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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. Barbino

    say what u want every one. I was once a mormon. And I do not want a Mormon as President. Its bad enough living in Idaho and seeing those seminaries going up every time a new school is built. And that they can get away with mormon kids getting credits for what ever they are teaching in this so called class. What happened to seperation of church and state? oh yea, if half the state is mormon and so are the congress men then we are screwed. If you want to know what happens in a temple wedding, check out a book called secret cerimonies. Blow your mind. Why does a church have to have secrets? Religion itself is crap. Christianity is believing in the Person of Jesus Christ. You dont have to be Mormon, Baptist, Catholic etc. Just ask Jesus in your heart and try to live like him. we are not perfect as He is perfect, but we can try. God knows we will fail. But He will bless us for trying.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  2. rhymeskeema

    Throw him on the pile of straw men who will go against Obama. All the republicans need now is a John Kerry type and the full 180 will have been completed in our lifetime.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  3. JD

    Well if Huntsman is at arms length about his religion... then I guess he will be having mistresses, just like Clinton. By the way, what church in DC does Obama go to? I don't think I have ever seen anything in the news about him attending any church. Hmmmmm, wonder if he truely is a Muslim????

    June 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  4. daylily5

    Anyone who believes in any religion should automatically be barred from the presidency! We need someone rooted in reality, not fairytales, to steer this country.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • dangee

      How can you be absolutely certain that they are fairy tales?

      June 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  5. Chuck

    I have several Mormon neighbors and it seems quite obvious that they are Christian. I see them celebrate Christmas every year. As an agnostic I have my own views and I will definitely vote for Obama, but still, it amazes me to see how ignorant some people are about the Mormon religion.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Trevor Rowe

      Agreed

      June 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Rei

      I agree. I am a Mormon. I love my faith because I KNOW it is true. I truly wish folks would get to know it so they can give themselves the chance to embrace it or dismiss it. Ask the missionaries to stop by...two things can happen: you will like what you find out or you won't and will be able to make fun of it in their faces....either way you win right?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  6. Texas Web

    Between He and Romney, this guy gets my vote.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  7. Michelle

    I find it so uneducated to spout off about things you know nothing about. I would never post things about other religions based on what I "think" they are about because of things I perceive or have read or been told by others not of that faith. If I want to learn about Catholism, I will ask a Catholic... not a Baptist. If I want to know about the Baptist, I would ask a Baptist, not a Catholic. If you do not want a President that is kind, honest, charitble, gives service to others, has a great love for family and respect and love for deity, then don't vote for a Mormon. I happen to think those are great qualities and they are the ones taught and practiced by good Mormons. I know because I am a practicing Mormon and love the good things that are taught and the freedom we have to pray to know for ourselves – not believe just because we are told to. I rather have someone who has strong convictions and not afraid to stand up for their belief, than someone who is wishy washy and has just their toes in the water so they can please everyone. "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." Whether you liked George Bush or not, he held strong to his convictions and you always knew where he stood – never had to guess. I won't vote for a Mormon, just because he is Mormon like me – I will look at the issues and decide. I have voted for all different faiths – I'm not voting for a religious leader, we are voting for a strong leader for our country that can get the economy rolling again and all of the many other things our country is in great need of. That may be Romney, it may not be, but whether he is Mormon are not makes no difference... go to a Mormon church, you only learn good things... no radical reverands like the ones that taught our current president that so many voted for... so until you know what you are talking about, maybe learn from a good source.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Clarke

      well said

      June 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  8. Carol

    My view is the Mormans favor "men"...As practised by his Company, in Utah who failed/refused to withhold payments.... from an employee for court ordered child support,,, wholly illegally. I don't think the Women of America are ready for this.
    Say NO to Huntsman
    carol
    Colorado

    June 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • IcanCu

      MORMONS = MORONS

      TIS TRUE

      June 21, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • sue

      The Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints does NOT favor men over women. You know nothing about the religion and have no idea what your talking about!!!

      June 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      Eh? The consensus we seem to be building on this blog is that Mormonism = Temples, and you won't get a temple recommend if you are missing child support payments. I'm pretty sure that's question number 8 of the big interview.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:39 am |
  9. Janna

    I must say, I think that's pretty awesome that Huntsman and his wife are raising their daughter as a Hindu. Good for them to keep her connected to her roots! It's sad that he quit his ambassadorship to make this hopeless run, though. There's no way he'll make it through the primary. The republican base is too crazy to vote for someone as moderate as him. I mean, I'm an ardent supporter of President Obama and even I admit that I'd be tempted to vote for this guy from what I'm hearing about him so far!

    June 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  10. He's too rational

    Being a Morman notwithstanding, Huntsman doesn't have a chance. He's too moderate and intelligent for the rightwing wackos who have taken over the Republican Party. They obviously prefer bird brains like Palin, Gingrich or Bachmann. I can't see the yahoos in Mississippi and Texas voting for Huntsman over the other candidates who are frantically running to the Right, thinking in their shortsighted way that this will guarantee them the election. The Republicans need to fail miserably, then pick up the pieces, kick out the nut cases I've mentioned above and appeal to the other 90% of the American public. As long as their party is represented by the Palin/Bachmann wing, they will go nowhere nationally.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  11. many herrera

    is a latino i would never vote for a gop candidate, never in my life !!!

    June 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Jim

      I don't care if you are latino, or if you are jew, mormon, black or blue. You did not prove anything.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Rei

      As a latino, I am embarrassed by you.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  12. Bucky Ball

    Could you tell us the differences, exactly, among a cult, a ("just plain") religion, and a crazy religion ?

    June 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Sorry, that was to be attached to a thread on prior page.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • MOJ

      Opinion.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  13. clarke

    what difference does all this make. Everyone believes in something, we just don't all believe in the same thing. At the end of the day, what does it matter. At least he is up front about it.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Clarke

      I agree.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  14. Greedo

    He gets 12 wives and I can't ever get the freakin time of day.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  15. Clarke

    I am a Mormon and a Christian.
    Here are two of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon:

    Moroni 10:32
    32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

    2 Nephi 25:26
    26 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Al

    For more on LDS I suggest you read Jon Krakauer's, Under the Banner of Heaven...

    June 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  17. cary lacayo

    Google mormons and anyone can see the cultist falsehood of these people...Unbelievable that the dems aren't attacking them for there totally absurd insanity with what they believe as mormons.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • RandomDude

      Worshiping Jesus is insanity? Seems fairly mainstream...

      June 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • dm

      They don't need to, Matt and Trey have got it covered.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Miffy

      What are Google Mormons? I've never heard of that sect.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • cul8rv8

      "Unbelievable that the dems aren't attacking them for there totally absurd insanity with what they believe as mormons."

      Probably because the dem's fearless leader in the Senate is himself, Mormon. I'm still always shocked about how the debate about Mormons in power always comes up, and people always forget that Harry Reid is LDS.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • dm

      Who said being mainstream makes for non-insanity Random dude? Hitler's ideas where fairly "mainstream" in Nazi Germany...just sayin.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      Google this SoundOff board and you will see the same thing, but it doesn't mean we beleive it - there are a lot more people willing to impose their view of Mormonism on others than there are people willing to listen to what Mormons actually beleive.

      Which is why you need to talk to Mormon friends or neighbors. We will not always get the doctrine right, but its a lot better than much of the flotsam you will get from web searches.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  18. inciteful

    Just as Huntsman says, "“I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies," he most likely gets satisfaction from different views on every issue, whichever he thinks will get him elected. Apparently, he sits firmly on the fence and will fall whichever way the wind blows.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  19. Ryan

    It has always been interesting to me to have people hate on a religion and its followers. The basis of Mormonism are the same teachings in other Christian faiths. Faith in God and Jesus Christ, Repentance, Obedience, etc. However because of negative experiences with individuals or groups then the faith in listed as an outcast – no candidate should be devalued as a Presidential candidate based on their religion unless it is detrimental to the country, and there is nothing detrimental about the basic teachings of the Mormon Church. Yes other religions may disagree as to whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet and if the teachings of things such as baptism for the dead and eternal marriage are real doctrines, but the foundations of belief are the same, and Mormon's believe in the freedom to choose as individuals – so you may not want to be Mormon, but you don't have to be against someone simply cause they are... as a Mormon I will happily vote for the best candidate – Romney, Huntsman, or otherwise - just be the best leader for this country, not the preacher for the country.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  20. 14Mickey

    I don't care what religion a candidate is, except that I admit I wouldn't vote for an atheist. In looking at Huntsman, his religion, which he keeps at a distance for political reasons, is not the issue anyway. What is notable is that he's quite evasive, taking on whatever form keeps any controversy away from him. He avoided the recent debate, declaring right afterwards. He wants to avoid being seen as a LDS member, so he puts ambition ahead of his religious beliefs. He was part of the Democratic administration, now running as a Republican, so like John McCain he goes wherever he thinks the polls lead. He's photogenic, unlike boring Romney, so the media likes him and sees him as a strong candidate. However, they inadvertently sabotage him by focusing on his religious background.

    Bottom line, as I'm writing this the partial market correction is over and the stock market is booming again. If this reverses unemployment a point or two in the long run, than it won't really matter what Republican is running.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • jcom

      Why wouldn't you vote for an atheist? Why can it not be accepted that we are not that important in the scope of the universe and time. Why wouldn't you vote for someone who is looking out for the best things for people while they are here on earth and not the big "what if?" of the afterlife and God(s)?

      June 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • dm

      Why? Who cares if someone believes in God or not? There are plenty of people who claim to believe in God who are truly evil people. because one chooses not to believe in a magic man in the sky does not make them a bad person or unworthy of being president. That's nonsense.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:56 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.