What would a Mormon White House look like?
If Mitt Romney is elected president, the White House will likely see some new traditions.
November 2nd, 2012
11:00 PM ET

What would a Mormon White House look like?

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Should Mitt Romney win the presidency next Tuesday, it will mark an historic first: a Mormon couple moving into the White House.

What would this mean and look like?

Would there be “dry” state dinners, since faithful Mormons don’t do alcohol? Would Secret Service tag along to sacred ceremonies only open to worthy church members? What book would a President Mitt Romney use to take his oath of office?

We can’t be absolutely sure about all the answers. But if the practices and homes of devout Mormons like the Romneys – not to mention his history as governor of Massachusetts – are any indication, we can begin to paint a picture of what a Romney-inhabited White House might look like.

First things first: About that oath

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe the Bible is the word of God. But they also believe this about the Book of Mormon, which is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

Given the importance of the Book of Mormon, this question seemed worth asking: Any chance Romney would place his hand on a Book of Mormon at his swearing-in ceremony?

“No, no way Romney would do that,” Jana Riess, a religion scholar, co-author of “Mormonism for Dummies,” and blogger for Religion News Service, wrote in an e-mail message. “I’m not aware of any Mormon who has sworn on the Book of Mormon instead of the Bible for national office. (I’m not aware of any local officials who have done this either.)”

Most likely, Romney would go back to the Bible he used in 2003 when he was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts – the same one his father, George Romney, reportedly used when he was sworn in as Michigan’s governor in the 1960s.

Beyond paint and fabric swatches

Having never been invited over for a meal, we can’t pretend to know anything about the Romney aesthetic when it comes to home decoration. But we wondered and asked about specific items that tend to hang in Mormon households.

Randall Balmer, an award-winning historian, author and chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College, speculated that the Romneys – like plenty of Mormons – might display artwork featuring a depiction of Jesus and a photograph of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by members of the church.

Another possibility, said Riess, would be a photo of the Salt Lake Temple where Mitt and Ann Romney were married and “sealed” for eternity in a sacred ceremony in 1969.

Then there’s something commonly known as the “Proclamation on the Family,” which is often framed and displayed in homes – though rarely in upper-class households, said Joanna Brooks, author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith.”

The proclamation features words set forth by LDS Church leadership in 1995, highlighting family and gender responsibilities. Among the points made: Marriage is between a man and woman; the primary responsibility of fathers is to oversee and provide for families; and mothers must first and foremost care for the children.

All of these items could show up in the White House, said Grant Bennett, an old Romney friend who spoke at the Republican National Convention and has known the Romney family since they met through church in 1978.

But he said, “the most quintessential Mormon item would be pictures of their family,” including those of ancestors, because “families are forever” and bound for eternity in the Mormon view.

Ann and Mitt Romney are surrounded by family before the October 22 presidential debate at Lynn University.

Bennett also suggested that a verse or two of Scripture that is particularly meaningful to the Romneys might be framed and on display.

If any of these things would hang in the White House, they would likely appear in the private quarters where first families are free to do what they please.

That doesn’t mean Romney wouldn’t be allowed to honor his faith in some way in the Oval Office, but decorative decisions in public rooms – the spaces visited on tours – are subject to committee discussions and advisers on historic preservation, explained Melissa Naulin, assistant curator in the Curator's Office of the White House Museum.

Can I get a cup of coffee? How about something stronger?

In accordance with a revelation received in 1833 by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, something known as the “Word of Wisdom,” faithful Latter-day Saints abstain from coffee, tea and alcohol.

Does this mean a return to the days of “Lemonade Lucy,” the posthumous nickname given to the wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th U.S. president, who banned alcohol from the White House?

No, said Cabinet members from Romney’s gubernatorial era and a current top aide. They said this health-related observance is not one the Romneys would impose on or expect of others.

“As governor, when Mitt Romney entertained at official functions in the evening, alcohol was served along with soft beverages,” said a senior aide who asked not to be identified in stories about religion.

“There was always a healthy cup of coffee for anyone who wanted it,” said Renee Fry, a former Cabinet member.

“Cabinet dinner gatherings were not dry,” wrote Douglas Foy, who also served in Governor Romney’s Cabinet. “Although the governor and his wife did not partake – which the governor often joked about, since he sponsored the gatherings and paid for the wine!”

Storing – and refraining from – food

The LDS Church advises its members to store enough food to feed a family for a year.

Food storage is viewed as a practical measure, one that can come in handy during, say, a crippling superstorm, massive power outages or unforeseen financial hardships.

The practice is rooted in Mormon history. The church’s early pioneers, on their trek westward to what is now Utah, experienced great suffering and starvation. They also endured their share of persecution and couldn’t rely on the help of others. So having resources squirreled away became a collective comfort.

Any chance that the Romneys would institute White House food storage?

Not because they would need it for themselves or likely anyone else at the White House, but Riess said in these uncertain times, it could be a good lesson in preparedness to showcase to the nation.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see that,” she said.

Mitt Romney gathers donations in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Even if a family storing it doesn’t need the food, by having it available that family is poised to help others. Serving those less fortunate or in crisis is big in the LDS Church, and it is a part of another practice that may find its way into the White House if the Romneys move in.

The first Sunday of every month is Fast Sunday, when committed Mormons who are able forgo food and drink for about 24 hours. Coupled with prayer, it has spiritual meaning. It also serves to instill compassion for those who are in need, and to that end Mormons are encouraged to minimally donate what they would have spent on food to the church’s welfare fund.

Fast Sunday, or calls to fast at other times, can also bind Mormons together when they pray and fast for a common cause.

A Utah woman created buzz earlier this fall when an e-mail she sent out to friends and family, suggesting they fast to help Romney before the debates, began making the rounds in Mormon circles across the country. A new website, romneyfast.org, also the brainchild of private citizens – and not a church-sanctioned effort – asks people to fast and pray for Romney and his wife Ann this Sunday before America goes to the polls.

When he was governor of Massachusetts, and in general, Mitt and Ann Romney observed Fast Sunday and “always contributed very generously to the fast offering fund,” said Bennett, who held church leadership roles with Romney in the Boston area.

What’s more, Bennett said that when Romney served as their congregation's bishop – the equivalent of an unpaid pastor – it wasn’t uncommon for the two friends to fast more than once a month. At the time, Bennett was one of Romney's two counselors, or advisers.

“Occasionally he would invite me and the other counselor to join him in fasting on a weekday for a specific purpose,” Bennett wrote in an e-mail. “For example, one purpose would be to seek inspiration regarding an important decision, another purpose would be to express love, support and solidarity to someone who was ill or going through very difficult times.”

Whether Romney would maintain this observance from the nation’s highest office, we can’t know. But it looks like the White House kitchen staff may be in for a little downtime each month, if they’re lucky.

Honoring the Sabbath, going to church and other Mormon observances

Sunday is a holy day for active LDS Church members. It’s a time when Mormons attend their local congregation - it's known as a ward, which in Catholic-speak would be comparable to a parish - and worship with their families and community.

The ward closest to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and likely the one the Romneys would be assigned to, is the Washington D.C. 3rd Ward, which gathers in what Mormons call a “meetinghouse” or chapel on 16th Street NW. The Washington Post described this ward as consisting of mostly Democrats, half who are nonwhite (including plenty of Spanish speakers), and having openly gay members in its leadership.

Riess said while ward assignments are almost always determined geographically, sometimes there are exceptions. And the truth is there just isn’t any precedent for how this would be handled for a U.S. president.

With or without Romney, D.C. a surprising Mormon stronghold

How much of his Sundays a President Romney could set aside for his faith is obviously uncertain. We already know he’s been hard at work on the campaign trail, Sundays included – though the senior aide we spoke to said he makes efforts to get to church when he can.

One need only look at President Jimmy Carter, who went so far as to teach Sunday school at his local Baptist church, to see how a sitting president can make room for faith, said Balmer of Dartmouth, who counts among his many books “God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush.”

Romney faithfully showed up at church on Sundays while he was governor, unless an official function got in the way, Bennett said. And when Romney ran for U.S. Senate in 1994 against Ted Kennedy, Bennett – then the ward’s bishop – assigned Romney to teach the weekly adult Sunday school class.

“He was in church virtually every Sunday teaching this class throughout the campaign, only occasionally arranging for a substitute teacher,” his friend said.

Beyond church, Riess speculated about other observances Romney would uphold.

Mormons reserve Monday evenings for “family home evening,” a time when families pray, study and sing together.

Someone serving in church leadership, who didn’t want to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, said he doubted the Romneys would observe family home evening since their kids are grown and gone. But Riess suspected that Romney and his wife, especially given the size of their brood – five sons; 18 grandchildren – and the likelihood that family would be passing through, would honor the Monday tradition in some way, even if it was just the two of them.

There’s also a practice in LDS Church wards in which men who hold the priesthood – which means the authority, for example, to perform baptisms and offer sacramental blessings – are partnered up to visit other congregation members, ideally once a month, as home teachers.

The LDS Church does not have paid clergy, and this is one way that volunteer ward pastors, or the bishops, can make sure members get personal attention and lessons as needed.

So could home teachers come knocking on the White House doors?

It’s possible, said Riess, though obviously there’d be background checks and no unannounced knockings.

But a U.S. president couldn’t possibly be expected to regularly home teach others, right?

Probably not. But Romney did step up as governor, Bennett said.

“He both had home teachers, and he was assigned as a home teacher, when he was governor,” Bennett said. “He and Ann would ensure they were available for their home teachers to visit, and he was faithful in doing his home teaching.”

And then there’s the big question: What about the temple?

Many non-Mormons falsely assume the large and often magnificent white LDS temples they see in their cities are where Latter-day Saints go for church. But Mormons gather for Sunday services in meetinghouses or chapels, which are usually plain, unimpressive structures.

The Washington D.C. Temple, not too far from the White House, is considered by Mormons to be a house of the Lord.

The 140 temples currently in operation across the globe are actually closed on Sundays. Mormons view their temples as houses of the Lord, as Riess explained in her book, and they are not places for run-of-the-mill worship. Temples, instead, are reserved for the most sacred rituals – the details of which are not to be discussed outside temple walls.

The temples are so sacred that the doors are not even open for all Mormons; only those deemed sufficiently worthy by local church leadership are granted a “temple recommend” or an entry card.

While sacred ceremonies or “ordinances” for the living – such as weddings, during which couples are “sealed” for eternity – happen inside, there are also rituals performed by living substitutes or proxies for those who have died. These rituals include baptisms, which have been at times a subject of controversy for the LDS Church.

Romney, who long served in church leadership, surely has a temple recommend. But does that mean he’d actually go to the Washington D.C. Temple, which sits about 10 miles north of the White House in Kensington, Maryland?

“If I were him, I’d probably just not go while I was president, if only out of courtesy to other patrons,” said our source in church leadership who didn’t want to be named. “It’s not like it’s some kind of ‘go often or you’ll go to hell’ thing. It’s just a standard part of being a committed Mormon, which you do if you can find the time.”

And a President Romney couldn’t go there, let alone anywhere else, without Secret Service. So if he wanted to go, would he be able to? Even Secret Service agents would be turned away from the temple without the right access card.

Not a problem, speculated Balmer of Dartmouth. He said finding qualified agents, if Romney hasn’t found them already, would be easy.

It’s well-known that the CIA, FBI and, by extension, he said he assumes, the Secret Service recruit at LDS Church-run Brigham Young University. All these agencies, Balmer said, are “looking for people who are good, loyal, patriotic Americans,” and many Latter-day Saints, who believe in the divinity of the U.S. Constitution, fit that bill.

So if it would be important for Romney and the first lady to go to the temple, it should be possible.

And Riess said, given Romney's level of faith and church involvement over the years, she can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to go. Minimally, she pointed out, there’s bound to be a family member’s wedding or “temple sealing” he’d want to attend.

“It would be a logistical problem,” she said. “But I’m pretty sure they’d find a way.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: 2012 Election • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • DC • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (2,237 Responses)
  1. John

    One should take a look at the so called "Prophacies" surrounding this cult... it is written, when a Mormon is elected as president of the United States, the government will fall, the 100,000 will be sent out to kill all those who are against the Church and the end of times come.
    I didn't make this up, it is is their doctrine. Taught to all who belong, and if you are not a member of this church, you will be executed. Check it out.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • End Religion

      It is written that a Hobbit named Bilbo stole treasure from a dragon named Smaug.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      then why isn't that story on every news channel?

      November 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Set it right

      What you said is 100% false. If it is written, tell us where.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  2. Harrison

    Jessica Ravitz, the LDS Spokesperson par excellence! Darling your're going to have to mention the Planets, the Special undies, the Harems, and the fact that the Romney's Great Grandfather fled to Mexico with all of his wives to escape the Polygamy laws in the USA. I wish Mormons would stop pretending to be normal Protestants and share thier loony beliefs with the rest of this country.... BEFORE NOV 6th.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  3. Zak

    These bigoted comments are truly sickening. It's amazing that cnn would publish a story like this right next to a story about how bigoted america still is against blacks. Especially right before election day. Imagine the outrage of a story about how having a black man in the white house could change traditions and if the story was loaded with black stereotypes. I see this as nothing more than a backhanded attempt to remind voters that Romney is different than you.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Alphy K

      Being Black is not a religion.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • MCR

      Race is a fact of birth. Religion is a choice, and therefore a relevant predictor of one's character and decision making capacity.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      You are right, Zak. As Dr. King pointed out it is proper to judge a man not by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character. At his core Romney believes that he is guided by an omnipotent, omniscient being, the existence of which is not supported by evidence of any kind. He is nevertheless easily swayed (guided?) by his Republican handlers to mouth whatever words, lies included, that will gain him the office of President. Does he betray his non-existent God when he obeys these men rather than relying on his faith and steadfastly sticking to what's right? Does he actually have that kind of faith or does he have a sort of pretzel faith that will allow him contort himself in any way necessary to make himself acceptable to as many voters as possible?

      November 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  4. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch


    November 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  5. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    "In Greed We Trust"

    In 1994, Bain invested $27 million as part of a deal with other firms to acquire Dade International, a medical-diagnostics-equipment firm, from its parent company, Baxter International. Bain ultimately made nearly 10 times its money, getting back $230 million. But Dade wound up laying off more than 1,600 people and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, amid crushing debt and rising interest rates. The company, with Bain in charge, had borrowed heavily to do acquisitions, accumulating $1.6 billion in debt by 2000. The company cut benefits for some workers at the acquired firms and laid off others. When it merged with Behring Diagnostics, a German company, Dade shut down three U.S. plants. At the same time, Dade paid out $421 million to Bain Capital’s investors and investing partners.

    For 15 years, Romney had been in the business of creative destruction and wealth creation. But what about his claims of job creation? Though Bain Capital surely helped expand some companies that had created jobs, the layoffs and closures at other firms would lead Romney’s political opponents to say that he had amassed a fortune in part by putting people out of work. The lucrative deals that made Romney wealthy could exact a cost. Maximizing financial return to investors could mean slashing jobs, closing plants, and moving production overseas. It could also mean clashing with union workers, serving on the board of a company that ran afoul of federal laws, and loading up already struggling companies with debt.

    Marc Wolpow, a former Bain partner who worked with Romney on many deals, said the discussion at buyout companies typically does not focus on whether jobs will be created. “It’s the opposite—what jobs we can cut,” Wolpow said. “Because you had to document how you were going to create value. Eliminating redundancy, or the elimination of people, is a very valid way."

    A couple of examples (it's pretty easy to find more):

    Bain closed GST Steel plant in 2001 laying off 750 workers.

    Controlling share owner Bain Capital closes BRP plant (Southern Illinois) so the 340 jobs there could be outsourced to Mexico.

    Also, this is disconcerting:



    November 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Steve

      But he also physically CREATED jobs. Obama has created 0 jobs in his life, except for his whtie house staff. Oh hey how much of our tax dollars went overseas to create jobs? How is that US funded Venuzelan pipleline coming allong? How many US jobs did that create. Pathetic. How many people does Staples alone employ? 52,302 people and is ranked 402 in the Fortune 500. When Bain capital invested and rebuilt Staples the company employed fewer than 200. 200 employees to 52,302. Thats an increase of 2,615%. And thats ONE company. Thanks Mit for the jobs!

      November 3, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  6. Penny Wright

    Mormonism is a weird cult.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Keller

      True, and so is Christianity.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  7. Catfish38208

    This is not journalism, it is paranoid dribble by a liberal who can't defend their political view ethical reporting standards, so the writer foams at the mouth in frustration. CNN should save itself a bundle in salaries – hire Journalism 101 students and watch your ratings crawl out of the toilet!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Keller

      Umm, re ratings, you're here reading, stupid.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |

      Two hindu's, denier of truth absolute God, pointing fingers on each other, but both of them follower of hindu Judaism, filthy secularism in reality.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • MCR

      I've got to agree with Keller, you read the article, and commented on it which pulls a refresh...two hits for the advertisers. Sounds like CNN knows exactly what they're doing.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      You idiot did you even read it?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Go post on fox then. Oh wait fox doesn't allow posts. I guess they don't want people to see how stupid their readers are.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • MCR

      @dog paw, I've always assumed that's why Fox doesn't allow comments. Not a bad strategy actually; comments rarely make a news site or the country within which it resides look too bright. Still, its a fun way to kill an afternoon when you're stuck for entertainment.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  8. DD

    LOL. The movie is already being scripted.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Romney is misguided or lost. The White House is not for him. He should know that Paradise waits for him in Jackson County Missouri.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  10. Shaun

    Q: What would a Mormon White House look like?
    A: Deserted on a Sunday.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm |

    Christianity = hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism
    Mormon ism = hindu Moran ism, pig ism, secular ism.
    Both innovation of hindu Pharisees, criminal pigs, follower of hinduism racism of Egypt.
    Visit limitisthetruth.com to learn hinduism, illegality of hindu Pharisees, secular s, criminal deniers of truth absolute GOD, and their hindu gentile, pagan slave Christians.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  12. Thomas The American

    So I guess you dont like Harry Ried either? STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  13. Mormons are Christians?

    No doubt the white house would be rebuilt into a temple.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |

      Converted to hindu Temple, filthy dungeon of illegality.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  14. jnpa

    It really doesn't matter because the Romney's won't be moving into the WH even if he wins. Ann doesn't want to downsize!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  15. Mormons are NOT Christians

    To my fellow Christians, DO NOT fall for it. Mormons are NOT Christians.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • snowboarder

      this election is not about religion.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Tell the evangelical nuts that.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  16. A Mormon White House would be tacky and ugly

    Just like the rest of their buildings.
    Because they have no sense of what looks good versus what looks plastic, anti-life, and tasteless.
    Their churches look like they're from a She-Ra and He-Man cartoon.
    And their laughably sh!tty holy book is cartoonish also. But unbearably boring and poorly-written.
    Mormons, your religion is a stupid, boring, cartoonish lie.
    Just like your lives.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Viper

      What else could you expect with 10 First Ladies?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm |

      Life style of a hindu filthy Maharaja of hindered gutter of hinduism, illegality called india.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  17. Erik

    He is not going to win so this story is a waste of time!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Steve

      Did you get that many illegals to vote?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  18. Erik

    Lord help us all of this cult member becomes President!!!!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  19. Mormons are Christians?

    Hear are the facts:

    Mormons believe that God created multiple worlds and each world has people living on it. They also believe that multiple Gods exist but each has their own universe. We are only subject to our God and if we obtain the highest level of heaven we can become gods ourselves.

    In LDS theology you can be forgiven for any sin, save two. First, denying the Holy Spirit, and second, murder. Also, God is infinitely forgiving, until the second coming. After that, you end up where you end up, no matter what. There are no second chances. Period.

    In LDS doctrine there are three heavens: the Celestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, and Telestial Kingdom. The Celestial is the highest, where God and the ones who followed his law reside. The Terrestrial is the middle, where people who followed the Law of Moses reside. The Telestial is the lowest, where the ones who followed carnal law reside.

    While most religions believe in God, the LDS religion believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate beings. They also believe that God, Jesus and resurrected beings have bodies of “flesh and bone.”

    The Book of Mormon is a book of LDS scripture that takes place during the same time as the Bible and takes place on the American continent. It follows the stories of two tribes who descended from the family of Lehi. After Jesus’ resurrection LDS people believe he visited the peoples of the Americas.

    This one is very unique to the LDS faith. Basically, everyone on earth now was a spirit in the pre-existence. When we die, our spirits are separated from our bodies and if we were good they go to “spirit paradise.” If we were bad they go to “spirit prison.” The spirit world exists as a place for spirits to go while awaiting the second coming.

    All of these beliefs are in total contradiction to the bible.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Truth to tell

      AND a woman cannot achieve the highest degree of the celestial kingdom unless she is married to a man who holdse priesthood. The don't believe in hell per se, but outer darkness-the farthest afterlife from the presence of God. A man can
      be "sealed" for time and all eternity to more than one woman, but a woman can only be "sealed" to one man.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Keller

      Hey, I heard in another religion that they believe in virgin birth, talking snakes, and a whole lot of other bizarre sh!t. Too funny.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Meestor Yay

      Yep. And don't forget the belief that black people don't have a complete soul.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  20. Really?

    Seriously. Someone took time to write this? I don't even know what to call it....a story. It's not that. Wait...I know...stirring the pot. What a colossal waste of time. Speculation at worst, trivial at best.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.