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. Splovengates

    Why Not!!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  2. Christian Schizophrenia

    I urge all to register as a Republican and vote for the 3rd or 4th best. Lets weaken the god nuts.

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

      christian: "I urge all to register as a Republican and vote for the 3rd or 4th best. Lets weaken the god nuts."

      Not a very good troll, eh?

      You might want to try a more subtle approach. You make yourself look dimwitted and desperate on every one of these religious posts.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Christian Schizophrenia


      christian: "I urge all to register as a Republican and vote for the 3rd or 4th best. Lets weaken the god nuts."

      Not a very good troll, eh?

      You might want to try a more subtle approach. You make yourself look dimwitted and desperate on every one of these religious posts.
      I don't disagree with you. Just planting seeds my friend. Some will grow and some will not.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • RainyDay

      Yeah – I've read that crazy book called the New testament too. It's composed of four books called. It is so crazy. It has teachings in it proclaiming love for your enemies, do not murder, do not steal, serve the Lord by serving others. It's freaking crazy man. You're doing great. The white-hating, Christian-hating democrat party has taught you well. keep up the good work. You are a loyal slave to them.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  3. Splovengates

    America's already got a psuedo Muslim, got a full blown Morman running. Why not? US going to hell in a hand basket

    June 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Thinking7

      Very true.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  4. jkg

    who cares about this guy ,his wife is hot!! I say lets all vote for the guy with the hittest wife!!

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


      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  5. Maine Liberal

    he is no different than the majority of "church" goers.. christmas easter and deaths

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

      Which is good. I'm okay with a Holiday Mormon more so than a BoM thumper, just like Christian vs. evangelical, although a true believer Mormon has to jump through more, or at least more obvious, logical inconsistency in order to believe.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  6. Christian Schizophrenia

    I might have to register as a Republican to vote for this guy to weaken the party even more.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  7. GKL1961

    Mormons are devout followers of Jesus Christ. Hence the name "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints."

    June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Thinking7


      June 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Christian Schizophrenia

      Actually no, you are the follower of a schizophrenic man who claimed to see magic dishes and had hallucinations. lol

      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  8. Jim

    Mormonism is a money based cult, not a religion and certainly not Christian as they do not believe in the chain of prophets ending with Jesus. Getting their own planet after death? That takes the Christian idea of their invisible sky friend to a whole new extreme.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • John Do

      Obviously you have no knowledge of Mormons.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • NRC

      Thank you Jim for showing us true Christianity. A guy casting stones from behind a computer screen. Even someone who is not religious can see that you are in contradiction of the teachings of Christianity by judging. Good luck to you with gaining followers to your anti-mormon cult.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      Mormons have NO career clergy. That means you CANNOT make a living as a Mormon minister. All Mormon church leaders at the local, city and regional level are 100% unpaid volunteers, who support thermselves with their own jobs, and DONATE 10% of their income to the church too! The few dozen most senior leaders of the LDS Church were successful professionals (doctors, lawyers, business executives, university presidents) and generally took a cut in pay to accept full time work for the Church. NO ONE gets rich in the Mormon Church. Like Huntsman andf Romney, if they get rich, it is through their own work in the regular economy.

      Just imagine how much more good all other Christian denominations could accomplish if all the priests and pastors supported themselves.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  9. beast of the east in Ga.

    3rd that TIGER! dude in the back w/ two ladies has ish made!!!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  10. Erin

    How refreshing…a Republican who doesn’t feel like he has to come across as a zealot to get the vote. I am a Christian and even I get sick of everyone jockeying to be the most Christian politician of all time. Leave religion and morality to the religions, just fix our economy!

    June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  11. JB

    Here's a thought.....when the crowd wanted to make Jesus a king he refused and left. Why would a real Christian want to do the opposite and become president?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  12. Jo

    As a Mormon, I'd disagree with Bowman's analysis. 13 years is not enough to generate a huge gap in thinking as he suggests, and many young adults in today's church share Romney's conviction and thoughts. From his actions and words, It doesn't seem like Hunstman would be considered a very active and typically devout Mormon. Maybe I'm wrong..?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • reality check

      Yes, you are.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  13. Unknown

    I'm a non-religious Democrat, but if this guy runs, I might vote for him instead of Obama.

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

      I was thinking the same thing. The more I learn about him, the more I like him.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  14. Walex

    BTW, your "belief" pages sucks. I love the liberal stories listed along the perimiter of the page. 'Learning to Stop Praying Away the Gay', Really? How amusing. I guess your blog is called "belief" not "faith". Big difference. People stick by scandal plagued pastors because they are idiots. Love sinner, hate the sin, but a man (or woman) must have their own house in order to be a leader in the Christian churches. That is biblical. If a church isn't about the bible I guess it doesn't matter.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Christian Schizophrenia

      No one is asking you to stay. There is the door d!p Hit

      June 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • The Real Tom Paine

      Is arrogance and derision part of your faith? If so, its built on sand. It must suck going through life seeing only what you don't like, and defining yourself accordingly.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • cmc

      Last time I checked, everyone in America was allowed to have a 'belief'. Are you implying that stories about all faiths have no place on a website aimed for the American public? The Christian Taliban hasn't taken over yet, Walex. Until it does, everyone gets to have their own beliefs and share them. Your Bible isn't the end all and be all of this country. It may be all that in your religion, but we aren't a theocracy....yet (shudder).

      June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  15. JWH

    He was a prophet who was met by an angel. He changed a religion, and called the original religion as false. He wrote a book greater than the Bible. He had many wives, some were young. They were both martyrs. he restored the religion. Joseph Smith, yes and Muhammad.

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

      Except that Mormons don't beleive that the Book of Mormon is better than the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. We also beleive the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Apart from a number of clarifications of passages (for instance: the devil didn't lead Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, but he did tempt him there), we take the King James text fairly literally. All of the parables I learned in Primary came from the New Testament.

      June 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  16. Corey Cashion

    It seems Mr. Huntsman appreciates faiths without the application of a separatist viewpoint or stance towards them. Appreciating each faith or religion for what each one embodies. I wonder how far he will sway from his own beliefs to gain the people's votes?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  17. brian drummond

    I am a mormon. The fact that candidates share my faith will have NOTHING to do with how I vote. Who can solve the problems that our country faces?

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


      June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  18. JWH

    They restored the 1800 years of church apostasy, oops, if America is a Christian nation, 1776 came before 1830. Busted.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • reality check

      America isn't a Christian nation. We are a Republic, not a theocracy.

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

      America is not a Christian nation. It's a nation that has a whole bunch of Christians. There's a difference.

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

      Your not understanding what was said. The true gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth then. Look into mormon.org for the deatails.

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


      June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  19. Brandon Davies

    That's why I attended Bring'em Young University.

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

      That was a good laugh. Thanks.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  20. Ex-Mormon

    After reading though all of your posts I felt compelled to say something. I am an x-mormon. I grew up in it until I was 18 years old and almost went on a mormon mission. I live in Salt Lake and have lived here all my life. I know everything about mormon doctrine. Most of you seem to be too ignorant to actually do some research on their religion and base all of your view on the HBO show Big Love. Let me set some facts straight for you:
    Mormons dont have multiple wives and it is NOT allowed
    Mormons arent terrorists
    I am not a mormon anymore becuase I dont agree with a few of the teachings, but it is a great religion and is very family oriented. Mormons founded Utah basically. I think we are the #1 state for jobs, # 1 state for families #1 in education, etc... We have one of if not the lowest crime rate. We are one of the most ethnically tollerant – See bill past on illegal immigrants. We are a good state and it has been run by Mormons ! It is a perfect example of what our nation needs. Not the mormon religion, but some of their economic sense. I will be voting for romney, not because he is a mormon, but because he is an amazing business man and a great leader. If you base your vote on religious views, then you are a moron. you should base it on political views. My parents are mormon and one is republican and one is demo. Mormons are a religion, not a political party, get that straight. The only difference you will see in a mormon president as opposed to any other, is the chrurch building he will be attending on Sunday. That is it ! Quit being so f'ing ignorant ! And yes, to that guys that says mormons arent christians, they are, they believe in Jesus, your a moron.

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

      Well put. I am an ex-mormon too and do not agree with their theology. BUT Romney is an excellant choice and too bad all candidates actually be men of high moral character.

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

      Well put. I am an ex-mormon too and do not agree with their theology. BUT Romney is an excellant choice and too bad all candidates can't actually be men of high moral character.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • B-Focus

      Belief in Jesus does not make you Christian, it's who you believe Jesus is in history that's what makes you Christian. And for someone who has threw so many moron comments out there you should know that.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Ex-Mormon

      When it comes to Jesus, they believe the exact same thing Catholics do you...do some research, you're a f'ing idiot

      June 21, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • SurRy

      Mittens Romney is a big flip-flopper and was a terrible governor.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      B-Focus: Moromons beleive that Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Almighty God. He suffered tempatations but gave no heed to them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven to sit down at the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father, that as many as would beleive and be baptized in his holy name, and endure to the end, should be saved.

      What beleif in Christ do you have?

      June 21, 2011 at 9:39 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.