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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. inciteful

    All this discussion about religion is ridiculous. Huntsman's position is about campaigning and winning an election...pure and simple.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      Really? The headline for this article is, "Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism."

      What should the discussion here be about – his shoe size?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  2. Joe J.

    There was no bigger phony than Ronald Reagan. Reagan is in the Bush/Cheney class of phony
    in fact it's a tie ball game.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  3. GJGVT

    I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but wondering if all the ladies in the photos were his wives....

    June 21, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Steve

      lol

      June 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Simon Cabron

      That's absurd. It's fairly obvious that's him with his two wives, his son with his two wives, and his daughter with her sister wife and husband.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Bradley

    I'm digging the daughter in the purple dress. She's H-O-T!

    June 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  5. steama

    Fake with no SPINE. We do not need another howdy doody for president.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Herby Sagues

      YES. No room for moderates here. Only fanatic extremists should be in power. That will bring us back to the top.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  6. pat rich

    Joseph Smith was arrested in Kentucky prior to his "receiving" the "Golden Tablets"....he conned a prominent man of the time out-of-money claiming he had see'er stones that could locate precious metals...true story. Check out the "Dream Mine" near Salt Lake....it's still going on!!!! OH! Where are the Golden Tablets?

    June 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Herby Sagues

      That's why I like this man. Religious upbringing is very difficult to break from. Growing as a mormon (or as part of any other religious group) and being able to free your mind (which is certainly what this guy did, he can't say he's agnostic because of his environment and America´s hate of atheism, but you can't be "a little bit Mormon") is an achievement that requires a thinking, critical and strong-willed person. Exactly what's needed in America today.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  7. dreamer96

    I think he's crazy to take his wounderful family anywhere near D.C. If you look at how many members of Congress have had their kids screwed up by D.C. social life, and nightlife, leading to drug additiction, alcoholism, weird STD's, per pressure, suicides..
    Leave the kids in Uath...

    June 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • kayaker247

      really? how many? stats? anything besides baseless nonsense?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Dreamer96

      The city itself is listed the 19th most dangerous city in the U.S. by city crime rate per population statics for starters. I can name high member of government that have stated Washington was bad for their kids, but I will not name them here. That is also why you don't see much press, the parents want to protect their kids future.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  8. Panhandle Patriots

    He poses in front of the Statue of Liberty like Reagan, but a Ronald Reagan he is not! This man is as fake as Romney ....

    June 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  9. dave

    Mormons like romney and huntsman believe that the book of mormon(1800s)was written by God and is equal to the bible. Christian or atheist we all know the book of mormon is a fraud. I don't see either romney nor this guy becoming the nom. If one does think how many republicans will just not vote in the general.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      Book of Mormon is a fraud and written by a fraud too!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Wade

      And how many times have you read the Book of Mormon Dave? Oh, zero, that's what I thought. So like most of the idiots on this message board, you have no idea what's in it.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Lando

      have you read it cover to cover? no cliff notes... actual page by page?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Alan

      Yet we atheists think the Bible is a fraud too. Let's just keep church and state separate, shall we?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • bananaspy

      Atheists don't view the Bible as much less fraudulent than the Book of Mormon, nor should we. The more I read about the origin and history of the Bible, the more I shake my head at how often it's used to "defend the faith."

      June 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Apeman

      Ya but they sure produce gorgeous women

      June 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • pat rich

      Church and state separate....have you ever lived in Utah? The Mormons are a business, not a religion. They control everything!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • heliocracy

      One does not read Cinderella to know that it's a fairy tale. What, you all think that if I just read the Book of Mormon, I too would be convinced by it? Sorry, but I'm not as gullible as a mormon.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Sarah

      I've read it cover to cover many times. It's a very nice story, but not a historical record.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Panhandle Patriots

    We do not need moderates, the reason we are in this mess is because of bipartisanship and moderation, and we definitely don't need four more years of the "Anointed One". Vote conservative!

    June 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • MaryAnn in VA

      Moderation wins in most cases.

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

      Moderation is the only way for this country to be in balance. Extreme behavior .. Left or Right divides us. The flip side of the record is still the same record..

      June 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Apeman

      Did you know you belong to an insignificant minority made up of racist, ignorant, uneducated, backwood banjo country hicks? Sucks to be you.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Tom

      Extremism is doomed to failure because it refuses to recognize when it is wrong and the other side is right.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  11. Cindy

    Well, a guy can't help what he's born into. My ancestors were protestants but I'm an atheist and there you go. You have to wonder though if he ever took advantage of those famous mormon business relationships to further his personal wealth.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Harold Trainer, USAF RET

      I like him and may support him vice Obama for whom we worked and donated.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  12. pat rich

    I like the idea that Huntsman is flexible in his beliefs. Many Mormons are not, and believe only their "religion" is the path to heaven. Many Mormons will not do business with or hire/promote non-believers. My family has experienced this first-hand at a great cost. NOT a Christian trait.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Brotherer

      Let's apply your one experience in life to all Mormons.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Duane W

      Where do you get that Mormons only hire or work with Mormons? I have lived in Salt Lake for 27 years and have never had problems working for and with Mormons and I am not Mormon. I have never seen this happen and trust me I am not living in a closet. So where do you base that information from?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • John W.

      "Many"? Many more Mormons –actually most - try to hire the best people regardless of religion. I have had over 150 employees. Only a handful were LDS. On the other hand, I can understand the desire to hire Mormons because the LDS employees I had were uniformly honest and trustworthy, something that - sadly - I can't say for about 15 of the non-LDS. It boils down to the fact that those (including a number of employees who were evangelical protestants) who took their religion seriously were scrupulously honest, while some of those who had no such moorings would cheat as soon as the manager's back was turned.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • pat rich

      My father was rejected for a "business" deal because he was not a mormon. So was I. We have both lived and worked in Salt Lake. My problem was in Portland, OR. Don't tell me something so obvious, as one mormon said he would not do business with us be3cause we were not mormon. Read "Children of God" by Vardis Fisher.....a Mormon scholar who quit his religion and tells the truth....written many years ago, but true!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • TB

      I'm an atheist that does not live in Utah but I do business in Utah. I have found them to be like everyone else – some are great to work with, some not so much. Generally, they are friendly and ethical moreso than the general population. They know I am not LDS and I have not found that to be a detriment to doing business at all. Unfortunately, most of America still sees it as a cult so I think it's an uphill battle for a mormon to win an election. I'll agree that the foundation of their religion seems iffy, but I think that's the case with pretty much all religions, thus the atheism. Bottom line – most are good, honest, family-oriented people. We could do much worse for president in my opinion.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • pat rich

      NOT one experience.....I have met many great people that are Mormons, mostly the flock. THE W@ORST ONES are the BISHOPS....they think they are GODS! or PROPHETS!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. cosmic

    Huntsman is one of the few possibly palatable repub candidates for non-rebus. He's certainly is not an ignorant xenophobe. He is moderate on some issues. He is well spoken and intelligent. The tea party will not like him though. While Mormans can be quite ok as individuals, the quasi corporate leadership of the cult is reprehensible.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  14. Joe Blow

    Good just what we need another political MORON opppps! I mean MORMON. Say didn't John Smith receive messages from a reptillian creature or was that Adam and Eve hmmmm! sounds like those storys sound sound eerily familiar. I don't recall in the Bible of any of God's messengers every transforming themselves into reptiles to humans except Satan the Devil.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • pat rich

      Joe....the salamander "papers" were phony, but the "Church" tried to cover them up. Read "Children of God" by Vardis Fisher, a scholar/Mormon/writer from Idaho......then Jon Krakauer's "Under the banner of religion". Both great books.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • John W.

      Your ignorance is breathtaking. The prophet whom God used in restoring the pure gospel was Joseph Smith, not "John Smith." He never had anything to do with reptiles except to the extent he might have run into an occasional garter snake in his farm work. The "salamander" as a divine messenger existed only in a forgery some year back by Mark Hoffman, who tried to get rich off of his forgeries. Please study up on the real Joseph Smith. Richard Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" is a great, objective source.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • russ

      You are free to mock the beliefs of the LDS faith though at least try to get them somewhat correct. By the way, you do believe in the Bible which has talking donkeys. So do play that card here. If you can believe or stand the claims in the Bible than there is nothing in the LDS faith you can't swallow.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  15. Toan Tran

    What is a difference between Mormon and Moron???

    June 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Brotherer

      Mormons vary across the spectrum, some are rude, some are kind.
      Morons, however are like Toan Tran.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • American Citizen

      I would choose to get educated before you spot off.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • russ

      What is the difference between moron and mormon. Well probably the same difference between bible and bile. There is a one letter difffernce and they mean different things. An informed person knows this and can consult a dictionary for guidence on the issue. Only a moron would ask this question.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  16. Robert

    Mormonism is not Christianity, but a corruption of it. This is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. I will not vote for Hunstman or Romney.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • NO-MORMONS

      America is not a Christian nation. Never has been, never will be.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Panhandle Patriots

      Yes!!! Agree 100%, there are plenty of other candidates that are better in the GOP field!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Christians must not know what is in the Bible if they claim the US is a Christian nation.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Brandon

      Looks like you'll be voting for Obama, then, eh?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • robcam

      America was founded by Christian men who wrote Christian ideals and principles into the laws of the land. The vast majority of Americans believe in God. You are not required to be a Christian in order to be a citizen, but the US is made up tens of millions of people who acknowledge God as the real power in charge. The US is in trouble because of the growing hostility towards the religion on which it was founded, and if the trend continues, the US will fall like every other powerful nation which forsook God as its ultimate authority.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • American Citizen

      What is Christianity? Do the Catholics have it right? Do the Lutherans have it right? Do the Baptists have it right? I thought it was just a belief in Jesus Christ that made someone "Christian". What about all the other Christians out there? Enlighten me. Isn't it suppose to be love they neighbor as thy self? I definitely won't vote for Romney becauseof what he said regarding "clean coal". There isn't such a thing... His religion well that is another story.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Ed

      Any neutral and educated observer would consider Mormonism just another variety of Christianity. Those conservative Christians who say otherwise sound an awful lot like the Muslim Sunni (e.g., Taliban) extremists who condemn and even kill Shiite Muslims as "apostates." It's only religion people, it's all a matter of faith and can never be proven right nor completely wrong either. Religion is personal and is not worth fighting about, ever.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • bananaspy

      The U.S. ways founded as a secular nation. It takes a lot of audacity (and fundamental lack of knowledge on the history of our founding fathers) to claim everybody that's born within the borders of the same country as you have to believe the same thing you believe just because you haven't bothered to do the research and discover how obviously false it all is. Atheists don't want an "atheist nation", we just want a nation where this idea of "god" is kept out of our lives. If you want to worship mythical beings, do it in your church, keep it out of the schools and out of the government.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  17. RainyDay

    I am a non-Mormon and have met many nice Mormons. I would gladly vote for one as my president – providing they were qualified.

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

      EXACTLY, QUALIFICATIONS ARE IMPORTANT. People voted for BO because he was black not his qualifications, look where that got us...

      June 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  18. Nathan

    Each religion has ugly in its past. To point fingers and engage in smear campaigns against a particular religious group is without a doubt one of the most abhorrent human practices there is. When we evaluate something, person, group or subset while looking on the outside in we will always focus on the worst of that particular thing/person/group. Perhaps we do this to placate ourselves so that we can rest easier at night in spite of our arguably as bad, if not worse, shortcomings. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I know that too many other Latter-day Saints engage in this debasing practice. Instead of expending efforts in hopes of mutual understanding and unity we tear down and destroy others. What a shame. Will I vote for Huntsman? No. Anyone that seemingly equivocates when stating his personal beliefs – which should be maintained in spite of all else – in an effort to appeal to the masses is someone I could never place my faith in to make truly hard, unpopular decisions.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • august red

      I agree with you right up to the end. Don't want to blame the media entirely, but finding the dirt on people and not dealing with the real issues is a big problem. It polarizes party and people. But I don't believe that see all religions and finding the best in all is caving in to the masses. I believe that myself, and I don't believe in God, at least not the way in the Bible. not do I claim a religion. You need an open mind and experience to make fair decisions for all people. As Frank Zappa said, "A mind is like a parachute, it has to be open to work". Nathan, well written, don't see that much.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • august red

      I didn't proof that very well. I am so bad about that. It should be (this is the worst one) "I believe that. I don't believe in God, at least not the way of the Bible, nor do I claim a religion". Not a good phrase to begin with... There is nothing wrong with believing in something. But to hate, kill and denounce others because of it, is way wrong. I think religion should back out of politics. Hasn't really worked the other way. And I really enjoy drawing pictures of Mohammad. Totally pulling your entire leg.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  19. tracey

    So... he's "kinda" a Mormon. He'll be "kinda" a good presidential candidate. And he'll be "kinda" a good president. He's a mormon in name only. Most mormon's wouldn't consider his beliefs and lifestyle an example to follow. He's a "fence sitter." He's just like Obama. Obama apologizes for being an American. Huntsman apologizes for being Mormon. We don't need "apologists" in office... we need committed leaders.

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

      Don't apologize for being an idiot.

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

      Obama is kinda Christan. Luke warm. At best.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  20. SCOTO

    Aint buying it. Its like being " moderately" pregnant.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Tom

      So no one is allowed to disagree somewhat with religious dogma?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      You're right! They ARE Mormon if we say so, no matter what they say. Maybe we should find a better way to identify them. Like black armbands or something? And it'd be easier for us all if there was just one neighborhood in the city where those mormons were allowed to live... we could call it, ummm... how about Ghetto?

      This all sounds familiar somehow.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Chieflaughingwagon

      Who needs black armbands and special areas... Just get the kids inside when you see a white shirt and tie on a bike coming in the middle of summer 🙂

      June 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • august red

      No Tom, you can't dispute dogma. When your mind doesn't see the big pictures, you cling to one idea, rejecting all others. I believe it is from being scared. You know, the 'why are we here, and it was Gods will'. People need to think about people. Saying that he's not that religious, is not even remotely connected to him being a bad person or candidate. Why does everyone stereotype people into convenient groups. Because they don't know any better. They are wanting to believe that there is an afterlife, a salvation. George Carlin had a great bit, "What religion are you, not mine, (then he make the sound of a gun firing}. Pretty right on!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:57 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.