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. Say it As You See It

    Some really great quotes (ok, they are right up there with George W. Bush) just in case you forgot how BAD Romney really is:


    November 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. reita Martin

    Come on now... you alll talkin about Mormonisim... when apparently you have no idea what it means. First, Jospeh Smith a man who felt christianity was not good enough took the bible and started this occult.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  3. Jeanifriend

    What will a mormon White House look like? It will look like Communist China.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • Super Steve

      If Obama remains in office, we'll be owned by China.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • alsofromEU

      @super...when people like you make comments like that, why don't you offer any evidence of it? You're ignorant, that's why. Tell us where you found evidence that Obama would give us to China?
      If you can't say anything intelligent, then sit back and take a look at yourself. Are you adding ANYTHING good to the world or are you just being a mindless propagandist?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  4. SEO

    Someone essentially lend a hand to make significantly articles I'd state. That is the first time I frequented your website page and to this point? I amazed with the research you made to make this actual submit extraordinary. Great activity!

    November 6, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Pernie

      You people have no idea what you are talking about. How many men do you think have served as guards for our leaders of this country? Where does the freedom of religion come in? I think you are running out of things to say about Mitt Romney when in this country you crittise his religion. He is head and shoulders above what we have endured the past four years.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Jeanifriend

      No Perni, Romney is NOT head and shoulders above PRESIDENT Obama. Romney is a liar. His record proves it. He has no morals. He sends jobs overseas and he fired people left and right with his companies. Remember what he said about 47% of the country? Is that compassion? No, those are the words of a cruel CROOK.
      It does matter that Romney is a mormon, because that cult taught him everything he knows. They teach people to be paranoid, mean and superior to everyone else.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  5. phil

    I play golf with a guy who is a less than devout Mormon. When it became apparent that Romney was going to win the GOP nomination, he told us it wouldn't be good for the church. Why, we asked? He said if you pulled back the curtain on the church and it's beliefs, Americans would freak out. He was right. I used to think Mormons had a few quirky beliefs, but were basically Christians. My friend was right. With the Romney run, I looked into the Mormon church. They are clearly a cult. I think you will start to see the decline of the church. How did they fly under the radar this long?

    November 6, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Kev

      So where did you look?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  6. EBB

    OG, Missionaries teach English lessons all over the world. I've been to one of them. The actually teach English in the lessons. They also offer an uplifting message about Jesus Christ and our savior and if the people aren't interested in the gospel the English lessons still go on. So no bait and switch. Just bait. Not con artists. We see it as a service to teach people English.

    gfg, I know the Mormon doctrines. I taught them and I'm hear to tell you that many people who know what we believe who aren't Mormon think they are good doctrines. You believe how you want and we will do the same. If we knock on your door just say no and we will move on. Please don't preach hate.

    November 6, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • pastmorm

      Please EBB, when you go door to door, why don't you tell people right out that they can become Gods and Goddesses instead of keeping that secret for the temple? I mean, that's a great selling point for all the crazies out there.
      How about that God isn't Alpha and Omega...he was a HUMAN MAN on some other planet before he was good enough to become a god of this planet? You know it's true, you can't deny it, yet you never bring it up in the discussions.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  7. Jenny

    The truth is many Mormons are nice, tame, kind etc. but their theology is alla bout the development of a theocratic state, which they believe it is their solemn duty to build. Romney is a serious Mormon and as such, he feels that by becoming President, he will be fulfilling an important role in the development of the theocracy that exists in Utah across the entire country. Chew on that!

    November 6, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Kev

      So where is it taught in LDS doctrine that the goal is to make the United States a theocracy?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • alsofromEU

      In the closing peroration of his platform (running for President of the USA), Joseph Smith offered himself to be the priest of the people, as well as the president. “I would, as the universal friend of man, open the prisons, open the eyes, open the ears, and open the hearts of all people to behold and enjoy freedom, unadulterated freedom; and God, who once cleansed the violence of the earth with flood, whose Son laid down his life for the salvation of all his father gave him out of the world, and who has promised that he will come and purify the world again with fire in the last days, should be supplicated by me for the good of all the people.” He would be the intercessor as priest as well as prophet.

      Of course, that is point at which moderns part company with Joseph Smith. We don’t want a prophet with his authoritative words from God governing the nation. That seems to lead to the exclusion of unbelievers and the repression of naysayers. All the alarm bells go off when we see these roles merging.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Super Steve

      A theocracy in Utah? Where did you get that crazy idea?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      White Horse Prophecy.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  8. Ben

    Shocker...CNN pulling out the anti Mormon bigotry when Obama is losing.

    I would never be a Mormon. If I am honest, I think the ideas are a little out there. With that said, I have never met a Mormon who was not a fantastic person and who I would not trust enough to leave $1000.00 on a table in front of them and leave the room.

    Obama...not so much...

    November 6, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • Nathan

      What exactly in the article was bigoted?

      November 6, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • pastmorm

      Wow ben, that sure is a HUGE claim you're making...you'd leave 100K on the table around EVERY mormon but you don't trust Obama to do the same? LOL! That's just a little bit of crazy talk there..to imagine that EVERY mormon is so honest.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  9. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • Grow Up Alex

      Yes...because the government has secretly rigged the election and you know who they tell the news to first? Overseas bookies in Ireland so that they can go ahead and pay out early...

      How anyone listens to the hyperbolic windbag is beyond me.

      November 6, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  10. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  11. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 4:05 am |
  12. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  13. WillieLove


    November 6, 2012 at 3:59 am |
  14. appliance

    Thanks for any other fantastic article. Where else could anybody get that type of information in such a perfect means of writing? I've a presentation next week, and I'm at the search for such information.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  15. Baptist Minister

    What would a Mormon White House look like?? An abomination!!

    American Christians must not allow a leader of an anti-Christian and, historically, an anti-American cult!
    A cult that was crafted by a convicted con man who's "revelations" were provided by demons..
    A cult that was crafted in such a way as to enable and glorify bigamists and pedophiles..
    A cult that was crafted to oppose Christianity and the laws of the United States..
    And, ultimately, a cult that was crafted with the prime intention of leading as many away from Christ and into eternal damnation as possible!!

    What would a Mormon White House look like?? The spiritual death of America.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Super Steve

      No surprise that a baptist minister would presume to pass unqualified judgement on others' beliefs.....

      November 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  16. donner

    Do a Google search on "20 Truths about Mormonism" You will not vote for Romney. In fact, you will want to invade Utah.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  17. Susan C.

    This article is very well written; however, I question why the author would think that the Proclamation on the Family, that defines, encourages, and emphasizes families, would be "rarely displayed in upper-class homes." It is the choice of each family whether to display this proclamation, but the odds of seeing it in a wealthier home is just as probable as in a home of lower income. Also, I need to correct the assumption that LDS congregations near the White House are headed by open gays. That is simply not true, not in DC or anywhere else in the world.

    November 6, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  18. Darin

    Given the increasing number of recent moral lapses by the secret service, navy, let alone many of our elected representatives, I submit it would be a nice change to have someone in the White House who doesn't swear, drink alchoholic beverages, smoke, or womanize to set a better example for our children and our nation.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      Yeah, you had Bush... Remember him? The crimes carried out in Ja.pan, and Iraq by servicemen peaked under his great leadership. Have you also forgotten about unlawful renditions, unending detention without charges, and torture? Have you forgotten about Abu Ghraib?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  19. Sherri

    And what about the sacred undergarments they wear?Does Romney do that? I've never heard.
    My hope is that we never see a Mormon in the White House. Ever. If you don't think that person would try to impose their religion on others, you are simply naive. They do it in Utah and they'd do it in D.C.
    And women- you can kiss your rights goodbye if he wins.

    November 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Susan C.

      Sherri, I can tell you with certainty that Governor Romney does indeed wear the "temple garment," as do all LDS members who are temple attenders. The garment is symbolic of individual covenants made with God inside the temple, and involve promises to live one's life as close as possible to the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is similar in sacredness to a wedding ring being a symbol of covenants between a husband and wife. Not to cause confusion...Mormons do not consider themselves "married" to God; it's just a comparison. But it is a daily reminder, as a wedding ring is, of promise and commitment. In the 60's, some expressed concern that JFKennedy might "impose" his Catholic religion on the nation, but it didn't happen. And neither will it with Romney, should he earn the presidency. Mormons are an example of their church, because they live its teachings on a daily basis; it is not just a Sunday religion. In that sense, their commitment might be visible. However, one of the fundamental teachings of the LDS Church is the idea of Choice, that each person has the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own conscious. No one should feel that any religion is "imposed" upon them. Mormons do send missionaries into many countries in the world–upward of 55,000 at any given time–but it is to teach and inform, never to impose. I know this by experience, because I served as such a missionary to Portugal in the 1980s. As for the possibility of a Mormon president–many would rather see a "god-fearing" man leading our country, with a history of respect and patriotism. Hope that answers your questions! Would be happy to answer more, if you have any.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Re: teaching and informing, in Japan, they do that by offering English lessons that become indoctrination sessions. The good old "bait and switch" tactics used by con-men, including the founder of the mormon cult.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Super Steve

      Have you even been to Utah?

      November 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  20. LK

    Uhm the leadership of a ward is not allowed to be gay. Just saying.

    By the way why does Romney's religion matter?

    November 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • gfg

      His religion does matter. Look at mormon doctrine ~ it is terrifying. If he has these beliefs it disqualify's him from holding any public office on Earth. He can be president on Kolob.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Nathan

      @gfg: What beliefs, *specifically* would "disqualify him from holding any public office on Earth?" Or are you another hyperbolic, soundbyte voter who fears anything you don't understand or agree with and who thinks everyone different from you is out to conduct conspiracies and secret agendas?

      November 6, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Super Steve

      @ gfg, have you actually looked at Mormon doctrine, or is that fear planted in you by someone with vested interests?

      The missionaries ask people to consider what they teach, then ask God to verify the validity of it. You want evidence? Read the Book of Mormon, then ask God directly yourself.

      November 6, 2012 at 12:31 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.