Mormon church addresses mystery surrounding undergarments

SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church is addressing the mystery that has long surrounded undergarments worn by its faithful with a new video explaining the practice in-depth while admonishing ridicule from outsiders about what it considers a symbol of Latter-day Saints’ devotion to God.

The four-minute video on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website compares the white, two-piece cotton “temple garments” to holy vestments worn in other religious faiths such as a Catholic nun’s habit or a Muslim skullcap.

The footage is part of a recent effort by the Salt Lake City-based religion to explain, expand or clarify on some of the faith’s more sensitive beliefs. Articles posted on the church’s website in the past two years have addressed the faith’s past ban on black men in the lay clergy; its early history of polygamy; and the misconception that members are taught they’ll get their own planet in the afterlife.

The latest video dispels the notion that Latter-day Saints believe temple garments have special protective powers, a stereotype perpetuated on the Internet and in popular culture by those who refer to the sacred clothing as “magical Mormon underwear.”

“These words are not only inaccurate but also offensive to members,” the video says. “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 video and accompanying article feature more detailed information about the garments than has ever before been released to the public, Mormon scholars say.

It was made to fill a void on the Internet, which has little, if any, accurate information about the undergarments, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement.

The video, also available on YouTube, explains that the undergarments are worn daily by devout adult Latter-day Saints as a reminder of their commitment to God to live good, honorable lives.

The garments, which resemble a T-shirt and shorts, are shown laid out on a table in what marks a rare public glimpse at clothing that normally is hidden from outsiders. Members are taught not to hang the garments in public places to dry or display them in view of people “who do not understand their significance.”

The video comes two years after jabs about the undergarments were lobbed at Mitt Romney in 2012 with the intent to damage his candidacy as the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.

At one point during the campaign, New York Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted, “I’m a single parent and my kids are amazing! Stick that in your magic underwear,” after Romney decried the country’s rate of out-of-wedlock births.

The video’s focus on the offensiveness of flippant remarks about the undergarments shows the church no longer will tolerate them, Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

The church has some 15 million members worldwide.

Latter-day Saints seem pleased by the refreshing transparency from the church on a topic that has been the source of much curiosity among outsiders, some whom are rude about it, said Jana Riess, who blogs about Mormonism for the Religion News Service.

She wrote this week that she hopes the footage will “persuade gawkers that there’s nothing to see here, folks.”

“They now have something official to point to if people ask questions,” Riess said in an interview. “I love that they put it on YouTube for the entire world to see. I think that’s very brave.”

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Online:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, http://bit.ly/11O8Hmq

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