This isn't the first time a sitting president met with an LDS prophet. Meetings between LDS church presidents and U.S. presidents at 1600 Pennsylvania are a tradition that go back several decades.
Mike Winder, who authored 2007's Presidents and Prophets has done his homework when it comes to leaders of the free world and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Winder said Monday's visit between president Obama and LDS church leader President Monson adds another chapter to the many relationships between the most powerful men in politics and the men who lead one of the fastest-growing religious movements in American History.
Winder said, “I think it's important for the White House to reach out to the millions of Americans who are LDS, and I think it's also important for the LDS Church to reach out to whoever the president of the United States is, regardless of party."
Joseph Smith was the first LDS president to visit the White House, but he didn't leave with much support of President Marin Van Buren. Smith has asked the President for federal help for the LDS Church members on Jackson County Missouri, but Van Buren answered his requests saying, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you." It wasn't until 1911 that his nephew and LDS President Joesph F. Smith visited the White House again, in a meeting with Howard Taft arranged by LDS Church member and U.S. Senator Reed Smoot.
Several presidents have welcomed the LDS church leaders into the White House since, and many of them visited Utah, including John F. Kennedy, who came to Utah, ate breakfast with then-president David O. Mckay at the Hotel Utah and gave a speech in the Tabernacle only a few weeks before he was assassinated.
Lyndon Johnson considered David O. McKay as a personal friend. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and even Bill Clinton met with presidents of the LDS church. Ironically, Winder says Clinton's 1995 meeting with Gordon B. Hinckley happened a short time after the Church's 'Proclamation on the Family' was published (a copy of which was presented to Clinton, along with a Clinton family history). A White House intern named Monica Lewinski would begin her tenure with Clinton only a few days later.
Winder says many presidents since the Turn of the Century have employed LDS staffers, and appointed several members of the LDS Church to key jobs, including cabinet positions. One of the first LDS cabinet members was Ezra Taft Benson, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under Dwight Eisenhower. Benson served as a cabinet member while an apostle of the Church, and would later become prophet. Stewart L. Udall, served as Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johsnon, David M. Kennedy served as Secretary of the Treasury under Richard M. Nixon and Mitt Romney's father George served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Nixon as well. Later, Terrell H. Bell would serve during the 1980s as Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration, and most recently, Former Utah Governor Michael Leavitt served as EPA director and Secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush.
Winder says the face-to-face meetings between LDS Church Presidents and the chief executive have helped to bring the LDS Church out of obscurity over the past century. Winder says such relationships are good for the Church and the president, especially in the contemporary political climate.
Winder said, "President Obama, when he reaches out to the Mormon people, realizes that there are many Latter-day Saint people who may not vote for him, but there are going to be those who are democrat or independents that may."