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. MARY

    CHRIS-You say INSANE I say FAITH.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Skeptic

      You say faith, I hear "Because I say so"

      June 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      You say faith, I say stupidity.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Yud-Nt-noh

      Why attack beliefs? I mean, there are bad Christians, there are bad atheists. There are bad Mormons there are bad Jews, Catholics, Hindus. But there are also very good people in each of those beliefs.
      I say, just leave people alone, when it comes to religion. As long as it is not affecting you, just don't bother.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  2. bashaleebee

    Another good looking Mormon and actually the best I've seen (politically speaking) for the GOP'ers. But I'm proud and happy with the President Obama. He has kept a majority of his campaign promises and I never knew a president who worked harder and multi-tasked like he has. He brought class and dignity back to the white house. I'd like to see what more he will do after 2012.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Ryan

      Thanks for the laugh bashaleebee. That one was good.

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

      ....You....Are.......Kidding right?

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • DoubleTap

      like being transparent? BAHAHAHAAHAA

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

      I agree with 110%! everyone is so quick to say he's doing a crappy job, but HELLO if took over the country after TardBush f*%$ed everything up. President Obama has the hardest job ever!!! He cant make everyone happy.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Artist

      My main problem with Obama is his socialist leanings. However he is still better than Bush Jr (Wonder Boy Idiot). I think we can do better than Obama....but so far not seeing it in the selection.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Agree with bashaleebee

      He has had a ton on his plate and after the last president it is pretty obvious he is working his butt off. I mean the guy took over during one of the worst recessions in this country's history. He took the blame and is taking the blame for an economy that was a complete disaster when he took over. Now, let's work with him to start getting the debt under control. I'm afraid that will be his downfall and the "conservatives" will take over and fix nothing similar to what happened when GW was in office.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • You've got to be kidding

      Know alot of presidents do you? He's done OK. His legacy will be that they got Binladen on his watch. That's all he'll be remembered for. Unless someone takes him out. Then he'll be bigger than life.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm |

      You must be insane. Obama has kept almost none of his promises and has not done anything that will be good for the country.

      He is an absolute embarrassment to the office of the Presidency and to America.

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

      I think you're right. It took FDR well into his third term to turn the economy around, so ragging about Obama after two and a half years is a little premature. I voted for John McCain myself, but that only means that I think Obama was up against someone who could really fix the deficit.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm |

    I don't care what kind of Mormon he is, a Mormon is a Mormon and if they are dumb enough to fall for that cult then there is no way there are qualified to be my leader, period.

    I would vote for Obama before I ever voted for a Mormon and I have never voted for a Democrat in my life.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • NotARep NotADem

      you the most ignorant fool in this country...it's a shame you even have the right to vote

      June 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm |

      Nope, not a bit of ignorance but thanks for playing peon. I am a far better American than you could ever be. It's much more of a shame that you can vote.

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

      I'm not sure what a Mormon did you in the past, but you should try to be a little more understanding to others beliefs. Maybe then you would be slightly less bitter and slightly more likeable.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:52 pm |

      Sorry not the least bit bitter and I have more friends than I need. I couldn't care less if Internet posters like me or not. I will never meet you so you do not matter. You may as well not even exist.

      As for the Mormons themselves, they can be, and I will let them be, they just cannot be my leader, ever. They are not worthy and I would never follow a Mormon for any reason.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • JR

      Are you religious? If you are, how are you doing kettle?

      June 21, 2011 at 6:22 pm |

      Nope, not religious. Not even a little bit.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      Strange that for all you care I don't even exist, but here we both are on a blog discussing this. Remember that even though you can post things anonymously, there are real people with real feelings that read these things. Methinks a lot more exists than you are willing to admit.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Raymond Takashi Swenson

      What a perfect demonstration of the stupidity of anti-Mormon bigots. Thank you.

      June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  4. Descartes

    I have turned away Mormons (also Jehovah's witnesses) from my door, on the street and in the subway. The missionaries are everywhere speaking every language there is. I commend these young men for their determination to convert people. I feel bad everytime I turn them away but I simply won't let anyone determine what I should or should not believe.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm |

      If Mormons come to your door you can make them do chores and they cannot refuse to do them. I always do that to them so they really don't come around that often anymore. Either way I win. Just make sure all of the chores are outside chores. You do not want them in your house.

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

      They are not "missionaries." They are pests. I'll never forget the random "Witness" troll who sent me one of their little pamphlets in the mail after my father died. I did not know this person, nor did my father (as the Witness troll admitted). My grief was violated by this brainwashed idiot.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      jul – Sorry to hear this. When I was an LDS missionary I felt rather uncomfortable knocking on doors for about this same reason. Just to clarify, there seem to me to be three distinct groups that do this: the Mormons, the Jehova's Witnesses, and a group of non-denominational christians who found Christ during a crisis in their lives and overcame it through prayer. Some are more pesky than others.
      CNN – Thanks for this blog. It's much nicer discussing these things here than it was knocking on doors.
      NO_MORMONS: Now that's clever!

      June 21, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  5. Nonimus

    "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
    Article 6 U.S. Consti.tution

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

      misplaced reply

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • SCMorrell

      But still a good one. I'd hope this is something that we all beleive in.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  6. Lub

    He sure has some purdy wives.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • I'm a Mormon

      LOL. that was a good one! Mormons like laughing too—even at ourselves.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Tulsa

    I'm a Republican. I think what our current president has done so far, is right in line with what the GOP would have tried to do, but probably not had as much success. But I don't see anybody with the GOP that can out Obama in 2012. Too bad for us Americans.

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

      Right. I'm a very liberal democrat – some would probably say socialist – who is rather disappointed in President Obama's rather conservative/moderate stance on everything. Refreshing to hear a true republican admit it!

      June 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Fatima

      I saw NPR's senior news cnoeespordrnt Daniel Shore speaking at a televised symposium once. He remarked how TV has changed America and especially American politics. How politics is no longer about reality as much as it is about the perception of reality.He gave a few stories about politicians with frank speech and strong personalities such as Kruschev, and Nixon. The sort of politicians you just don't see anymore.Politics has been largely whitewashed in today's environment. Politicians, sports figures, church leaders All of them, when in front of a camera, will devote the entire interview to speaking without really saying anything.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  8. Rogermcguinn

    Thanks CNN, thanks for this front page article now can we get a front page article on Ron Paul? Ron Paul 2012.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  9. JamesBenson

    I'm still waiting for an atheist or agnostic. If nothing else, it'd certainly be interesting.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Ruth

      From the GOP? Are you kidding me?

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

      Crazy part is that an atheist would be subjected to such ridicule for not believing in an invisible deity that sits in the sky keeping score of stuff, lol.

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

      Ruth, I'm pretty sure I didn't mention the GOP. I'd never expect them to produce someone who thought for him/herself.

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

      (For clarification, I'm not referring to this election. I'd just love to see it some day before I die.)

      June 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Rogermcguinn

      Most of these guys are atheists, don't kid yourself. Bush, despite appealing to Christians, was just a wolf in sheep's clothes. He didn't really buy into that stuff, he was an atheist. The people we elect as president lately aren't Christians, they aren't spiritual, they're just talking out of their butts in order to collect votes.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  10. Stephanie Palmer

    Why on earth is religion identification so important for anyone but the individual involved? It's his business what he believes in. I don't find Mormons any stranger than people who believe in the Bible. All religions are weird and are based on fantasy. Get over this religion stuff. It's no one's business.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Allen N Wollscheidt

      Religion is NOT important EXCEPT when the religion in question is an aggressive, expansionist one revolving around money.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm |

      Because I do not want someone who will lead based on Mormon influences that's why. A Mormon cannot help but do this.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Matthew

    On a little diffrent note, If Perry gets in it will be GE vs Big oil vs LDS thanks to Scalia, Roberts & Co That was the single most biggest mistake of the history of the bench of The Supreme Court

    June 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • SurRy

      And barely a blip on anyone's radar. Funny how the liberal media didn't cover that. Even funnier how the Fox Entertainment crowd didn't pillory the activist justices who made law declaring corporations have the same rights as people.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  12. Julie

    Oh no the last thing we need is another religious twist to the way our government is run.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  13. SurRy

    lol. Huntsman is running away from his church faster than he ran away from Obama!

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

    Dusty...Voting for Romney is like voting for Tinkerbell, what good will it do? No one is going to be Obama, he has brought more class and honor to the white house then any other president. The only thing stoping him from helping this country is the right wing and people like you. Obama/Biden 2012

    June 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Christian1960

      Blaqmajik.....you are an idiot and hopefully the majority of American's don't think like you do. Obama may have, in your opinion, brought class to the White House but he's given nothing to this country. Health care is a mess, economy is a mess, student lending is a mess and only increasing the national debt. The only reason we are not in worse shape is because of the right wing keeping at least some control over what BO does. No way we want or need Obama/Biden in 2012!!

      June 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • NotARep

      you call it "helping"...I call it petty theft from the ones who produce

      June 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • ZysPsyk

      Class? Honor? How so? Examples? Honor is bowing down to other countries? class? You must be urban and diverse because there is no class in the white house. Allowing the USA to remain STAGNANT at best is not honorable or classy. Name something Obama has done. Thats right, NOTHING. Nothing good, Nothing super bad. But lack of action is bad. Worst President since Carter. Obama, Carter, and Jackson should have a monument made for them out of a pile of manure.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  15. sunny lovetts

    Mormons are insane.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Chris

      All religious people are....anyone that believes something that cant be proven or will never be proven....IS INSANE.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • SurRy

      Chris, I don't know if I'd go as far as insane but definitely delusional.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • PJ

      Mormanism is a cult.

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

      at their cores all religions are simply a belief that one is accountable to something bigger than the individual. how can that be bad?

      bad people do bad things in the name of God and good people do good things in the name of humanism and vice versa. religion is not the issue, it is personal morality that is.

      referring to one as "insane" for holding oneself to a person standard and calling it religion is bigotry.

      what either of these men believe does not affect you so why should you care. their beliefs, morals, actions are what you should judge them on not in what name they have given their beliefs.

      personally i would rather have a leader who believed they were accountable to a higher source who knew what they did in secret and private than one who felt he/she was accountable to nobody.

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

      I disagree. I have seen many proofs of Mormonism that are consistent, reality-based, and really motivational. The trick is getting everyone involved to agree on the axioms.

      When I was born, scientists insisted that the Universe was about 4 billion years old. Last I heard, they know that it is a little over 8 billion years old. I have not lived for 4 billion years. Anyone who can live in a universe with more stars than the national debt and not beleive in God is not only delusional - they are very bad with numbers too.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  16. mc

    The last time I checked, we are talking about electing a politician, not choosing a new baby sitter. Leave their religious views out of the dabate and look at their political stance on the important issues...

    June 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • truth


      June 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm |

      Sorry, the religious views of any candidate should be considered by all voters, period.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • mc

      The religious viewsof a politician are a private matter. What should be considered is their voting histories, or perhaps their performances in previously held offices.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm |

      Any philosophy my leader would be influenced and guided by is absolutely not a private matter. Only an idiot would not consider it. Unfortunately that idiots make up most of the voters.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  17. Fred

    The Teapublicans demanded Pres. Obama's birth certificate. Why aren't they demanding this guy's baptismal certificate? Oops, maybe they will.

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

      "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
      Article 6 U.S. Consti.tution

      June 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Rick Wood

    What is to understand about John Huntsman? He is either a RINO or someone not ready to lead the nation in the direction and deliver it to its place in this world as the GREAT nation it has been and can become again. So far, from what I have seen and heard, there may be one to three candidates, either as independents or members of the GOP, that will at least stand up there and take the hits from those people that favor things that have become unpopular positions, (political planks in what may become a political platform) A candidate should at least sound like they will do the things that are needed to reach this end and then demonstrate how this will be done. This of course presumes the fact that Mr. Obama will be the Democratic nominee and at this point in time I see no reason why he won't be, and that he won't make some sort of drastic change in his political position. I am not seeing or hearing this from Mr. Romney and certainly not from Mr. Huntsman. As a Mormon, and a BYU alumnus, I do not care what a candidate's religious persuasion is; until they start throwing bombs or shooting guns at me. If that person can do the job they will get my vote. Otherwise I will vote for myself again in the next election, which is what I did in 2008.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  19. Voice of Reason

    CONSCIENCE CHECK: If you only see 'Mormon' when you look at this guy, then you're no better than the people who voted against Obama simply because he is black.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      If you go by lables, and havent gotten to know him or his positions (not your own ideas of what his positions WOULD be based on his religion), then you are only using the power of prejudice to make your decision.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      typo – i meant 'labels'

      June 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |

      100% WRONG!

      June 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  20. featherknife

    I know a little about LDS. I have spoken in depth to missionaries. I have done much research. This is due to the fact that most LDS people I have met or worked with have been really good, fair minded people who I would be happy to consider my friends. I will, however, not be voting for these guys, or an LDS candidate ever. It is obvious to me that to be part of this religion one must suspend disbelief, and buy into what appears to me to be, next to scientology, the most science fiction religion ever created by man. The level of self deception required to believe what they do is off the charts. I think we need a more rational person for president.

    June 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Big Red

      "Science Fiction"? What are you talking about?...... Might want to work on your research a little bit more.

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

      They (prez candidates) are pretty much all going to claim some type of religion, which means you shouldn't vote for any of them.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Teddy69

      Everything you just wrote could also have also been said of the early Christians. Resurrection as a rational fact? The difference is, many Americans grew up hearing stories about animals on arks, seas splitting, and food multiplying. Mormon beliefs are simply newer. And we've elected plenty of Presidents who have believed Biblical stories, some of which require a suspension of disbelief.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • featherknife

      Yes. Science fiction. Jules Verne could have written the book of mormon. Every family gets their own planet when they croak?!?! Joe Smith, who spent time in jail for being a con man, found golden tablets that he translated with a rock in his hat?!?!? Jesus hung out with north american indians who are the lost tribe of israel and had wheels, metal tools, and who seem to have disappeared without a trace?!?! Got three letters for ya. D.N.A.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • featherknife

      And yes, not just early christians, any christians.I am not a great big fan of religions in general. Mormonism, however, is an order of magnitude weirder than anything else.

      June 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Teddy69

      The point of your original post was not what you personally believe. It was about voting. If you held strict to your own standard of not voting for people who have to "suspend disbelief" to belong to their religion, you couldn't vote for the majority of the candidates (or past presidents) since many profess faith in a book that has just as many wacky stories.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • EventHorizon

      Simply because someone has differing beliefs from what you or some majority believe doesn't make them unable to reason rationally.

      Paraphrasing a sentence from the link above (mentions nothing about Mormonism, afaik), faith requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but that is a different thing from the suspension of reason and critical intelligence.

      Science itself progresses when decades or longer held beliefs and assumptions are challenged, refined, and even replaced completely. Suspension of disbelief aids greatly in challenging assumptions and explaining new phenomena. Scientists who cannot put their own preconceived notions aside are simply not good scientists.

      As for 'self-deception,' lets see what an LDS apostle once said on the subject:
      "As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover." - http://lds.org/liahona/1998/09/the-truth-shall-make-you-free?lang=eng

      Yes, I am a Mormon. I'm a Ph.D. student in computer science studying artificial intelligence. Could I have gotten where I am today if I could not reason rationally to solve problems? Really, it doesn't matter who I am. There are plenty of successful Mormon scientists, entrepreneurs, professors, etc whose mere existence should cause you to question your preconceived notions.

      I guess what I'm saying is rationality in the LDS faith runs the same gamut as that of any other equally successful group.

      June 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
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About this blog

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.