By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
In the temple pre-endowment instructions, patrons are told that their obedience to the covenants they are to make, along with their wearing the temple garments, will protect them. They are instructed:
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. (Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony 1842-1990 (Salt Lake City, UT: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 2005), 110.
These garments are said to “be a shield, and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer until you have finished your work here on earth.” By wearing these garments at all times, it is taught that the individual Mormon, depending on his or her faithfulness, is protected both physically and spiritually.
The church administrative manual called Handbook 2 explains:
When properly worn, it provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is also an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior. Endowed members should wear the temple garment both day and night. They should not remove it, either entirely or partially, to work in the yard or for other activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing. Nor should they remove it to lounge around the home in swimwear or immodest clothing. When they must remove the garment, such as for swimming, they should put it back on as soon as possible. Members should not adjust the garment or wear it contrary to instructions in order to accommodate different styles of clothing nor should they alter the garment from its authorized design. When two-piece garments are used, both pieces should always be worn. The garment is sacred and should be treated with respect at all times. Garments should be kept off the floor. They should also be kept clean and mended. After garments are washed, they should not be hung in public areas to dry. Nor should they be displayed or exposed to the view of people who do not understand its significance. (Handbook 2: Administering the Church 2010, 191.)
While this handbook says that a person wearing the garments is protected from “temptation and evil,” President Spencer W. Kimball said that he was
“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.)
While we are not insinuating that Mormons believe the garments will protect the wearer in all circumstances, certainly Kimball thought that there are “many cases” where there has been “an actual physical protection.” For instance, Bill Marriott of the Marriott hotel chain told CBS 60 Minutes interviewer Mike Wallace in 1996 that his garment had protected him in a boat fire. Despite the testimonies of Mormons who believe their garment has protected them from physical harm, it should be pointed out that there are seemingly faithful Mormons who wear their garment on a regular basis yet are killed or injured. For instance, President Spencer W. Kimball said on 31 May 1948:
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, p. 539).
Wearing the garments is an indication of a person’s righteousness. Seventy Carlos E. Asay thinks “of the garment as the Lord’s way of letting us take part of the temple with us when we leave.” He wrote:
A few years ago, in a seminar for new temple presidents and matrons, Elder James E. Faust, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, told about his being called to serve as a General Authority. He was asked only one question by President Harold B. Lee: “Do you wear the garments properly?” to which he answered in the affirmative. He then asked if President Lee wasn’t going to ask him about his worthiness. President Lee replied that he didn’t need to, for he had learned from experience that how one wears the garment is the expression of how the individual feels about the Church and everything that relates to it. It is a measure of one’s worthiness and devotion to the gospel. (Ensign, August 1997, 19)
After quoting from Ephesians 6, Asay said the garment symbolized a part of the armor of God:
There is, however, another piece of armor worthy of our consideration. It is the special underclothing known as the temple garment, or garment of the holy priesthood. . . . This garment, worn day and night, serves three important purposes: it is a reminder of the sacred covenants made with the Lord in His holy house, a protective covering for the body, and a symbol of the modesty of dress and living that should characterize the lives of all the humble followers of Christ. . . . The piece of armor called the temple garment not only provides the comfort and warmth of a cloth covering, it also strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences, and stand firmly for the right. (Ibid.,20-21)
In a letter to priesthood leaders on 19 October 1988, Mormons were told:
Church members who have been clothed with the garment in the temple have made a covenant to wear it throughout their lives. This has been interpreted to mean that it is worn as underclothing both day and night. . . . The fundamental principle ought to be to wear the garment and not to find occasions to remove it. Thus, members should not remove either all or part of the garment to work in the yard or to lounge around the home in swimwear or immodest clothing. Nor should they remove it to participate in recreational activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath regular clothing. When the garment must be removed, such as for swimming, it should be restored as soon as possible. (First Presidency Letter, 10 October 1988).
There is no biblical support for this unusual practice. In the Old Testament, only priests from the line of Levi and not the common Jew wore the linen undergarments. While some might argue that garment-wearing Mormon males also hold the priesthood, this does not account for the many LDS women also wear temple garments, even though they are not priests. Still, we find Indeed, there is no biblical support for the notion that the priestly garments offered any special protection as described by various LDS authorities. In the New Testament, the Christian is told to have his “loins girt about with truth” and to put on the “breastplate of righteousness.” However, such metaphorical language never implies that we should trust in actual physical objects. It appears that the idea of protective undergarments actual physical objects. It appears that the idea of protective undergarments falls into the same category as the proverbial rabbit’s foot or talisman.
Check out December 9, 2011 First Presidency Letter on Garments