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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. Ruth

    I really don't care what religion a candidate belongs to. I care about their voting record on the issues and what their political views are. Why does everyone get so worked up about religion? Look at their political record and that's it.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  2. Dusty2701

    When Kennedy ran for President as the first Catholic candidate, people were afraid the Pope would dictate political policy to him if he became President. That didn't happen and it won't happen with Romney. I think it's time to dump Obama and bring some class back into the White House so we can be proud Americans again. So far, I'm leaning toward Romney, but I'll see how things progress.

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

      So are you saying we lack "class" because Obama is black...just asking? I don't I would classify Daddy Bush or Baby Bush as classy myself...and even though I'm a dem, I wouldn't exactly classify Bill Clinton as classy either. So I guess that leaves a dirth of "class acts."

      June 21, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  3. ck1721

    So basically "I have beliefs, but they aren't very strong. If I say I believe something today, that may not be the case a year from now" Sounds more like a Democrat. No wonder CNN loves him so much.

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

      You got that right

      June 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  4. John Markham

    Frankly, we don't want a Mormon president. End of story.

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

      We don't want a Mormon president because.......??? Not really following your point, how is a person's religion going to make them a good or bad president?

      June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • John Do

      Why? Do you fear what you don't understand?

      And nobody ever said anything about him forcing YOU to become a Mormon. So what's your worry?

      June 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  5. Jeffrey David

    His wife is pretty hot.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • considering mormon

      his whole family. id convert.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  6. xmxm

    This guys sounds fiscally conservative and socially liberal, exactly what America needs.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  7. JB

    Don't know much about his policies, but I applaud any candidate with the stones to say he's not religious, or is interested in faiths other than Christianity. Especially in the GOP. That's a bold statement. I welcome a moderate voice, even if I haven't voted GOP in years. Of course, this guy stands no chance getting the nod.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • ck1721

      That not moderate, it's a guy who doesn't know what he believes. A moderate will at least stand by what he believes

      June 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  8. brian

    Am I the only one who noticed how hot his wife and daughters are in that main picture? You people are missing the bigger picture here....

    June 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • God (the REAL one)

      No. Unfortunately, too many of you are thinking with that tiny little head, instead of the big one that I gave you for that purpose.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Ray

    In politics and religion, a moderate is an individual who is not extreme, partisan or radical.

    “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.”

    ???? Do we not want reasonable people in office?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Mike

    Harry Reid is also a Mormom. That doesn't seem to be a problem for him or the voters.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Yeah, when was the last time you saw any main stream media point that out though? I bet most voters have no idea.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  11. roscoe

    The republican race is starting to take on the look of a freak show. Bachmann is like a christian jihadist with an IQ of 50, Mitt "RomneyCare" Romney is going to have to do some wild moves to deny his past positions, Newt and his wives are entertaining, Palenty is so weak that he looks like Tim Pathetic, Herman the pizza man has the most reasoned thinking, and the trailer park family from Wasilla hasn't even entered the race yet. If you can vote for any of these, you love the republican party more than America.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  12. R. Allen

    It is interesting to sit back and watch all the religious bashing that goes on here for a political candidate. I am neither a christian, nor Mormon, nor a Republican or demo but imagine what could be done if we would use this insane amount of energy here to fix problems instead of complain about someones religious views. What's wrong with America is the divisions we have artificially created between the "us and them". Imagine what might be accomplished if we all came to the center and agreed that we can't afford the luxury of division while the ship is taking on water. When we have plugged the whole and saved the ship, then we have time to debate wildly.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  13. Hal

    I DO NOT recommend Huntsman whatsoever. He is a Rino Republican at best. Religion has nothing to do with it and never should for any politician.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Jimbo

      No you are wrong, it definately should hold value. People shape their entire lives based on religions like these and you think it doesn't matter?

      June 21, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • John Do

      @jimbo–So I take it that you think it's a bad thing to strive for:
      being a better father, husband, man.
      serving your fellow man.
      striving for a higher standard of conduct as an example for your kids.

      And you think this is bad??

      June 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  14. Reality Check

    And what did any of that have to do with Huntsman's plan t revitalize American industry? Is this CNN or People. CNN should at least pretend to be covering a presidential election. Who's more Mormon, Romney or Huntsman? Really?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  15. CheeZ-US H Christ

    My My My, nobody wants anyone to "...distance themselves from their religion..." in private but...when your religion gets in the way of my gov't then there's a problem.

    I wish these folks the best of luck in their upcoming campaigns but do hope that they understand that:

    we're on the verge of a world war

    we're on the verge of a revolt right here stateside

    we've got 44 million people on food stamps

    we've got 22% unemployed (I count the unemployed not just those collecting the insurance)

    we've got career politicos telling US that after being forced to give money to the gov't to secure our retirement future, they don't want US to have it

    we've got five wars going on & more to follow

    we've had enough, the current system doesn't work. There isn't a two party system stateside it's one party the GOP (Greedy Oil Party) & their lackeys on the other side of the aisle.

    Americans don't want this one party system & we certainly don't want the career politicos involved.

    We want statesmen not greedy oil party members.

    And Mr. romney is not a very good choice. He's known as 'Flip Romney' in Taxachusetts. Whatever the leanings of the audience are he panders to them. Then contridicts himself at the next public showing with exactly the opposite standing.

    I do like his health care bill he passed in Taxachusetts. It may be flawed but it's better then being left to your own devices when you have a medical situation.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • John Do

      That's the whole problem. He could keep his religion secret but then the press and public would demand to know about his religious affairs.

      Everyone wants to know yet they don't.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  16. NW1000

    What I fail to understand about Mormonism is, they advertise bibles for free, but, missionaries like Huntsman knock on doors and tell us that many plain and precious truths were omitted from the bible, that it is flawed, mistranslated, etc...and not to be trusted. Then why give it away? Why give away corruption? Also, Joseph Smith claimed the BOM was the "most correct" of any book on earth, that includes the bible, yet the BOM does not teach the Mormon view of God, i.e., that he is a man with a body of flesh and bone.

    June 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • reality check

      A dollar doesn't spend as far as it did twenty years ago, but I won't refuse to take it and spend because that. The Bible is the word of God so long as it is translated correctly. You do realize that the bible wasn't originally written in English, or even one language, right?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Mike

      The Bible wasn't written in English !!!????? That's pretty UnAmerican. What language was it written in? Greek? Aramaic?

      June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Hal

      That is true. Mormons do not believe the Authorized Version of the Bible. They have added their own bible which goes against the Authorized Bible.

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

      Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead the third day. If you believe in anything else you need to reconsider.

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

      Hal

      Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead the third day. If you believe in anything else you need to reconsider.
      .::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
      get help
      .
      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Hal

      Reality check: read Psalm 12 verses 6 and 7. The English version (King James Authorized Version) is the final (seventh) purification of God's word.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Hal

      Artist, I'm sorry you feel so angry. My life has been so much better and freer than I was before I trusted in Jesus as my savior. you need to read John chapter 3 and ask God to reveal it to you.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Lin

      Hal, Mormons use the King James Version of the Bible. Maybe you are thinking we use a different version because of the extensive footnotes and indexes in the LDS edition, which I don't see in a lot of other King James Versions at my local Barnes and Noble, but the text is strictly King James.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      Hal: Not only is the LDS Bible KJV, but the Book of Mormon was written in KJV dialect so that phrases in one would relate to phrases in the other. And, I am told, because this was the English Joseph Smith knew at the time. As I have posted elsewhere, Mormons beleive that Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Father. He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day; And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father; That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved. This is what the LDS church tought on the day of it's founding, and what we teach today.

      Artist: You're not helping.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      The Fifth Article of Faith of the LDS church says "we believe the Bible to be the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the book of Mormon to be the Word of God."

      Basically, Mormons have a realistic view of the bible. They do not think it is a "magic book" that is somehow flawless because it transmits God's word. they do not worship the bible; they worship God who spoke to the prophets and apostles who WROTE the Bible, in its original version. Anyone who knows the history of the bible knows that maintaining ancient manuscripts has been difficult, and up until the deqad sea Scrolls were discovered, the OLDEST Old Testament manuscripts dated to about 1,000 AD!

      Then there is the problem of just translating ANY language into another one. The English version of the Bible is certainly NOT inerrant; it can't be, since the original was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

      The Mormons use the King James Version because it is "close enough" and its text is a lingua franca for the english speaking world. We supplement it with alternate translations in the footnotes, a dictionary, and a topical guide, that helps us understand a verse by joining it to other similar verses so we can have an expanded context for understanding the meaning.

      Ironically, people don't understand that the Book of Mormon SUPPORTS the Bible. In a time when so many atheists attack its truths (as in the comments here), the Book of Mormon affirms the reality of god, of Jesus Christ and his miracles and resurrection, and the basic integrity of the bible itself. It offers additional insight inito the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ and other teachings, which help us understand the Bible. Most of all, it says the message of the Bible is TRUE.

      Mormons study the Bible assiduously. We have a four year Sunday School study cycle for adults and older teens, with one year on the Old Testament, one year on the New, and one year on the Book of Mormon. The fourth year is focused on revelations received by Joseph Smith and other modern prophets, but all of those refer back to the Bible.

      Mormon teens go through a similar four year cycle during high school of scripture study. They spend just as much time with the New Testament as they do with the Book of Mormon.

      In national surveys, Mormons have demonstrated that they are just as biblically literate as most other Christians. their teens are even MORE familiar with the Bible than those of ther denominations. And the Mormons carry their Bibles around with them on Sunday, and read them with their families.

      So do you understand? Mormons love the Bible. They read it, teach from it, study it. They see it as an essential part of finding the path back to God through Christ.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  17. Grundoon

    If Huntsman thinks the state of our country is so un-American why is he not maligning his own party for throwing us in a ditch from 2001-2008?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  18. Nah

    huckpt: "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 4:52 pm |
  19. Ed

    Are hotties like that included in the Mormon conversion kit?

    June 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Christian Schizophrenia

      Have some good memories of Utah mormon women. Away from their fathers they were crazy fun. I guess they had to get certain things out of their system before wearign the magic wear.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Jimbo

    Mormons babtized HITLER after he was dead. Please someone defend this, I want to hear this explanation. My only conclusion is they kind of liked him.

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

      Hitler hadne't been baptized yet.

      June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • mc

      The LDS church baptizes EVERY member of society who is not a member ot the church in order to give them an opportunity to accept the religion once more before the Resurrection of Christ. It is not upon any human being to decide the worthiness of any other human being, that is up to God.

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

      Sounds like I better get baptized catholic or something so I don't end up with my name next to Hitler in some baptism record book. What a bunch of loons.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • chris

      Jimbo,

      After we killed Bin Laden, we went to great lengths to give him a proper burial. When a murderer is sentenced to death, he is given last rites. This is common with all major religions. It doesn't mean they are liked, it means that we are leaving further judgement in Gods hand. Christians, Mormons, Muslims,Mormons, and Jews all preach forgiveness without exception. Read the Bible and learn something. This understanding is what separates us from animals like Hitler and Bin Laden.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • KBinMN

      "in Christ shall all be made alive .. Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's",[9] Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"

      June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • rich

      Mormons consider murder an extremely grievous sin, have a strong affiinity to judaism, and therefore do not "like" or approve of Hitler's actions in any sense. Persons who commit murder cannot typically become or remain members of the church.

      Whether Hitler was baptized by proxy does not really matter because the baptism is of no consequence unless it is accepted by both the deceased person and the Lord. In other words, the baptism does not transform a bad person into a good person, but rather allows a good and repentant person to potentially receive salvation through Jesus Christ. Note that church members do not typically try to decide which deceased persons do or do not qualify to be baptized by proxy (it is Christ's responsibility to judge), but the church sometimes removes records that are considered offensive. There is no hidden agenda – the purpose is simply to give all persons who have ever lived an equal opportunity to accept Christ.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:00 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.