign In Using Facebook

Sign In Using Twitter