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My Take: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in New Jersey last week shortly after announcing his presidential candidacy.
June 28th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

One of the more intriguing questions posed by Mitt Romney's presidential run is whether a Mormon can win the Oval Office. Now that former Utah governor John Huntsman Jr. (also a Mormon) has announced his candidacy, a new question emerges: What sort of Mormon might be elected president?

As any visitor to Disney World’s “Hall of Presidents” can tell you, Americans prefer their presidents white, male, and Protestant.

Only two presidents have overcome these desiderata (John Kennedy and Barack Obama), and they have run against their religion (in the case of Kennedy) and their race (in the case of Obama), reassuring the American people that they weren’t really all that Catholic or all that black — that they were Americans first, and members of their religious or racial communities second.

“I am not the Catholic candidate for President,” Kennedy said in his famous speech on his Catholicism in Houston in September 1960. “I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Kennedy then went on to describe his vision of an America “where religious intolerance will someday end, . . . where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote. . . where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.”

This vision, of course, has not yet come to pass. The population of India is 80% Hindu, yet its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is an adherent of a religious tradition (Sikhism) that accounts for less than 2% of Indian citizens. So far, however, this is not the American way.

Roughly half of Americans today say they would not vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president and, according to a Gallup Poll released earlier this month, 22% say they would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon.

Nonetheless, I think there is a huge difference between considering a Mormon president in the abstract and considering a particular Mormon candidate. In other words, some of those who say that they would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon for president might vote for Romney or Huntsman.

This is more likely to happen, in my view, with a candidate who, like Kennedy, downplays his religious identity or one, like Obama, who downplays his racial identity–a luxury, I might add, that is not really available to female candidates.

So far, Huntsman seems to be playing the Kennedy card far more effectively than Romney.

In a 2010 Fortune magazine interview conducted while he was serving as U.S. Ambassador to China, Huntsman said, "I can't say I am overly religious," adding that his children go to Catholic schools and one of his adopted daughters was born into Buddhism and another into Hinduism. "I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies,” Huntsman said.

In Time magazine interview in May, Huntsman even refused to say whether he was still a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I’m a very spiritual person,” he said, “and proud of my Mormon roots.” But when asked point-blank whether he was an LDS member he responded, “That’s tough to define,” adding that “there are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.”

Later in May, Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said that the ex-governor "remains a member of the church and proud to be part of the fabric of a large, vibrant faith." Still, it is clear that Huntsman’s strategy, at least for now, is to run as the “happen to be a Mormon” candidate.

This strategy isn't really available to Romney, who for roughly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s served in the Boston area as a ward bishop and then stake president in his church.

Romney also has a “temple recommend,” which is a sort of certificate of good standing in Mormonism. Huntsman has not yet publicly said whether he has a “temple recommend.”

If he doesn’t, I would recommend that he forego it. America is often said to be a land of the free and the home of the brave, but when it comes to presidential candidates one’s religious freedom is often circumscribed. Therefore, the requisite virtue is not bravery but moderation.

At least when it comes to Mormon presidential candidates, a little faith may go a long way.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Jon Huntsman • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics • Polls • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (262 Responses)
  1. gkingii

    He should be able to use his faith. Plenty of candidates (and people who comment here) have used criticism of it as their strategy, as well as a tactic to make their points. And as others have noted, CNN's choice of photos seems to indicate their position on the candidate being discussed. They must really hate this guy.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  2. Paul

    How many times has he said Jesus?
    Count them up and there is the answer.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Chase Heaven

      The best mormon president is NOT a mormon president

      June 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • stejo

      Great...what was the question?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  3. jjracforr

    Here is a quote from the doctrine and covenant of the Mormon Church infact a prophecy. " They seek not the lord to establish his righteousness,but everyman walketh in his own way,and after the image of his own god,whose image is in the likeness of the world and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great which shall fall. Wherefore ,I the lord knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitance of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith , Jun, and gave him commandments." If this is fact or fiction we will soon find out

    June 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Paul

      Soon find out? How soon? So you can know future time lines? Whatever that statement means, it could be a long long time before anyone ever knows.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  4. pete

    Did President Obama play off his bl-ackness? Or did he just not do what white people think that all black people do?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  5. Zelda

    Mormons cannot have faith because they are wrong.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      You're an atheist troll, aren't you? The religious folk make fools of themselves well-enough on their own, they don't need your parody helping them out.

      On the off chance I'm wrong, and you really do believe the things you're saying... Ouch.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Franque

      So, Zelda, do you believe in the Triforce?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Zelda

      Steve
      Mormons ared not Christians and their Mormon Book is false. If their religion is false how can they have true faith? They are living a lie and their Christ is not the same as the Christian's Christ. They are wrong and will perish in the lake of fire forever. They are walking dead bones.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Oldtimer

      I am a former Southern Baptist, now Mormon. I have always believed and even more so as a Mormion that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins for all who will repent as He bled from every pore in the Garden of Gethsemane; He was falsely judged by the Sanhedrin; their foul salvia ran down His scared faces as they spat upon Him; He was scourged with 40-stripes save one; was forced to carry a cross to which He was nailed upon and left to die between two criminals; all the pain and agony of Gethsemane returned as He hung on the cross where He died; He was buried and on the third day (as Jews count days) He arose that all may arise.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Erin

      This post made me laugh. It is so ridculous. Zelda, I am assuming you have never read the Book of Morrmon and could not tell me one way or the other in honesty if it were false. I have read it. I know it's true. I have faith in Jesus Christ and he would be the same Jesus Christ that you believe in. Please read it and find out for yourself.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • stejo

      Zelda, look up "faith" in the dictionary. You can even Google it! Either way, you will note that your "definition" of faith isn't what the word actually means.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • mightyfudge

      And "other" Christians are right? Have you actually read that book you worship? I'm guessing no. Because it's riddled with thousands of years worth of inconsistencies, errors and hypocrisy. If your god ever existed, he's long since dead.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Friend

      The above two Zelda are fakes.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • Friend

      For atheists and Mormons who replied to these false Zelda: Mormons use the same terminology and speak similar, but they don't believe in the God of the Bible as those who honestly read the whole Bible or trust in Jesus as His true Church does. Read the Bible and study it with honesty and authenticity and compare with the Mormon doctrines, and you will know it.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  6. Haime52

    In a perfect world it might not matter what religion or non-religion a candidate is. But, here, in this one, religious Americans find it difficult to trust someone with a religious view so far removed from the norm. Any so called fringe view that might be held by a candidate, is a matter for "uncomfortable" feeling toward that individual. Ask how people would feel if an SDA was to get serious attention as a candidate. If a candidate can separate him or herself from their respective religion, I would be concerned that they were only "playing" at religion and not really religious at all.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  7. Yanko

    http://www.wpray4u.com

    June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  8. Hi there!

    Without the backing of "heavy weights" like CBN and Focus on the Family, Huntsman will not succeed outside of Utah or other states where the Mormon religion is prominent.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Oldtimer

      Mormons make up about 5% of voting republicans in each state outside of Utah, Idaho, Arizona and California, where the percentage is higher. And you want them to leave the republican party? Can you really spare 5% and beat the democrats?

      June 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  9. Jessica Kelley

    I disagree with your theory, Stephen. While 22% may not vote for a Mormon at all, I think America's more conservative voters would be more comfortable with a person committed to a traditional, family-oriented faith associated with Jesus (I'd call it Christian, but many would not), than a more pluralistic individual. I think Huntsman shot himself in the foot by saying he's not that religious, is raising his daughter in Hinduism, etc. Evangelicals would get on board with Romney if he were the candidate, I think, but not Huntsman.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  10. Hi there!

    Huntsman can't win on any level outside of Utah, without the backing of CBN, Focus on the Family, etc, My feeling is he'll fail to get their support. Individual pastors etc. may support him but the real "heavy weights" won't.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Oldtimer

      If they do not support a candidate because of their specific brand of Christianity, they are bigots... kind of like Obama's former preacher.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  11. Zelda

    Faith-less men are worth-less.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • william

      Faith in what?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Friend

      In God and His Son Jesus. Faith in self is worse than no faith. The Bible condemns those who put faith in humans.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Ted M.

      Who the hell would be so stupid as to put their faith in humans?????

      June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      Zelda/Adelina/Justina/Fredrika/etc. is clue-less.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Artist

      Friend

      The Bible condemns those who put faith in humans.
      --------------–
      Zelda/Adelina/ maybe HeavenSent..... interesting that you say this. Your faith starts in man. Your faith must pass through man first. lol x 1 million

      June 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Friend

      @Artist, HeavenSent and I are not the same person. I'd like to get to know her/him but I don't see the authentic HeavenSent lately. Besides, your fellow atheists made too many fakes of HeavenSent on this blog. Read the Holy Bible; you know Jesus is God and the Word is from God.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  12. doctore0

    Faith = Fancy name for brainwashing/delusion; You don't want that,ever!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • william

      You and "Zelda" should have a lot to talk about.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  13. John Richardson

    The bigotry against atheists is quite telling.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Andrew

      Would you like me to get you an official "Im a victim" card? Do you ever get pulled over late at night for no reason because you're an atheist? Point is atheists, bash hmmmm mostly Christians, why they skip Jews and Hindus etc, is beyond me, but I guess peopel think it's cool to be either A. a victim of haters, or B. Smug and demeaning to others who don't think like they do. I prefer B. Turns out most haters are just people who can't figure out why other people think you are awesome.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Andrew

      Hey -Andrew...

      From the Article: "Roughly (half) of Americans today say they would 'not' vote for an otherwise (qualified atheist) for president and, according to a Gallup Poll released earlier this month, 22% say they would not vote for an otherwise qualified Mormon."

      I could be wrong here, but i think this 'may' have been partly, if not in full, what -John was basing his comment on.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Reality

    It will be interesting to see how much Mormon ti-the money flows into the faithful Romney and "little faith" Huntsman campaigns. Said Mormon "Church" is basically a business cult with assets estimated to be between $30-60 billion so keep an eye on Mormon business as-sets being sold to fund the campaign.

    It will be money wasted, however, the presidential-approved finding and execution of bin Laden, an economy that will continue to recover and the fact that BO is also the leader of the Immoral Majority i.e.. the 70+ million voting "mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies, BO cannot lose in 2012. Romney and Huntsman's only chance is to somehow payoff our $14 trillion debt with their own and/or Mormon money.

    2008 Presidential popular vote count 69,456,897 for BO 59,934,814 for JM.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • Zelda

      Simpletons think money moves the world. It doesn't. Money-owners are being used for various purposes by others instead. The Bible talks all about it. Those who spend life counting money are the most pitiful fools in the universe. A wasted life.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Reality

      Zelda or whomever you are this week,

      You obviously missed the second paragraph. One more time:

      It will be money wasted, however, the presidential-approved finding and execution of bin Laden, an economy that will continue to recover and the fact that BO is also the leader of the Immoral Majority i.e.. the 70+ million voting "mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies, BO cannot lose in 2012. Romney and Huntsman's only chance is to somehow payoff our $14 trillion debt with their own and/or Mormon money.

      2008 Presidential popular vote count 69,456,897 for BO 59,934,814 for JM.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Friend

      Reality, do you read other people's comments? I never knew! Did you sell your house and donate the money to the US government who needs the fund?

      June 29, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  15. Zelda

    USA cannot be compared with India simply like that. There are too many differences between these two nations.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  16. Zelda

    CNN, please get a better photo of the news subject. Some people have no TV. I think Christian Americans should support anyone who will terminate the abortion and immorality rate in the nation. Other issues can be solved later, since no one is starving in America.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • Adelina

      Zelda is my lesbian lover.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Zelda

      This Adelina is a fake.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • J-TX

      Zelda – People are starving in America, sorry to tell you. And while a candidate may have a position on abortion, a President cannot end the practice. That is for Congress.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Zelda/Adelina/etc. (how many names do you really need?)
      Again you show your ignorance about America. Why are you more concerned about unborn children than you are about those who already live? There are American families who are homeless because there are no jobs, there are children going hungry every day, yet you are more interested in telling people what to do than helping those who are suffering. You are a selfish fool and earn all the scorn that is heaped on you.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Friend

      @J- and T- , America has humane government. I don't think any Americans are starving to death except for some teenagers in a weird diet. America must stop her infanticide and immorality for all to survive well together.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  17. bradlee

    Mormons have been electing protestants for years, but now that a Mormon is trying, protestants do what their namesake says, they protest.

    If it is obvious that it is either candidates faith that stops them, Mormons should vote for Obama and show the Republicans that they actually need Mormons.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • J-TX

      Entertaining, but dangerous proposition. To vote to spitefully to send a message, and allow Obama another 4 years to enact more sure-to-fail policies would be a travesty.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Tallulah13

      Here's a thought: Let's just vote for the candidate who shows they have real ideas about how to fix the economy and create living-wage jobs. Everybody can continue to worshp (or not worship as the case may be) in their private lives, as provided by the consti tuition.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Oldtimer

      J-TX, and to not vote because the better candidate happens to be a Mormon is dangerous as well.....

      June 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  18. It's The Economy, Stupid!

    The Republicans have quite a cornucopia of unelectable assembled. They need the economy to totally tank to have any chance at all. Any improvement in the economy, and it's four more years.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  19. tallulah13

    I would suggest that the most qualified candidate would have real ideas about job creation and economic growth. These things are important to the survival of America, not a person's religious beliefs.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:10 am |
    • Ghân-buri-Ghân

      You mean elections should be about the issues?

      Blasphemy!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 am |
    • Laura

      That is quite a refreshing concept tallulah13. It's too bad that that will never happen but kudos just the same.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  20. Ha ha!

    Aaahaaa! Another CNN "poopchute" picture!

    He looks like he's getting it up the poopchute!

    This isn't as funny-looking as the one of the Pope, but it still gave me a chuckle.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:17 am |
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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.