The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine.
Earlier this week, an article appeared in the New York Times covering a social media campaign from Latter-day Saint women seeking alternative style and material options for the temple garment. It was clear that Ruth Graham, the author of the article, was attempting to be respectful and fair in covering a topic that is both sensitive and sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
However, as Terry Mattingly recently pointed out, “the story mentions that there are women online defending the current expression of the tradition. Where are they in this story?” Women like me do have much to say on the topic. So while the article did a good job of speaking to many sides of the issue, I felt like, as Mattingly points out, my perspective could help round out their coverage.
Latter-day Saints, both men and women, begin wearing temple garments after participating in a pair of sacred rituals (that we call “ordinances”) in one of our temple buildings—something known as the initiatory and the endowment. These ordinances involve making covenants, or promises, to God, and members of the Church generally complete these ordinances either prior to serving a full-time proselytizing mission or getting sealed (married) in the temple. For those who are not members of the Church, but are more interested in learning about the temple garments or seeing what they look like can view a helpful informational video created by the Church a few years ago.
I was endowed nearly ten years ago, a few weeks before leaving on a mission to Ontario, Canada. I was already familiar with temple garments because my parents wore them, and I understood that part of the covenant, or sacred promise, I made in the temple would be to wear the garment for the rest of my life, except in a few circumstances where it would be unreasonable or inappropriate to do so. I went with my mother to the temple distribution center, where I was able to look at a variety of materials and styles and choose what I thought I would be most comfortable wearing, and a kind attendant measured me and helped me find the sizes I needed. I brought my garments to the temple, and was then authorized to wear them.
In the years since, I have tried many of the styles and fabrics, and I find some to be itchy or uncomfortable, and some to be completely comfortable and very much resembling the feeling of wearing regular, store-bought underwear. All the styles have a 100% cotton bottom panel for breathability and hygiene, as recommended by OBGYNs. Many new style, fabric, and sizing updates have been made available since I’ve been endowed, including new styles for pregnant and nursing mothers. Other specialty styles include thermal garments, garments for people who are bedridden, and garments for military and other service members. Endowed members who have special medical needs, such as those who have had mastectomies or colostomies can special order garments to suit their needs. This is not to say that all special needs are currently being met, but that the Church is actively working to meet as many needs as possible. As the Church continues to receive feedback from members, I expect more updates in material and fit, as well as additional specialty styles, will come.
I have always felt empowered to make personal decisions about when it is appropriate for me to wear or not wear my garments. For women specifically, menstruation, childbirth and postpartum, and health challenges may sometimes necessitate a pause in garment wearing, and it is up to individuals to make those decisions personally and prayerfully. In a church magazine article in 1999, Emeritus General Authority Carlos E. Asay explained,
“There are some who would welcome a detailed dress code answering every conceivable question about the wearing of the temple garment. They would have priesthood leaders legislate lengths, specify conditions of when and how it should and should not be worn, and impose penalties upon those who missed the mark by a fraction of an inch. Most Latter-day Saints, however, rejoice over the moral agency extended them by a loving Father in Heaven. They prize highly the trust placed in them by the Lord and Church leaders—a trust implied in this statement made by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
Wearing temple garments is not burden-free. It seems that God rarely asks easy things of us. Garments put modesty constraints on the clothing I wear. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, where our long summer days regularly reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Finding weather-appropriate, fashionable clothing is not impossible but does require extra effort. And having the extra layer of light clothing underneath can sometimes feel cumbersome. I have also experienced periods of deep challenge to my faith when wearing the garment has been more out of habit and matter of faith than anything else.
So why do I wear the garment? Because I have made a promise to God to do so. Because it reminds me of sacred covenants I made in the temple of God. Because I have felt God’s presence in the temple, and the garment connects me at all times with those cherished moments. Because, when I have had questions about the Church of Jesus Christ or challenges to my faith, I have received both spiritually and intellectually satisfying answers, although not always the answers I am looking for. Because I have seen God at work in this church. Because I have a testimony and love for my Savior Jesus Christ, whose gospel I believe is taught within this church.
And ultimately the garment brings me closer to Jesus Christ. Scripture compares our sinful state to nakedness and being clothed with the healing grace of Christ. When I wear garments, I wear the grace of Christ on me.
I also believe our Savior is aware of the sacrifices we make to keep our covenants. In a revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1833, the Lord Himself said, “Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me.” It is my sincere hope that when I return home to account to the Lord one day, He will accept my small sacrifices and feeble attempts to be a disciple and a covenant keeper.