I freely admit that the Mormon practice of wearing undergarments with religious meaning is one of the most odd, peculiar and misunderstood aspects of Mormon religious observance. What is the purpose of these garments? Do Mormons really believe that wearing the garments will protect them from physical harm? Are these garments, as so many lazy observers claim, “magic underwear?”
Let me begin by quoting what I have written on this very subject in the past:
Mormon undergarments, or simply garments, are directly related to Mormon temple worship. In the temple, Mormons perform several rituals the most common being what is called the Endowment.
Mormons who receive the Endowment are given the garment, also known as the Garment of the Holy Priesthood, as part of the preparation for the ceremony itself. Thereafter, Mormons are expected to wear the garment as a continual reminder of the covenants they make with God in the Endowment ceremony.
Today’s garments are no different than a standard t-shirt and long boxer shorts. However, they do have symbolic markings which are intended to remind the wearer of their commitments made to God.
Garments are entirely symbolic. A common misconception amongst both Mormons and non-Mormons alike is that the garment provides some sort of supernatural or divine protection from bodily harm. Thus, the garment is often referred to by some as magic underwear. This misconception is a Mormon folk-belief and is NOT part of official Mormon doctrine. A careful study of the Endowment (which I will not offer here) indicates that the garment offers spiritual protection through the wearer’s commitment to spiritual covenants and makes no promise of physical protection. Plenty of Mormons have been injured and killed while wearing their “magic underwear.”
The garment was introduced as part of temple worship by Joseph Smith, Mormonisms’ founder, during the Nauvoo period sometime around 1842-43. Smith was heavily influenced by the Old Testament and often used OT conceptions of priesthood as the basis for the temple worship he introduced.
For example, consider serveral verses from the Book of Exodus. Exodus 40:13-15
13 And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. 14 And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: 15 And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.
Also, Exodus 28:2-3
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty. 3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
It is possible that Smith was influenced by New Testament texts as well. Consider Revelation 3:4-5
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. 5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
As the Endowment is intended to give both men and women the opportunity to minister to God in priesthood ritual, it makes sense that Joseph Smith introduced special garments as part of the preparation for the Endowment. Smith also introduced other ritual temple clothing but a discussion of those particulars is beyond the scope of this question.
Joseph Smith was also influenced by his modern surroundings in designing garments. Thus, as Joseph Smith was a Mason, he included some Masonic symbols as part of the temple garment. This being said, however, it is important to note that the garment is merely influenced by Joseph Smiths practice of Masonry and was not strictly borrowed from Masonry.
With the nomination of Mitt Romney very likely, I feel compelled to comment on Mitt’s religion: Mormonism. Just as Mitt, I am also a lifelong Mormon albeit a much more theological liberal akin to Liberal Protestants. It would seem my beliefs are similar to those of Jon Huntsman. I do not accept most of Mormonism’s unique truth claims but I am a theist, a participant in my Mormon community, and will always choose to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ if Latter-day Saints.
My middle name is Romney. My great grandfather is Mitt’s grandfather. Miles Park Romney had four wives. I come through the ancestral line of one wife and Mitt comes from another. I know this makes us some form of cousins although I have no idea what this familial relationship is formally called.
During the course of the GOP nomination process I have been dismayed at some of the more idiotic comments about Mormonism by both Romney’s GOP rivals and those who claim to be “progressives.” I would like to take this opportunity to comment on this idiocy, not because I support Mitt politically, I don’t; rather I believe my heritage needs a little defense from the blatant attack coming from both the idiotic right and the hypocritical left.
Is Mormonism Weird?
Mormonism is “weird”, without question; but so are Catholicism, traditional Protestantism and the more modern charismatic/Pentecostal Evangelicalism. Stay with me for a moment here. All of these believe that 2000 years ago, a man was executed by Roman occupiers of Palestine, placed in a tomb and then about 36 hours later got up and walked out. Catholics teach that when the Eucharist is eaten that the wafer literally transforms into the actual body of Christ and that that the wine served literally becomes the blood of Jesus. At face value then, Catholics are open cannibals.
(Note: Some readers have questioned the validity of my claim regarding the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. I freely acknowledge that in practice, most American Catholics do not believe that the wafer and wine literally transform into the body and blood of Jesus. However, the doctrine still remains and is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Also, I want to apologize to all Catholics out there for using the term “cannibal” to describe your views on transubstantiation. I am purely using hyperbole to illustrate an important point.)
Evangelical Christians believe that someday soon they will “raptured” and leave the rest of us behind to experience a tribulation and the awful rule of a world dictator, the anti-Christ. Then, at the end of this of this rule Jesus, along with all of those raptured will return and burn up everyone who doesn’t believe in their version of Jesus.
I don’t mean to mock Christian faith in any way as I myself and a Christian; but let’s all take an honest look at the facts. Christianity is weird just like every other religion. When I see Christians claim that Mormonism is too outside the mainstream of Christian thought and is therefore a “cult” I am forced to conclude two things. First, these Christians don’t realize how silly their beliefs seem to outsiders and second, these Christians want a monopoly on the word “Christian” thereby demonstrating their complete lack of understanding of Christian history. If they think their modern ideas on the “rapture”, grace, and the so-called Trinity have any resemblance to the Christian church of the late first or second century, they need to pick up a book before they arrogantly start claiming to own the copyright on the word “Christian.” Oh, and let’s not forget that these same evangelicals also claim that Catholics are not true Christians either. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
So, while the criticism of Mormonism by the Christian right is dripping with irony, the criticism coming from the left is, for the most part, ripe with hypocrisy. Remember, liberalism and being progressive means accepting people no matter their religion, sex, skin color or sexual orientation, right? Peruse the comment section of any post on Romney at The Daily Kos or Huffington Post and see just how accepting these self-proclaimed progressives seem to be. Keep in mind that most of these folks probably voted for John Kerry, the Catholic cannibal, and revere another Catholic cannibal, JFK. It should become apparent that their problems with a candidate’s religion are selective at best. Remember, most of these folks like Harry Reid and he’s a Mormon. Funny how Reid’s religion never seems to be an issue. If progressives don’t like Romney’s politics then they should deal with his politics and stop using his Mormonism as a punching bag. It’s quite lazy and betrays any sense of objectivity these progressive hypocrites may claim.
We should also remember that the US constitution is pretty specific about any type of religious test. Both left and right would do well to remember that little bit of information before spouting off about Romney’s religion.
If you choose not to vote for Romney due to his religion you are just as much a bigot as those who refuse to vote for Gay, Muslim, or black candidates. Period.
As I have shown above, any religion can be caricatured but this represents the worst kind of intellectual laziness. Before criticizing a religious belief system, it is probably a good idea that you have made at least some kind of effort to understand it from the believers’ viewpoint.
So over the next few blog posts let’s take a look at Mormonism’s weirdness and I will attempt to bring in relevant context so that at very least, readers can understand why Mormons believe what they do. By understanding how Mormons view their own faith, Mormon belief will still seem weird but perhaps a bit less so.
I do want to point out that I have no dog in this hunt, as it were. I’m indifferent as to who wins this presidential election as all candidates have been about as inspiring as a wet rag.