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Mormonism and temples/Garments
Mormonism and temple garmentsSummary:
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- Question: Is the Mormon temple garment simply "magic underwear"?
- Question: Do Mormons believe that the temple garment will protect them from physical harm?
- Question: Is the wearing of the temple garment not supported by the Bible?
- Question: Are sacred garments used in other religious traditions?
- "Mormonism 101: FAQ"
- "The Temple Garment: “An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment”"
Question: Is the Mormon 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 LDS Church are often subjected to critics—generally conservative Protestants—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 Mormon use of temple garments is an unChristian 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
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."  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." 
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.
The authors have somewhat misrepresented the statement by Spencer Kimball. They introduce the citation with these words: "For instance, President Spencer W. Kimball said on 31 May 1948." It needs to be pointed out that Brother Kimball was not the President of the LDS Church in 1948 when these remarks were made. He was, however, an apostle -- having been ordained to that calling in 1943. He would not become the President of the Church until 1973. It should be further noted that this information was not delivered to the public but was rather written down in a private letter. While it is true that this information originated with Apostle Kimball it certainly does not carry the weight of authority which is lent to it by some anti-Mormons. This statement simply represents a personal opinion and NOT a doctrinal declaration that is binding upon Mormonism. It is clear that while Elder Kimball believed that the garment had acted as a physical protection in "many cases" he never stated that it was supposed to function that way in ALL instances.
Question: Do Mormons 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." 
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 LDS temple garment by claiming that the Mormon 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." 
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). 
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. 
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. 
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.
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. 
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.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.
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.
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.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 210.
- 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.
- Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 75ff.
- McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 212.
- Genesis 3:7,10,21
- 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.
- "Scapular," on Wikipedia (accessed 14 December 2008). Internal references silently removed. (italics added) off-site
- "Hajj: Preparations," on Wikipedia (accessed 14 December 2008). (italics added) off-site