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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. chris

    “We leave comment on the role of faith in an individual’s life to the individual,” said Michael Purdy, a church spokesman.

    You are told what underwear to put on...I can assure you, in this organization, nothing is left to the individual.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • John Do

      Such a crock.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  2. me

    I never thought I would vote for a republican, and certainly i would never vote for someone that believes in stuff that any sort of logic would rule out (mormonism)...but did you see that photo? Thats a great looking family. Look at those knockers, is that his wife? I would love to see them in the white house or when the daughter starts to rebel and ends up in playboy.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Go troll somewhere else.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  3. Peter T

    It might well be that Huntsmann doesn't actually want the GOP nomination for 2012 but for 2016. If the GOP candidate in 2012 is a firebrand (Bachmann?) who looses against Obama, then a more moderate candidate might get the GOP nomination in 2016. Huntsmann is young enough to run in 2016 and would have an advantage in name recognition, political grassroots support, etc.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  4. Willie12345

    And you know he doesn't worship Jesus Christ because ...................

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

      because Mormanism is not the true religion of the Bible. They have their own Bible—Book of Morman

      June 21, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Josh

      Willie, "Mormons" do in fact pray to and worship Jesus Christ, hence the real name of the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The word "Mormon" is simply a nickname that was applied to members of the church a long time ago.

      Jesus Christ is central to our faith. "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ ...that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (passage from the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 25:26).

      I hope this will now help you understand the truth about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints so you can now help others who blindly and incorrectly make statements about the faith of others. Please check out mormon.org to see more of what we truly believe.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Tire of People that dont think for themselves

      Splovengates
      Have you ever told a story to your friends and truned to your other friend who was there when it happend to back up your story? Well you telling the Story is the Bible, and the back up to the story is the Book of Mormon, another testiment of Jesus Christ. (oh wow, thats what i says on the cover!) I dont know if you knew this or not, but Mormons all over the world are studying from the New Testiment this year in sunday school (part of our 3 hrs of church worship we do EVERY sunday). Wait a minute, thats in the BIBLE!!!

      June 21, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  5. emanym

    My guess is the girl in the orange dress is the one who married in the Episcopal church (showing how diverse they are and all). Her outfit is not Temple Garment approved. No sleeveless dresses for good Mormon girls! I would never vote for a Mormon. As a former Mormon myself, I heard time and time again that when "the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done." I don't want a president who feels he must defer to the "prophet, seer and revelator" of the LDS Church.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  6. Walex

    I found it interesting that you described Romney as "defensive" about his faith. Almost everytime he is mentioned by the media he is identified as a Morman. The media has driven that point into the ground because they are afraid of him. He has the ability to beat Obama on pure charisma and actual executive experience. He pretty good looking too, that matters. It shouldn't but it does. I don't really want him for my GOP candidate but I will support him. Back to the constant referencing of his faith, what difference does it make? It mattered to some Evangelicals ( I am an Evangelical) I don't care what his faith is. That is why liberal media love to trumpet it; to work on the conservatives who cared about that. News to you MSM, this time around they won't care. They want Obama out. States can mandate things the feds can't, he made a mistake with Romney Care, pretty sure he knows it. I don't respect a guy who is wishy washy about his faith. Huntsman has no chance, too liberal for me.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Paul

      You seem to forget that this article appears in the "Belief Blog" not the regular news. And if you think religion isn't something important in firing up (or turning off) a political base you are mistaken. That's why it's analyzed and mentioned.

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

    I don't think the American people are ready for a mormon President who doesn't believe in and worship Jesus Christ. Period.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Your ignorance is showing. Go do your homework on the LDS faith, and quit posting nonsense.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Josh

      Kakaraka, "Mormons" do in fact pray to and worship Jesus Christ, hence the real name of the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The word "Mormon" is simply a nickname that was applied to members of the church a long time ago.

      Jesus Christ is central to our faith. "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ ...that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (passage from the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 25:26).

      I hope this will now help you understand the truth about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints so you can now help others who blindly and incorrectly make statements about the faith of others. Please check out mormon.org to see more of what we truly believe.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      Actually I agree with kakraka: Anyone claiming to be a Mormon and claiming not to worship Jesus Christ is a fraud on at least one count. I wouldn't want him to be president.

      June 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  8. Common Citizen

    Judging from all the factories Huntsman Corporation has in China, this billionaire should to be running for Chairman of the People Republic, the Manchurian Candidate. This guy is not part of the solution, but rather, part of the problem – the gutting of our manufacturing base and selling out of regular America –

    June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  9. Robita

    I think this guy would give Obama a run for his money if Republicans got behind him. Let's hope his moderate views turn off enough of the conservatives to keep him out of the race. He's a very dangerous type of conservative, one who will concentrate on "fiscal" issues. Remember, conservatives want to take from the poor and give to the rich. It's a sad fact, and one that none of them are willing to admit.

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

      robita: "Remember, conservatives want to take from the poor and give to the rich. It's a sad fact, and one that none of them are willing to admit."

      Yeah, take from the poor and give to the rich. That's why when conservatives say they want employers, businesses, employees, etc. to keep the money they (keyword) "would have paid in taxes", they really mean that they want to steal from the poor. Somehow. Inexplicably.

      You're smart.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • glj

      And Obama wants to take from everyone and give to the poor.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • ziggy

      ...and liberals want to take from the rich to give to the poor. Just as dangerous, wouldn't you say? How about everyone contributing fairly?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • RobS

      Wrong. That is what liberals want you to believe. What Republicans do is attempt to stimulate jobs and the economy by creating a business friendly enviroment and to create a tax system that doesnt suck certain people dry while creating a windfall for others. Democrates would rather steal from the rich to give to the poor and milk companies dry of their profits so that they can provide for people who cant or choose not to provide for themselves. Republicans "Think", Democrate "Feel".

      Taking company profits and increasing tax dollars for the rich and giving free services and money to the lower and middle class is not going to boost our country for the long term. Everyone will feel warm and fuzzy now getting free healthcare, unemployment benefits, and green energy, but 30 years from now when the rich and large corporations move away we will be left in a world of hurt, without jobs and opportunities. I have worked for 3 fortune 500 companies and all are gradually moving outside the US due to high labor costs and increasing risk of government legislature increasing taxes. Companies want to grow, but can only do so if they have the revenue to reinvest. Sorry, but companies dont simply "pocket" profits. They reinvest it into the business, which means creating jobs and spending on R&D and acquisitions.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  10. sara

    it doesn't look like they are wearing their magic underwear in these photos!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      That kind of remark is like ridiculing a Jew for wearing his Yarmulke, or a Catholic nun for wearing a habit. It is pure religioous mockery.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  11. Joe

    I would never trust anyone who can get elected in Utah, the most delusional right wing state in the nation.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. pam

    Mormons are not to be trusted. They are the largest group of bigots and racist that I have had the displeasure of dealing with. In there eyes, if you are not mormon you don't count.

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

      Yet, he's raising his adopted Indian daughter to be Hindu. Guess who's the real bigot, Pam?

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

      Absolutely agree with you Pam. People need to know that Mormons care about Mormons, period. They are discouraged from having non Mormon friends and it's their "duty" to try and convert you (so they can build their planet)....Their beliefs are off the chart and although they will tell you they believe in Jesus Christ, John Smith holds a higher place....I encourage everyone who is not familiar with this, uh....."religion"....to read a book not written by them! Yes, they are very nice people...in a customer service sort of way...

      June 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • brian

      Please back this up with something other than a run in with 1 or 2 people that you did not care for. Mormonism is a huge religion. How can you paint all of it's members like that? Would you dare to do so about Jews, Blacks or any other group. You are the Bigot.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Marcy – You should take a look around you. If that is your standard, then every evangelical is also bigoted. They do the same thing. And all you people who are posting your 'South Park' diatribe are doing the same thing in the opposite direction. You should think twice before pointing your fingers at one group – you may find that EVERY other group around you is just as 'guilty'.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • pam

      Brian,
      Look what byu(mormon collage) did to that black basketball player.

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

      I dont care if the believe in flying green martians and hate everyone that doesnt eat canned tuna, if they can fix the issues in the country, I am in!

      June 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Liz

      Pam, students agree to abide by an honor code when attending BYU. White kids get suspended from BYU for honor code violations too. Remember Julie from MTV's Real World?

      June 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Josh

      Well said CMC. Pam, I'm actually shocked that you feel that way. I'm sorry that you haven't had the opportunity to meet the majority of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are some of the kindest and most friendly people around. Blanket bigoted statements are definitely not very kind. Let's practice a little more of what our Savior Jesus Christ taught us in being kind to others.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Josh

      Pam, in regards to the "black basketball player", do you even really know the truth of what really happened? Or did you just listen to the soundbites of people who are as quick to judge as you are? Brandon Davies is still in school and always was. He broke the Honor Code of BYU. He agreed to abide by the Honor Code and when he broke it, he was removed from the basketball team. He wasn't kicked out of school. In fact, he traveled with the basketball team and sat on the team bench for the rest of the games. BYU was being merciful even when Brandon broke the rules. Should we not have consequences for breaking rules anymore?

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

      Pam- I agree. I had a personal experience of working for a mormon in an academic setting. Although they are never overtly rude or discriminatory but I never felt included in the group. I never craved for personal inclusion but race was definitely the factor also. In all his career he fired three people, they all belonged to minority groups. Also, he was accused by senior faculty of being racist for blocking the appointment of a faculty who belonged to minorty grou as well for "professional reasons".

      June 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Tire of People that dont think for themselves

      Marcy,
      I am LDS and i grew up in an area with few LDS People and it was reverse of what you are saying, Kids werent aloud to hand out with me because i was a "mormon." I was not aloud to date some girls because, i was a "mormon." I dont even know what religion they were and i have a hard time just hating everyone because thats the way i was treated because i believe differently. Turns out, i had alot of friends and am still friends with many of the kids i grew up with and i have never forced my beliefs on any of them. I dont know who offened you but you need to be more Christian like those happy mormons you hate so much and choose not to be offened so you have to waste your life with hating others.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  13. Tim

    How is anyone getting a good look at the women in the picture to be raving about them like I see in some comments? Yes, from a far away shot, they seem slim and potentially good looking, but even half closer you might get a different impression, quickly. Careful!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  14. captnavenger

    This country will never get on stable footing until religion is a non-question in politics. "Is America ready for a Mormon President?" America desperately needs an end to religion in politics, period. Very few subjects cause politicians to lie faster or harder, than the question of religion. Stop forcing them to be phony, maybe they'll actually be less phony.

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

      Sorry Captn.....if they aren't phony people won't vote for them....

      June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  15. Voice of Reason

    And oh, by the way – Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid is ALSO an active Mormon.

    If you are so Naive as to think that the entire membership of the LDS church votes one way, or that they are a bunch of mindless clones marching in lockstep with orders from Salt Lake, then you need to wake up and get past your ignorance/bigotry/intolerance. Go out and talk to your LDS neighbors and maybe you'll find they arent so different from you after all. You might even find that they are >gasp!< real people!

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

      Better yet, watch South Park's All about the Mormons episode before you make any judgements about real Mormons.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @K3Citizen – that's exactly the kind of nonsense I'm on about! Do we REALLY look to an obnoxious cartoon like 'South Park' to make judgements about a whole religion? That's too shallow for words.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Marcy

      Jack Mormon....

      June 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Tire of People that dont think for themselves

      I know i base all my judgement of people from RI based on the show Family guy. So they must all be fat, stupid and treat their families like trash.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  16. Interesting

    Non-dogmatic? Practical? Cordial? Aware of the fact that other countries in the world matter? He can kiss the GOP nomination goodbye. Too bad, because I think he'd punish Obama in the general election, as Obama deserves. And I'm a liberal democrat.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  17. Kathleen

    The GOP has moved so far right that while Romney may have a shot at winning the primary, Huntsman actually has a shot at winning the Presidential election.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  18. SteveC

    Who cares.....our current Disaster In Chief isn't religious at all unless there's a photo op to be had. At least this guy has some sort of sense of the sacred.

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

      Yes, a sense of the sacred is what I look for in a leader. Not intelligence, ethics, morals, diplomacy.....none of that matters so long as they know what religious Americans view as sacred, huh?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • glj

      "Not intelligence, ethics, morals, diplomacy" – please sya you're not referring to current President, or maybe I should say campaigner in chief.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Dan

    What is this guy doing in the GOP? He has way too much religous and cultural tolerance for the republicans.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  20. HuckPtui

    Okay, so I'm a gay, married (yes, married... we can do that here) Democrat. And I don't dislike this guy.

    That's either gonna kill his chances or get him in office, folks.

    Oh, and PS: How about we vote for the best candidate regardless of their religious affiliation? Under the proviso, of course, that they leave that affiliation at the door wwhen they take office. This is a democracy, NOT a theocracy, after all.

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

      huck: "Oh, and PS: How about we vote for the best candidate regardless of their religious affiliation? Under the proviso, of course, that they leave that affiliation at the door wwhen they take office. This is a democracy, NOT a theocracy, after all."

      Ah, right. It's a democracy. But it's a democracy where you can't vote or speak from your religious or moral point of view. It's a democracy, in other words, where people can only vote or speak in ways that you, HuckPtui, believe are right.

      Brilliant.

      "not a theocracy"

      You do realize that a democracy is only a system of government where the people vote, right? They can vote on religious issues, social ones, political ones, and so on.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Marcy

      Huck....bite your tongue. Since you are gay and married you are obviously not living in a state that has a large population of Mormons. Please don't forget that the Mormon church was THE main financer in the fight against gay marriage in California. Make no mistake, we cannot afford to have this person contending for the presidency. Mormons are very nice people, family orientated and generous (with other Mormons). Your comments indicate that you are an open minded person.....don't be fooled.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Tire of People that dont think for themselves

      Youre right Marcy, Because once a mormon is in office, all churches will be replaced with mormon ones and thongs will be illeagle. Not to mention that state laws will be changed because it will no longer be a democracy, people can no longer vote. -you are the fool. And people are forgetting, the President does not have the say all. Im not a fan of Obama, but remember, his ideas had to be run by other elected officials too.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:52 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.