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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. Tiger Woods

    I will vote for this guy, because of the picture on the main page of cnn.com...WOW, some serious hotties on there...nice boobies & legz

    June 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Charlie Sheen

      2nd that, Tiger I'll be over in 30 with an 8-ball and the keg

      June 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • K3Citizen

      Those hotties are already taken by the church elders.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  2. Willie12345

    Either you're a Mormon trying to be a better Mormon or not really active in the church. The religion requires that individuals try to improve (Keeping commandments, giving to the poor, helping the needed, basic health, honesty, etc).

    June 21, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Jimbo

      And number 1, trying to convert and baptise as many people as possible even if it means breaking apart perfectly good families.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • gaffer

      @jimbo well he could be a muslim and kill those who dont convert, by the way ever relgion expects everyone to do missionary work, some i anice way others by killing

      June 21, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  3. Mountaineer

    Of all the Republicans running for President, John Huntsman appears to be to most willing to work with the Democrats to solve the country's problems. Had the republicans worked with President Obama, we would have been out of this mess!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Rick F

      And what about the Dems working with the Republicans? Where's that open government thingy Obama promised?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • One Term Obama

      yeah...it's all the Republicans' fault!!! ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Oh...you're serious.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • glj

      I would agree with you, and I am a Republican. But, remember, Obama had control of the House and Senate during his first two terms and still did not resolve the issues. He should have been able to pass anything, but that did not happen.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  4. Voice of Reason

    All you idiots out there saying that you wont vote for a Mormon – i have a question for you: Ask yourself: Do you even KNOW the denomination of the other candidates (Romney excluded)?

    It's a sad, sad day when we embrace a religious litmus test in America. The land of the free and home of the brave – unless you're a Mormon, then you can go back to your 'reservation' (Utah), and the rest of us will look the other way and try to pretend you're not really American. Look out people, your hypocrisy is showing.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jimbo

      To bad so many of those elitists shelter themselves in Utah. That is the most beautiful state, I wish a bunch of people would move there and take it away from them.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Pablo Pena

      Thank you for this post. It's totally true I was snickering at Mormons myself and your point caught me off guard. I DON'T know the denominations of the other candidates, lol! So I will definitely keep an open mind going forward. Great Post!

      June 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  5. Brian

    I won't vote for a Republican, regardless of if they are centrist or not, until the whole party moves back towards the center. There are too many religious zealots, nutjobs, conspiratards, and corporate stooges who hold way considerable sway over Republican policymaking. Any Republican winning high office only serves to validate these people.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • glj

      So along the smae lines you will not vote for a Democrat until they move back toward the center as they are too liberal?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Rick F

      Zealots, nutjobs, conspiratards, and stooges hold considerable sway over the Democrat's policymaking as well. There's no monopoly. Ask yourself how Harry Reid, the poor boy from Nevada, made all of his money. How did he become a millionaire on his Senate salary??

      June 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  6. The Greedy Old Pigs are running a con on America!

    Huntsman, the latest "Great White Dope" for the GOBP, is in fact a "Trojan Horse" candidate. He tries very hard to appear moderate, but inside he is another trust fund baby, cult capitalist in love with failed ideas like deregulation and tax cuts for the filthy rich. His family is basically a Mormon version of the Koch brothers and he endorsed Ryan's extreme plan to kill Medicare. There is nothing "moderate" about Huntsman when you look beyond the mask.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      A simple review of his record shows that Huntsman, who chaired McCain's campaign in 2008, is very much a moderate Republican. He very much governed from the center in Utah (where most in his party are very conservative). Indeed, if he were running in the Republicn primary in Utah in 2012 to wrest the Senate seat from Orrin Hatch, Huntsman would probably lose, because, like Robert Bennett, who was defeated in the Republican primary for another Senate term, Huntsman is too moderate for the likes of many politically active Republicans in Utah. Romney will absolutely wipe him out if they are both still in the race when Utah gets its turn in the primaries.

      June 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  7. Mac

    I love this quote:

    “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.”

    LOL

    I love how this guy thinks that "moderate" is a bad word. What a disconnect with the majority of the voting public. If this guy represents the modern Rebuplican party, they have NO chance in 2012...none.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  8. Gingerpeach

    There is something wrong with someone who won't stand up for what they believe in. And dump their believes for fame. I'd take Ronmey, at least he stands for his beliefs. No telling what Huntsman would dump for fame.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Willie12345

      Well said.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jimbo

      I disagree. If Romney denounces the church, he would look smarter in my eyes.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  9. Vader

    “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 that, boys and girls, is the quintessential reason that while the wingnut faction of the Repugnant-can party may hold sway in nominating their candidate, that candidate will have no chance in the general election where the wingnuts are the minority, and people who do actually think, consider and then vote make the call.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Mac

      Sorry Vader. You beat me to it. I never read your post before I commented.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  10. Bryan

    Grose

    June 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  11. car402

    If a Mormon can fix the economy, I DON'T CARE IF HE IS A MORMON!.......

    or jewish, or christian, or..... FIX IT...and get this current fool out of office!

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

      lol...fix it, daddy, fix it. God, Americans are such children.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Northstar

      I read a great op-ed in Wall St. Journal by Huntsman...he knows the economy.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  12. Bob

    Like the pic on the main page, pick one...Orange, Pink, Purple, Blue, whoo hotties love thier wealthy politicians.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  13. Devon

    The second-to-last paragraph of the article is inaccurate. The civil unions law that Huntsman signed was not opposed by the LDS Church. The Church actively campaigned against gay marriage, but it is not opposed to allowing certain civil liberties to gay couples.

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

      I noticed that too. Check the facts!

      June 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  14. TheyCallMeTheGambler

    You're welcome to your faith but keep it out of public office.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  15. Matthew

    Has this so called religion ever apologized to the dark skin race for keeping them out of the Prieshood until 1978? A FORMAL APOLOGY IS ESSENTIAL! 14 million bigots

    June 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • mike

      While millions of those so-called bigots being of a "dark skinned race."

      June 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • icodel

      well said

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

      “Anyone who says the Church is racist isn’t speaking from experience and has no idea of the racial harmony we enjoy as a Church family,” Corbitt said. “Perhaps some members of color have had a negative experience here or there in our 13 and a half-million-member church. But in numerous meetings with members and leaders of the Church at every level over the years I have never experienced anything remotely resembling racism.”

      June 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Willie12345

      I believe there is a great deal of material written about this topic. You might want to read it.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • JSLaw

      Well, at least the Mormons were freely allowing blacks to attend church services with whites...something that most every protestant and evangelical congregation in the South was not allowing around that same time period. Oh...and at least you would never hear of sermon from a Mormon pulpit justifying the slavery and murder of innocents based on the color of their skins...that would be protestant and evangelical churches in both pre and post civil war times.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  16. Randy

    Please no more religious nut candidates for any political office let alone the presidency. They want to use fairy tales to control ignorant people i.e. The Republican base.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  17. Jan

    I would never vote for someone that can't stand up for anything. He dropped his deeply rooted religion for politics. How can we trust him to make a stand for America and her citizens?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Willie12345

      Well said. No one likes opportunists.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • gaffer

      if he dropped his reilgion for running a country i say good for him...remember we want seperation of church and state or we get a state like iran

      June 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  18. MikeBell

    And we are supposed to get excited about someone that marginalizes or compromises their values; why?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  19. Rob

    You should understand what Mormons believe before you make your decision. Investigate. You will be supprised. Mormans are not Christians.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Randy

      They religious nuts just like Muslims Jews Christians Pagans you name it. If you can convince someone of an obvious lie it's easy to control them.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Willie12345

      When were you elected to the high position of making such a decision ?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • David

      Sounds like you have really done some good research and investigation. How about you learn how to spell "Mormon" before you go and criticize them, thanks Rab.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • gaffer

      ya no christians there... in the book of mormon almost every page they talk about jesus and they beleive in the bible ...so ya no christians..*rolls eyes

      June 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  20. Vesi

    So far JH comes out as a reasonable moderate who thinks out of the box. He is definitely far superior than Romney. Unfortunately for JH the GOP base of these days has moved too far to the right of him.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • JSLaw

      Vesi...you took the words right out of my mouth.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:30 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.