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. Jon

    If Jon Huntsman gets elected, maybe he will make them change the names of those portable potties. We demand JUSTICE (Jons Upset Seeing Their Identification Crudely Employed)!

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

      I feel your reply does have merit, but I am somewhat insulted at the fact that you state "I don't understand politics." I'll concede the point that a majority of political debates and controversies surround a variety of different issues revolving around the issue of moralization. To me, albeit that this is just only MY opinion, who honestly cares about such finite and semantic issues when more important issues should serve as a backbone to any election of a particular candidate. HMMMM... I don't know... Perhaps issues such as trade deficits, energy security, job growth in the United States, immigration reform, and competing internationally over the next century. I don't see how Gay Marriage or Abortion or which book a candidate finds comfort in even touches the same galaxy of importance.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  2. dave

    susan lol bigotry-So i have I have to believe that jesus christ gave joe smith another bible in the 1800s? Christiandom is a tent and the mormons in my opinion are not in it. It's true catholics might differ with lutherans and baptists differ with presbytarians ect ect–Susan im not going to vote for a guy who believes that God gave some guy another bible in the 1800s. Susan there are many americans who won't vote for an atheist and they aren't 'bigots'. Susan i never voted before but i almost did when palin ran just because she reminded me of a van halen video.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • 21k

      joe smith: a true child predator. sounds like he invented the practice.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  3. Lando

    Modern scriptural references to the role of government: Doctrine and Covenants, Section 134:


    June 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  4. 21k

    warren jeffs, remember him? what a great, god-fearin' freedom-lovin' patriot xtian he was. until the millisecond he got caught. religious leaders are such great folks, aren't they? and no, no, no, don't go disowning him you mormons and xtians. warren jeffs is one of you, and you are one with him.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Lando

      wrong church...

      June 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • ArmyWife98

      Warren Jeffs is not LDS. Do a bit of research.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • 21k

      nice try, lando. but he ran an lds church.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • lsm

      Saying the FLDS church is the same as the LDS church is like saying Catholics are the same as Evangelicals. It's sick how people hear something about the LDS church from some internet or media circus side show (or hear it actually preached, for shame) and think they are experts on what Mormons believe. There's a lot of false or grossly distorted stuff being said here, but people seem to be more interested in getting off on their hatred than checking their sources.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  5. Bill Fitzgerald

    no pdx athiest, you deal with it by proving there is no God.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • What a lame old argument

      That's so lame. You cannot prove the non-existence of something that does not exist. You cannot disprove teh existence of unicorns or Thor or leprechauns. Or the Christian god. And of course, it terms of debate, the one making the claim must prove it if challenged – and the initial claim is that there is a god.

      Prove it.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  6. Joseph Smith

    I think when you examine mormonism and its founder you have to ask how ignorant one has to be to forsake God for the LDS nonsense.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Mike

      Well, if you already believe in god, you're 99.99999% of the way there.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  7. steve

    If anyone really wants to learn about Mormon's go to http://lds.org/?lang=eng

    June 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • 21k

      do we take a few hits first, or will the info on the site blow our minds all by itself?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  8. carsonjasper

    you can be gay in the mormon church, that is fine and not against church policy. but the church has never supported or accepted gay marriage or civil unions in anyway period.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Joseph Smith

      You can be gay in the mormon chirch so long as you do not act on it. And keep in mind by mormon "scripture" you only get into the really really good heaven if you are married in a mystery temple. So yes you can be gay but you better hide it and you better not plan on being God of your own planet one day like the straight mormons. I guy the multiple wives in the afterlife would also not hold much appeal....and yes my friends they may not marry in bunches openly for fear of arrest in this lifetime but they still claim it will happen in the next. sick...just sick

      June 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Lando

      You are correct. We do believe that exaltation in the highest degree of glory is based upon adherance to the teachings we regard as true doctrine. Whether or not others agree with or profess the same level of doctrinal belief is within the realm of that person's rights. I hope that all faith-based people will learn as much as they can about their own faiths and then live by their doctrines. By so doing, we would have a stronger people... a people of sound moral judgment and integrity.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • lsm

      jsmith–you and others seem to have obtained your facts from some pretty sketchy sources. Do you ever wonder why 6 million Mormons in America don't leap to their own defense? Because they know their religion a lot better than you do, and they know that nothing will changed your hatred. It seems to give people like you a purpose in life to sling your mud.

      I'll set one thing straight that particularly annoys me, although it will fall on deaf ears, so this is for people of good will: In Mormon doctrine, polygamy is NOT a requirement for the highest degree in heaven. All of the husbands in the LDS faith are NOT planning for their future harem; they don't want it and are not expecting it. It's not a prerequisite, commandment, or anything close to it. There are two separate teachings in our scriptures about marriage that Mormon haters don't get–they are sidetracked by the part that explains polygamy in Joseph Smith's day, but the part that talks about eternal marriage specifies that it is between a man and a woman. True, it can exist if someone has had a spouse die and remarries, but people don't hang their hats on that. The numbers don't and won't add up. To all the haters who have their anti-mormon pamphlets ready to respond, don't bother, you're wasting your time and you sound silly to us (I'm being polite here).

      June 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Lara


      June 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  9. carsonjasper

    reed and huntsman are a shame to the morman church. how the church has not kicked them out for their open positions that are against the church is beyond me.

    June 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Lando

      Simple, Carson. "teach men correct principles and let them govern themselves." - J. Smith.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  10. MikeBell

    Huntsman even has the endorsement of Harry Reid.
    That is either a poison pill for Huntsman because he could be a real threat to the Obama's election or Reid acknowledges that Obama is a failure.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  11. carsonjasper

    As a devout mormon in my 20's I find Huntsman's lack of commitment to the mormon faith very concerning. I would not vote for him because of several of his positions that are in direct opposition to the mormon faith, I honestly don't know how he is still a member with some of the positions he has.

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

      So dude, where is the archaeological evidence that supports Mormonism? Do some research and if you still support your religion for that, you are a lost soul.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • sensitive bunch

      Huntsman understand what it means to seperate church from state. Probably not the easiest thing to do for a person of faith, but still, he can make tough decisions although his faith objects to those decisions. He's not one to make everyone live the way he believes. he follows the law of the land.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • sensitive bunch

      Ever been to the Yukatan? Pretty good archeological evidence there.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      How can an intelligent person possibly buy the Book of Abraham nonsense ?
      (Google it).

      June 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  12. pam

    If huntsman is elected president will the fed be run by the church just as the church runs utah.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  13. ThinkAgain

    He's also a back-stabbing son of a B .....

    June 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  14. Smokey

    Huntsman seems like a real solid candidate to me. I hope Republicans won't reject him or Romney because of their faith, they are probably the two best candidates in the race right now.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  15. Dan in FL

    We need open primaries in all states so that people like Jon Huntsman have a chance of getting nominated. Open primaries are the simple solution to extreme politics.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  16. wisdom

    this country was founded on Christianity. One Nation Under God! Where do you think we got that from????

    June 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      Our nation was founded by people who well understood the problems with state-sponsored religion – which is why the First Amendment contains "freedom of religion" as a basic right, as well as states "government shall establish no religion."

      The founders of our country and the signers of the Declaration of Independence were from a variety of religious backgrounds, not all Christian (some we deists – and if you don't know what that means, do a little research).

      WE ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION! We are a nation that protects religion so that ALL religions may flourish. PERIOD.

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

      @ThinkAgain : Thank you.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • MikeBell

      Wasn't 'under God' added later?
      Like around 1954?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • DTakes

      Our country also had slaves. What's your point?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • What a lame old argument

      Yep, added in 1954. Money originally did not have "In God We Trust" either – these were all attempts by hysterical Christians to fight a Red Scare that never had any real chance for traction in America anyway. Fear does that to people. Just like the last decade.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  17. Lara

    Hunstman's signing of a civil union law in Utah is not against the Mormon church's standards. The Mormon church has encouraged civil unions and gay rights except for the obvious right to marry. Get your facts right.

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

      Why gay shouldn't have the right to marry? Personally I support the right for gays to marry but I don't support the right of Mormons to marry. They are obviously abhorrent creatures.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  18. Alan

    Though I consider myself liberal (socially liberal, but economically moderate) and supported Obama in '08, I will consider this candidate if he can present his ideals more effectively.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  19. Susan

    I am shocked and dismayed at the tone of the comments on this site. I am not a Mormon. You don't need to be one to be offended by the sick jokes and gross inaccuracies in some of these posts. Hindus, Catholics, Christians, Muslims are all attacked on these pages. Many of the authors no doubt vote and that is a very scary prospect. Back your statements up with hard facts and let religious bigotry in the past where it belongs.

    June 21, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • PDX_Atheist

      I must be a bigot because I have a stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from reality. That is to say, there is no god. Deal with it.

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

      There is no "reality" that proves there is no God. You believe there isn't, but how can your belief prove mine wrong? I admit I prove there is a God. It's awfully pompous of you to assume that you can prove there isn't one.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Stephanie

      You can't prove the non existence of something (you can't prove the spaghetti monster does not exist for example). Instead, if you believe that something exists, it is up to you to prove it, not for others to prove it does not exist.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • DTakes


      I'm not religious but I have to say, your response is extremely childish. Just because you don't believe in something doesn't mean you should bash it.

      It is very real to other people. Respect people's beliefs and maybe they'll respect the fact that you don't believe.

      I can't stand reading or hearing atheists and religious people talk to each other. They act like complete children. Instead of having grown up conversations they end up insulting each other and whining about their specific beliefs.

      Instead of trying to demonize each other learn to respect each other. Learn to empathize. Learn to have compassion and grow as a human being.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  20. Swell Fellow

    To all the Mormon Morons who get on my nerves preaching your fairytale annoying commercials.. (((THIS-IS-GOD!!!!)))

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

      I personally like the messages.


      June 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • PDX_Atheist

      I'll be you do "Lando" or should I say "Mormon".

      June 21, 2011 at 7:59 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.