Thursday, July 23, 2009

LDS Church President Thomas Monson meets with US President Obama in the Oval Office, Robert Paisola Reports


Five large, leather-bound volumes of family history and a table-long pedigree chart were the gifts LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church's Quorum of the Twelve presented to President Barack Obama as they met Monday in the Oval Office.

The 1:30 p.m. EDT meeting — described simply as "a courtesy visit" by a church spokesman — was the first interaction between the first-year U.S. president and President Monson, who became the 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2008.

Arranging for and joining in the brief meeting in the White House was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a member of the LDS Church.

While Monday's meeting was closed to the media, each of the four issued statements afterward.

"President Obama's heritage is rich with examples of leadership, sacrifice and service," said President Monson. "We were very pleased to research his family history and are honored to present it to him today."

Said Obama: "I enjoyed my meeting with President Monson and Elder Oaks. I'm grateful for the genealogical records that they brought with them and am looking forward to reading through the materials with my daughters. It's something our family will treasure for years to come."

As chairman of the church's Temple and Family History Executive Council, Elder Oaks oversees the church's genealogical efforts. Church leaders have met with previous presidents, presenting them with genealogical records detailing their family history.

"The church has great resources and experience in genealogy work, and we are proud to have researched such a unique and impressive family history," Elder Oaks said.

In a statement from his office, Reid said: "I thank President Monson and Elder Oaks for sharing our religion's tradition of genealogical research with the president and his family. I am also glad President Obama and Elder Oaks had an opportunity to discuss their shared passion of the law.

"Recognizing the president and first lady's deep regard for family," he continued, "I am honored that our church can have any part in documenting their family history."

Mike Winder, author of "Presidents and Prophets: The Story of American Presidents and the LDS Church" and a member of the Utah Board of State History, said Monday marked the 14th such meeting of a U.S. president welcoming an LDS Church president to the White House. The first was Joseph Smith's 1839 meeting with President Martin Van Buren.

President Monson's and Obama's predecessors — the late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and President George W. Bush — met twice, first in 2001 when Bush invited a host of religious leaders to meet in the aftermath of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and more recently in 2004 when Bush awarded President Hinckley the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Hinckley also met with President Bill Clinton in the White House in 1995 to present him with a copy of the "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" only weeks after the document was first read and published.

Winder said it's not uncommon for U.S. senators to facilitate such visits, such as Utah Sen. Reed Smoot's arrangement of the 1911 meeting between President Joseph F. Smith and President William Howard Taft.

Also, two U.S. presidents in recent decades — Presidents George H.W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon — never hosted an LDS Church president at the White House, although each made several presidential visits to Utah and met with church leaders while in Salt Lake City.

Winder also noted the fact that compared to other president/prophet meetings, Monday's meeting came early in Obama's presidency — a half-year after his inauguration.

Following his meeting with LDS leaders, Obama hosted the Apollo 11 crew in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing in 1969.

Photo Credit: Pete Souza, White House Transcript Des News

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