Gordon Monson: The wearing — or not wearing — of LDS garments is personal and should stay that way

This crackdown on underwear seems like overkill.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Devout Latter-day Saints buy their temple garments at distribution centers like this. Church leaders are reemphasizing the wearing of such underclothing.

So, the story goes that Steve Young, back in his days of playing for the San Francisco 49ers, was once spotted in the locker room putting on his underwear — yeah, garments instructed to be worn by temple-going, tithe-paying members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A teammate told the former BYU quarterback something to the effect of, “Man, where did you get that underwear? That’s really cool. Where can I get a few pairs?”

Young thoughtfully considered the question for a few moments, as was and is his way, and then replied, “Forget about it. You can’t afford ‘em.”

Ten percent can be expensive.

I have no clue whether that story is true, but it’s one of the best I’ve heard about temple garments. That one, and the one my faithful mom, a straight-talking farm girl from North Carolina, once told me about the first time she put on garments, in June 1946. That was back in the unfriendly day of one-piecers, and she said she quite literally wrestled with the underclothing, like something you’d see in a cartoon, as she attempted to put it on. After she did, she looked at herself in a mirror and felt the awkward construction of the garment, and then said: “I don’t know what these things are all about, but what I do know is that they were neither designed by a woman, nor designed with the best interests of a woman in mind.”

Those sentiments through the years, right up to 2024, have likely been expressed by millions of Latter-day Saint women, wherever they land on the sliding righteous-obedient-prayerful-rebellious scale. My mom was about as kind and charitable and God-loving a woman as I ever met, and she hated — but still donned — the durn things.

Fervent men tried to explain to her how important the garment was in her covenant-keeping progression, but most of those men never had to wear the garment against their skin under the restrictive confinement of a bra.

OK, I’ve intentionally waited before commenting on the debate raging among leaders and members of my church about the underwear they wear, when they wear it, when they don’t wear it, when they should wear it, when they don’t have to wear it.

Like Young, I wanted to give the question some thought. And I’ve given it a lot of thought. I haven’t thought about underwear this much since the time I, on the recommendation of a buddy of mine, watched a pre-Christmas Victoria Secret Fashion Show some 20 years ago. My wife watched it with me, but I seemed to be devoting more intense focus to it.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, I’ve worn temple garments for nearly 50 years and never had much problem with them. I agree with Young’s teammate, they’re all good — for me. There are those moments when I’ve wondered: Should I wear them or not? For instance, when I play golf. I never wear them when I’ve played other action sports because that would just be stupid — for me. And usually, I’ve left them at home when leaving for the golf course. Why? Because it’s typically hot and they restrict movement necessary to swing a club the way I do — like a lowland gorilla. Moreover, golf courses are beautiful but godless places where prayers are never answered.

LDS leaders speak out

And I always figured the decision about my underwear to be mine to make and mine alone.

That was until a recent emphasis by church leaders about the wearing of the garment. No matter what they’ve said, and I’ll go over that in a minute, if my bishop asks me about my wearing of my underwear, I’ll probably just laugh. And he’s a good friend of mine. If he asks my wife about her wearing of her underwear, I’m pretty sure she’ll just tell him what he wants to hear or — who knows? — tell him to mind his own business, one or the other.

General authority Seventy Kevin Hamilton recently told a congregation of Latter-day Saints that too many younger women wear garments mostly on Sundays and when they attend the temple, but then opt for “yoga pants” during the week.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks at General Conference on Sunday, April 7, 2024.

Two high-ranking speakers at the church’s most recent General Conference — Dallin Oaks and J. Anette Dennis — hit the topic. “We are instructed to wear temple garments continuously, with the only exceptions being those obviously necessary. Because covenants do not ‘take a day off,’ to remove one’s garments can be understood as a disclaimer of the covenant responsibilities and blessings to which they relate,” Oaks said. Dennis said: “We are authorized to wear the garment of the holy priesthood. It is both a sacred obligation and a sacred privilege.”

She said if the garment is worn, it is a reminder that as you keep temple covenants, you symbolically put on Christ, who is an “armor of light. He will protect me from evil, give me power and increased capacity and be my light and guide through the darkness and difficulties of the world.”

The problem with that statement is it’s way exclusive, and it implies that the said light and protection and power and capacity are not available to good, faithful people who do not wear the garment or who don’t wear it at every turn. It suggests that, “Hey, I’m super special.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) J. Anette Dennis, a counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, speaks at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Moreover, a statement from the church included this terminology: “You should wear the garment day and night throughout your life. When it must be removed for activities that cannot reasonably be done while wearing the garment, seek to restore it as soon as possible. As you keep your covenants, including the sacred privilege to wear the garment as instructed … you will have greater access to the Savior’s mercy, protection, strength and power.”

Law of Moses approach

I’ve understood that some believe that wearing the garment gives the wearer protection and power, but not what is said here, that the garment gives the wearer greater access to Jesus Christ’s mercy.

I’ve always thought Jesus’ mercy was wholly available to all, by the bucketful, regardless of the kind of underwear they wear. The assertion that taking off the garment — to do yardwork, to briskly walk around the block, to hike through the woods, to sweat — is essentially kicking away your commitment to God is troubling, disturbing.

With all the problems in the world, with all the opportunities to show devotion to God and to serve fellow humans and be kind and charitable to friends and strangers, to help those in need, insisting that the faithful wear garments whenever possible, whatever that really means, seems a lean toward control in a Law of Moses kind of way. Beyond that, it’s another chance for church members to observe what those around them, fellow worshippers, are doing and wearing or not doing and not wearing and to judge them. There’s already too much judging in a high-demand religion.

I don’t mind wearing garments, not at all. I like them fine; they’re meaningful, and mostly convenient and comfortable — again, for me, when I’m not doing some of the things I do, like hauling my clubs around the course. But for all others, especially women, they can decide for themselves.

They can work it out with the God they worship, with the God they aim to please, the God to whom they wish to connect and make and shape covenants with.

Revisions to temple-recommend questions or not, and no matter what anyone preaches from a pulpit, the wearing of garments and underwear of any kind is a personal decision that obviously and appropriately and “reasonably” enough should be left to the person wearing them, regardless of how expensive they are.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune columnist Gordon Monson.

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