This post is inspired to some extent by a conversation I had a little while ago with a friend. It is a discussion on problems with the temple garment–from a purely practical standpoint, and changes this particular group of people suggest the church should make to the temple garment. I found the discussion open, refreshing, and interesting! I think it is respectful of the church, but if you feel it is inappropriate to discuss the garment at any length, feel free to skip this one!
For many believing Mormons, the garment poses some interesting problems. For these members, they desire to wear the garment as a way of remembering the covenants they made in the temple, but they struggle with various problems as a result of the counsel, given during temple recommend interviews, to only take the garment off for sex, swimming, or showering, and then put it back on right away. These problems range from medical problems like recurring yeast infections in women and infections from poor quality fabric in humid climates, to recurring self-destructive behavior for individuals who struggle with self-image problems, and more. These websites talk about the reported problems, and also about current and future possible solutions to these problems. There were some interesting things that stood out to me. I had no idea that soldiers, according to this article, both male and female, are allowed to purchase their own “garments” from a store, and then have the sacred symbols put into them later in such a way that they were not visible to others, in order that soldiers may wear the garments in extreme heat in places like Iraq. This sounds like a great solution that could be extended possibly to other situations! There is lots of great discussion on this topic, so check out the articles if it sounds interesting to you.
This is the most interesting part of the conversation for me,
“Here is exactly what they [individuals seeking a temple recommend] are asked:
- Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple?
- Do you wear the garment both night and day as instructed in the endowment and in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple?
“During the temple endowment members are instructed to wear the garment ‘throughout your life.’ There are absolutely no covenants made regarding the garment and there is nothing said in the temple about wearing the garment both day and night…
“Now, after those questions have been asked and answered, the interviewer then reads out loud this part of the Church handbook:
“…that passage is so specific that there is hardly room for personal choice, agency, or interpretation, which sort of contradicts the concluding sentence: ‘Members who have made covenants in the temple should be guided by the Holy Spirit to answer for themselves personal questions about wearing the garment.’ Mixed messages or what?”
The reason that I found that part of the “What Kind of Underwear Are You Wearing” article interesting is because I had had questions about this myself (not about what underwear you are wearing, but about the statement the bishop reads ;)). The only time I could remember any really specific instruction on the wearing of the garment was some brief advice I was given by a temple patron when I was endowed. I had listened before and had never heard the instruction to wear the garment “both night and day” during the endowment.
So why is this even remotely interesting to me? Well, for one, I just find Mormon culture interesting now. But the main reason is because of a conversation my bishop and I had at my most recent temple recommend interview. I think this conversation is good to talk about because maybe some of you out there are struggling with similar issues (or different issues also surrounding the wearing of the garment). First, I want to say that I really enjoy my current bishop. He seems pretty open minded and caring. At my interview we went through each of the questions carefully, as I had requested, since I was struggling with so many things in the church. Everything went pretty smoothly through the questions I thought I was really going to struggle with, but then he read the statement about wearing the garment that is quoted above. I paused and looked at the floor. I wanted to be completely honest, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to have this conversation with my bishop. Eventually I just went ahead and tried to carefully explain how I had and had not been wearing the garment according to that statement. Let me explain what I explained to him.
When Ricardo and I were both believing members, we wore the garment happily. Ricardo put aside his dreams of seeing his wife wear beautiful clothes that were common in his culture, but that simply didn’t fit the standards of the church. I don’t think either of us found the garment particularly sexy, but the meaning behind it was important and we embraced this practice together as husband and wife. It was certainly more bonding and sacred than it was annoying (annoying because you couldn’t wear certain fashions and you were asked to wear it nearly all the time).
Fast forward a few years to Ricardo leaving the church. Lots of things changed and Ricardo’s feelings about the garment were certainly one of them. He obviously was no longer wearing the garment himself, but I was. That doesn’t sound like a big deal (and it wasn’t a huge deal I guess), but imagine it this way. Think of something or someone who you felt truly, deeply betrayed you. Then pretend your spouse is wearing a reminder of that every moment of every day, including in your bedroom. It’d be sort of like having your ex’s name or picture tattooed on your spouse. Not to get too descriptive but every time your spouses clothes start coming off–whatever the occasion–you have a reminder of pain and betrayal. Not exactly the best scenario for him. This has obviously been harder on him than on me. However, I know he feels this way. So the result is that I feel self-conscious and significantly less attractive to him. And, even now, the emotional reaction to my garments is not as strong for him, but sometimes it is still a difficult thing for him. And on top of that, garments are not sexy, so without the additional meaning that used to be there for him, I know it just looks to him like I’m wearing underwear that was handed down to me by my great-grandma. Mentally being aware of that, makes me feel less attractive to him on a regular basis. Ricardo is respectful, and when I worry about it, he always just tells me that he cares way more about my personal happiness than he does about his preferences. That means a lot!
Back to my conversation with my bishop…well I told him that, considering my circumstances, I sometimes found that it was better for both of us if I didn’t wear my garments when I knew my husband would be home all day. It eliminated the insecurities I felt and helped me feel more attractive to my spouse and helped him feel more attracted to me. This equated to more unity between us because it removed a barrier that divided us. The vast majority of the time I wore them.
Given the statement bishops are asked to read, he just didn’t feel comfortable with my answer. He said he felt I needed to either wear the garment as described in the interview or wait until a time when I could wear it that way to renew my recommend. I talked to Ricardo about it and he was fine with going back to me wearing it all the time.
This has been fine, not great, but fine. However, I would love to feel like I could make this decision on my own. I still feel like I would be wearing the garment throughout my life, but I could make personal decisions about situations where it just wasn’t going to work to wear them. I really wish the only thing in the temple recommend interview was a question like, “do you follow your covenants made in the temple, and do you wear the garment as instructed.” I think that leaves it up to you and God, rather than your bishop or someone else, to determine what that means. And if that was the question, I think I could happily answer, “yes,” and also be able to do what works best for my family.
I hope this discussion was viewed as respectful. It is merely one opinion on the subject. If I did not illustrate this adequately, while Ricardo does not like the garment, he is very respectful of my desire to wear it. He is a respectful person towards me, even if he very much dislikes my religion.