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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. Big_D

    They expect morals from the GOP when they won't even admit they created the deficit?

    June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Great! Let the Bush's tax cuts expire for ALL then. That will make you happy.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  2. Nacho1

    Religion should not be an issue as long as it is a Christian candidate because this country was created on Christian ideals.............In God We Trust.....................

    June 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Z

      Before considering any of these Mormon candidates are Christian, Follower & Disciples of Christ, please read and compare scriptures. Do your diligence and find the proper evidence.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Tim Lee

      That's a crock. Our Country was founded by atheists and deists who had a deep fear of religion and the harm that it does – particularly when coupled with politics.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Stephanie

      @Z Christ never came to the Americas. The Book of Mormons is complete fabrication. Read you history.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Z

      @Stephanie Im not favoring Mormonism, I just want them to read the King James, NIV Bible or even go back to the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek new Testament. People need to read the truth. Seek and you shall find.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Brian T.

      .....and it's back to American Histtory class for tis one.....

      Honestly, where are kids today getting this mis-information? Private schools? Home schooling? I don't know.

      But at least in public school we learned the history behind " in god we trust" and "e pluribus unum".

      We are not, nor have we ever been, a "Christian" nation.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      wow... just so you know, "in god we trust" comes from the Quran, and wasn't added until 1956. (Quran 7: 89), and Thomas Jefferson was an athiest, as were other founders. You illustrate perfectly how blind the religiously faithful are and how susceptible they are to whatever propaganda suits their emotional ideology.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  3. kazz

    Mormon or not, that photo on the home page of this article is scary. It's as if all the women are required to look the same.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • jcom

      ??? Waste of space comment. Hater.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Jim

      Haha, some of these comments are entertaining. Its a freaking family photo, look in any American household and you will see pictures of matching families.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • AWMessenger

      Yeah, it is obviously NOT judgmental to judge people by the way they look ... Oh wait!! Oops!!! Never mind.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  4. Clifford S

    its obvious to Concervatives he is a phoney
    I cant think of one single Republican that would vote for him.
    Its also obvious that CNN is the only one following this guy.
    Nice try, we aint buying it.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  5. joesmith

    it has been said many times, "follow the money", this time, it will come from the Chinese..Trump has it right..

    June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • AWMessenger

      If that is the case, then perhaps this is the right man for the job. Lord knows, we owe more money to the Chinese government than to anyone else (outside the US). Considering the idea we are bankrupt as a nation on paper, we don't have a choice but to appease the Chinese Government, or pay serious consequences. If this guy has a history of great relations with China, then that says more than anyone else running perhaps.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  6. Joan

    He is President Obama want-to.be, did you see now he is trying to immitate him and looking Presidential. Another rich Republican who just want to be President. The Republ;ican has not move a finger since getting the mandate in November to help the President put people back to work. They do not care that people are losing houses, can't buy afford food to eat, can't pay their bills. They just want to take back the White HOuse from the Black president. The middle class should be very, very concern.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  7. George Ferguson

    Certainly raising an adopted child as a Hindu does not represent a generational difference in Mormons. Mormons of all ages strongly believe that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. They also believe that family is of very high importance and that part of the responsibility of parents is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to their children.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  8. Ashrakay

    Belief in any religion should be an automatic disqualification to lead a country. Would we take seriously someone who claims they communicate with aliens? To me, there's no difference. Self-delusion for self-gratification's sake in our leaders, lowers the overall intellectual integrity of their followers.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Samculper

      There once was a guy who agrees with you:
      "The reason why the ancient world was so pure, light and serene was that it knew nothing of the two great scourges: the pox and Christianity."
      – (I'll give you a hint. He made the world very serene for several million Jews)

      I defy you to find a religious leader who has wrought more suffering than he.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • steve

      You better brush up on your American history.....or maybe just move to France

      June 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  9. retrostar1000

    This man is a fraud like the entire republican party, which is dead now. They are now known as christian nationalists. Phonies to the core.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jeff

      Idiotic remark....

      June 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  10. kristen

    I am a Mormon and the other day I had the chance to volunteer at the LDS Church's Bakery. On that particular day they were making 3,500 loaves of bread of which every single loaf is donated. This bakery is run 5 days a week and never is a single loaf sold for money. Instead, it is shipped to states in the west to people in need. In addition, they allow people to volunteer at the bakery in order to earn bus passes which are a great help to people in the city who are struggling.

    This is just one example of the good that the LDS church does not only in America, but around the world.

    I wish people would stop believing what they "learned" on an HBO series or what was brought up in a google search. Take the time to learn about the LDS church for yourself.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      You should do the same! Except read Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows My History". Its a book, written by a former Mormon, about your leader Joseph Smith, Jr. He is a convicted fraud you know – her facts come from court records.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • retrostar1000

      Give it up. The mormon religion is as much nonsense as any other. Get over yourselves. They should keep their bibles on the shelf next to other fairy tales.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      There are plenty of non-religious charities that do wonderful work without dangling bait that hides a hook. Al queda brings food and money to communities too. Does that make them a good organization?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • alan

      From personal experience, I am not a big fan of the Mormon faith. For one thing, they force people to choose between their faith and being gay. But I will take huntsman over Romney any day. There is definately nothing wrong with being opened minded regarding other faiths. Only time will tell, but so far, I like Huntsman for the GOP nomination.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  11. ter

    I like this guy. He is less a politician than the other GOP and those socialist pandering Dems. An actual leader. Wow!

    June 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  12. Brian T.

    Huntsman's sure got a pretty harem of wives there in that picture. How many wives does Romney own?

    June 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  13. mark

    i will vote for the candidate who is CLOSE-MOUTHED about his religious or non-religious beliefs! Makes me sick seeing some stupid hypocrite like Texas' Rick Perry staging an idiotic prayer vigil. Yuck!! Republican voters are no more sophisticated than third-worlders it would seem. C'mon now, honestly, do you ever see these types of nutbag presidential candidates run as DEMOCRATS? No, you do not. Ron Paul is the only viable Republican candidate so far, but he will no doubt be ignored in favor of some unelectable ignoramus who does all he can to appeal to the yahoos out there. "Hey, Joe Plumberbutt! I'm just as dumb as you are!"

    June 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      I think it's a shame that some of these guys even have to pretend to have a religion in order to be taken seriously. I'd love to see a candidate stand up for science and philosophy.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Brotherer

      @ Ashrakay, how does having religion convictions make one not "stand up for science and philosophy"? Do you feel they are mutually exclusive?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      You can't be both committed to science and philosophy and religion. Religion seeks only to limit understanding of questions by blanketing the answer, "god". It promotes faith, and often blind faith without questioning, without explaining, without understanding. Science and philosophy are completely opposite of this. Science and philosophy encourage us to question everything, except nothing without verification, and to quest for the deepest level of understanding available within us.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Objective in CA

      @Ashrakay: For one so ("religiously?") committed to science and philosophy, I find it somewhat odd that you, who professes such a desire to pursue truth, knowledge, and wisdom would close your mind to ANY possible explanation of ANYTHING. This simple truth is, atheism (even "non-theism") requires as much faith as a religious system. You must confess that science and philosophy have no more answers to "where it all began" than simply saying, "God did it." A big bang out of nothing to create everything? THAT'S your explanation? THAT'S the best science and philosophy can come up with? How different is that from, "God went 'poof'?" (A bang is a bang, isn't it?)

      Being smugly dismissive of someone's theories, beliefs, or even hopes, doesn't make yours any more plausible. C'mon. Admit it. You don't know, either. So how about we ALL agree to do as you say and keep learning and searching to better understand our universe as we perceive it? Let's not dismiss ANY theory just because we don't understand everything about it.

      Ironically, Huntsman's Mormon religion may be one of the few belief systems that encourages, almost demands, constant learning and progression, even after one dies.

      June 22, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  14. Richard

    Just what the Republicans need..another spineless milk-toast with no real convictions. Talking out of both sides of his mouth should come even easier to him than it does to Romney.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  15. Stephanie

    After you read the book of Mormons, it is hard that anyone could be a Mormon. It is so out there, it is only beat by the church of Scientology.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      Id have to agree there. Xenu is the most far fetched religion. Mormonism is a close second.... really they are equal though.

      Mormonism was based on "history" from which there are NO archaeological records of (ie "Labanites" and "Nephites"). All coming from Joseph Smith, Jr... who is a convicted fraud. Read "No Man Knows My History" by Fawn Brodie for the REAL story of Mormonism. Its pretty amazing people bought into his BS.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Brotherer

      @ Aware Ness, It is actually the Lamanites and the Nephites. But I thought you would have known that since you are a "Mormon" expert.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      Never claimed I was an expert Brother, but thanks for the correction.

      Can you tell me who it was that Joseph loaned the first version of the Book of Mormon to – but then that guy lost it? Harris I think was his last name... sorry Im at work and my copy of Fawn Brodie's book is at home. Rather amusing that Joseph Smith, Jr then put a "seer stone" inside of a hat to transcribe the second version of the Book of Mormon to his wife Emma... since Harris lost the first version. Harris had taken it home to show his wife since she was disgruntled over her husband spending so much time and money on Joseph's "religion". Reason Joseph had to use a seer stone was Moroni wouldnt return the "gold plates".

      June 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • JF

      Have you read the Bible? Talk about a bunch of wacky stories. How many women have used the "I was impregnated by a God" excuse? I guess if you're going to get stoned to death you'll try anything.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • steve

      Stephanie, maybe you should read it again, or maybe you just enjoy reading the National Enquirer.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  16. Ray

    He's 51 and already has 7 kids!

    Are you sure he's not Roman Catholic?

    June 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  17. Aware Ness

    Everyone interested in reading the REAL origins of the Mormon religion should read "No Man Knows My History" by a former Mormon named Fawn Brodie. Its a biography of the founder Joseph Smith, Jr. – tells the tale of his upbringing, to his marriage to Emma Hale to the founding of the church. Including when, several years into the religion, he gets a "revelation" that plural wives (ie polygamy) is the way to go. By the way, Joseph Smith, Jr. is a convicted fraud – these are in court records that Ms Brodie discovered while doing research for her book.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Brotherer

      Or you really want to know more about Mormons, go to the source. Talk to a Mormon.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Z

      There is only one God (Isaiah 43:11; 44:6,8; 45:5) and God has always been God (Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 57:15).

      June 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • rich

      Jesus Christ was convicted and sentenced to death, so you would conclude that he was a fraud as well? Before relocating to the west, the early Mormons in the eastern U.S. were persecuted, beaten, murdered, and jailed, so court records are not exactly shocking. You might want to balance the views of Brodie with other perspectives.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Evelyn

    He was a good governor that worked well with our legislators that for the most part are a bunch of fools that spend most of their time in session trying to legislate morality rather than do the job they are elected to do.Utah has not suffered as much as other states through this prolonged recession mostly because of his leadership.
    He is a moderate leader and the republicans would do well to move away from the right wing radicals and support someone who has the business experience and the know how to get this country back on track.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  19. sbc

    There is a needed correction. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it would not oppose Civil Unions in Utah. The article said that Jon Huntsman signed into law a Civil Union Law putting him at odds with the chruch. This is not correct. The church does not oppose civil unions in Utah.. Also, the church has publicly announced that the rights for gays to visit hospitals,and all of those type of rights, should be given.

    June 21, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Randy Tayler

      THANK you! Yes! CNN should correct this.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Rights for gays to visit hospitals? Geez, how kind of them. Now the elected officals can move forward without fear of being excommunicated for doing something most areas of the country would regards as humane, decent, and Christian.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  20. Coogan

    Who is this guy and why is he running for president? Btw, the fine, hard working people of JERSEY CITY (which is the city where the Statue of Liberty is located the closest to) do not appreciate this corny opportunist coming here just to use the lovely statue as a cliche backdrop for his political aspirations. He wouldn't survive here long talking and looking phony like that, lol! It's sad he or they people running his campaign were so crass they didn't stop and consider his own state was good enough... seriously, are they embarrassed about something there?

    That said, the irony is lost of them since the real America *is* Jersey City, a fascinating mix of people from everywhere on the globe, not just wealthy white-bread squares from nowheresville who think they were born to be the 'chosen ones' to lead us all. Sound harsh? Yes, I know it is, but a fair jab because frankly, do we really need and deserve ANOTHER clueless monied GOP white guy running this country? The history of the republican party is littered with crazy, war mongering, fear baiting, self serving crooks.. so why would this guy– if he's so "nice"– want to be associated with them is an important point to consider.

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

      Why even mention race in your post? I like to vote for a presidential candidate based on how their political views align with mine. I guess there are those, like you, who put more stock into race.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • mm

      sorry pal, this is a free nation and American citizens are free to travel to and through any state unrestricted. If you don't like that, you can always move to a country that does not allow this.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • mm

      The reason why this loser mentioned race is because he is a liberal. Liberals are conditioned from a very early age to hate whites. Even liberal whites have been taught to hate themselves. So, he sees this person not as a human being, but as a racial category. Those of us who live in the real world know that the contributons to the world by the white/anglo race are too numerous to mention. Coogan is a loser. His post illustrates one who has at most a fourth grade education.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      @mm: why are you mentioning race, then? It seems as though you dropped into the stereotypic conservative crouch regarding race, and then used the Glen Beck approach ( another LDS idiot) to deflecting attention from your own racism. Just as a point of interest, try to mention those contributions before you issue a blanket trashing of non-Anglos. Its very interesting you mentioned white/anglo, since that tells everyone reading your worthless comments that you are nothing more than an embittered piece of trailer trash. Have you collected you disablity check yet, or have you parents been sending you to the store for more beer? Your post illustrates you have no education, and are unlikely to acquire one since it would require some effort. By the way, liberal whites don't hate themselves: we just hate ignorant fools like you who won't get off their butts and move forward, and who cry and moan about how their fantasy, 1950's world is gone.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:14 am |
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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.