Youngkin marks completion of Virginia’s first LDS temple
A political scientist says the governor allying himself to the group could be helpful if he runs for president.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin made a public overture to a small but prominent constituency Monday by welcoming the completion of the new Virginia Temple built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outside Richmond — their first in the commonwealth.
In a nod to his campaign theme and the name of his political action committee, Youngkin said in a speech to reporters and church members that the new temple embodies “the spirit of Virginia,” with columns modeled after Monticello and designs emblazoned with dogwoods.
“Religious freedom is such an essential element to the spirit of Virginia,” Youngkin said. “And it is amazing to see the interwoven nature of this in this magnificent temple.”
Youngkin started a nondenominational church in his basement during his time at the Carlyle Group. He marked his inauguration by leading a public prayer and continues to begin some meetings and public events with a nod to a higher power. (Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, noted in an email that “no one is required to pray with the governor.”)
Members of what’s widely known as the Mormon church are the most Republican-leaning religious group in the United States, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research Center. The church estimates around 100,000 of its members live in Virginia.
The church is officially neutral in matters of party politics, but it has put financial and political resources to work in the political arena. It played a major role in funding and organizing in favor of a successful 2008 California ballot referendum to ban same-sex marriage; marriages resumed in 2013, after Proposition 8 backers lost a multiyear court battle. Last year, however, the church voiced support for the federal Respect for Marriage Act designed to safeguard the practice.
Rich Meagher, associate professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College, said it’s not clear that Youngkin had a particular political goal in attending the event. But he said the governor allying himself to the group could be helpful if Youngkin decides to run for president.
“There is money in the church; that money has been used politically to support candidates and to support issues,” Meagher said. “That kind of calculation may encourage the governor to say, … ‘Maybe it would be a good idea to signal some support for them locally here, in case that advantages me in a national race later on.’”
Youngkin has said his focus is on Virginia, but he hasn’t ruled out a presidential run.
While the commonwealth already has LDS meeting houses, temples are the church’s most sacred space. In a tour, church officials showed off rooms for preparing for weddings, changing into sacred church garments, a baptistry designed specifically for members to baptize their ancestors and the light-filled “celestial room” designed for reflection and prayer.
The Virginia Temple is set to officially open May 7. Church members currently must travel to Maryland or North Carolina to visit the nearest temple.