People really do take an unusual (that’s a polite way of saying “creepy”) interest in Mormons’ underwear. I’m a lawyer by profession, and during a recent mediation, it somehow came up that I’m LDS. The mediator stopped talking for a second, looking like she was trying to latch on to an old memory. “I recall there being a lot of Mormons in the area I grew up in, and there were always questions about their underwear,” she said. “Do you wear magic underwear?”
Really? While fielding weird questions in unusual places is pretty standard fare for Mormons, I’d never been quizzed about my underwear in a professional environment. Seems like the subject of my underwear should have been–pardon the pun–hands off.
But this question does come up with remarkable frequency, and members of the Church usually are uncomfortable dealing with it because it touches upon our temple ceremonies. We consider those ceremonies especially sacred and aren’t sure how appropriate it is to discuss temple-related issues in public. (While our weekly worship services are open to the public, our temple ceremonies are not. Rather, only members who have demonstrated a certain level of faithfulness to Church standards are able to attend. I’ll discuss what it means to be “temple worthy” in a later post). Because of the sacred nature of the temple, we do not discuss it in detail in our general conversations.
As part of the temple ordinances, members do receive temple “garments,” which are worn under our everyday clothes. These garments serve two purposes. The first is that they are a symbol and reminder of covenants we have made with God to keep his commandments and to follow the example of Jesus Christ. The second is that they help to establish the limits of what constitutes “modest” dress, as we strive to wear clothes that cover the garments. (For the record, those limits are the same for men and women. We do not hold women to a more restrictive standard of modesty).
This practice has subjected us to more than a little mockery, but it doesn’t even come close to being unusual. Sacred vestments have long been used as symbols of a person’s covenant with God, or of someone’s priestly authority. The Old Testament goes into painstaking (and mind-numbing) detail describing the religious clothing of the Levitical priesthood, specifying every article of the priestly vestments, literally from head to toe.
Much of modern Christianity still includes the use of robes, hats, and other clothing as part of their religious observance. As a matter of fact, my grandfather was a Methodist minister, and I thought that when he put on the collar and robes he was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Moreover, Christians regularly deck themselves out in cross-themed jewelry and clothes with religious images and messages as a way of declaring who they are and setting themselves apart from the rest of the world.
The real issue here is not that we wear clothing that symbolizes our devotion to God. The issue is that we wear them on the inside, rather than the outside. Perhaps that is an issue only because society considers underwear to be inherently “naughty” or funny. Sacred clothing is okay, but sacred underclothing is just too goofy for words. To me, that just isn’t a fair distinction.
The “magic” part of the question is a different matter. Yes, when discussing the temple garments Mormons sometimes refer to them as being a “shield” or a “protection” to us. (And people admittedly do sometimes offer up tales of physical protection, along the same lines of “my Bible stopped the bullet” stories that you hear in mainstream Christianity). Critics of the Church latch onto this language and assert that we believe that our “magic underwear” is some sort of celestial armor than renders us impervious to harm.
That’s just not true. While I do believe that if I keep my covenants with God I can trust him to provide me with a measure of protection–maybe even miraculous protection, if necessary– I do not believe that I can stop bullets or turn away knives because of the temple garment. However, I do think that wearing the garments, which are a constant reminder of my commitment to God does help shield me from temptations and strengthen my desire to be a better disciple of Christ. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.
So, sorry folks, no magic underwear here.
But wait till you get a load of my socks.