The Protective Garments of the Holy Priesthood

By Bill McKeever

Listen

Following the washing and anointing ceremonies in the LDS temple ceremony, the patron is then assisted in putting on the "Garment of the Holy Priesthood." Originally this garment closely resembled a pair of long underwear and was only available in a one-piece style. Today, however; some temple Mormons choose to wear a modified two-piece version. Unique to this garment are markings sewn into them which are similar to those used in Freemasonry. Over the right breast is a buttonhole which resembles a "square" (looks like a backward L); over the left breast is a "compass" (resembling a capital V). Sewn into the abdomen and knee area is another marking which looks like an ordinary button-hole.

During their pre-endowment instructions, participants are told that if they are true and faithful to the covenants they will make in the ceremony, their "Garment of the Holy Priesthood "will be a shield, and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer until you have finished your work here on earth." Temple Mormons are also told that this garment must be worn throughout their lives and represents the garment given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Stories of the sacred garment offering protection have long been a part of Mormon folklore. If true, it would seem that wearing their garments would be the soldier's best friend against harm during war. Yet, the LDS Church provides no proof that garment-wearing soldiers all escaped death or injury during war-time conflict. Are we to believe that garment-wearing Mormons are never injured or killed in traffic accidents? Of course the Mormon can always claim that an injury "could have been worse" or that death was allowed because "their work on earth was done." Such answers, however, provide no environment to actually prove if the garments played any role whatsoever.

When he appeared in an April 1996 episode of "60 Minutes," San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young told interviewer Mike Wallace that he chose not to wear his garments when on the playing field. Some might think that in playing such a dangerous position Mr. Young would best be served by putting them on (especially in light of his injury-plagued 1996 season). Bill Marriott, on the other hand, told Mike Wallace that the garments do in fact offer protection:

Mike Wallace: Do you wear the sacred undergarments?
Willard Marriott: Yes, I do. And I can tell you they do protect you from harm.
Mike Wallace: Really?
Willard Marriott: Uh-huh. I was in a very serious boat accident. Fire--boat was on fire, I was on fire. I was burned. My pants were burned right off of me. I was not burned above my knee. Where the garment was, I was not burned.
Mike Wallace: And you believe it was the sacred undergarments?
Willard Marriott: I do. Particularly on my legs, because my pants were gone, but my undergarments were not singed. ("60 Minutes" program on the LDS Church. Aired on CBS TV, April 7, 1996)

While the Bible tells the believer to have his "loins girt about with truth" and to put on the "breastplate of righteousness," such metaphorical language never implies Christians are to place their trust in actual physical objects. The idea of protective undergarments falls into the same category as the proverbial rabbit's foot or talisman. It is of pagan origin and has no biblical justification.

Do Temple Garments Offer Protection to the Wearer?

Joanna Brooks, a Mormon writing for Religion Dispatches, an online magazine, bemoaned “Bill Maher’s Issues with Mormon Underwear” made by the irreverent comedian on the David Letterman show (Religious Dispatches, April 27, 2011). The topic turned to Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney and, according to Ms. Brooks, went like this:

“Don’t get me started on Mitt Romney,” Maher sneered to Letterman. ”Because Mitt Romney will teach America what’s really in Mormonism.”

“Mitt likes to gloss over... ‘well, we’re just different types of Christians.’ No. No, I was raised Catholic,” Maher leaned in and raised an eyebrow, setting up for his big punchline: ”And there was no magic underwear.”

“Big laughs from the crowd at CBS studios. Right on cue.

“Magic underwear?”

Brooks responds,

“It’s no secret that highly observant LDS people wear sacred undergarments as an expression of religious commitment. But magic underwear? Please.”

I can understand Ms. Brooks being upset with an obviously insensitive comment meant to mock something Mormons feel is a part of their personal religious belief, but sadly, her defensive approach only gave her critics another reason to be suspicious of how Mormons portray their faith. In the next paragraph she wrote:

“There is a historic Mormon folk belief that garments offer a kind of protection to their wearers. But for the vast majority of Mormons, garments first and foremost represent the daily wearing of a covenant to lives of modesty, chastity, and faith.”

But this idea can hardly be reduced to mere folk belief. The fact is, this idea has been taught in the temple itself, as well as in several church manuals, and by LDS general authorities. Consider the following.

The Endowment Ceremony

“You have had a Garment placed upon you, which you were informed represents the garment given to Adam and Eve when they were found naked in the Garden of Eden, and which is called the ‘Garment of the Holy Priesthood.’ This you were instructed to wear throughout your life. You were informed that it will be a shield and a protection to you inasmuch as you do not defile it and if you are true and faithful to your covenants” (Second Lecturer, Post-1990 LDS Endowment Ceremony, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony 1842-1990, p.110).

Church Handbook of Instructions

“The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in a temple. When properly worn, it provides protection against temptation and evil” (1998, p. 68).

LDS Manual, True to the Faith

“The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants you have made in the temple. You should treat it with respect at all times. You should not expose it to the view of those who do not understand its significance, and you should not adjust it to accommodate different styles of clothing. When you wear it properly, it provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior” (173).

12th President Spencer W. Kimball

“Temple garments afford protection. I am sure one could go to 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” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 539).

Seventy David E. Sorensen

“The garment… when properly worn, will serve as a protection against temptation and evil” (“The Doctrine of Temple Work,” Ensign, October 2003, 62. Ellipses in original).

David J. Ridges (Executive Secretary for the Sunday School General Presidency)

“The garments serve as a reminder to them of the covenants they have made in the temple with the Lord, to live pure and virtuous lives. In addition, garments provide protection understood by the worthy wearer, and promote modesty in clothing styles” (Mormon Beliefs and Doctrines Made Easier, 112).

See also