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. grama

    Interesting, but your "spin" doesn't change my vote. A lot of other misguided folks believe Obama's Muslim roots affect his Presidency. btw, many Mormons wont vote for Romney because some of them believe the world will end when and if a Mormon becomes President.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  2. llatpoh

    Once again C N N reaches new all time lows – – this article is BEYOND pathetic...
    I can only surmise that you (CNN) are worried that Obama will be defeated, since you have made it clear over the past 12 months that your mission is to help him get re-elected...

    The good news is the American people are smarter than you think – and we are NOT buying what you (or Obama) are selling...

    November 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  3. CSX

    Jesus cared not for Caeser. His mission was spiritual. God placed a lost man who profersses Christianity and loves communism and Islam, yet may be replaced by a Mormon. A cult. How low can we go? We are being punished and do not know it. but I hope we can reverse the debt and economy.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  4. Mosethejew

    TELL ME AGAIN HOW THIS RELIGION ISN't A CULT!! After his Sunday fast and with low blood sugar levels MITT accidently pushes the wrong button and launches a nuclear missile at Russia. Oops!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • loverpoint

      Quit the speculation, Romney won't win.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  5. Amhlair

    While there is no religious test for the US presidency, and rightly so, Mitt Romney is a member and leader of a cult that believes this: "What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing...Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest fools; they know neither God nor the things of God." This from their third 'prophet' John Taylor. He also said, "What! Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast."

    Why a Christian would want a president who believes this about us baffles me.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • LinSea

      Those quotes may have reflected Taylor's personal opinion 140 years ago, but they are not the doctrine of the Church.

      November 4, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  6. MRC

    I find it interesting that we didn't see any similar articles regarding Harry Reid. Obviously the Presidency is exponentially more visible than Speaker of the House. However, I think this discrepancy demonstrates something of a double standard in the media. Harry Reid is a Mormon but he is a Democrat, so the media doesn't even address his religion. Mitt Romney is a Mormon but he is a Republican and conservative. As a result, the media spends an inordinate amount of time addressing how his religion might affect his policies. The medias prejudices are glaringly obvious and disappointing.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • grama

      Exactly! Well said.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  7. Charly StJames

    If you are a true Christian then you should take into consideration these passages from The Bible before voting for the Mormon Rommey: Galatians 1-8: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!". The book of Mormon is NOT Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Another truth Joseph Smith was never the greatest prophet from God like Mormons believe. Luke 7 28-35: "For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is."

    November 3, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

      Well ain't that some tin !?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Amhlair

      Mitt Romney is a member and leader of a cult that believes: "After the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints was organized, there were only two churches upon the earth. They were known respectively as the Church of the Lamb of God and Babylon. The various organizations which are called churches throughout Christiandom, though differing in their creeds and organizations, have one common origin. They belong to Babylon." Ah yes, LDS ‘apostle’ George Q. Cannon.

      President Romney, Christians?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  8. 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.


    November 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Iqbal Khan


    November 3, 2012 at 10:52 pm |

      Dr Dirks, hindu santan, corruption of Christianity, denier of truth absolute, goon.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  10. Iqbal Khan


    November 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  11. justthefacts

    Really CNN? THIS is what you report on? How about our President leaving our Ambassador in Benghazi and then covering it up and to this day not giving us the truth about what happened?

    November 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Sarah

      Perhaps they would report that if it were true, but since it isn't they don't. Keep in mind, just because Fox news says it happened, does not mean it did. In fact, you would be safer to bet that it didn't.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • josh

      CNN is a total joke. This is borderline insane>

      November 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • merideth

      Sarah, so just because CNN does/doesn't report it proves it as fact?? Ignorant american....wow.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • FYI


      There is an article running now on the front page:

      "http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/02/in-fiery-speech-giuliani-calls-on-obama-to-resign-faults-him-for-libya/?hpt=hp_t3" and there have been other ones lately discussing your allegation.

      Live it up!

      p.s. you are on the Belief Blog section here - so you will get more religion-oriented topics.... duh!

      November 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Sarah

      @merideth – had msnbc reported, it would be false. Fortunately, we do have CNN, one of the least biased news agencies. Just because the news can hurt, doesn't mean it shouldn't be news.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Amhlair

      Really, justthefacts? A competely phony, convenient 'scandal' that no one will remember in another week versus the WH occupied by an anti-Christian cultist?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  12. justthefacts

    Really CNN? THIS

    November 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Amhlair

      Really, justthefacts? A competely phony, convenient 'scandal' that no one will remember in another week versus the WH occupied by an anti-Christian cultist?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  13. merideth

    Wonder why CNN didn't do an article on a 'muslim whitehouse' 4 years ago? Biass a little?

    November 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Because, dipsh!t, it's about what the candidate/president claims to believe. Romney says he's a mormon, moron, when somebody running for election says they're a muslim, trust me, the news be all over it. Are you really this fvcking stupid?

      November 3, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Biass" is what your moniker should be. Only you should spell it "By Ass".

      November 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  14. ashlynn

    Lets see: Mormanism= Some say Cult, Big on Family, Healthy Lifestyle vs. MUSLIMS= Goal is CONVERT or BEHEAD infidels, Shria law, NO rights for women. I'll vote Romney!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • NyNick

      i agree.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Mohammad eats Bacon

      i'll take a mormon over a muslim any day Romney !!!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  15. NyNick

    Mormons are in error. The Bible is the infallible word of God and they are condemned for not believing that Jesus Is the Lord God. But better Romney than Obama. Obama is a hypocrite.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Amhlair

      Mitt Romney is a member and leader of a cult that believes: "The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church, is the great corrupt, ecclesiastical power, represented by great Babylon..." This from Mormon ‘apostle’ Orson Hyde. He also said, "And any person who shall be so wicked as to receive a holy ordinance of the gospel from the ministers of any of these apostate churches will be sent down to hell with them, unless they repent of the unholy and impious act."

      President Romney, Christians?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • Mosesthejew


      November 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • LinSea

      NyNick, I am a Mormon. The most important belief I have is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and that it is only through Him that salvation is possible.

      November 4, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  16. as

    As a non Mormon, living in UTAH!for 30 years,i would,t vote for romney if he wasrunning for dogcatcher .never trust a Mormon.they will take care of themselves and let everyone else fail. Pray that romney loses.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • Alan

      Hide yo kids n hide yo wife!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  17. Mohammad eats Bacon

    obamas preacher http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USPh1cc4y-s&feature=fvst (facepalm)

    November 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  18. Shane

    Shame on you for writing this and CNN for allowing this crap! This would be the same as stereotyping Obama's black half and wonder whether they'll serve fried chicken, watermelon, and 40's for State dinners. Talk about a double standard of being able to stereo type someone's race and religion as long as they aren't anything other than a white male. We as a society has allowed this type of double-standards to not only prosper, but we encourage it when society, of all races, stand up to stop this senseless racist discrimination of any kind.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Cherry

      No, and that's a simpleton's argument. Race is a thing we are born with, faith is a matter of belief and choice. For example, black people don't as a whole believe that Native American's are cursed Jewish people. Mormons have it in their scripture.

      Race isn't religion.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • merideth


      November 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • llatpoh

      Shane – you hit the nail on the head. But Obamaphilic C N N cannot help themselves – they have dedicated themselves to propping up a president that has been a total failure... and that was before Benghazi-gate!

      November 3, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • LinSea

      Excellent point!

      November 4, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  19. Liebster Welpe

    The White House will forever remain christian

    November 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Answer

      You dream, and you wish...but change will happen.

      Forever is an illusion and so are your futile words.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • MCR

      lol, Jefferson wasn't a Christian by most definitions...I think that kkep-it-christian fantasy is long gone.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  20. nodat1

    where is Dorthy??????

    November 3, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
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About this blog

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.