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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. Chrissypoo

    Huntsman won't get the GOP nomination. The wingnuts are in charge of the process.

    However, he could potentially run a 3rd party upset campaign and win.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • jon

      Wingnuts is sure the word for them. I have never seen a nuttier bunch than this year. And exactly when did we get
      SO CONCERNED about the religion of the President?? I guess it was when the evangelicals tried to get into Bush II's pants.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Christian Schizophrenia

      He will not win but serve a better purpose in weakening the GOP. The god nuts (Christian Schizophrenics) in the GOP are not strong enough to stand as their own party so they are parasites to the GOP. How the GOP leadership does not recognize this is beyond me.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  2. Marie Kidman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig
    .

    June 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  3. Willy Brown

    Great another p.c. candidate who doesn’t want to hurt Obama feelings. No wonder CNN & PMSNBC loves this guy, He’s a maverick!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • El Kababa

      That's just the kind of thing I'd expect a red-neck, tenth grade dropout hillbilly Republican to say.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Common Sense

      LOL El Kababa!

      June 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Uthor

      Uh, you realize that Huntsman resigned as Ambassador to China, and that kind of hurt the Obama Administration's feelings? No, didn't know that? Know anything?

      June 21, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  4. Doug

    Wow! Look at all the pretty babes. Where do I convert. Doug.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  5. steve

    After we elected Obama who spent twenty years in a racist, hate-filled church with Jeremiah Wright, we can elect anybody!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Q

      Yawn...

      June 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Stanley

      Why do some people think that a conservative black man is the only good black man? Any black man that will not speak out against racism is not a minority you should want to hold public office.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Uthor

      Nice try. Do people still spew that nonsense? You'd grab a hold of any straw you could, right? Get over it.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  6. DB

    Huntsman is the best candidate I've seen in years. For the first time in my life I'm going to register with a political party to vote for him in the primary.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  7. A mormon

    Ok this is coming from an LDS student who lives in Utah. I go to a public university, not the church sponsored one. I want to stress the fact that there are those of us who vote based on economics and reason. Sure, it would be nice if a Mormon were in office so people would realize we're not a cult and we don't have 5 wives, but I will not likely be voting for either mormon candidate because I question some of their economic principles. Please respect the fact that we have our beliefs, but they should not be grounds to condemn or discriminate.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Tony The Brain

      Tell that crap to the gay and lesbian community that suffered at the hands of the Mormon

      June 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • DB

      In case you were not paying attention, Huntsman id for civil unions, which is not marriage, but pretty remarkable for a republican running for President. He would not stand in the way of gay marriage.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • JBR

      Well spoken! However, I will be voting for Romney.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • SurRy

      Right DB. And what was all the fuss about sitting in the back of the bus? Geez, they were all getting to their destinations at the same time.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • NO-MORMONS

      You are a cult, multiple wives used to be allowed, you use a totally made up 3rd book of the Bible that nobody but Mormons believe in. The religion is an absolute joke that would not even exist if America had not come into existence.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Ben

      @NO-MORMONS...it's called the Book of Mormon. You take that book, and the Bible, you sit down and prove with your Bible that the Book of Mormon is made up...You can't. See you on Sunday.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      Hey if you want to believe in a fraud, because Joseph Smith, Jr was a convicted fraud – that's your own prerogative.
      You should read the book "No Man Knows My History" by Fawn Brodie. That should be required reading for all Mormons.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • NO-MORMONS

      Of course I cannot prove it to idiot believers. Nothing will change their feeble minds. That does not change the fact that the Book Of Mormon is 100% fiction.

      And no, you will never see me in church on Sunday. I have far better things to do with that time you waste.

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

      @Ben "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's," (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22; Compare with Alma 18:26-27; 22:9-10). God is a spirit without flesh and bones (John 4:24; Luke 24:39).

      June 21, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      @Z: Those are good points. Is it fair to say that God is at times a disembodied voice or a dove? I think both Mormons and Protestants can agree that when the Bible says that "God is Spirit and we should worship Him in spirit and truth" that it doesn't mean we have to die or have an out-of body experiance to do so.

      @NO_MORMONS: 100%? Even the parts that people say Joseph Smith just copied from the Bible? Have you even read this book?

      June 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • PDX_Atheist

      @SCMorrell : Neither you, nor Ben or any other Mormon Apologist posting here have a clue. There is no god. You can't prove there is and using the bible, BOM or any other book will not help your cause. You are just here to offer an opposing view to anyone who suggests that your beliefs are ridiculous. You are wasting your time here just like you do on sunday.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      PDX: And at this point, if I were to try to prove it, you would not want to listen to me anyways. Beleif of God or not has to come from within, and not from outside sources like me. Maybe you will find it while staring at the night sky or trying to do something truly altruisitc for someone else. Maybe you won't ever find it. But if you ever get to the point where you join a Christian denomination and they tell you that Moromons are not Christian, I would hope you would know the truth.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • SCMorrell

      (connecting dots from other posts)
      (realizing ramifications)
      (feeling really embarrassed)
      Yeah, I'm definitely doing too much "athiest" bashing when my intent was to just clarify my beleifs for everyone. I'm sorry, PDX.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  8. The Silly Salamander

    Ain't gonna work dude – but nice try anyway. Even half a Mormon is a dangerous proposition.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  9. JD

    “I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.” Ok, so Huntsman isn't a Mormon. End of discussion.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Geoz

      You don't get to decide unilaterally when a discussion ends.
      Nor do you decide who is a Mormon or not.

      I won't vote for Huntsman but "end of discussion" comments are incidious.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Common Sense

      Shhh don't let him know he's not in charge here. We only keep him around because we like his pointy hat.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Uthor

      Don't you have to prove some kind of strong point to be able to say, "End of discussion"? Just sayin'.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  10. Peter

    I think many people of many faiths will adapt their faith stance to suit their preferred lifestyle or goals–especially politicians. You can't rely on a single person's example to determine what the official doctrine of his/her religious affiliation is. But once you look at the official teachings of a faith, you had best be ready for some controversy. I think Americans fail to look past the stubble of the person's outward behavior to the doctrines, which are the truth claims about the universe that a religion offers. These are diametrically opposed in many cases, giving the lie to people who believe that as long as you are sincere and not too weird, there is a basic equivalence of all religions. NOT.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Jen

    That photo looks like a scene from Big Love. A Mormon president of any variation? Forget it.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Tim

    Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., those make sense from a certain point of view, if someone is going to have faith, but what doesn't make any sense at all, is newer religions that base their entire foundation on saying the other's are wrong, but still try and associate themselves with it. I.e., anyone that's a Mormon or a Scientologist, is either completely brainwashed or are completely ignorant (and don't want to think or research anything about what they believe in or why), or they are just stupid. One could argue any faith could be seen that way, but without getting into that debate (I don't agree that's true, by the way), I can't trust or think someone's very intelligent or anything but ignorant or a fraud, if they're of the Mormon faith.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • El Kababa

      We inherit our religions from our families, mostly. We don't choose them. All religions started out as nutty. Mormonism will develop a wisdom literature in a couple of centuries if it lasts that long.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • ThereIsNoGod

      I know exactly how you feel Tim. I however extend that feeling to anyone who would belong to any religion. In the end they are all the same; They believe in fairy tales.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Tim

      Well, some religions are a bit more reasonable and less nutty than others, and there's a lot of misunderstanding. Of course, it's the subject of much debate, and that's fine. While I respect that he seems rather reasonable about his approach, I don't suspect it's because his parents were Mormons and why he essentially refers to himself as one when he's really not. But, as a politician, he knows better, but he'd win more points if he just made up a story that said he converted to Christianity. I have Mormon relatives and it's a seriously twisted religion, pretty cult-like. Even though the religion has eveolved, its entire basis doesn't make sense, not if they're going to claim to be Chrisitian affiliates and believe in Jesus. I mean, if you're going to start a religious cult, do it right, don't say that the King James bible is wrong in some parts and not others so it suits your cult, just say it's all wrong and give the people free ice cream.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • me

      do you know anything about other religions beyond he-said-she-said mudslinging?

      mormon's belief is based in the belief that their god is the god of the bible, both old and new testament. they believe that god has spoken to man in many places and at many times and will continue to do so in the future. they believe that man has the propensity to corrupt truth and twist true religion and has many times. they believe that truth and authoritative churches have been restored multiple times in multiple places and that their church is just one of many incarnations in out time. they believe that many religions hold remnants and pieces if not huge blocks of truth, but lack authority. they believe that truth is truth and can be had by anyone, but authority is only held in one place. they are a religion which places great importance on rituals/ordanences and as such, a line of authority is very important to them. when they claim to be the true church they are referring to the authority being true or singular more than a monopoly of truth/belief as there is massive overlap in their faith to the rest of christianity and judaism, or all religion for that matter. look closely at their practices and what you will see is a more archaic christian practice. their ritual/ordinance practices and belief in prophets and revelation more resembles judaism in the bible and coptic christianity of the first three centuries than it does modern protestantism. in my opinion they are a more archaic christian tenet than the orthadox churches. if you believe in christianity and have problems with mormons, you would probably have problems with the first century churches as well. so why do people have problems with mormons? or jehova's witnesses for that matter. i think it is because such groups in general are unwilling to compromise their beliefs. anyone who claims a religion believes they are following the true path. mormons just say it in public without apology. but everybody believes they are right—even athiest. to hate a mormon because he claims to be right in his beliefs is hypocrital don't you think? the second you have a problem with him doing so because you disagree you become a hypocrite.

      i respect anyone who lives their beliefs. i don't respect those who have beliefs of convenience and this is a problem i have with both huntsman and obama. the person i want in the white house is someone who does not compromise their beliefs or invent them to get votes. i want someone who feels they are accountable to a higher power, be it Jesus, Allah, Jehova or Santa Claus, i don't care so long as they believe they are accountable in public and private. i think the word is integrity.

      how about voting for integrity over party, race or religion?

      June 21, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Tawanda

      To Me,

      Hear, hear!!

      June 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Wow, that is outright discrimination.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  13. JennaR

    Check your facts, please–the LDS church strenuously opposes gay *marriage* but supports civil unions; see LDS church press release Novermber 5th 2008. Hello, editor?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • A. Goodwin

      REALLY? Then why the millions spent by the Mormon church on backing Prop 8? As a former mormon myself, I have not heard of this from ANY of my current mormon friends. Just saying.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Matthew

      Yo Jenna, I have never met a morman that is humble. Prove me wrong. Do you believe the black sector deserves a formal apology for keeping thier race from entering the priesthood over 200 years after this great country of ours was founded?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • cove30

      There are many apologies needed to be made for priesthood exclusion. In fact, most of the Christian faiths need to apologize to women for keeping them out of the priesthood, etc. ,etc., etc., ...

      June 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Ben

      @Matthew- Are you black? Have you ever talked to a black Mormon about how blacks were treated? They understand. Why are you holding grudges with other peoples' problems? They are over it, you should be too.

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

      @Ben : You are INCREDIBLY ignorant of this issue. Where do you live? Utah? I am an exmo who served a mission in Mississippi. Guess what @$$h0L3 they are NOT happy OR treated as well as you think. Get a clue and some life experience then come back and post something useful instead of just protecting your cherished slave master, the LDS church.

      June 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  14. SLC

    “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.” And we worry about the radicalization of Islam? We should worry about the day when it is bad to be a moderate... Its the evil-gelicals that want to take away all our rights and free will. They are no better then the Taliban.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  15. lct1119

    I don't care if he is Mormon or Hindu or buddhist, or gasp, Catholic............just dont' tweet your privates

    June 21, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • k

      priceless, lol

      June 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  16. El Kababa

    Republicans are not going to nominate a heathen, heretical Mormon. Huntsman saying he's not a good Mormon just makes things worse.

    Republicans are not going to nominate a Black person, so the Pizza guy is out.

    Republicans are not going to nominate a woman because leadership is a man's job.

    Republicans will pick another cookie-cutter white guy who parrots Republican propaganda points, like always. Richard Nixon was the last individual who called himself Conservative. Since then, Conservatives think the same, speak the same, and vote the same. Lockstep Conservatism has no room for individual thought.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • JD

      Let's make a deal: Why don't you decide what you stand for, and I'll decide what I'll stand for. If I mock you, I'll mock you for believing what YOU say you believe. I won't invent positions different from yours, assign them to you, and then mock you for "holding" them. You do the same for me.

      Deal?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Futon Torpedo

      Sorry but Nixon was not the last "conservative" POTUS. You gotta go back much futhur. But thanks for not saying Reagan.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  17. greg

    I am just waiting for the all out atheist candidate... Actually, better yet, the Zeus fearing candidate. That would be filled with awesomeness!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  18. anonymouse

    mormons scare me

    June 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Anonymous and Dennis summarize Huntsman's problem.
      Voters are scared of Mormons or consider them to be ridiculous.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • LUV USA

      Bigots are voters too.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • A. Goodwin

      LUV – Do you know what it means to be a bigot? The OP said they scare him/her. As a former mormon myself, I can see people saying this as they Mormon faith frequently gets equated to a cult (which is not true). Words have meanings, OK?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Laurie

      This topic is so absolutely ridiculous to me..... There was a time where they said our country would not vote for a Catholic, and now JFK is revered by many. We currently have a President who.... I would have a hard time believing is actually a devout Christian... but people did not vote for him based on his faith record.

      Small minded people.... If someone can rise to the leadership this country desperately needs, then let them lead. We are in such a world of hurt right now... Our education system is in crisis.... We are about to raise our debt ceiling... We are now involved in basically another war that has not even been approved of by Congress....

      If one of these guys has the ability to right the ship.... and some stupid, ignorant, bigoted people don't vote for them because their Mormon.... Then it serves us right.... Cause the water is circling the drain right now and we are going down.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • zipvip

      I worked for a mormon for three years. Probably the worst years of my life.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Dennis

    Does he wear the magic underwear or not?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Voters are scared of Mormons or consider them to be ridiculous.
      Anonymous and Dennis summarize Huntsman's problem.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Peter

      hee hee

      June 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • gaffer

      right up there with the magic beads the catholics use

      June 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Jonathan

      For the record, Mormons do not wear magic underwear, it is a garment that is symbolic of their covenants to follow Jesus Christ. There is no "power" in the underwear, only in Christ, also, Catholics do not use magic beads either, once again, they are symbols of principles of Christian doctrine.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  20. Carrie

    Wow...that is one genetically blessed family.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • zipvip

      Yeah! Mormons are cute. I guess it may be their way of preserving their cuteness.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.