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Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman before formally announcing his presidential campaign in Jersey City, New Jersey on Tuesday.
June 21st, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

How key is Jon Huntsman’s Mormonism to understanding him and his rise as a politician?

His grandfather was an apostle in the Mormon church, his father is a lay leader in the church, and Huntsman himself was a Mormon missionary to Taiwan, which gave him the language skills that helped land his last job, as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China.

On the other hand, Huntsman - who officially launched his presidential campaign Tuesday - has publicly distanced himself from his Mormon faith.

“I can’t say I’m overly religious,” he told Fortune magazine last year, when he was still ambassador. “I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.”

It’s not the only move that serious Mormons would consider slightly unorthodox. Salt Lake Tribune Washington correspondent Thomas Burr notes that one of Huntsman’s daughters was married in an Episcopal church.

And a Huntsman spokesman, Tim Miller, says the Huntsmans are raising their adopted Indian daughter “to learn about and appreciate her native culture and the faiths associated with it.”

“Jon Huntsman's Mormon roots run deep,” said Burr, who has covered Huntsman since his days as Utah’s governor in the mid-2000s. “Personally, Huntsman says he considers himself a Mormon, but he's also stressed that he gets inspiration from many faiths.”

It’s a contrast to the way  the other Mormon candidate in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has talked about his religious faith.

"Romney has not been shy about his love for his faith and gave a big speech in his 2008 campaign about it,” Burr said. “Those who know Huntsman and Romney would say that Romney is very active in his church, while Huntsman hasn't been as active."

A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the Mormon church, would not comment on Huntsman's or Romney’s level of involvement in the church.

“We leave comment on the role of faith in an individual’s life to the individual,” said Michael Purdy, a church spokesman.

But the differences between Huntsman's and Romney’s orientations toward their religion may have as much to do with generational differences as with levels of religious observance.

Matthew Bowman, an editor at a Mormon studies journal called Dialogue, says  Romney appears to embody the Mormon retrenchment of the 1960s and 1970s, when the LDS church defined itself largely in opposition to the broader American culture, which was seeing cultural upheaval and the sexual revolution.

That attitude prevailed through the 1980s. “Leaders of the church were very pessimistic about the way they talked about American society, using apocalyptic rhetoric, framing America as the new Sodom and Gomorrah,” Bowman said. “There was this real attempt to tell Mormons that we need to distance ourselves from the country, to be different.”

Romney, 64, came of age during that era, which Bowman says explains why he appears defensive about his faith, seeming to see it as something that sets him apart.

There are some who “would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction or disavow one or another of its precepts,” Romney said in a 2007 speech in which he confronted the so-called Mormon question head-on. “That I will not do.”

It’s hard to imagine Huntsman, 51, making such a dramatic vow.

Bowman argues that that’s largely because Huntsman – who was born in 1960, 13 years after Romney – is part of a subsequent generation of Mormons who see themselves as quintessential Americans, not so different from their non-Mormon friends and neighbors.

That new attitude is evident in the LDS church’s current “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign, which emphasizes that there are Mormons of all ethnicities and from all walks of life.

“Huntsman is a Mormon who thinks of his faith not as something that separates him from American culture or as something he has to defend or explain away, which is what Romney did,” Bowman said.

That’s not to say Huntsman is unobservant. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the newly minted presidential candidate occasionally attended LDS services both as governor and as ambassador.

A survey released this month by the Pew Research Center found that a quarter of American adults admit to being less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate for president.

The survey found that resistance to Mormon candidates was even higher among two groups: liberal Democrats and evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican. One in three white evangelicals said they were less likely to support a Mormon candidate.

Evangelicals form huge part of the GOP electorate in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

If some GOP voters are more likely to vote for Huntsman because he seems less overtly Mormon, others may be less apt to because of his reputation as a moderate.

For instance, Huntsman signed a law that introduced civil unions for gay couples when he was governor of Utah, putting him at odds with his church, which strenuously opposes gay unions.

“I don’t know Huntsman at all, but his reputation is one of a moderate,” said Michael Farris, an influential evangelical activist. “If that’s justified, there’s no chance I’ll support him.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Jon Huntsman • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (1,219 Responses)
  1. jcom

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o&w=425&h=349]

    June 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • jcom

      Damn it, how do you embed a YouTube video on CNN comments like Marie did with her butterfly vid?

      June 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Bjørn Møösefåartsniffænsen

      Like this:

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o&w=640&h=390]

      The address you should have put in should start with http, not [youtube

      Just promise to do this very sparingly, as some people have gotten very carried away posting videos instead of actually thinking and presenting ideas in an original manner – admittedly very difficult for most people, but they should try instead of copping out to videos and cut-and-paste.

      June 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • .

      how do people format there comments? I've seen some with italics and bold, etc. but the normal HTML tags don't seem to work.

      June 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  2. jcom

    George Carlin's bit on religion is about the best I've ever heard. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor, right now. YouTube "George Carlin Religion". Hell, I'll try to post it here. If Marie can post her butterfly video 28 times, I get to post Carlin once.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Consequence

      George Carlin was a cynical entertainer whose imprint was less than a pimple in the history of mankind. he was profane, humorous, uncharitable and totally irreverent...even disrespectful of those that are. A runaway from home and his Church who battled his weak heart with drug addiction, he never seemed a happy man. Just a funny one. In the end, Christians were more welcoming of him than he was of them, tended as he was at St. John's Health Center, ironically founded by the Sisters of Charity. Is there a God? It is a big question for many and one which Carlin now knows more clearly or, if he had his way, is now less than a spent life force and empty dust with no more purpose than to push up daisies.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • noreligion

      George Carlin is possibly the best comedian of all time. He spoke the truth, especially about religion, and pointed out the many flaws of American culture, religion, and censorship. He was a great man, whom I have absolute respect for. Who cares what hospital he was treated at, hospitals aren't supposed to turn people away, no matter the beliefs of the patient or the principles the hospital was founded upon. And Carlin did not die from his drug addiction, he went to rehab to deal with his problems and came out a clean and sober man. He had like five massive heart attacks, and sadly did not survive the last one. R.I.P. George Carlin, you are loved and missed greatly.

      June 22, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  3. Cindy

    Sounds like Jon Huntsman is as much a Mormon as he is a republican. He can't seem to get fully into anything except disagreeing with things.

    Dear Editor, at least have the guts to tell it like it is and say that some of the past editors for Dialogue have a beef with the Mormon church and may be a little bias themselves.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  4. jcom

    Marie Kidman, stop with the Butterfly video posts already.

    Mods? Please?

    June 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Laughing

      I've tried the same thing, the butterfly videos are pretty ridiculous. Everytime I see it now I just report abuse, hopefully cnn mods will see it so much they'll ban the name or something. I've also tried asking a number of times but the person posting the dumb video doesn't comment either.

      Most useless spam ever

      June 22, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  5. Aaron

    Who's got more wives...Huntsman or Romney?

    June 21, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • jcom

      Aaron, you are both funny and original! Tool...

      June 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Jared

      They both have had only one. Less than the average American I'm sure!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  6. Larry

    The Christian religion was founded on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    All the first Christians were Jewish followers of Jesus who believed that he had risen from the dead and would imminently return.

    The three largest groups in the world of Christianity are the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the various churches of Protestantism.
    ------------------
    Mormonism is a cult.

    The Mormon religion was founded by a false Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Smith taught that the highest exaltation would be achieved through "plural marriage” (polygamy), which was the ultimate manifestation of this New and Everlasting Covenant. Plural marriage allowed an individual to transcend the angelic state and become a god by accelerating the expansion of one's heavenly kingdom. Smith taught and practiced this doctrine secretly but publicly denied it. Nevertheless, Smith taught that once he revealed the doctrine to any man or woman, failure to practice it would be to risk God's wrath.

    Smith and his brother Hyrum were held in a Carthage Jail on charges of treason. On June 27, 1844, an armed group with blackened faces stormed the jail and killed Hyrum instantly with a shot to the face. Smith fired a pepper box pistol that had been smuggled into the prison, then "sprang to the window" before being shot several times. He died shortly after falling to the ground. Smith was buried in Nauvoo. Five men were tried for his murder; all were acquitted.
    ----------------
    I’m still sticking with my position that the faithful followers (Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews and Senior Citizens) will not vote for Romney nor Huntsman.

    Read more: http://politics.blogs.foxnews.com/2011/06/21/romney-and-huntsman-separated-birth#ixzz1Py4PZE8o

    June 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Utah

      Find a real Mormon and ask for the real facts, I'm sure that they would love to clarify.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  7. Damien

    Mormons are NOT Christians. Real Christians will not vote for one.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Idaho

      Are you a real Christian? Can you honestly say that?

      June 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Jared

      A Christian who believes in Jesus Christ. The Mormon church's official name is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints"

      June 22, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  8. Jim

    How on earth is Mitt Romney or John Huntsman being mormon, going to affect the United States if they get elected? Its not, I think if people just educate themselves in the right manner they will find out that, no it wont make a difference. The media is just totally eating the MORMON thing up so they can have another "controversial thing to talk about". Its the media that runs chooses the President and not the people.
    The same thing happened when Obama and Hillary ran for office; Is the US ready for a WOMAN president? for a BLACK president?
    When a gay man and a Muslim runs its going to be the same way. Just do your OWN research on what they have done POLITICALLY, then make your decision, then vote. I bet half of the people reading this article wont even vote anyway.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • stu

      Jim –
      The Mormon church OVERWHELMINGLY supported Prop 8 in California and therefore were instrumental in denying millions of Californians their civil rights. As a gay person, I am going to be weary of any Mormon in office (or evangelical, or southern baptist) because they discriminate openly against LGTB community. That's why I'm interested to see that this article reveals that Huntsman, although Mormon, did sign a civil union bill for gays. OK – so he's not actively trying to prevent gay people from being together – that's a good start. But we will still need to see where he stands on the issue of gay marriage – and Romney. Any candidate who does not understand that gays and lesbians deserve the right to marry like every other American is not going have the support of the LGTB community. So being Mormon IS different from being black or a woman because the two latter descriptions do not presuppose an anti-gay agenda. Being Mormon is more likely to.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Jim

      Stu-
      You said it yourself, " Huntsman, although Mormon, did sign a civil union bill for gays." If you research Mitt Romney did not stop "Gays" from getting married in His state either. I know Wikipedia isn't that reliable of a source but this is what they said, "Gov. Mitt Romney ordered town clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses on May 17, 2004." He was the Governor of Mass. which was one of the first states to allow gay marriage.
      All the Mormons I know are accepting of "gays" from what I understand, they do not necessarily agree with how they live their lives, but they do not completely shun them. I also have read up on the Black communities playing a substantial part in fighting against Prop 8 as well. So you can stereotype any religion, race, gender, anything, but 9 times out of 10 you are wrong.
      So all I am saying to people is, do your research, don't worry about religion, race and don't be easily persuaded by the media. Just because they are Mormon does not mean that they will automatically take away the rights of gays, lesbians, etc. Just worry about the integrity, past works and character of the Candidate.

      June 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Idaho

      Why do gays want to be married anyway, wasn't it originally a religious thing between a man and a woman?

      June 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Good points. It's like saying "Catholics don't believe in birth control", when in fact most American Catholic women DO use it. One can't assume anything. Ultimately people pick and chose what they want to accept and do, and believe, because they have individual brains, and that's the only way it works.

      @ Idaho
      "Why do gays want to be married anyway,"
      Because there are literally thousands of benefits available to married people that are not available to non-married folks.

      June 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  9. Brian

    There's just one huge problem with Huntsman and it has nothing to do w/ him being a mormon.

    He's just a liar and was a HORRIBLE, repeat horrible, ambassador to China. Half the things on his resume aren't true, his Taiwanese sucks, his Chinese is nonexistent and when I met him the dude was an ass hole who knew nothing about living in China – as someone who lives in China on business you expect your Ambassador to the place to know what the hell he's doing – Not good ol' Jonny Huntsman.

    He sucked at his job here – the guy was even dumb enough to show up infront of a McDonalds during an protest – obviously not very aware to his surroundings.

    Who cares if he's a Mormon, let's judge his ability to be president based on his work history and honesty – all of which are questionable at best.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  10. MormonChristian

    I don't get Bowman's stereotyping of generations in the Mormon church. No one I know in the LDS church has ever said America is Sodom and Gomorrah or told anyone to distance themselves from the country as a whole. What a weirdo!! Romney is not that old and was raised outside of Utah whereas Huntsman was raised in the Utah LDS culture, even if he has made moves to be more open.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  11. Aaron

    I think the last paragraph is the most telling. There's no way evangelicals are voting for a moderate. It's Jesus Christ and the Bible or nothing. They vote by the bible on issues, which means they can't separate their political views from their religious ones. And that means they want a theocracy. They want a Christian America and everyone else can love it or leave it. They want to codify the morality they find in the bible and force the rest of us to live by it.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Brian

      Paint in broad strokes much?

      June 21, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  12. Rex

    Keep religion at the forefront, CNN. Never say that Ron Paul is Christian also. Keep marginalizing Ron Paul. Because if Ron Paul did win the GOP nomination......he could defeat Obama who we dearly love.

    June 21, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Eric G

      I don't think so. Ron Paul has some good ideas. I do like him. That being said, this is about who can win a general election. Obama would crush him.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • layne25348

      lol, thanks for the laugh

      June 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  13. TeaClown

    Oh no, the Jack Mormon versus the 3rd generation polygamous offspring Mormon

    June 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  14. Uthor

    He's the very best hope for the GOP to possibly even come close to winning the Presidency... but they won't realize it.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  15. Tom

    "considering religion in voting for the presidency is essentially anti-American", really?? Did you flunk American history or not make it to the 5th grade? This country was founded on Christianity. First Amendment anyone?? What are you attempting to say here? I'm assuming it's another uneducated comment. Thank you for providing an example of what's wrong with this country.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Tom

      Sorry, this was to a previous comment.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Angry Hillbilly

      Sounds like he's attempting to say that an elected president should not act on their religious ideals and principles. This country was not founded on Christianity. They were religious, yes, but to say they wanted this to be a Christian nation is simply wrong.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  16. Brent

    I do believe religion must have some influence on who we vote for. Religion provides direction and provides a medium for people to create their values and principles. Mormonism seems to espouse family values, honesty, virtue, etc as does many other Christian and non-Christian faiths. Mormons make great friends, neighbors, employees, employers, etc. I know many Mormons, and I honestly can't say that I like them any more or less than my other Christian friends. It comes down to the individual, not the faith they belong to.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • rh

      Too bad the majority of people who are really atheists don't have a say. Many folks make believe they are Christian like their parents were for cultural purposes.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Andrew

      Yeah everybody know all the good trim is at church

      June 21, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • JIM FAWCETT

      i AGREE WITH RH. MOST PEOPLE, LIKE MYSELF ARE ATHEISTS, BUT I SURE AS HELL NEVER TELL ANYONE. MY CHRISTIAN COWORKERS ALL THINK I'M A GOD-FEARING CHRISTIAN!

      June 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Tim

      Well said. If given the choice between voting for Peter, and voting for Judas, who would we choose. They were both Christians, but they were also individuals. Again, well said.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  17. Billster

    Would it surprise you that Jon H. would lose his home State of Utah to Mitt by a landslide.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • jcom

      He won't. People here love Jon. Most outsiders don't realize that Salt Lake City proper is 70% non-Mormon. We have a very strong liberal base and a significant gay community, all of whom greatly appreciated Jon for what he did while in office. But even the staunch, right wing conservatives that the rest of the State is known for like him as well, even though he is more moderate. Mitt did a good job with the Olympics, but Mitt is all about Mitt. Jon is not about Jon.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Billster

      Early polls in Utah say landslide. 4 to 1 for Mitt????? Tough if you can't win your home State. Utah, is not Mitt's home State.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • jcom

      Billster, news flash. Hunstsman just entered the race this morning.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  18. dave

    glenda tell that to people who think the book of mormon is a fraud and not the bible–right or left of america–as far as obama he claims to be a born again christian–if you ask me he is an atheist but thats neither here nor there–romney believes jesus christ gave joe smith another bible in the 1800s

    June 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  19. maxdenn

    I don't care if you go to church or don't go to church. What do care about is do you put actual effort in trying to practice "the golden rule"? Getting all worked up about religion seems to me to be a very unusual waste of time.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  20. Glenda

    Lets not go there with religion. Vote we for or against this man on principles. After Obama and his wishy washy way of getting by the religious problem by attending a Baptist Church even is it was the, "GD America and Whit@#! Church", it was well known for him to be a bonifide Muslim. Therefore you can not judge Huntsman on being a Morman. It does not mean he will not MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS FOR AMERICA. HOWEVER HOW MANY WRONG DECISIONS OBAMA MADE. OBAMA WAS JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM HIS BENEFACTOR GEORGE SOROS WHO HAS PAID HIM TO DESTROY AMERICA. HUNTSMAN WILL AT LEAST TRY TO TURN THIS COUNTRY AROUND BUT WILL FAIL FOR WE HAVE ALREADY STAYED WAY TOO LONG WITH THE SPEND, SPEND, SPEND, AND THE CUT THE MILITARY TO FUND OBAMACARE KNOWING THAT IT WILL FINISH BANKRUPTING US. Way to go Obama you have succeeded for the dumb butted Americans have set and watched you do your Soro's job on them.

    June 21, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Andrew

      Holy christ! (and I'm an atheist!) Glenda they give you those pills for a reason... they won't work unless you take them...

      June 21, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Eric G

      Oh boy.

      Important point here...... Her vote counts as "one", just like yours. Please do not let hers be the deciding one.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Glenda, just because you can string together English words in some kind of random order does not mean that you speak English. Go find a class.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:40 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.