For years, the Mormon Church’s undergarments have been mocked and misunderstood. Often referred to jokingly as “magic Mormon underwear,” the garb, which resembles a T-shirt and shorts, has been ridiculed on Broadway, referenced in political campaigns and exploited online for profit. That’s why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has come forward to explain one of its most sacred Mormon mysteries.
The church released a four-minute video on its Web site, comparing the white two-piece cotton “temple garments” to the priest’s cassock, nun’s habit, Jewish prayer shawl, Muslim’s skullcap and Buddhist monks’ saffron robes. It rejected the perception that the garments have protective powers. The term “magic underwear” is “not only inaccurate but also offensive,” the video said. “There is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments, and church members ask for the same degree of respect and sensitivity that would be afforded to any other faith by people of goodwill.”
The short video is part of a much larger effort by the Mormon Church to clear up common misconceptions about some of its more sensitive practices. In the past few years, the church has spoken out through its Web site about its former ban on black men in the lay clergy, its history of polygamy and false rumors its members were taught they would have their own planet to live on after death, the Associated Press reported.
“Because there is little or no accurate information on this subject on the Internet the church feels it important to provide this resource,” LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones said in statement Monday. “The wearing of religious clothing reflects commitment and devotion to God. Latter-day Saints seek the same respect and sensitivity regarding our sacred clothing as shown to those of other faiths who wear religious vestments.”
The undergarments in particular have attracted unwelcome attention in recent years. Mormon Mitt Romney was the target of underwear jokes during his 2012 presidential campaign. When his wife, Ann, appeared on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” wearing a tight, leather skirt, speculation about whether she was wearing her sacred garments hit the Internet. Then came Mormon’s Secret, a Web site reportedly founded by a former Mormon who wanted to sell replicas online. The site began selling garments displaying pictures of Mitt and Ann Romney.
The publicity is no doubt upsetting to the Mormon Church, which teaches that these garments are sacred and meant to be kept private. Mormons are not even supposed to hang the clothing where it can be seen by others.
However, a glimpse of the underwear was seen in the hit Broadway musical “Book of Mormon,” which inspired Time magazine’s pick for a Mormon Halloween costume in 2011.
As LDS points out, many other religions believe in sacred clothing. Perhaps the most similar are garments worn by Orthodox Jews, whose men wear a prayer shawl called a tallit. Muslim men don a skullcap called a kufi or taqiyah. And the robes of the Buddhist monks make them recognizable from Thailand to Sri Lanka to Tibet. Each one has a purpose.
Mormon undergarments must be worn day and night by members who have received the ordinance of the temple endowment to remind them of the commitment they made to God, according to Brigham Young University. The LDS Church’s handbook states the garments also “provide protection against temptation and evil.”
“To church members, the modest temple garment, worn under normal clothing, along with the symbolic vestments worn during temple worship, represent the sacred and personal aspect of their relationship with God and their commitment to live good, honorable lives,” the video said.