Lee Davidson of the Salt Lake Tribune wrote a news article detailing past church member candidates for President of the United States, or "POTUS" for short: interesting history and well worth the read.
It's fun using the term POTUS because in the Mormon church we sometimes refer to the Prophet as the "President," since he is the President of the church and head of the "First Presidency." It also sounds pretty cool when you say, "POTUS." Go ahead and try it 5 times fast and tell me it doesn't sound cool?
A couple days ago my wife and I were toying with a another topic: how would the life of an active member of the church change, in regards to the church-related aspects of their life, if they were elected President of the United States? Even if Romney misses his opportunity to be POTUS the odds of another member of the church running for the office again are quite high given the number of church members in Congress and politics in general.
The culture of the church is quite different than most other Christian religions in that the church has many cultural aspects that integrate with doctrinal principles. Living our religion is more than just going to church on Sunday. Many aspects of regular worship, doctrinal adherence, and sociality would be adversely affected by the rigorous schedule, daunting logistics, and intense security associated with the office of the President. Here is my take on some of those issues and impacts.
Instead of explaining each aspect in depth I only address the issues and impacts. Follow the linked title of each section to read more about the details of this part of our faith at Mormon.org.
- Assigned Ward: The assigned ward for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is the Washington DC 3rd Ward, Washington, DC Stake (according to LDS.org). Would their membership records remain in their pre-election home ward, go to this new ward in Washington, or some other ward? Since their residence will be the White House I assume it would be the Washington D.C. 3rd Ward. Although some people prefer to keep their membership records at their "home ward" when they travel abroad or move for short-term missions (1-2 years), the term of the presidency (4-8 years) would most likely necessitate them moving their records to their new home.
- Actually getting there: Weekly attendance at church services for the first family could be weekly but POTUS may only be able to attend up to a couple of times per month due to scheduling. Visiting other wards/branches is another option given the schedule and travel concerns but site security becomes an issue.
- Site security and screening: The entire church building would have be cleared in advance of the presidential visit (think bomb-sniffing dogs), along with screening of everyone entering the church. Does this create too much hassle/disruption to the rest of the ward to allow POTUS regular sacrament meeting attendance? It did for President Reagan. Imagine everyone, including 80-year-old widows and little 2-year-old boys/girls getting a pat-down every time they came to church.
- Sacrament at the White House: Assuming that attending a regular family ward every week is not possible or practical, it would be MUCH easier to bring the sacrament to the White House every week. You simply screen a group of Aaronic Priesthood brethren, along with their parents, and choose a few of them to visit the White House each week on a rotating schedule.
- Sacramental bread/water: the sacramental bread/water would have to be screened before consumption just like any other food served to the POTUS.
- What about Camp David? Camp David has a chapel which has been used by past presidents and could be used for sacrament services. Pres. George W. Bush used it frequently for church services. The only snag is getting other people there to join in the service. Which Bishopric would you invite to preside, the Washington D.C. 3rd Ward or the Frederick 1st Ward, Frederick Maryland Stake, where Camp David is located? The Church usually defers to local (i.e. geographic) authorities to be the presiding authorities at meetings. If this becomes the church location of choice local authorities may ask that the membership records be moved to the Frederick 1st Ward.
- I would assume that all callings for POTUS would be off the table. Their entire time in office would be more than filled with the requirements of office.
- First family: First Lady most likely will not have any callings but older children may be able to serve (i.e. Aaronic Priesthood quorum or YW presidency). Imagine a family in the same age ranges as the Kennedys or Obamas? How would their kids participate in primary and youth activities?
- Can POTUS be a Home Teacher? The short answer: no. There is simply not enough time available for this calling. It would be cool if he tried but I think his schedule would be too full to get in even a few visits every year. And the site security question always comes up if POTUS is going to a private home so he would probably have to perform these visits in the White House.
- Can the First Lady be a VT? She might be able to fill this calling but it is very schedule dependent. Security is also an issue but not to the same degree as the POTUS.
- Receiving visits from Home or Visiting Teachers: very schedule dependent but also very doable. HT/VT persons would be required to go through all security protocols for visiting the White House. Can you imagine going to the White House every month to present a message and ask, “Is there anything we or the Ward can do to better meet your spiritual needs?” or “Have you been holding FHE?” "How's your food storage?" "When was the last time you invited someone to attend church with you?" The comedic possibilities are endless.
- Presidential records: Would these HT/VT visits be considered “public record” of the Office of the President and need to be recorded? Not sure how that plays out. I would hope that personal activities such as this would not need to be public record.
- Scheduling: Good luck getting the entire first family in the White House one day a week, let alone the same day every week.
- Security: no real issue here since only the first family would be invited.
- Personal Scripture Study: Scheduling is the only issue. Past presidents have done regular scripture study, George W. Bush most recently (not sure on Obama).
- Family Scripture Study: Once again scheduling is the only real issue. Regular family scripture study will be a problem.
- POTUS alone in a room with a Bishop or Stake Pres. (confidentiality of recommend interviews): Not impossible but the Bishop and Stake Pres. would be required to go through all security protocols to see the POTUS. This may be a problem if the Bishop or Stake Pres. cannot pass the background check: counselors that can pass the background check could substitute.
- Location: Similar to church visits. May be easier to just do it at the White House or Camp David.
- Support Staff: Would require all Secret Service, White House Staff, and other support personnel (i.e. medics, military, etc) entering the temple to be recommend-carrying members of the church. All personnel outside the temple can be non-members.
- Site prep: Same issues as church attendance but on a larger scale. One of the smaller temples would be a MUCH better option in terms of site security. You could designate a single day reserved for the POTUS and his entourage and have a much smaller staff to screen. It would also impact far fewer temple patrons. Would the church allow bomb-sniffing dogs inside the temple?
- Location: DC is closest temple to the White House but its sheer size presents a problem. Next closest is NYC/Manhattan but that has the complexities of a very large metro city. Other options are Rochester, NY; Columbus, OH; and Raleigh, NC. POTUS may also elect to visit smaller temples around the US/World based on his travel schedule.
- Best Bet: Schedule a smaller temple in the US, randomly chosen, and pick a day and time that works. Temporarily close the temple for a day or so and keep it private and low-key: only a few key people at the temple, such as the Temple President, need to know exactly who is coming. Let everyone else be surprised and honored to meet the sitting POTUS. There are some pretty remote temples around the US that would fit the bill.
- Not really an issue: George W. Bush was a recovering alcoholic and this did not appear to be a show stopper. Presidents are not required to drink alcoholic beverages.
- Basketball: Many presidents have been physically active, including President Obama, so the act of playing basketball is not a problem. Might not be able to participate in church ball due to scheduling and security issues.
- Ward Socials: Same issues with scheduling and security as sacrament attendance. A one-time visit may be possible but recurring visits may be impossible. Perhaps the best idea would be to hold the ward social at the White House?
- Secret Service escort: former presidents receive secret service protection after leaving office. This makes for fun times at church, in the temple, and any private priesthood interviews, as I have described above, but on a somewhat smaller scale.
- Callings: given the need for security even after leaving office, there may be additional headaches to serving in the church later in life. Imagine a mission or temple president with a secret service escort? How about an Apostle? (might be a stretch for a politician but not impossible)
So the main point here is that trying to live a "normal" church-attending life for a member of the Church would be nearly impossible. The commitment level of the person filling the office of the POTUS must weighed against the rigorous religious observance and practices, which will be left to fall behind while in office. This is a sacrifice one makes with that level of commitment. Think of it as the opposite of what happens with General Authorities: they give up everything but their church and their families to focus on their jobs. The President of the United States makes a similar sacrifice to serve the people in the greatest nation on earth.