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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. Marie Kidman

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig
    .

    June 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  2. samsapirstein

    You don't strategize your faith. You strategize about your faith. Do I strategize chess? No, I employ a (bad) strategy when playing chess.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  3. Jazzy9000

    It's already been said but it bears repeating - it is a silly and crude world where your choice of comforting fairy tale can make such a difference. But no big surprise, just remember wizard's first rule: people are stupid.
    Atheists can be as bad as fundamentalist Christians. But it would be a much more advanced and intelligent world without so much worrying over who's God is the most well-endowed.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  4. Matt

    As a Mormon, I will not vote for someone because they are a Mormon, nor will I vote for someone because they're not Mormon. However, I can guarantee you I won't vote for someone who would be willing to throw away their faith in order to get elected President. If Huntsman wants my vote, he better make it very clear which one he is. His answer won't affect my vote, but his lack of an answer certainly will!

    June 28, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Laura

      Couldn't have said it better myself Matt. Glad I'm not the only one bothered by the concept of someone turning their back on their faith in order to get elected. That just doesn't sit well with me.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • CS

      Matt, also as a member of the LDS church I think that Gov. Huntsmans approach is appropriate for the Presidency. He is in fact "in good standing," he is simply not advertising it. You do not have to wave the LDS flag above your head to be in good standing.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Jen

      Very well said

      June 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      I would very much prefer that all candidates keep their religious beliefs to themselves. It should never be an issue, either when running for office or when carrying out the duties of that office. In an ideal world (sigh . . .) religion would have no place in American politics.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • lsm

      And your evidence for that is? Go do your research. There are more Spanish speaking members than English speaking in the Mormon church worldwide, and that doesn't even include Asian and African members.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • lsm

      Sorry–wrong post. I was answering someone who mistakenly said that there are 0 members of color in the LDS church. Another ridiculous fallacy that some are so quick to believe.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • chris

      Sorry–my bad. I was answering someone who mistakenly said that there are 0 members of color in the LDS church. Another ridiculous fallacy that some are so quick to believe.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Matt

      @CS
      I don't consider a person to be waiving the LDS flag over their head by simply stating "Yes (or No), I am (not) a practicing Mormon". You state that he is in "good standing", but you wouldn't know that from his comments. And personally, I don't care if he's in "good standing" or not. I don't need to know if he has a temple recommend, or if he's ever served as a Bishop or anything else. I know he's Mormon. What I want to know is if he's ashamed of that now that he's running of President or if he's willing to still admit to it.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Atom

    Forgo his temple reccomend? So you would rather have someone deny their faith for political reasons. Glad we still have standards today.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Peace2All

      As it seems, Huntsman 'is' (already) distancing himself from his religion for political purposes.

      Peace...

      June 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  6. tim

    I wouldn't vote for an atheist. They are mostly devoted to bashing strictly Christianity and are so sure they are right that there is no God. Most of them have no values whatsoever. I'd rather have a president with no religious affiliation who is like most people and just questions theological stuff instead of falsely being sure about it. If I wanted a pimp for a president I would vote for a Mormon.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Oldtimer

      So, you do not like people bashing Christianity and you bash Mormons; hmmmmm a little hypocrisy?

      June 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • stejo

      so you know most of them, do you? Because I'm sure you wouldn't judge an entire group on the actions of a few...that would be, well, prejudice. Pre-judging.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Mark

      Its too bad you wouldn't vote for an Atheist. At least their religion wouldn't get in their way. If a mormon wins office you'll have the mormon church tell the President what to do.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      "They are mostly devoted to bashing Christianity." Uh. No I'm not. I'm mostly devoted to peace on Earth.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Dayna

      How many of us have you queried? "Most" of us?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • tommas

      "Most of them have no values whatsoever" there is nothing more sad (and scary) then a person who cannot determine their values and morals without mythology. Reason has forever left their mind.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • heliocracy

      The idea that there are no morals but religious morals is completely false, and the kind of thing only a completely brainwashed person would suppose. There are many good philosophies in the world and in history that aren't/weren't dependent on supernatural creatures making rules for us with little regard to rationality, reason, and choice.

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

      Sorry to have to do this, but your assertion that most atheists have no values is offensive. The reason that American atheists bash Christianity is because those are the corrupt and hypocritical values under which the secular minority are tyrannized by the majority. For all intents and purposes atheists are more intelligent and ironically far less judgmental than believers, and it is from a broad analysis of objective data and empirical evidence that we come to the conclusion that not only is there not an actual Christian god, there are most likely none of the others man kind has fabricated throughout history. It is not out of malice that we point this out to our countrymen, a fitting analogy would be a sober person sitting in the passenger seat while a drunk is behind the wheel. As an atheist, I will be so bold as to assert that our worst collective fear is that in anticipating the rapture, one zealot -with his/her finger on the trigger- will, in a fit of self-righteous ecstasy, unwittingly doom us all.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Mark Geist

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, teach that their church is a restoration of first century Christianity. Mormons believe that Jesus is the Savior and to claim Mormons are not Christian is just silly. Hateful evangelicals may not vote for a Mormon, but most people hopefully will judge Huntsman based on his political views and abilities, not on some distorted view of what Mormons believe.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  8. Dee Doodles

    There is no election to benefit the financial slaves (you). It's just who do you want to be master slave driver.
    You are a financial slave of the banker interest and the gov. taxes.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Jon

    I really don't see the President's religion as being an issue in the slightest - save for where that religion influences their policy. Incidentally? I don't know very much about Huntsman, but I'd be interested in what he has to say.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Laura

      Finally a voice of reason. Thank you.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Shane Botwin

    It is disturbing to know that a majority of Americans would vote or not vote for a candidate based on which invisible ghost that person believes in.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • karl

      agreed! Atheist all the way. Lets move science and the human race further into the future not hold us back 2000 years.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Shane Botwin

      How is 'Weeds' treatin' ya'...? LOL !

      Peace...

      June 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      Well said.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  11. jerry

    Non Mormon Utah res here... Its funny to see the two sides. In Utah you CANT be gov without your Joseph Jumpers (Mormon Undez) so Huntsman was all kinds of Mormon 10 years ago when he was running in Utah but now its a different tune for a national audience. All religon creeps me out but baptizing the dead and tickling body parts to make them "fertal" also known as Standard Mormons Practices seem weirder than the norm

    June 28, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Oldtimer

      A Souther Mormon here... tickling body parts, where did you get that wacky idea. Someone is pulling your leg. 🙂

      June 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Dano

      Please, sir, do your research before spouting such unfounded tripe. Tickling body parts? You've definitely been misinformed. Been watching Fox News or something?

      June 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @jerry

      O.K... I'll bite... "tickling body parts"...?

      Peace...

      June 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • CS

      Your pastor is telling you that junk to keep you out of a mormon church my friend. He likes your donations so much he would bash and lie about another religion. Not voting for Huntsman based on his LDS belief shows how much brainwashing has been going on.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Ichi

    He will get my vote if he sides with the American people and tells us HOW THE MAGNETS WORK

    June 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  13. Oldtimer

    Suggesting Huntsman to not renew, or obtain a temple recommend indicates the author very little about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  14. mb2010a

    I won't vote for Huntsman for the same reason I won't vote for Santorum. They both have seven children, each. Not enough bedrooms in the White House for all those kids. Also the fact that Huntsman is a Morman and Santorum is a Catholic...

    June 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • DoubleTap

      I like where your heads at! ...up your a$$

      June 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      The man adopted children. That's one of the most wonderful things a person can do.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      The White House looks pretty roomy to me. That's a really ignorant reason to vote or not vote for a candidate.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  15. Dee Doodles

    Sadly theres no good alternative to Obama. Prepare for the real change BO promised that impoverishes you as the dollar and Euro purchasing power are destroyed in the next few years. Prepare to see the banks drop like flies in Europe and Amerika. Get your money out now and into hard assets. Things are getting worse not better. Huntsman is just more of the same. Democrat or Republican your screwed.

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

      yep...prepare to lock and load, Greece II is heading to a city near you!

      June 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Larry L

      What school of economics did you attend? Can you honestly say you can think of anything anybody could do to straighten out the mess Bush left behind in less than four years? If you had a plan would it have worked with the Republicans in the Senate filibustering every single initiative? They even blocked the things they created themselves! What ideas did the conservatives offer? Trickle-down economics? How well did that work?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  16. Jamest297

    For me, the very tiniest and teeniest of religious faith goes a long way. Mostly, it goes way too far. I'm sick and tired of candidates for office parading and pursuing ANY ( I said ANY) sort of religious view as part of what informs their policy positions. In the USA, that crap stays at home or in your place of worship. The highest morality for is the morality of how my tax payments are effectively applied. I want the government to stay the heck away from favoring one business type vs another, favoring one activist cause vs. another, or favoring anything apart from providing for the national defense and administration of justice. Everything else is sideways energy and corrosive to the society. We do not need a Mormon and we do not not need a Mormon. We need civil servants applying the proper civil and secular CONSERVATIVE values to sustain our nation and way of life. Stay the heck out of my wallet and stay the heck out my home!

    June 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  17. Jo

    I still have faith that being a good standing member of any good church provides a much better president than one who skirts it. At least we know where Romney stands. As long as Romney has respect for all religions and doesn't favor one religion as President, then his stance is much stronger and I hope the Americans will vote for one with convictions in what he believes.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Jamest297

      So, would you vote for a Hare Krishna for President?

      I thought not –

      June 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Oldtimer

      Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints are taught all religions that encourage people to serve their fellow man have truth in their teachings.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Michel Hunt Esq.

      I disagree. Being a member of a church means that the person in question is willing to believe things despite complete lack of evidence. This is a very dangerous and undesirable quality to have in a leader. In the extreme, it can result in them making bad choices on very important matters.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      You've got to listen to what people are saying. It's not hard to tell if someone is being "fake" or not. There aren't many public officials who seem like they are genuine, but I can think of a few.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  18. PJ

    Romney was a Bishop in his Church. I don't believe he can totally separate Church and State and given that the Morman Faith is a Minority Faith with different beliefs than Christian, Jewish and Islam the risk is too great.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Oldtimer

      Bishop is a lay position in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He worked for his employer full-time and spent likely 30-hours a week serving people as their Bishop. Since when did church volunteer work disqualify people for anything in the great nation?

      June 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Laura

      Um, why don't you educate yourself before posting. Members of the LDS faith are Christians through and through. I should know, I am one.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      PJ, the risk of what? That he believes in a different "imaginary friend for grown-ups" than you?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  19. Dee Doodles

    Jon H. favors national health care. Again, he donated $25,000 to Harry Reids campaign. He's a liberal cloaked in conservative marketing. Don't be fooled.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  20. Dee Doodles

    Jon donated $25,000 to Harry Reids campaign. That tells me enough.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Dennis

      That's what I like to hear!

      June 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Daniel

      Jon never donated money to Mr. Reid's campaign... his family did.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:16 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.