Many people think it is very weird when they hear that Mormons have “special underwear,” which is far different than “normal people’s” underwear.
Members of the Mormon Church who have gone through the Mormon temple ceremony, or endowment, make a promise to God to wear particular undergarments. The Mormon garments (or Mormon underwear) are an outward expression of an inward commitment, a physical reminder of spiritual promises (or covenants) a person made when he or she went through the temple for the first time. In this way, Mormon undergarments, or just “garments,” are very similar to religious clothing priests wear. They are reminders to those who wear them of the covenants made in the temple of God.
“It [the garment] is given to remind wearers of the continuing need for repentance, the need to honor binding covenants made in the house of the Lord, and the need to cherish and share virtue in our daily living so that promised blessings may be claimed” (Carlos E. Asay, “The Temple Garment: “An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment””, Ensign, Aug. 1997, 19).
Modesty is a principle of Mormon doctrine, and Mormon underwear (or the Mormon garment) helps wearers to keep this principle. Garments generally come down to the knee. They also cover the shoulders, chest, and back, for women — following the bra line. Clothing should always cover the midriff section, as well. There are obviously some occasions when wearing the garment would be impractical, like when swimming. The underlying principle to when one should and should not wear the garment is as follows:
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.
The principles of modesty and keeping the body appropriately covered are implicit in the covenant and should govern the nature of all clothing worn. Endowed members of the Church wear the garment as a reminder of the sacred covenants they have made with the Lord and also as a protection against temptation and evil. How it is worn is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior (Carlos E. Asay).
Separate garments are made for men and women and are designed to be close fitting to the body. The clothing which is worn over them should not be so tight it shows the outlines of the garment, nor should it be sheer enough to see the garment through the fabric. However, the garments are designed so modest fashionable clothing can be worn over it with no problems. They are sold individually as tops and bottoms in different fabrics and styles to suit different preferences, but all are modest and follow the same basic design. There are also garments designed especially for military personnel, which are fashioned to look like regulation military underwear.
Those who truly understand what the garment represents will never treat it lightly. It is not only a reminder of covenants made, but also of the wonderful blessings which are promised if one is faithful to those covenants. Protection from the power of Satan is one of these promises. Mormon underwear can be likened to the armor of God which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:11–17. It is the only physical reminder one can take from the temple and always have with him to remember the great spiritual truths learned in the temple.
The Mormon garment is a sacred part of the temple ceremony, and thus is not worn openly, nor should it be treated flippantly. Only endowed members of the Mormon Church are able to purchase garments. This is because they are sacred and should be treated with respect. One who has not been through the temple does not understand what the garment represents, and thus is unlikely to treat it with proper respect.
Those Mormons who have participated in the endowment ceremony know how special the garment is and wear it properly, with the right attitude.
Every religion has its own vocabulary to express its beliefs and doctrines. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a phrase that is unusual, and it is “Saviors on Mount Zion.”
The popular singer, Jewel, wrote a song called “Hands.” The end of the song goes like this…
My hands are small I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s eyes
We are God’s hands
We are God’s hands
This is a well-understood idea that the Lord works through us, His servants. Our willingness to act in charity towards our fellowmen accomplishes His work. Mormons define the word “charity” as the pure love of Christ. Without it, we are nothing.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7:46-48).
There is a Hebrew word—go’el—which means “savior.” How often is a friend or family member a savior to you in a dire moment? Mormon doctrine teaches that we each may perform the work of a savior many times throughout our lives. I remember the one-hundred-dollar bill pressed into my hand by a friend during an especially lean Christmas season and the caring friend who sat and listened for hours as I poured out my soul. Think of the kidney donor, the care-giver, the mother of a handicapped child. In these cases, we are God’s hands, doing His work. We are proxies for Jesus Christ.
The greatest of all vicarious work—work done for us that we can’t do for ourselves—was Christ’s atonement for our sins. In Gethsemane and upon the cross Christ took upon Himself all of our cares and sorrows, but also suffered the wrath of God in our place, if we would only believe on His name and lay our sins at His feet. He took upon Himself the punishment for our transgressions on condition of our repentance.
Is it so strange, then, that we may act as saviors for our ancestors by performing Mormon temple ordinances they were never able to perform—on condition that they desire to accept those ordinances? Many millions have lived on this earth, never hearing the name of Christ, never hearing a word of His gospel. Should these be condemned when they never had the opportunity to accept or reject the Lord? God is love. We believe that those who never heard the gospel during their mortal existence will hear it in the Spirit World after death. They can then accept or reject it, but since they are spirits, they have not the ability to perform earthly ordinances, such as baptism. We do it for them in our temples. (Late Prophet Joseph F. Smith received a vision of the Spirit World and the missionary work performed there. To read his account, click here.)
We do this vicarious work, performing saving ordinances in temples of the Lord, for our own ancestors who have passed on. In so doing, we seal our families together in eternal units, and we offer our ancestors the opportunity to become the children of Christ.
…we are told that by taking the gospel to others and bringing them to repentance, by doing genealogy and temple work, and by living Christ-like lives, we can come to stand as saviors on Mount Zion. By freely giving his life, Christ, and Christ alone, atoned for all mankind. We have the opportunity of aiding others to accept his love and his sacrifice—the gift of the atonement—and thereby aid in the work of exalting the human family, becoming saviors on Mount Zion (Hartman Rector, 1981).
…we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.” (John A. Widtsoe, “The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189.)
We learn by revelation from the Prophet Joseph Smith that “these … principles in relation to the dead and the living … cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation. …“For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.” (D&C 128:15, 18; see also Heb. 11:39–40.) (David B. Haight, General Conference address, October, 1990.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote: “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, … and receiving all the ordinances, … ordinations and sealing powers upon their [own] heads, [and] in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah” (History of the Church, 6:184).
What a privilege it is to be able to go to the temple, where we may experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Great service is given when we perform vicarious ordinances for those who have gone beyond the veil. In many cases we do not know those for whom we perform the work. We expect no thanks, nor do we have the assurance that they will accept that which we offer. However, we serve, and in that process we attain that which comes of no other effort: we literally become saviors on Mount Zion. As our Savior gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for us, so we, in some small measure, do the same when we perform proxy work in the temple for those who have no means of moving forward unless something is done for them by those of us here on the earth (President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference address, April, 2009).
I stumbled upon something serendipitously in the scriptures (no spiritual coincidences, are there?) that I had missed before in reading a portion of the Old Testament relating to the desecration of the molten ‘sea’ or font that was part of the sacred temple service of ancient Israel. At the time, I was in the Mormon Mount Timpanogos Mormon temple, dressed in white, waiting to perform temple work for my ancestors, reflecting in the quiet, and reading the scriptures. I’ll share what I learned after first providing a little context by introducing the subject of “baptisms for the dead” for friends of other faiths, as addressed, who may be visiting our website. Once again, we’ve created this site, after all, with you in mind, and we hope you’ll engage us in a conversation and ask us your sincere questions. We much prefer that you glean truth from the source than inquire of those who only speculate about our faith, lifestyles, beliefs, and especially about what goes on in dedicated Houses of the Lord–Mormon temples.
Introduction to Baptisms for the Dead
It’s not unique to Mormonism to believe in the ordinance of baptism as a requirement for entrance into God’s kingdom; many Christians likewise believe that, just as the Lord told Nicodemus, baptism is a needful symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and of our willingness to have our sins remitted and be born again spiritually. In the Savior’s own words:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5)?
Yet all of us know that many people have died without the ordinance of baptism, and some among us have lost loved ones in this situation. So how do we reconcile Christ’s statement to Nicodemus with the notion of a just God — if, solely according to what we know of Nicodemus’ conversation, such individuals would be prohibited from entering into the kingdom of God? There is an answer that satisfies both parts of this seeming paradox.
The answer includes, of course, the truth that God is perfectly loving and just. (Often I lament that we so underestimate or under-appreciate Him and His attributes, and we see Him as less than He is and therefore are limited in the faith we can exercise in Him and in the love we give back to Him… But that’s for another post, I suppose!) Back to our conversation. As one prophet stated so well, “It is evident that the Savior’s statement to Nicodemus presupposes that baptisms may be done for those who have died who have not been baptized (Howard Hunter, Ensign, A Temple Loving People).
Since baptism is an earthly ordinance which can be performed only by the living, the Savior prepared a way for baptisms to take place by proxy for those who have passed to the other side through death. How then can those who are dead be baptized if only the living can perform the ordinance? That was the reference of the Apostle Paul’s writing to the Corinthians when he asked this question:
“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:29.)
Baptisms are again performed by the living in behalf of individuals who have died, as is also the laying on of hands for the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost for these same deceased people. These ordinances, though, are performed only in the house of the Lord.
Personal Reflections on Baptisms in Mormon Temples
I was in the San Diego temple once as my daughter and her friend were being baptized for some of my ancestors, and I watched the beautiful ordinance from behind a glass enclosure, framing the baptismal font that is raised to be seated upon the backs of 12 oxen representative of the children of Israel and respective tribes. I saw, but couldn’t hear from where I was seated, what appeared as a joyous, animated but quiet discussion as my daughter handed the names of our family to the officiator, both dressed in white. I watched as our friend, Christian, entered the font and was first baptized for our male ancestors, and as the recorders, attentive, noted the ordinance from the side of the font, leaning inward with interest. Then Kira stepped into the font, the names of our family pronounced as she stood as proxy and was baptized and emerged from the water on their behalf. I watched as others looked on longingly and lovingly. I felt what I can only describe as pure joy and a sure feeling that at least some of those who have passed on for whom the work was being performed were watching from the spirit world and were aware and joyful on that occasion. Of course, everyone has the choice to dismiss the ordinance as well, but on this day, I felt the joy of some who accepted.
Well, interestingly enough, a day later I found myself in the Mount Timpanogos Mormon temple, wanting to follow through with additional temple work for these relatives. As mentioned above, I was pondering the scriptures and the verses I came upon were these:
And king Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases, and removed the laver from off them; and took down the sea from off the brasen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones.
I learned that it was actually Ahaz who had dismantled the font. To him, nothing was sacred. After all, he passed his children through the fire as an offerring to the heathen god, Molech. He took parts of the temple and offered them to the King of Assyria to bribe him into helping him defeat those attacking him — Rezin and the king of Judah. He then broke apart the font. I hadn’t noticed that before. The temple was not just defiled; the very molten ‘sea’ — the building of which was detailed some chapters earlier — was destroyed by a wicked man. The destruction of the temple, the exile, the re-building and the destruction again in Jerusalem, became ever more present reality to me. We are once again in the era of temple building, and one day, the temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and the Savior will rule and reign on earth again. Of that I am sure and offer my sincere witness.
We hope you’ll visit a modern temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before it is dedicated, or one of the international Visitors’ Centers on a temple site.
More on Mormon Baptism for the Dead
LDS News on Church policy for Baptisms for the Dead