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A temple garment (also referred to as garments, or Mormon underwear) is a type of underwear worn by adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement after they have taken part in the endowment ceremony. Garments are worn both day and night and are required for any adult who previously participated in the endowment ceremony to enter a temple. The undergarments are viewed as a symbolic reminder of the covenants made in temple ceremonies and are seen as either a symbolic or literal source of protection from the evils of the world.
The garment is given as part of the washing and anointing portion of the endowment. Today, the temple garment is worn primarily by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and by members of some Mormon fundamentalist churches. Adherents consider them to be sacred and not suitable for public display. Anti-Mormon activists have occasionally publicly displayed or defaced temple garments to advance their opposition to the LDS Church.
According to the LDS Church, the temple garments serve a number of purposes. First, the garment provides the member "a constant reminder" of the covenants they made in the temple. Second, the garment "when properly worn ... provides protection against temptation and evil". Wearing the garment is also "an outward expression of an inward commitment" to follow Jesus Christ. General authority Carlos E. Asay adds that the garment "strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right."
The nature of the protection believed to be afforded by temple garments is ambiguous and varies between adherents. Researchers who interviewed a sample of Latter-day Saints who wear the temple garment reported that virtually all wearers expressed a belief that wearing the garment provided "spiritual protection" and encouraged them to keep their covenants. Some of those interviewed "asserted that the garment also provided physical protection, while others seemed less certain of any physical aspect to protection." In Mormon folklore, tales are told of Latter-day Saints who credit their temple garments with helping them survive car wrecks, fires, and natural disasters.
To members of the LDS Church, the temple garment represents the sacred and personal aspects of their relationship with God. Church president Joseph F. Smith taught that the garment was to be held as "the most sacred of all things in the world, next to their own virtue, next to their own purity of life." For this reason, most church members feel uncomfortable discussing the garment in a casual or disrespectful manner. Some church leaders have compared the garment to the clerical vestments worn by clergy of other churches. Church leaders have publicly discussed the above principles and beliefs in general terms since the mid-1840s. Many Latter-day Saints view the garment associated with the temple rites as sacred. Some church members have criticized the sale of garments on internet auction sites.
The garment as first described in the 1840s was a one-piece undergarment extending to the ankles and the wrists, resembling a union suit, with an open crotch and a collar. It was made of unbleached cotton and was held together with ties in a double knot. Most garments were home-made.
The original garment had four marks that were snipped into the cloth as part of the original Nauvoo endowment ceremony. These marks were a reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast, a V-shaped symbol on the left breast, and horizontal marks at the navel and over the right knee. These cuts were later replaced by embroidered symbols.
According to Mormon doctrine, the marks in the garments are sacred symbols. One proposed element of the symbolism was a link to the Square and Compasses, the symbols of freemasonry, to which Joseph Smith had been initiated about seven weeks prior to his introduction of the endowment ceremony.
Thus, the V-shaped symbol on the left breast was referred to as "The Compasses", while the reverse-L-shaped symbol on the right breast was referred to by early church leaders as "The Square".
According to a description by LDS Church president John Taylor in 1883, the "Square" represents "the justice and fairness of our Heavenly Father, that we will receive all the good that is coming to us or all that we earn, on a square deal", and the "Compasses" represents "the North Star". In addition to the Square and Compasses, Taylor described the other symbols as follows: the collar represented the idea that the Lord's "yoke is easy and [his] burden is light", or the "Crown of the Priesthood"; the double-knotted strings represented "the Trinity" and "the marriage covenant"; the navel mark represents "strength in the navel and marrow in the bones"; and the knee mark represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ".
In 1926, LDS Church apostle David O. McKay offered an updated description that was later incorporated into the church's endowment ceremony. According to McKay's explanation, the "mark of the Compass" represents "an undeviating course leading to eternal life; a constant reminder that desires, appetites, and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set; and that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole"; the "mark of the Square" represents "exactness and honor" in keeping the commandments and covenants of God; the navel mark represents "the need of constant nourishment to body and spirit"; and the "knee mark" represents "that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ". Unlike Taylor, McKay did not describe the symbolism of the collar or the tie-strings because those elements of the garment had been eliminated in 1922.
In 1893, the church expressed an official preference for white garments, which has since become the standard color, with the exception of military garments. Members of the military may purchase desert sand-colored garments and can submit regulation military T-shirts of any color to the church for custom addition of the symbolic markings.
For several decades after its introduction in the 1840s, the original 19th-century union-suit style was accepted within Mormon doctrine as being unalterable. In 1906, LDS Church president Joseph F. Smith characterized as a "grievous sin" any attempt, in the name of changing fashion trends, to modify the 1840s garment pattern, which he characterized as "sacred, unchanged, and unaltered from the very pattern in which God gave them." However, while the original pattern of the garment is still in use by some Mormon fundamentalists, the LDS Church has updated the original pattern.
In 1923, a letter from LDS Church president Heber J. Grant to stake and temple presidents, stated that after careful and prayerful consideration the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church had unanimously decided that specific modifications would be permitted to the garments: sleeves could end at the elbow; legs could be shortened to just below the knee; and buttons could be used instead of strings. The collar was eliminated and the open crotch closed. Other changes were made after 1923 which shortened the sleeves and legs further and eliminated buttons.
In the 1930s, the LDS Church built Beehive Clothing Mills, which was responsible for manufacturing and selling garments. This led to a more standardized design. During this time women's garments were one-piece designs that ended just above the knees and had a cap sleeve. In the 1970s, the first two-piece garment became available and Mormons generally accepted the change. Today, garments are made in both styles with a variety of different fabrics. Feminine styles are sold with either a rounded or a sweetheart neckline with cap sleeves. Sweetheart necklines usually follow the line of the bra, which is usually worn over the garment. There are also two styles of necklines for men.
Endowed church members can purchase garments through church distribution centers worldwide, through the mail, and online. They are sold at a moderate price that is assumed to be near cost. To purchase temple garments, members must have received their temple endowment. To purchase garments online, they must provide their membership record number. Endowed members can find their membership record number on their temple recommend or by obtaining a copy of their Individual Ordinance Summary.
As late as 1977, church members were instructed they could make their own garments with the approval of their local leaders. As of 2010, the official documentation of church institutional policies known as Handbook 2: Administering the Church states that, of both garments and temple clothing in general, only temple aprons may be hand made, and only then using "the approved apron embroidery and sewing kit that is available through Church Distribution Services."
In the church's Handbook, leaders are instructed to tell members they should wear garments both day and night, and that they should not alter them. In the temple recommend interview, members are asked if they wear the garment "day and night" according to the covenants made in the temple, although the temple ordinance only states that "you must wear [the garment] throughout your life." Members are told that they should not partially or completely remove any portion of the garment to participate in activities that can "reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing", such as "work[ing] in the yard". When necessary, the garment may be temporarily removed, but members are told that after the activity "they should put it back on as soon as possible." Swimming is given as an example of an activity that would justify removal of the garment.
Garment wearers are also instructed that they should not adjust garments or wear them in a way that would accommodate the wearing of what the church considers to be immodest clothing. This includes uncovering areas of the body that would normally be covered by the garment, such as the shoulders and lower thighs. Members are instructed to keep garments clean and mended and to refrain from displaying them or exposing them to the view of others who may not understand their significance. Prior to the disposal of old garments, members are instructed to cut out the markings on them. After the marks are removed, "the fabric is not considered sacred" and the garment fabric may be cut up and discarded or used for other purposes.
Some church opponents have used public occasions, like the biannual church conferences, to publicly mock and parody the wearing of temple garments. During the October 2003 LDS Church General Conference, some anti-Mormon demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center reportedly spat and stomped on garments in view of those attending the conference. One protestor blew his nose into a garment he wore around his neck. A scuffle broke out between a protester and two members of the church who attempted to take the garments from him. To avoid a repeat of the conflict, the municipality of Salt Lake City planned stronger enforcement of fighting words and hate speech laws for the April 2004 conference in Salt Lake City with new protest buffer zones.
Misinformation or misperceptions about Mormonism including that faithful Latter-day Saints wear "magic underwear" or still practice polygamy stem from a lack of understanding of the church's history, doctrine and culture, Gordon said.
I get a lot of questions about my 'magical' underwear, but our garments are just like a Christian cross or a Jewish yarmulke.
Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine
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