The temple garment

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Latter-day Saints and temple garments

Summary: Important note: Members of FAIR take their temple covenants seriously. We consider the temple teachings to be sacred, and will not discuss their specifics in a public forum.


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Question: Is the temple garment simply "magic underwear"?

Latter-day Saints wear the garment as a private reminder of covenants and promises made to God

Hostile critics of the Restoration often mock the Latter-day Saint practice of wearing temple garments. They refer to these ritual items of clothing as "magic underwear" or "Mormon burquas' in order to shock, ridicule and offend.

Latter-day Saints wear the garment as a private reminder of covenants and promises made to God. The blessings and protection which derive from it come by God's will through keeping the covenants associated with it. The promised protection is primarily spiritual, but this does not mean that God may not also grant physical protection as he sees fit. In either case, the blessing is not because of the clothing, it is because of what the clothing represents.

Latter-day Saints are in good company with the early Christians, who used similar clothing as part of their worship. Other religions likewise use items of clothing which they consider to have sacred significance.

To mock or demean these items is in the poorest taste, and not worthy of anyone who claims to be a disciple of Christ. Patriotic readers might consider how they would feel if someone took a flag ("a mere piece of cloth") and burned or soiled it in anger at a protest or demonstrations. Our negative reaction to this is not the disrespect to an object, but what the object represents.

Members of the Church are often subjected to critics who picket their meetings and temple dedications. It is not unusual for such protesters to openly display Latter-day Saint temple garments, subject them to ridicule, and treat them with great disrespect. Protesters and authors alike have insisted that the Latter-day Saint use of temple garments is an un-Christian and unbiblical practice. (See here for photos and videos of several anti-Mormon demonstrations. Click here for a graphic example of disrespect to an item considered sacred by Latter-day Saints)

Such treatment of an object connected with sacred worship is highly offensive to Latter-day Saints. Only an attack on the character or name of Jesus Christ would be worse, since the garment is closely connected with the Savior's own teachings and attributes. (See Evelyn T. Marshall, "Garments," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism [New York: Macmillan, 1992], 534-35).

Misrepresentations of the purpose of the garment by critics

An anti-Mormon protester at April 2004 LDS General Conference criticizes the LDS use of the temple garment.

In the critical book Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints, under the heading of Pre-endowment Instructions, the authors enter into a discussion on the nature of the 'temple garments.' In regard to this vestment, the authors write: "By wearing the garments at all times, it is taught that the individual Mormon, depending on his or her faithfulness, is protected both physically and spiritually." [1] It is apparent from the ensuing discussion that rather than focusing on the fundamental belief in the 'spiritual protection' offered by this clothing that the authors, in trying to sensationalize their account, are much more interested in the idea of 'physical protection.' At the end of their book section they compare the garment to a "proverbial rabbit's foot or talisman." In an attempt to bolster this claim they utilize a quotation from a prominent LDS leader -- Spencer W. Kimball -- which seems, at a quick glance, to support such an interpretation. The quote reads as follows:

"Temple garments afford protection. I am sure one could go to [the] extreme in worshiping the cloth of which the garment is made, but one could also go to the other extreme. Though generally I think our protection is a mental, spiritual, moral one, yet I am convinced that there could be, and undoubtedly have been, many cases where there has been, through faith, an actual physical protection. So we must not minimize that possibility." [2]

President Kimball here expresses his view that the protection is generally spiritual, though one cannot rule out the possibility that God could grant physical protection as well. Surely the Lord can dispense blessings as He sees fit.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe that the temple garment will protect them from physical harm?

The 'protection' of the garment is spiritual, not physical

The First Presidency of the LDS Church has explained in plain terms that the temple garment serves as "a protection against temptation and evil" and instead of it being some type of 'lucky talisman' the "promise of protection [associated with it] is conditioned upon worthiness and faithfulness." (First Presidency Letter, 10 October 1988; see Ensign, August 1997, 19-).

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has published a similar view about the kind of protection that is provided by the temple garment. He said that it "fosters modesty and becomes a shield and a protection to the wearer. . . . For many Church members the garment has formed a barrier of protection when the wearer has been faced with temptation." [3]

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve has said -- using symbolic language -- that "we wear the [temple] garment faithfully as part of the enduring armor of God." (Ensign, May 2001, 32-). Spiritual 'armor' is certainly designed to give a person spiritual protection, not to prevent numerous forms of physical harm.


Question: Is the wearing of the temple garment not supported by the Bible?

This claim of 'no biblical support' has no foundation in fact

The authors of Mormonism 101 also attack the temple garment by claiming that the ideology associated with it is not supported by the Bible. They write:

"There is also no biblical support for this unusual practice. In the Old Testament, only priests from the line of Levi and not the common Jew wore the linen undergarments. Still we find no biblical support for the notion that the priestly garments offered any special protection as described by various LDS authorities." [4]

This claim of 'no biblical support' has no foundation in fact, as shown by the following evidence.

Elder Theodore M. Burton -- as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles -- stated publicly (at Brigham Young University) that the LDS temple garment has a distinct connection with the garments that were made by God for the progenitors of the human race (see Genesis 3:21). [5]

In Exodus 28: the Lord commanded that the priests who served in His temple were to wear white garments next to their skin that were considered to be of a "holy" nature. And like the garments that God made for Adam and Eve, the Israelite temple garments were designed to "cover [the priest's] nakedness."

As plainly stated in verses 42 and 43 of Exodus 28, the ancient temple garments of Israel needed to be worn if the priest wanted to be protected from a lethal degree of harm.

It is clear from biblical texts that only those persons who served in God's temple in an official priesthood capacity were allowed to wear the "holy" garments associated with it. By comparison, it is openly acknowledged that the innermost LDS temple clothing is designated as "the garment of the holy priesthood." (Ensign, August 1997, 19-; New Era, June 2000, 20-; Ensign, February 2007, 12-17).

While it is true that in Old Testament times only members of the tribe of Levi could wear the temple vestiture it is equally true that in New Testament times Jesus Christ granted priesthood privileges to His entire "nation" of authorized disciples (see 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:5-6).

Sacred clothing is described by early Christian literature

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley detailed the sacred clothing described by early Christian literature:

[In] the Pistis Sophia, a very early Christian writing, written in the third century but sounding as if it belongs to the forty-day literature [we learn more]. When the Lord spoke to the disciples after the resurrection, he formed a prayer circle: his disciples, men and women, stood around behind Jesus, who himself stood at the altar, thus facing, as it were, the four corners of the world, with his disciples who were all clothed in garments of linen (quoting the disciples). Jesus proceeded to give the prayer. The Pistis Sophia claims to be derived from 2 Jeu, a book allegedly written by Enoch and then hidden up in the cleft of a rock. Second Jeu says: "All the apostles were clothed in linen garments, . . . their feet were placed together and they turned themselves to the four corners of the world." And Jesus, taking the place of Adam, proceeded to instruct them in all the necessary ordinances. The point is that when they formed a prayer circle, they always mentioned "clothed in their garments" or "clothed in white linen."

Next comes the passage I cited from Cyril of Jerusalem; it is the fullest description we have, the only definite mention of particular garments. We see why it was not well known and was not followed through: "Yesterday, . . . immediately upon entering you removed your street clothes. And that was the image of putting off the old man and his works. . . . And may that garment, once put off, never be put on again!" "As Christ after his baptism . . . went forth to confront the Adversary, so you after your holy baptism and mystic anointing [the washing and anointing] were clothed in the armor of the Holy Ghost [a protective garment], to stand against the opposing . . . power." "Having put off the old man's garment of sorrow, you now celebrate as you put on the garment of the Lord Jesus Christ." "Having been baptized in Christ and having put on Christ (cf. Galatians 3:27) [notice the imagery that follows: you put on Christ, you put on the new man, you put on the new body; this is very closely connected with the putting on of clothes], like a garment, you come to resemble (symmorphoi gegonate) the Son of God."

The next day Cyril continues, "After you have put off the old garments and put on those of spiritual white, you should keep them always thus spotless white. This is not to say you must always go around in white clothes [these clothes were real; furthermore, we know of the baptismal garments, for we have references to them], but rather that you should always [be] clothed in what is really white and glorious." Then he cites Isaiah 61:10: "Let my soul exult in the Lord, for he hath clothed me in a robe of salvation and clothing of rejoicing."

This is the fullest of early Christian references to the vestments. But these are not vestments in the modern sense at all. They are worn by all Christians — but not all the time, not as a sign of clerical vocation within the church, and not as a public sign.

The combination of the items that make up the full clothing comes from the description of the high priestly garments at the beginning of Exodus 28. [6]

It is ironic that the early Christians used sacred clothing based upon Exodus 28, and it is exactly this which modern conservative Protestant critics attack in the Latter-day Saints (see above).


Question: Are sacred garments used in other religious traditions?

Latter-day Saints and early Christians are not the only religions who use an article of clothing to remind them of important religious principles

Other examples include:


1. The use of the "scapular" in various monastic and other devotional orders in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions:

A scapular (from Latin scapula = shoulder) is a length of cloth suspended both front and back from the shoulders of the wearer, that varies in shape, colour, size and style depending on the use to which it is being put, namely whether in Christian monasticism or in Christian devotion.

The monastic scapular is part of the garb, the habit, of many Christian religious orders, of both monks and nuns, at least since the time of St Benedict. In its basic form it is a shoulder-wide floor-length piece of cloth covering front and back, and worn over the traditional tunic or cassock, almost like a sleeveless surcoat, traditionally in the case of some orders even during the night. It is the equivalent of the analavos worn in the Eastern tradition. From its mention in the Rule of St Benedict it may be argued that according to his mind the purpose of the scapular is solely of a spiritual nature, namely like an "apron" to be a sign of the wearer's readiness to serve, in this case that of the workman in the service of God. This understanding of the purpose of the monastic scapular as a purely symbolic apron is supported by the fact that monks and nuns, when engaged on some manual labour, tend to cover it with a protective apron or carefully tuck it up or throw the front length back over their shoulder to prevent it from getting in the way and possibly soiled and maybe even damaged….

In various Christian traditions the term scapular is also applied to a small devotional artifact worn by male and female non-monastics in the belief that this will be of spiritual benefit to them. The Roman Catholic Church considers it a sacramental. It consists of two small squares of cloth, wood or laminated paper, bearing religious images or text, which are joined by two bands of cloth. The wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands one on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back. Some scapulars have extra bands running under the arms and connecting the squares to prevent them from getting dislodged underneath the wearer's top layer of clothes. In lieu of it, the "scapular medal" may be worn. [7]


2. The Jewish "tallit kattan" (or "tallis kattan") which is separate and different from the "tallit/tallis gadol" (the Jewish so-called prayer shawl). The "tallit/tallis kattan" is an undershirt made sacred by fringes in each corner. Wearing it is a matter of Jewish law (see, for example, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 9:1). While a "tallit/tallis gadol" is worn during most morning prayers, the "tallit/tallis kattan" is worn every day, throughout the day.

3. The Sikh are obligated to wear breeches, known "kacha", as part of the Five Ks which Sikhs wear to distinguish themselves (the others being a steel bangle ("karha"), not cutting the hair and preserving it with a turban ("kesh" (hair) or "keski" (turban)), dagger ("kirpan"), and comb ("kanga").

4. Zoroastrians wear an undershirt known as "sudra," which is obligatory for Zoroastrians initiated into the faith. There is a special pocket to remind the person to fill his/her day with good deeds.

5. In Islam, those performing the hajj wear special clothing:

During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in the ihram, a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth, with the top draped over the torso and the bottom secured by a white sash; plus a pair of sandals. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab - normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face.[8]

The Ihram clothing is intended to show the equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah: there is no difference between a prince and a pauper when everyone is dressed the same. The Ihram also symbolizes purity and absolution of sins. [8]


Question: What is the significance of the temple garment worn by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what is the appropriate way to wear them?

Garments worn by male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Introduction to Questions

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform several sacred ordinances or ceremonies for individuals that they believe are necessary for individual exaltation. A few of these ceremonies are performed in temples: holy places dedicated to serving God.

In the initiatory portion of the endowment, "the member is authorized to wear the temple garment. The garment represents his or her personal relationship with God and the commitment to obey covenants made in the temple."[9].

Members of the Church who go through these ceremonies and put on these sacred garments are sometimes confused as to two things:

  1. Whether or not they make a covenant to wear the garment
  2. When it might be appropriate to remove or modify the garment

This article seeks to answer these questions given what we know from official Church sources.

Response to Questions

1. Do Latter-day Saints covenant to wear the garment?

According to the official leadership handbook of the Church, “[m]embers who receive the endowment make a covenant to wear the temple garment throughout their lives.”[10] Among the questions asked to candidates for temple recommends is "[d]o you keep the covenants that you made in the temple, including wearing the temple garment as instructed in the endowment?" A "covenant" is defined by the Church (and, indeed, by most dictionaries) as “a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions.”

Another way to argue that it is a covenant to wear the garment is to recognize that there is no substantive distinction between an instruction from God and a commandment. "Members who receive the endowment make a covenant to wear the temple garment throughout their lives." We covenant, both at baptism (Mosiah 18:8–10; Moroni 4:3; Doctrine & Covenants 20:37) and in the temple, to keep all of God’s commandments. Thus it is at least part of a covenant to wear our garments.

2. When might it be appropriate to remove or modify the temple garment?

The official leadership handbook section on wearing the garment states that “[t]he garment should not be removed for activities that can reasonably be done while wearing the garment. It should not be modified to accommodate different styles of clothing. The garment is sacred and should be treated with respect. Endowed members should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to answer personal questions about wearing the garment.”

What are those activities where it might be unreasonable to wear the garment? Examples might include exercise or water activity.

As the quote states, the garment should not be removed nor modified to accommodate different styles of clothing. One of the purposes of the garment is to encourage modesty in how we dress. The garment as currently designed indicates what parts of the body should be clothed in order to meet a more objective/specific standard of modesty in how we dress.

Several concerns have arisen because of various health and practical considerations. The garment, as currently designed, can potentially assuage some of those concerns. If concerns persist, these might be directed to God in prayer.

Garment Fabric Types Better.png

  1. Some have been concerned about having to be in extreme heat when wearing the garment. When to remove the garment in heat is a personal choice. Members may also benefit from understanding the different fabric types designed for different climates. The chart above lists the different fabric types.
  2. Some have been concerned about the flaring of hemorrhoids when wearing the garment. Wearing loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear may help avoid excessive moisture and friction which may aggravate the hemmorroid.[11]
  3. Some women have been concerned about the garment causing yeast infections and/or urinary tract infections. It should be noted that all garment styles for women "have a 100% cotton bottom panel for breathability and hygiene, as recommended by OBGYNs."[12] A few of the fabrics are either 95% or 100% cotton.
  4. Some have been concerned about the potential for the garment to aggravate psoriasis when contracted. Those who suffer with psoriasis may be encouraged to avoid clothing and bedding that touches the affected area that is made of wool and other synthetic materials, are made with dyes, or have tight waistbands.[13]
  5. Some have been concerned about potential skin allergies that garments might cause. As noted above, there are several different styles of fabric that one can choose from in order to avoid allergies.
  6. Some have been concerned about the itchiness of certain fabrics. The chart above gives ratings for how soft and comfortable each fabric style is. Consumers can pick what works best for their circumstances.
  7. Some have been concerned with the garment's potential to aggravate ingrown hairs. The medical counsel for this is to wear loose clothing that surrounds the area to avoid excessive friction.[14]
  8. Special styles of garments exist for women who are pregnant and/or nursing and for those that are terminally ill and/or bedridden for an extended period of time.
  9. Some women have concerns about how the garment can hold menstrual pads. If another piece of underclothing works well for this, it may be used in addition to the garment. "It is a matter of personal preference whether other undergarments are worn over or under the temple garment."[15]
  10. Some complain about uncomfortable waistbands. This might be solved by keeping the garment top tucked into the garment bottom, or buying garment bottoms with a larger waist size.
  11. Some assert that they don't want to wear the garment because it imposes an arbitrary notion of modesty. They assert that the garment style has changed a lot over the years that fit with different cultural definitions of modesty. It is true that the garment has changed over the years and that it likely reflects a response to changing societal standards of modesty and what is considered fashionable. As directed by the First Presidency, any necessary modifications to the garment will be made in the future.

Fundamentally, garments should not be removed when we have the reasonable opportunity to wear them and that, generally speaking, we should be seeking for opportunities to wear them rather than not wear them. Why would there be so many fabrics and styles that one can choose from if the Church didn't expect us to wear them as much as possible? We should be intuitive about our garment wearing and be in the communication with the Spirit to know when it may be necessary to remove them.

Conclusion

Wearing the garment is a sacred privilege. They are expressly not "just like any other underwear." Wearing the garment communicates love for God by keeping our promises to him and love for others by giving them an example to follow that leads them to Jesus Christ.[16] We often want so much to conform our garment-wearing to the world rather than help the world conform to garment-wearing. We shouldn’t be afraid to be different from others. The Lord has told us that, as Christians, we should “[l]et [our] light so shine before men [and women], that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven.”[17] He wants us to be "a peculiar people, zealous of good works."[18] Being different by wearing our garments and treating them with sacredness is an excellent way that we can humbly follow the Lord and, by so doing, be peculiar and interesting to other people. This interest may lead them to explore the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ and be converted to it. Thus, by wearing the garment we can fulfill the Lord’s commandments. As Latter-day Saints, we should be model disciples of Jesus Christ. Wearing the garment is one way that we can do that and it brings tremendous spiritual blessings.

Church Newsroom, "Latter-day Saints 101: What Church Members Believe"

Church Newsroom, (2022)
Do some Latter-day Saints wear temple garments?

Yes. In our world of diverse religious observance, many people of faith wear special clothing as a reminder of sacred beliefs and commitments. This has been a common practice throughout history. Today faithful adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear temple garments. These garments are simple, white underclothing composed of two pieces: a top piece similar to a T-shirt and a bottom piece similar to shorts. Not unlike the Jewish tallit katan (prayer shawl), these garments are worn underneath regular clothes. Temple garments serve as a personal reminder of covenants made with God to lead good, honorable, Christlike lives. The wearing of temple garments is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.
Biblical scripture contains many references to the wearing of special garments. In the Old Testament the Israelites are specifically instructed to turn their garments into personal reminders of their covenants with God (see Numbers 15:37–41). Indeed, for some, religious clothing has always been an important part of integrating worship with daily living. Such practices resonate with Latter-day Saints today.

Because of the personal and religious nature of the temple garment, the Church asks all media to report on the subject with respect, treating Latter-day Saint temple garments as they would religious vestments of other faiths. Ridiculing or making light of sacred clothing is highly offensive to Latter-day Saints.

Click here to view the complete article

Ensign, "The Temple Garment: “An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment”"

Elder Carlos E. Asay,  Ensign, (August 1997)
The heavy armor worn by soldiers of a former day, including helmets, shields, and breastplates, determined the outcome of some battles. However, the real battles of life in our modern day will be won by those who are clad in a spiritual armor—an armor consisting of faith in God, faith in self, faith in one’s cause, and faith in one’s leaders. The piece of armor called the temple garment not only provides the comfort and warmth of a cloth covering, it also strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right.

Click here to view the complete article

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 210.
  2. This citation is referenced in Mormonism 101 as "Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 539." This is actually a composite work edited by Edward L. Kimball after President Kimball's death. The original text came from a personal letter dated May 31, 1948.
  3. Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 75ff.
  4. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 212.
  5. Genesis 3:7,10,21
  6. Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present (Vol. 12 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Don E. Norton, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 95–97.. Nibley cites Pistis Sophia II, 99; III 134; IV, 136, lines 16-22, in Carl Schmidt, ed., Pistis Sophia, tr. Violet MacDermot (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 353; 2 Jeu 42, 114 in Carl Schmidt, ed., The Books of Jeu and the Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex, tr. Violet MacDermot (Leiden: Brill, 1978), 99. He also cites Cyril, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses (Instructions) XX [II], 2; XXI [III], 4; XIX [I], 10. Other references silently removed.
  7. "Scapular," on Wikipedia (accessed 14 December 2008). Internal references silently removed. (italics added) off-site
  8. "Hajj: Preparations," on Wikipedia (accessed 14 December 2008). (italics added) off-site
  9. General Handbook, 27.2 "The Endowment".
  10. General Handbook, 38.5.5 "Wearing and Caring for the Garment".
  11. "What to Wear, How to Sleep, and Other Practical Tips for Hemorrhoid Sufferers," Midwest Hemorrhoid Treatment Center, accessed June 7, 2022, https://www.mwhtc-stl.com/blog/what-to-wear-how-to-sleep-and-other-practical-tips-for-hemorrhoid-sufferers.
  12. Amanda Freebairn, "Why I Wear the Temple Garment," Public Square Magazine, July 28, 2021, https://publicsquaremag.org/faith/why-i-wear-the-temple-garment/?fbclid=IwAR1Gm_AHhVKUxp7cZ_qy-_8LQJOFf5mfU8E1QGkSaAj_fhkf---5AUg6yCo. For recommendations on how to prevent yeast infections, see Traci C. Johnson, "10 Ways to Prevent Yeast Infections," WebMD, January 16, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/10-ways-to-prevent-yeast-infections. For recommendations on how to prevent urinary tract infections, see Mayo Clinic Staff, "Urinary tract infection (UTI)," Mayo Clinic, April 23, 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447.
  13. Shishira Sreenivas, "Psoriasis: Tips for Clothing and Bedding," WebMD, accessed June 7, 2022, https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis/psoriasis-clothing-bedding.
  14. Jon Johnson, "How to deal with an ingrown hair," Medical News Today, June 15, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317951.
  15. General Handbook, 38.5.5 "Wearing and Caring for the Garment".
  16. Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15.
  17. Matthew 5:16.
  18. Titus 2:14. See also 1 Peter 2:9.