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Mormons do not have “magic underwear.” Any claims to the contrary are an attempt to belittle and are false. What we do have is special clothing that is received in a Mormon temple when we participate in an ordinance called the “endowment.” This clothing, called the “temple garment” (or simply “the garment”), is worn under regular clothing. The garment is intended to remind us of covenants that we have made to follow Jesus Christ and our commitment to keep His commandments.
This is not unusual – a common example is the wearing of a wedding ring as a reminder of matrimonial vows. The ring can serve as a reminder, and in that sense serve as a “protection,” against infidelity, yet the ring is certainly not considered to possess any sort of magic. In a similar manner, the temple garment serves as a physical reminder of our covenants and is intended to “protect” us from committing sin. Latter-day Saints are not taught that the garment will protect us from physical harm.
The term “magic underwear” is employed only by those who wish to mock Mormons. It is unfair and bigoted to repeat this claim. One certainly wouldn’t say Jews wear “magic beanies” or Catholic priests wear “magic collars” or that traditional Christians wear “magic crosses.”
The term “magic underwear” is inappropriate and should never appear in a reputable news story. On rare occasions when the issue is directly relevant to the news coverage, the terms “garment” or “temple garment” are preferred.
A brief explanation of the temple garment is found on the church’s official Web site:
There may be occasions when endowed members of the Church [i.e., those who have visited the temple and wear the garment] face questions on the garment.
On one occasion one of the brethren was invited to speak to the faculty and staff of the Navy Chaplains Training School in Newport, Rhode Island. The audience included a number of high-ranking naval chaplains from the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths.
In the question-and-answer period one of the chaplains asked, “Can you tell us something about the special underwear that some Mormon servicemen wear?” The implication was, “Why do you do that? Isn’t it strange? Doesn’t that present a problem?”
To the chaplain who made the inquiry he responded with a question: “Which church do you represent?” In response he named one of the Protestant churches.
He said, “In civilian life and also when conducting the meetings in the military service you wear clerical clothing, do you not?” The chaplain said that he did.
He continued: “I would suppose that that has some importance to you, that in a sense it sets you apart from the rest of your congregation. It is your uniform, as it were, of the ministry. Also, I suppose it may have a much more important place. It reminds you of who you are and what your obligations and covenants are. It is a continual reminder that you are a member of the clergy, that you regard yourself as a servant of the Lord, and that you are responsible to live in such a way as to be worthy of your ordination.”
He then told them: “You should be able to understand at least one of our reasons why Latter-day Saints have a deep spiritual commitment concerning the garment. A major difference between your churches and ours is that we do not have a professional clergy, as you do. The congregations are all presided over by local leaders. They are men called from all walks of life. Yet they are ordained to the priesthood. They hold offices in the priesthood. They are set apart to presiding positions as presidents, counselors, and leaders in various categories. The women, too, share in that responsibility and in those obligations. The man who heads our congregation on Sunday as the bishop may go to work on Monday as a postal clerk, as an office worker, a farmer, a doctor; or he may be an air force pilot or a naval officer. By our standard he is as much an ordained minister as you are by your standard. He is recognized as such by most governments. We draw something of the same benefits from this special clothing as you would draw from your clerical vestments. The difference is that we wear ours under our clothing instead of outside, for we are employed in various occupations in addition to our service in the Church. These sacred things we do not wish to parade before the world.”
He then explained that there are some deeper spiritual meanings as well, connecting the practice of wearing this garment with covenants that are made in the temple. We wouldn’t find it necessary to discuss these—not that they are secret, he repeated, but because they are sacred.
The garment, covering the body, is a visual and tactile reminder of these covenants. For many Church members the garment has formed a barrier of protection when the wearer has been faced with temptation. Among other things it symbolizes our deep respect for the laws of God—among them the moral standard.