Mormons have long been hesitant to discuss the subject of temple garments in casual conversation, because such garments serve as reminders of sacred covenants that aren’t to be taken lightly.
That’s why I bristle every time someone dismisses them as “magic underwear,” or worse. I don’t think such comments are always intended to be cruel, but they demonstrate a lack of sensitivity with regard to a religious practice that requires a great deal of context to be properly understood.
A few decades ago, I felt that such context was unlikely to be found in the loosey-goosey atmosphere that often prevailed in dressing rooms when I was a theater student at the University of Southern California. So when it came to changing into costume, I initially tried to find ways to do it out of public view. This was easy in the Bing Theatre, USC’s largest proscenium, because I could change in a bathroom stall without calling any attention to myself. But in the smaller theaters, the bathrooms were too tiny, so I ended up trying to put on my costumes in the dark corners of crowded spaces, which was very much a hit-or-miss proposition.
So I eventually gave up.
After a few semesters of this pointless hide-and-seek, I got dressed right alongside everyone else and braced myself for a wave of ridicule that never came. Oh, sure, there were a few questions here and there, but they were never unkind. If there were rude or nasty comments, I never heard them.
All this is prelude to the news, reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, of an upcoming ABC-TV drama showing a Mormon character wearing nothing but his temple garments.
“Quantico,” which premieres on Sept. 27, follows the lives of several FBI recruits in training. At one point when they are disrobing, a Mormon recruit gets asked if he is wearing “pajamas under (his) clothes.” This raises more questions, and the Mormon explains that Latter-day Saints are appealing to the FBI because they “respect authority, don’t drink or take drugs, spend time in foreign countries, and they speak several languages,” according to the Tribune. And that’s pretty much it.
If that’s all that happens, I don’t really see this as much of a problem. Certainly it could be a whole lot worse.
In discussing this with a friend, he pointed out that ABC would never feature a scene where someone was wearing, say, a T-shirt with a Mohammad cartoon. That’s true, but I think it’s because writers fear backlash, not because they intrinsically respect Islam more than Mormonism. In addition, it doesn’t sound like the point of the scene is to make fun of Mormons or temple garments, but rather to depict a moment that has surely had several real-life antecedents with LDS FBI recruits, and one that is not that different from my own experience.
As for those who insist that it is never appropriate to show temple garments in any context, they need to take issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially released an explanatory video and pictures of temple garments earlier this year.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is still an insensitive thing for “Quantico” to do, and I’m troubled by reports that suggest that, over the course of the series, the Mormon character doesn’t live up to the standards of his faith. There’s also still a question as to whether or not that particular scene will make it to air. But what I find encouraging is the fact that there’s a Mormon character at all. Television now seems to be willing to depict a Latter-day Saint as a three-dimensional human being rather than as a stereotype used to openly mock religion.
As Mormons become more prominent, we should expect pop culture to take notice and also anticipate that there will be a few bumps in the road along the way. That shouldn’t be a reason to go back to dressing in the dark.