Garments, Shame, Idolatry

I must be the only believing, garment-wearing Mormon who isn’t mad at Andrew Sullivan. I honestly don’t understand all the fuss. It seems to me that, removed from their sacred context, garments are just underwear. And really funny-looking underwear, at that. I can think of no promise made not to let others see the garment–I change in the gym locker room, and if I landed in the Emergency Room unconscious, people would surely see my garments–and I don’t believe they would be seeing anything “sacred,” any more than I am seeing something sacred when I see my orthodox friends’ yarmulkes. Underwear is generally private in our culture, so we’re *embarrassed* to have our skivvies paraded around on the Internet. And surely posting pictures of people’s underwear is in poor taste, as is the “boxers or briefs” question.

Still, I think confusing our embarrassment with religious offense is a mistake–what is holy and sacred about garments is the understanding we have about them from our experience of temple worship, and what we make of them in our covenant relationship with God. Investing the cloth itself with some sort of unseeable, unmockable holiness strikes me as superstition bordering on idolatry. And defending them with the kind of venomous ardor spewed at Andrew Sullivan this week seems both unchristian and decidedly unmormon to me.


  1. Exactly; great post, Kristine.

    If we don’t learn to do better than this, the Romney candidacy is going to end up damaging our public reputation. Not because of the anti-Mormon things that get said, but because of how we respond to them…

  2. Kristine, Of course you are entitled to your opinion, and it may be as valid, if not more so than mine, or others–but I think it a bit much to label those, like myself, who have been vocal against Mr. Sullivan, as unchristian and idolatrous.

    Mr. Sullivan’s rants on Mormonism for well over a week now smack of anti-Mormonism at its finest (or worst). His posts are bigoted, and denigrate beliefs held sacred by millions.

    His garment posting was only a small part in his anti-Mormon rants. I’m certain you have seen the others on his blog. As many have already pointed out on Steve’s thread, what makes Sullivan’s actions even more egregious is that he appears to be doing this so smear a political candidate with whom he disagrees.

    I think it appropriate to take Mr. Sullivan to task for his bigoted posts. And, it certainly isn’t unchristian to do so.

  3. If you take a look at the Sullivan pic and are honest — really honest — you will note that the uncomfortable feeling that arises is due in some measure to a realization that the garment does indeed look kinda weird. Not all of it comes from this, however; I think some people are honestly bothered by what they sense as Sullivan’s inherent ridicule.

    The problem with the garment pic over at Sullivan is not the garment per se, but the fact that the silky garments worn by the two “models” was designed by someone who was high on cotton candy at the time and had never worn a natural fiber in their life. At least the Zoroastrian sedreh is made of muslin.

    Anyway, it seems to me that there would be many ways to configure the garment so that it would be a) comfortable for women, and b) not cut by a pair of shears. As it is, it looks funny and we’re embarrassed by that.

    Cardinals’ hats look funny too, but the public is used to them. You can’t really blame people for seeing the garment for the first time, especially the “corban” monstrosity, and going, “hmmm, kind of funny.” More pics like this and maybe the weird factor will wear off. Or, alternatively, Beehive Clothing could go for some nice Indian cotton and lose the sleeves for women.

    On a side note, isn’t it amazing that the church seems to have made zero progress since Reed Smoot?

    P.S. If you are a man and wear the silky garments, or worse, a silky one-piece with zip, you deserve all the ridicule you get.

  4. Guy, I don’t know if you’re either unchristian or idolatrous, and I certainly wasn’t thinking of you when I wrote my post. I think it’s perfectly possible to be angry with Mr. Sullivan and express that anger in a civil way. I also think it’s possible to feel differently than I do about the garments as physical object and symbol without making them an object of idolatry. However, when defending the garment tempts us to equate other human beings with roaches, I think we’re dangerously close to elevating our own sensitivities above what we know God cares about most–ALL of His children.

  5. Ok, I can’t resist, but who tucks their top in to the bottom underwear like that? Now that is weird…

  6. Guy, it’s perfectly possible to express disagreement, even anger, in a civil way–I recognize that plenty of people really do feel upset by Sullivan’s post, and they should take the opportunity to educate him about why his posts are offensive. And I recognize that there is a legitimate argument to be made that there is something inherently sacred about garments; I just disagree with that argument. Still, when our zeal leads us to compare other children of God with cockroaches, I suspect we have probably elevated our own sensibilities above God’s.

  7. Kris,
    I don’t think the post you are referring to really meant to suggest Mr. Sullivan is a cockroach.

  8. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    My issue with Sullivan’s post on garments is that he did it with the express intention of mocking and insulting a people. He KNEW people would find it offensive; he designed it to be offensive. There was no good purpose behind it; he wasn’t looking to spark any thought or debate. He just wanted to point a finger and laugh at something sacred. I don’t care if he believes in them or not; I care that he treats others beliefs with the same respect he demans for his own.

  9. *agrees with Proud Daughter of Eve

    Notice that Mr. Sullivan’s next choice of describing and talking about Mormons comes from the movie Orgazmo, by Matt and Trey Parker. He hasn’t gone and started quoting from Ed Decker yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

    What does this say about Mr. Sullivan? That he is trying to tear down Romney’s aura to moderate Republicans and conservatives by showing the “silly” or “controversial” aspects of Romney’s religion. I doubt Mr. Sullivan is looking at our religion to really get an understanding of it. He’s doing it for a political purpose, ironically the same thing he derides “Christianists” for doing.

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    Today he posts a photo of the special underwear that the Sikhs wear (who knew??). You can tell they’re an older religion and have given this issue a little more thought….

  11. Dan and PdoE,
    You’re missing Kris’s point, which is not so much to analyse Sullivan, but to analyse our reaction to Sullivan.

  12. The Church doesn’t manufacture men’s Silky Garments… They only come in Mesh, Cotton, and Poly Cotton… hmm…

  13. PdoE, of *course* he meant to offend. Fortunately, we have explicit instructions in the NT about how to deal with offenses.

  14. Guy Murray, I think you’re possibly speaking a little loosely when you characterize Sullivan’s posts as anti-Mormon. Perhaps there are moments on his blog that reflect a lack of information on his part — but he seems willing to learn from his mistakes. Sullivan has printed email messages from Mormons and posted links to official church sites. He has also shown a willingness to correct himself and even to post items that normalize Mormon behavior (including a post discussing the religious underwear worn by Sikhs). If this is anti-Mormonism, we need more of it in the world.

    PDoE, if you read Sullivan’s posts, it turns out that he probably didn’t post the underwear photos with a deliberate intention to offend. In a previous post, he’d characterized the idea that Mormons wear unusual underwear as possibly being an urban myth. Someone emailed him a link to the photo he posted, and he displayed it as evidence that he was wrong and that Mormons do in fact wear unusual underwear. He seems to have been a bit surprised that the photo in fact offended some Mormons — although he didn’t take the photo down when it turned out that some Mormons were offended. In any case, I would think that we might take situations like the Sullivan one as an opportunity to practice our charity.

  15. The picture certainly doesn’t depict the best of the available styles. Having said that, garment styles have apparently come a long way in the last 25 years, and I have no idea when that picture was taken.

    I haven’t read Sulliven’s posts, so I can’t comment on what he said. As for garments, we certainly can’t blame people for being curious, and in the age of the internet this is how it’s going to be.

  16. To me, garments are not just underwear but something very sacred. They are called “The Garment of the Holy Priesthod” and as such we should have great respect for them. They represent our devotion to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and will be a protection to us as long as we treat them with respect. I appreciate all the comments and has made me think about the importance of our garments in our lives. No matter material is used or if they are one piece or two piece, it still represents our obedience to our Father in Heaven.

    As far as the issue with Mr. Sullivan. I haven’t read his blog or looked as his pictures so I don’t know a lot about this issue. I don’t agree with what he is doing but let us all remember this commandment by the Lord in Matthew 5:

    43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
    44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
    45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
    46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
    47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
    48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

    Sorry for the long comment. =)

  17. Aaron, agreed.

  18. Matt W,

    Just checked on the church catalog website. Men’s garments come in the following fabrics:

    DriSilque, nylon mesh, Corban, cotton-poly, cotton, Dri-Lux, Thermax. At least two of those are “silky”.

  19. PDoE (#7),

    To be fair, Sullivan, a Catholic, doesn’t show much respect for Catholic beliefs either. In fact he derides them regularly and has been conducting a whisper campaign suggesting the Pope is homosexual for some time:


    I haven’t seen a lot of venom spewed at Sullivan, but maybe my definition is different than yours. As I noted on the other thread, most of what I have seen is people objecting to what they see as Sullivan stepping over the line, not calling for his head. Can you provide examples that were not tongue in cheek?

  20. JNS: I suppose it depends on how you define the term. I’m pretty comfortable with this from Wikiedia:

    The term “anti-Mormon” is composed of the prefix “anti-“, meaning “against”, affixed to the word “Mormon”, meaning a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church). The term is typically used by Mormons to refer to literature, activities, or people perceived to be in direct opposition to the Saints or their church. Some Mormons differentiate between honest criticism and anti-Mormon propaganda, reserving the designation “anti-Mormon” for claims that are sensational or misleading.

    I think it a pretty easy case to make Mr. Sullivan’s posts individually and in their entirety are sensationalistic and misleading. He does this not out of any honest object of inquiry; but to belittle, demand, and worst of all for political advantage.

    If Mr. Sullivan didn’t intend to offend by his posts, then he would have removed them once it became clear many were in fact offended. The Moderate Voice, a true political commentary blog did just that–see here. They were confronted with the offensiveness of their posting a photo of the Temple Garment and removed it because it was offensive. Sullivan is exactly the opposite.

    It seems he will write and say anything that generates controversy and traffic to his website. This includes taking potshots at “our” religion. We don’t need more of this in the world. We need less.

    Mr. Sullivan is a professed Catholic. He should know better. Personally, I think he does know better–but the temptation to extract political advantage out of this situation is just too great for him.

    His posts against Mitt Romney and the Church, and the manner in which he has gone about those posts are pathetic and bigoted. He does not deserve Charity. He deserves condemnation. I, and others are happy to oblige.

  21. He does not deserve Charity


  22. His bigoted posts and rants against the Church do not deserve Charity.

  23. Ronan: looks like I need to buy Garments more often… Maybe they’ve extended the line since the last time I shopped. Interesting.

  24. Actually, Ronan, none of us deserves Charity. One of the wonders of Christianity is that we were first loved by God, despite our not deserving it.

  25. After having observed (and been part of) the conversation over at The Moderate Voice regarding their posts on “Mormon Underwear” here are my suggestions:

    First of all, I think that there are lot of people who want to believe that Mormons are all deeply disturbed and who will enjoy seeing us mocked. For this category of person, there’s really nothing we can do.

    However, I personally think that there are yet more who are aware that posting pictures of underwear is a cheap shot. And these people will pay at least as much attention to how we say things as what we say. As they won’t have our baseline feelings of sanctity towards garments they won’t be convinced by our arguments, but they may be impressed by the way we act when attacked.

    I’d say that if you feel really compelled to make your voice heard, just do it in as reasonable a way as possible. Lots of people won’t care. But the ones who have some empathy already will have yet more empathy if we comport ourselves well.

  26. Guy,

    Although didactic, Aaron’s #14 is worth keeping in mind. Sullivan deserves charity as much as the rest of us.

    I honestly don’t think Sullivan ever intended to offend Mormons by posting the photos he did. And I don’t think his refusal to take them down means his blog is not a “true” political commentary blog. It is obviously a blog not suited to your taste, but that is a different matter. There are perfectly good reasons to leave a post or a photo up even if it offends a certain demographic. I don’t agree with the reasons animating Sullivan to post the garment in the first place–as I have already noted, I find them scurrilous, but let’s not hang our hat on the idea that offense alone determines publication value.

    As it turns out, Christ’s teachings offend the deepest, most closely held sensibilities of many people.

  27. One final thought:

    Like Guy, I exchanged a few emails with Joe over the underwear issue over at TMV. Joe was clear that the picture wasn’t removed in response to any of the yelling and screaming. It was removed because of one very polite and well-written email from an otherwise silent member of his readership.

  28. Kristine,

    The anger over Andrew Sullivan lies in his motivation, not his curiosity. Unless you think he’s an idiot, then you know Sullivan isn’t genuinely expecting to understand Romney’s religious beliefs with Orgazmo and SouthPark’s dum-de-dum-dum segment.

    His ridiculing the church makes clear that Sullivan knows all he cares to know about Mormonism and has decided it warrants ridicule, and it is unsurprising Mormons would be irritated by someone who publicly ridicules and disrespects the church.

  29. Again,
    Not the point Kristine is making.

  30. I was explaining the basis for Mormons’ reaction, which I admit neither Kristine or you have addressed in his defense.

  31. (BTW, Kristine has been banned by her own blog. Akismet is putting her comments in the spam bin.)

  32. I should clarify that neither you or Kristine addressed the basis for Mormons’ offense, whether or not in AS’s defense.

  33. Maybe some less embarrasing pictures of Garments should be available? These Pictures have been around on Anti Mormon websites for sometime and have a lot of baggage that goes with them. The Sikh picture is less offensive because it is not on a headless body with the top tucked in. Maybe if just some plain old pictures of the garments not on a human body were available, it would be less embarrassing? If Kristine is right, I think that would help.

  34. I didn’t think I would when I started reading, but I agree with Kristine on this one… The debate here has centered much on Sullivan’s post, it’s intent, his motives, etc..

    There several quotes that float around with a sentiment similar to this one:

    Arguing on the internet is like competing in a broken glass eating contest, even if you win, you’re still stupid.

    Uncharitable attacks on Sullivan don’t prove to anyone that Mormons are right and he is wrong. They just show that stupid people are fighting. It’s a PR nightmare. We would be better served if the offended parties appropriately explained what the garment was about in a friendly tone.

  35. Matt W., when I received my garments, I was taught by the temple president that the top was supposed to be tucked in — that was the proper way to wear the garment. Is that somehow offensive? I wasn’t offended by the instruction…

  36. “Follow the Romney, follow the Romney”
    Or is it “Follow the Prophet.” I can’t quite remember that primary song anymore.

    I agree with Kristine, RESPEK!

  37. Matt Evans,
    I am confused. Isn’t Kristine attempting to address the basis for Mormons’ offense? And attempting to explain why she doesn’t find it binding? You seem to be saying that the only reason Sullivan’s posting was offensive was because he clearly wanted to mock Mormons. Am I accurately capturing your intent?

  38. JNS- I was not given same instruction when I went through the temple. Different Temple President, different time, different rules, I guess. Of course, this could raise a whole side issue of what is the proper way to wear the garment, but I probably guess you should care for yours one way, and I another, and let that one go. (I also have a friend who was taught the Garment should be treasted like the American Flag and never tough the ground. I was also not given this instruction.) anyway…

    That was not my point. It has nothing to do with Offense. My point was tucking your t-shirt into BVDs, fruit of the looms, etc. looks silly, weird etc. (I can even remember an episode of “cheers” where a man was made fun of for doing this. I was pretty young so don’t ask for details. )

    Hope I’m not fearlessly trampling feelings on this, just stating mine…

  39. I am of two minds regarding the offensiveness of Sullivan posting the garment pics. My own reaction is probably closer to Kristine’s than Steve’s. However, since I haven’t been offended by anything posted about Mormonism on a blog since Steve FSF’s Boyd-K-Packer-gay-sex rant a year or two ago, my reaction is probably not a good barometer of where the average Mormon would come down on these questions.

    Regarding Sullivan’s treatment of Mormons: I am an avid reader of his blog, and I seem to recall that he has dated a gay Mormon in the past. What that says about his level of knowledge about the Church is unknown. Also, Sullivan loves South Park. He likes looking at the world through the Parker/Stone lens, and it would be inaccurate to assume that because he’s brought up the show in reference to Mormonism, he is about to start quoting Ed Decker.

    Aaron B

  40. Hmmmm.

    As the spew-er of the venomous ardor of which KHH speaks, maybe I ought to respond in some way?

    First, I think Kristine is largely misinterpreting my post. My primary objection is the use of garments as a shock tactic in an intended smear against Mitt Romney. I find that to be a cheap attack, using one of mormonism’s most holy emblems. Sullivan’s chief crime isn’t his examination of garments; it is his deliberate exploitation of them to highlight Mormonism’s “weirdness” for his personal popularity and for character attacks on Mitt Romney. That’s a lousy excuse for real political analysis.

    Second, in terms of the tone and tenor of my post: anyone who has spent five minutes with me (including YOU, Kristine) ought to realize that most of my insults and jabs at Sullivan were decidedly tongue-in-cheek. Do you or anyone else really think that I want Sullivan assassinated? Come now.

    Third, I agree with Aaron, but can also see your point. You say, “It seems to me that, removed from their sacred context, garments are just underwear,” and that’s true. But garments are never to be removed from their sacred context, are they? I think we are definitely fooling ourselves if we think we can dissociate garments from the sacred covenants they represent. The minute we perform that covenantectomy, I agree — they become nothing more than odd-looking underwear. But by that point, we’ve dissected a golden goose, haven’t we? Those of us who want to demystify garments, hold them up for the world and say, “see? there’s nothing weird about them!” are completely missing the point, I think, in an important way.

    That said, I do love the fact that you bring in the notion of idolatry. There is this odd tension, isn’t there, between imbuing the garment with the protection and holiness it is meant to carry, and worshipping with an object per se. I am not quite sure how to resolve that tension, but I definitely don’t think the way to go about it is to treat temple garments as you would any other underwear.

    On another tangent, plenty of commenters would like to see more charity extended to Andrew Sullivan. As one who severely needs charity himself, I’m all in favor. However, can’t we — and mustn’t we — distinguish between charity for an individual as a fallen human being and letting people besmirch things we hold dear? I view my charity for Andrew Sullivan as one that lets me still feel pretty good-natured about him (he’s welcome to come over for rice krispy treats any time), while still rejecting some of his political columns and denouncing some of his tactics. That’s what I’ve attempted to do, albeit with hyperbolic rhetoric and comparisons to cockroaches (which are genetic survivors and utterly prolific — it was a compliment! )

    Finally, thanks for airing your beefs with my post in private!! sheesh!!! Well, at least now I know the secret to getting you to post.

  41. a random John says:

    Unfortunately covenant keeping LDS are in a bit of a bind here. You can’t fully explain the reasons that the garment is sacred. If the other party you are discussing it with is unwilling to accept that is sacred and wants to push you on why there is only so far you can go, which probably isn’t very far. In fact I’m not sure the discussion can go much further than stating that the garment is a reminder of covenants made in the temple to keep the commandments and that those commandments are all run of the mill stuff found in the scriptures.
    At some point there has to be an element of respect, while the concept of the garment might seem strange to them they can allow that it is understood differently by Mormons and that it isn’t any more indicative of weirdness than wearing a cross or some other religious apparel.
    Can you make someone understand that it isn’t something that should be posted on a website for purposes of public ridicule? I’m not sure. If they approach the subject with a mocking attitude then they’ll be unlikely to attain the element of respect mentioned earlier, and any negative reaction is just adding fuel to the fire. If they are doing it in order to “educate voters” then they are likely to react badly to what they see as efforts to hide information.
    I think that we should be proactive here. No need to post pictures of the various garment fabrics or anything, but simple comments indicating why we consider the garment to be sacred, why such photos are seen by many LDS as offensive, perhaps a polite request to take the photos down in an effort to be considerate, and then let people make up their own minds.
    Reacting with venom certainly shows the degree to which the photos are offensive, but probably also reinforces the idea that there is something weird going on with the garment when that is not the case.

  42. in regards to Kristine’s post:

    Investing the cloth itself with some sort of unseeable, unmockable holiness strikes me as superstition bordering on idolatry.

    The problem is that the Lord considers our garments holy. If we don’t then it is to our detriment. Just like the Lord considers his House Holy, if we don’t we’re the ones in trouble. There are just things that are holy, and our garments are holy, as ugly as they may be. We don’t flaunt them around, we don’t parade them to others, etc. There is a reason this garment is placed below our worldly clothes, instead of, as in the days of the Israelites, where they wore their priesthood garments on top. I’ve got my theories as to why, but they are not substantiated by any research.

    We are justified in being angry at Mr. Sullivan for so flaunting holy things with such lack of respect.

  43. Steve,


    Sullivan’s chief crime isn’t his examination of garments; it is his deliberate exploitation of them to highlight Mormonism’s “weirdness” for his personal popularity and for character attacks on Mitt Romney. That’s a lousy excuse for real political analysis.

    That’s EXACTLY the problem with what Mr. Sullivan was doing. Well said!

  44. Though Sullivan’s move is tasteless, I find it peculiar that people are getting upset that he is after “political gain.” I am much more troubled that our leaders and Mitt Romney are pursuing political gain at the expense of a vulnerable minority.

  45. tangent: have you all read the slate articles on Romeny and Mormonism? I thought they were more balanced and interesting.

  46. Dan,
    To nit-pick: the garment is not the functional equivalent of the Israelite priestly robes.

  47. HP, my friend Kristine (who really is a good friend) said she doesn’t “understand the fuss” so I explained it for her. While people may be naturally curious about garments, the Mormon to Sullivan’s post was fueled by his intent to ridicule. Had he done a better job of pretending genuine interest in Mormonism’s theology (i.e., not offering Orgazmo and SouthPark as explanations of Mormonism to his readers), then his posting the garment picture would have been understood differently. As it was, it was obvious that Sullivan thought he knew more than enough about Mormonism and decided it deserved nothing but ridicule, and posted things he thought embarrassing to the church.

    Kristine (and Ronan) have deliberately avoided addressing the context in which Sullivan posted the garment picture because it fatally undermines her (their) argument that there’s no reason for offense.

  48. Matt,
    I’ve said nothing on this thread about the offense itself, just our response to it.

  49. Hellmut,

    Neither Mitt Romney nor the church are pursuing political gain by going after working-class single mothers. But that is really a topic for another thread.

  50. a random John says:

    Matt Evans,

    If there is reason for offense, what is the most effective reaction? Is that different from the most appropriate reaction?

  51. andrew sullivan is a silly and unserious man (for an example check out his disastrous & bullying embrace of the iraq war). he’s a joker, but sometimes he makes a decent point. the undergarments issue isn’t one of them. the larger romney point is. if romney’s going to campaign explicitly to religious conservatives as a religious candidate, then his religion is open to inspection. if he didn’t want mormonism to be questioned, he probably should have stayed away from religious posturing in the civic arena. i believe, as sullivan does, that religion is a private issue and has no place in american government.

  52. I think arbitropia is on to a good point, as to why someone like Harry Reid’s religion is not ridiculed. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, but wears it in how he acts.

  53. Religion has a place in American Government. People who are members of religious groups are going to hold offices in American Government. Different religious groups stand for different things. People want a person to represent them who stand for what they stand for. The two party system attempts to do this, but doesn’t quite make it because there are more than two variables at work. So other components are added in. Like past voting history, religion, personal life etc.

    Religion is a private issue, but celebrities have no private life. Mitt Romney is, for better or worse, a celebrity.

  54. Chris in LA says:

    The deepest irony of this whole tempest in a teapot is that Sullivan is acting as a useful idiot for the very fundamentalists he claims to be at war with in his new book. For example, that garment picture may have been taken by a devout Mormon couple and somehow got out onto the web, but I doubt it. Most likely it was taken by a disaffected or anti-Mormon type or group to do exactly what Sullivan did with it — make something private seem “loopy.”

    And the Kimball quote that Sully uses to point out Mormon racism lacked a date. So however onerous it is, that lack did not put it in the right context. For example, if Spence said it in 1960 rather than, say, 1980, it makes a huge difference in how to understand it historically, no? I think it racist either way, but I would like to understand if he said it before or after the 1978 revelation, for what I think are obvious reasons.

    But these are tangental points. I don’t think Andrew is motivated by a desire to make us look ridiculous. I think he is just using information from sources that have that desire and then some. To most Mormons it is fairly obvious that he has gone to sources that are unknowing at best (e.g. Wikipedia posting that picture? Who provided it?) or malicious at worst.

    And that is his great failing in this whole matter. He likely doesn’t know that, but as a so-called scholar and intellectual, he should. He should do the research; he should know what he’s talking about. Instead he has taken information that may well have come loaded with underlying anti-Mormon assumptions, and then predictably went down the path towards assuming the worst.

    He’s doing the anti-Mormon fundies work for them. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragically ironic: he has seen the enemy in relgious fundamentalism, but vis a vis Mormons doesn’t yet realise it is him.

  55. what is holy and sacred about garments is the understanding we have about them… Investing the cloth itself with some sort of unseeable, unmockable holiness strikes me as superstition bordering on idolatry.

    What’s the difference between an “unseeable, unmockable holiness” and an equally invisible “understanding”?

    And since you condemn “investing” the cloth with meaning, I’m curious what you make of the command to wear garments.

    I mean, if it’s the only the “understanding” that counts, what’s the point in putting garments on? Why not a picture of the garments, or maybe even the temple or Christ Himself tucked into your wallet/purse or tied to your head to remind of us the covenants made? Why have any physical reminders at all if, as you plainly suggest, it distracts from the “understanding” and leads the saints to evil doing?

    What was He thinking?

    PS-I reckon Joseph Smith had a higher tolerance for superstition than you do, and he apparently turned out alright, or so I hear.

  56. Mathew,

    The saddest thing about those referenda is that they hurt the most faithful the worst, so much that some of them commit suicide. Clearly, the parable about the mote in the eye applies.

  57. Was thinking about a Romney presidency on my way to work this morning. Somebody should start a thread on this topic: How would his election affect the Church? Mormon culture generally?

    I think it has huge implications well beyond anything that has been considered here so far.

    (Oops, this is tangental…sorry)

  58. I think Dan and arbitropia are right, sort of. I agree that the Reid/Romney contrast is relevant. But I think Romney wearing his religion on his sleeve is just a bit of an overstatement. (Literally, I think it’s only a small overstatement, I’m not using understatement for rhetorical effect.) Actually, I think the fact that Romney has chosen to align himself with the GOP and to court the religious voters in particular within the GOP constituency has a lot more to do with it than any public pronouncements he’s made of his mormonism. He’s seen as wearing religion on his sleeve more because that’s what his party does than because he’s actually done it all that much. It’s guilt by association.

    But I still think its fair game. It may be guilt by association, but Romney has deliberately chosen to associate. Whether Sullivan is justified in his tactics is another question, but the fact that he’s focusing in on Romney’s mormonism should not be surprising.

  59. MikeInWeHo,

    Senator Harry Reid is in a fairly influential position as Majority Leader. He directs the business of the Senate. Does it affect the church in any way shape or form? No not really. As the Senate signs treaties, approves cabinet positions, approves judicial nominations, the Majority Leader is in a pretty powerful position in American politics. True, the Senate Majority Leader does not speak for the nation to the world, but really I don’t see a Mormon president as affecting the church anymore than a Mormon being in charge of the Senate.

    I think sometimes Mormons are a bit too much like virgins when it comes to this. Methodists don’t concern themselves about what impact would be on their religion due to a Methodist being president. Been there, done that.

  60. Mike, I’ll bite.

    From an international perspective, a Romney presidency might have two effects, one good, one bad:

    1. It would show that Mormons are not Amish, but fairly normal (garments or not) participants in American society. The greatest obstacle for us colonial Mormons is the sheer invisibility of our religion. Romney would give us exposure.

    2. But what kind of exposure? If Romney was one whiff like GWB, internationals would hate him and dislike Mormons because of him. It would also be a huge struggle for some international Mormons who would find themselves in political opposition to a Mormon brother. What if you were a Mormon in a country with which America went to war or which otherwise felt aggrieved by American policy? It could get messy, because like it or not, Romney would be perceived as the Mormon president in a way far exceeding JFK’s Catholicism.

    The church should wonder whether #1 outweighs #2 before secretly wishing for his election. It think it probably does.

  61. Last Lemming says:

    But garments are never to be removed from their sacred context, are they?

    I was instructed to dispose of garments by cutting out less than 1% of the fabric and destroying it by one of several means. What was left would be “removed from its sacred context” and therefore just another piece of cloth. In the pictures in question, the

  62. LL, sure — in which case they cease to be garments entirely.

  63. Last Lemming says:

    I used a “less than” sign in my post, which HTML did not like. Here’s the rest.

    In the pictures in question, the less than 1% is discernable only to those looking very carefully who know what they are looking for. Thus, one could argue that what the typical viewer sees is truly just another type of underwear.

    Not that this excuses Sullivan in the least.

  64. I think Ronan is right regarding the influence of an internationally unpopular President. On the other hand one can’t knock the whole “they’re normal” bit for getting exposure in other countries. Further people curious about Mormons are more likely to inquire about us, making contact with missionaries more likely.

  65. Hi, I’m a non-Mormon reader, wandering in from AS’s link to the earlier post on this topic. I have a request for clarification that perhaps some people would be willing to address.

    It’s not clear to me, as a non-Mormon reader, whether the problem is publishing any photo of the garments at all, or publishing them with the intent of ridicule. I think this confusion arises partly because many of the comments above seem to assume that the only motive for publishing the picture is ridicule. But as a non-Mormon, I can say that, once one hears about the garments, a lot of us become genuinely and simply curious about them. (And, FWIW, I actually thought they looked a lot less strange than some of the posters above seem to think I’d think — my reaction was, Oh, it’s just long underwear.) So — putting aside the question of Sullivan’s motives — if the motive of the publishing was genuinely just for seeking understanding/satisfying curiosity, would this still be offensive? As offensive? A good example here might be Wikipedia, from which Sullivan got the picture (I just checked, and as of now it’s still there)); clearly Wikipedia publishes the photo for the reason any Encyclopedia would, to inform/illustrate about the topic under discussion. So would commentators here find anything wrong with that?

  66. Stephen,

    As you might be able to tell, there is a diversity of opinion on the question you raise. But I think the most correct answer would be “yes, most Mormons would find publication of a garment photo to be offensive, at least to some degree.” There are exceptions of course. And there are varying degrees to which the offense would be experienced.
    A malicious intent would obviously make things worse. And I don’t think publication of garment photos is seen as offensive as publication of certain other photos or sacred texts would be.

    Aaron B

  67. I posted some faithful, positive, analytical information about Garment symbolism online, including a sketch illustration of the garments, and it was a major item used against me in Church discipline, resulting in being on formal probation. Apparently some people believe took different Covenants than I did because mine did not include anything about not discussing or illustrating the symbolism of the garment (which has even been depicted on the exterior of official LDS buildings in the past.) It is to my great dismay that posting online seems to be handled with a higher degree of censorship than even publishing in printed books.

  68. Stephen, I agree with Aaron Brown’s reply to your inquiry. Most mormons would probably find the unsanctioned publication of a photograph of garments offensive regardless of context. But the degree of response probably will vary dramatically depending upon context and intent.

  69. That said, we do understand the curiosity of non-Mormons, especially in the light of the potential Mormon president.

  70. Aaron B,
    I think you’re right about what the Mormon reaction would be, but I still think it would be lame to take offense over a simple academic publication of the garment. Just because we think that that would be offensive — even if devoid of ridicule and done with sensitivity — that is our problem not theirs. I once taught comparative religion and we looked at sacred vestments across religions. Showing the Zoroastrian in his sedreh is a legitimate thing to do. As a student of religion, I have looked at many things considered secret, even sacred by believers. But we cannot be beholden to other people’s taboos in the legitimate quest for understanding. (I am making no comment on AS’s action here.)

  71. Aaron: yeah, I got that there’d be a range of opinions. That’s part of why I asked — I’m interested in the range! So please, keep the answers coming!

    I don’t think publication of garment photos is seen as offensive as publication of certain other photos or sacred texts would be.

    To be sure I’m not overreading: are you saying that publication as such — simple publication — of some Mormon sacred texts would be held to be offensive, i.e. that the text themselves are held to be private? Or did you mean something else?

  72. Steve Evans: Okay, now that I understand this a bit more, can you explain a bit more clearly why simple publication, clearly with the intent of simply informing (as on Wikipedia) would be offensive (as opposed to why publication with the intent to ridicule would be offensive, which is of course obvious)? Is this a simple taboo, like the Islamic prohibition of depicting Mohammed that came up during the whole cartoons flap, or is there more to it? Would it make a difference if the photo was of just the garments, not being worn, as some upthread have suggested?

    Also, what effect is the word “unsanctioned” having in your sentence “Most mormons would probably find the unsanctioned publication of a photograph of garments offensive regardless of context.”? Who can sanction in this context? Is this sanction something that might readily be given (i.e. all Wikipedia would have to do is apply, pointing out their informative intent), or is this practically speaking equivalent to saying that the publication is simply offensive, (that is, it’d be okay if it were sanctioned but practically speaking it never will be)?

    Sorry to bombard you with questions, but I am sort of curious…

  73. Stephen Frug:

    The ceremonial ordinance called the endowment within the LDS Temple is held sacred, and thus is not normally publicly discussed. This is similar to several other activities andby other religions and groups. Receiving the right to wear the garment is considered part of that ceremony. Portions of this Ceremony are actually covenanted to not be revealed outside of the Temple. Other portions are not held under such covenant, but are typically not shared due to their relation to the sacred nature of the entire ordinance. I will assure you the whole of the ceremony is entirely benign, and at most, sets up a covenant where the participant promises to consecrate themselves in full to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    As is the intent of this original post, I think the general consensus is that a major portion of the problem is that showing somehow standing around in their garments, is, by it’s very nature, something akin to showing any other religious leader standing around in their underwear.

  74. Stephen, my feeling is that it is largely a simple taboo. If we are to analogize to the cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, then I think we can see how a cartoon would be more offensive than, say, an attempt at a faithful, even devoted painting. So would it make a difference if the photo was just the garments? Of course, but it wouldn’t resolve the issue entirely.

    by “unsanctioned,” I meant “unofficial,” i.e., one not done with the express approval of church administration. Would such a sanction ever be given? Beats me, but it is very unlikely that it would be given in this context.

  75. Ronan,

    Note Sullivan’s further comments today, that jive with your own:

    “I am not sorry for publishing a visual of them. My response is the same to Mormons as it was to Muslims who were offended by my publishing images of Muhammad. This is your taboo, not mine. And this is a free country. If you cannot handle some inspection of your religious practices, then you need to find some other place to live.”

    I find it really hard to disagree with this.

    Aaron B

  76. FYI guys,

    GetReligion Blog has also posted the very same underwear picture that Sullivan did. They haven’t taken it down even though asked by some.

    I don’t really care if they take it down or not. But I wanted to point it out. GetReligion has never struck me as particularly hostile to Mormonism.

  77. I think Stephen Frug’s questions, and the range of responses to them, illustrate the theological muddle we have about garments and pictures of them. We just don’t have as unequivocal a religious argument for our objections as Muslims do against the publication of pictures of Mohammed (and Steve, as I understand it, you’re mistaken about the possibility of a “devotional” representation–the ban on images is total). While there’s no doubt that some of our discomfort stems from the fact that *parts* of the endowment are explicitly to be kept secret, I think it’s far from clear that the garments themselves fall under that promise of secrecy.

    Peter (#55), you may be interested to know that Joseph was not wearing garments at the time of his death, having removed them because of the hot weather. The injunction to wear them constantly is another of the many, many Mormon practices that has changed and developed over time.

  78. Seth, you haven’t read sufficiently at GetReligion then. They are very hostile to Mormonism.

  79. Oh, and Steve, I’m with you on the cheap excuse for political analysis bit. I very much agree with whoever said that it would be more useful (and more accurate) to attack Romney as an unprincipled, waffling, opportunistic pretty-boy politico…

  80. “Steve, as I understand it, you’re mistaken about the possibility of a “devotional” representation–the ban on images is total”

    Fair enough. I was citing it more as an example of how context matters. A cartoon will get you an embassy-burning; a really really masterful painting might only get you, say, killed. I dunno. It was a crappy analogy.

  81. That said, there are an awful lot of representations of Mohammed paid for by Turkish and Mongolian world leaders. Some of which are found in museums in Muslim countries. The prohibition hasn’t always been universal.

  82. Stephen,

    It is Sullivan’s intent to ridicule that drew Mormon ire. The photo Sullivan used has been at Wikipedia for over a year and to my knowledge no Mormon has complained about it until Sullivan published it in his effort to ridicule Mormons.

    As others have said, Mormons would prefer that no pictures be displayed. This is in no doubt part of the reason stores that sell the garments only allow Mormons inside.

    My preference would be to substitute the pictures, even at Wikipedia, with a simple description, something like, “The garment for men consists of a white undershirt and underpants that extend nearly to the knee.” Unlike the garment in the Wikipedia article, the most popular style among younger men is now a shirt style identical to a white t-shirt (100% cotton, t-shirt collar and cut).

  83. Ronan,

    I read the two posts together, so I apologize if my critique of your comments should have been on the other thread.


    It was right of Mormons to inform Sullivan that we’re offended by photos of the garment and to request their removal. That’s what the church has done when they’ve been listed for sale on ebay.

  84. I have to say that I agree with Aaron’s #75. Sullivan has every right, regardless of malicious intent or not, to post whatever he desires on his site. That is the nature of our ‘freedom’ in the United States and limiting his free expression simply on the basis of it offending certain parties is a slippery slope that none of us really want to go down.

    #78, That is interesting about Joseph and not wearing his garmets when killed. I had never heard that before. I am well aware that there are times when it is appropriate to not wear the garmets but had never considered excessive heat as one of those times. I’m living in Australia at the moment and it is quite hot where I’m at…suppose I go without?;)

    I also have a bone to pick with Ronan. I, too, am a quasi religious scholar and have had the opportunity to study sacred vestments and garmets used by many of the world’s religions. And in my study I have a hard time NOT comparing our ‘garmets of the holy priesthood’ to those outer vestments worn by the Israelite priests. While ours are worn inside and are used as a reminder to the individual, verses being worn on the outside as a reminder to the priest and community, are the two garmets all that different? Technically, we are both ordained priests to God and wear the sacred vestments as a symbol of that ordination and the covenants made to God.

  85. Left Field says:

    In the most recent general conference, Elder Bednar informed us that to be offended is a choice we make. He said that we can and should choose not to be offended.

    If we are to use Elder Bednar’s counsel to guide our own actions (instead of just as a club with which to beat others), then our proper response to Sullivan should be clear.

  86. Thanks for the answers, everyone. All very informative.

  87. re: 78, there were some in the 1840s who wondered whether the reason Joseph was killed was that he had neglected to wear his garment that day. John Taylor, who did wear them, was spared. Of course, as I recall, Hyrum was wearing his, and they did not save him (though my memory may be slipping here). They were huge wool affairs in those days and heat could have been a concern.
    re: 85. Still not sure how to imagine “picking bones” with opponents except in an exocannibalistic way. Ronan may need to beware alleys for a time.

  88. If I am not mistaken, smb, the only one to wear their garments in Carthage was Willard Richards (who wasn’t harmed). John Taylor later recalled that they had removed them due to the excessively hot weather.

  89. This statement isn’t going to make me very popular, but here goes anyway…

    This is not in anyway to excuse what Sullivan is doing, but I can’t help but look at calls for Christian charity as anything but (from Sullivan’s standpoint) hypocritical. I’ve heard lots of bashing and misrepresenting of gays, lesbians, and those who don’t mind if gays get married(Sullivan’s bailiwicks to be sure) by members of our Church, here in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere. Name calling, assumptions of promiscuity and low morals, and hostile threats as to what they’d do if one of “them” ever tried to hit on one of us. We’ve turned protection of the family into a license to carve an exception to the Golden Rule and the two great commandments.

    No hands of friendship extended to those who remain our neighbors regardless of who they sleep with. No room for a constructive dialogue because our minds are locked down tight and not changing. No chance to invite a gay brother or sister to learn of the Gospel and feel the Spirit; for they are to be shunned.

    I know we believe in the sanctity of the family, and of marriage as well, but we ourselves haven’t exactly been forthright and respectful in the way we’ve treated Sullivan’s people and their issues. And yet we expect all press (mainstream or not) about us to only illuminate us in the light we choose.

    I’m guessing calls from our camp for Sullivan to be more respectful ring awfully hollow to him right now. What goes around really does come around.

  90. HP/JDC,

    I’ve had GetRelgion on my blog feed aggregator for almost a year now (and I’ve been reading the blog for even longer). I’ve seen numerous posts on Mormon issues. I’ve never even detected a hint of real “anti-Mormon” sentiment (unless you count the comments sections – which always tend to attract a few resident antis).

    Sure, they aren’t onboard with us. They aren’t glowingly positive. But I have never sensed anything other than journalistic interest driving their posts. Perhaps you could email me which posts you feel were mean-spirited and uncalled for?

  91. re: 90 Amen to that. The Church and its members have spent many millions opposing not only gay marriage, but every attempt to reduce discrimination against gays: employment, housing, hospital visitation, etc. In Utah and Idaho it’s still completely legal for an employer to fire you at will if they discover you are gay (there may be some location protection in SLC; not sure). Try and pass a simple law in Utah that bans employment and housing discrimination against gays, and see how for you get.

    So yeah, it’s audacious and stunningly hypocritical for Mormons to demand “respect and fairness” from a gay pundit like Sullivan.

  92. cj douglass says:

    This statement isn’t going to make me very popular, but here goes anyway…

    I think you’re preaching to the choir on this one. Watch someone make a disperaging remark about gays in this space and see how far they get before Steve’s foot is up their…

  93. Steve Evans says:


  94. Nick Literski says:

    Some sources do state that Joseph and the others at Carthage removed their Garments “on account of heat.” Other sources, however (such as William Clayton), indicated that Joseph directed that the Garments be removed, so as not to expose them to mockery. Willard Richards allegedly received the direction second-hand, and refused to remove his unless he heard it directly from Joseph.

    This account raises some logical questions, but it’s also consistent with other events of the time. Keep in mind that the citizens of Nauvoo were expecting invasion by the mob and/or the state militia at any moment. Members of the “Quorum of the Anointed” were told to hide or destroy their “robes.” (The term, “robe,” was used in the church at that time to refer to either ordinance robes *or* the Garment, so you have to go by context to figure out which is being discussed.) William Clayton was specifically told by Joseph to “bury or burn” the records of the Council of Fifty at the same time. He chose to bury them, and later recovered the same.

  95. Seth, my impression comes from their willingness to link to anti-sites, while never linking to lds sites (as far as I can tell). The only time I ever spent much time there was around their “Exaltation of Mitt Romney” quote and I got a real “Mormons are borderline psychotic” vibe there. FWIW.

  96. In Dec. 1845, There was a large meeting in the temple where they discussed the incedent:

    Elder John Taylor confirmed the saying that Joseph and Hyrum and himself were without their robes in the jail at Carthage, while Doctor Richards had his on, but corrected the idea that some had, that they had taken them off through fear. W. W. Phelps said Joseph told him one day about that time, that he had laid aside his garment on account of the hot weather.

    Elder Kimball said word came to him and to all the Twelve about that time to lay aside their garments, and take them to pieces, or cut them up so that they could not be found. (An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, p.224)

    Regarding the council of Fifty minutes:

    [June 22, 1844. Saturday.] Joseph whispered and told me either to put the r[ecords] of K[ingdom] into the hands of some faithful man and send them away, or burn them, or bury them. I concluded to bury them, which I did immediately on my return home.

    [June 23, 1844. Sunday.] At 5 A.M. [Albert] Rockwood and [John?] Scott came to ask advice what to do with the Cannon &c. I went to Joseph and got all the public and private records together and buried them.(pg. 135)

  97. I run a temple illustration site and have been shocked at times that when someone does a google image search for “lds temple” they not only get some of my illustrations, but they also see pictures of things much more sacred than the garments.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have known anything about Andrew Sullivan if it hadn’t been talked about here. People who haven’t been to the Temple aren’t going to care or understand the purpose of them…. for the most part, the men’s pants look like joboxers… and members who have been to the temple should just be relieved that we’re keeping them sacred ourselves.

    Yes, I do believe that we need to keep them sacred and not flaunt them around in public. When I’ve changed in a public locker room I do so in the quickest way possible as not to expose some of the more symbolic parts that I think should be kept private, but a photograph on the internet isn’t going to show that kind of detail anyway.

    In cases of emergency, of course the hospital techs are going to see them too, so we need to be realistic. but at the same time, I woudln’t answer the front door wearing wearing just my garment top on top like I experience a couple of times with members on my mission.

  98. When I’ve changed in a public locker room I do so in the quickest way possible as not to expose some of the more symbolic parts that I think should be kept private, but a photograph on the internet isn’t going to show that kind of detail anyway.

    When I was drafted and required to live in the barracks, I continued to wear garments. The brethren allow for exceptions for soldiers. Increasingly, soldiers have been wearing garments since the two piece versions.

    It’s not likely that anyone will notice anything unless they actually handle the garments.

    The real problem was to obtain the camouflage version that match combat fatigues. The guy in charge in Germany was a little controlling in that regard and required us to obtain his written authorization.

  99. “The guy in charge in Germany was a little controlling in that regard and required us to obtain his written authorization.”

    You’re not breaking down any stereotypes with comments like these.:)

  100. Well, otherwise he is a very nice person. His councillor’s father in law was a construction worker and immediately wanted green garments himself since he was getting quite dirty at work. So they clamped down and required the written authorization.

    Unfortunately, it is not all that easy to obtain it when you are drafted. You are confined to the barracks with limited access to telephones. Even sending a letter is an enterprise.

    When you get the authorization then you have to get to Frankfurt when the temple store is open and often the green garments were not stocked.

    I suppose, I could have just asked an American service man to get them for me but I did not even think of that until I was out again.

    To the guy in charge, it was not a big deal since his advice was not to wear garments in the barracks at all. That went too far for me. I really didn’t see what the big deal was about hiding garments.

    Even if there had been some ridicule, it would have been outweighed by the benefits of executing one’s commitments. I would have been more squeamish with the one piecers in the sixties. As it was, there were not any issues as long as you were upfront and defined the situation on your terms.

    I figured that there was no need for green underwear in the barracks and when we went on exercise, I might as well go a few days without garments, especially since the priesthood thought it was alright not to wear them at all.


  1. […] Wikipedia’s definition, quoted by Guy Murray in a recent BCC thread, reads: The term “anti-Mormon” is composed of the prefix “anti-”, meaning “against”, affixed to the word “Mormon”, meaning a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church). The term is typically used by Mormons to refer to literature, activities, or people perceived to be in direct opposition to the Saints or their church. Some Mormons differentiate between honest criticism and anti-Mormon propaganda, reserving the designation “anti-Mormon” for claims that are sensational or misleading. […]

  2. […] Sacred, not secret. That’s the phrase in my memory associated with the temple and garments. I was reminded of this by a conversation at BCC, where people are discussing Andrew Sullivan’s post about garments. As part of his recent interest in Mormonism and Mitt Romney’s political aspirations, Sullivan posted a photo of people wearing garments. As you might expect, many objected to the picture, and some even object to the discussion of garments. […]

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