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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. mightyfudge

    There is nothing funnier than "Christians" bashing "Mormons" for their ignorant beliefs. Pure comedy at it's best!

    June 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • CF

      There are some things funnier. Creationists, fundamentalists, young earthers, and evangelicals, whether or not bashing Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or Atheists, simply stating what they believe to be true.

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

      Totally agree mighty fudge. Christians who think Mormons have screwy beliefs yet, believe a man came alive after 3 days of death, Noah and his Arc, the Exodus, boy prophet: Samuel, writings on plates or tablets, Ten Commandments, etc. seems funny to me. Try finding the Rapture in the Bible some time.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  2. mightyfudge

    Anyone who believes in the "invisible man" is unfit to run anything. Please do us all a favor and "go see him immediately" by any means available.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Jet

      You have no evidences for or aginst other than your own belief in non-existence. This is just another form of religious belief. Only yours comes with ridicule of other religious beliefs by demeaning other's.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • skarphace

      Please stow it, mighty. You are giving us athiests a bad name. Not all of us are as intollerant as you are.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • CF

      There is quite a bit of evidence. To date, no phenomena have been found to be outside the chain of cause and effect. In other words, despite centuries of the application of the scientific method, nothing metaphysical has been discovered. I know it is impossible to prove a negative, but in this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • skarphace

      @CF: you are forgetting the one thing that makes it impossible to disprove God. If he made all the rules of science, then he does not have to follow those rules himself. In other words, if he does not want science to be able to prove his existance, then he could alter the rules of physics so that in his case science fails to prove his existance. And this is indeed the case; he wants people to rely on faith, and faith runs contrary to proof.

      It would be easy for God to prove that he does exist: all he has to do is make himself known. However, it is impossible to prove that God does not exist since he holds all the cards.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • CF

      I didn't forget that argument; I simply dismissed it as circular. Another way to put it is this. There is evidence of evolution and an Earth older than 6000 years. But god put that evidence on Earth to test our faith. The simple reply is: "You can't argue with that."

      June 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  3. JoePelican

    We don't need no stinkin Mormon running the country. What we need is a "Leader" not a "Follower"!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • CF

      A leader? But Joseph Smith is dead, so he cannot throw his magical hat into the ring.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • skarphace

      Earlier post edited because the earlier one was 'moderated', so I apologize it this is repeated:

      With your exclusionary viewpoint, I am willing to bet you like Glenn Beck and consider him a "leader". Guess what, Beck is Mormon too. So get over it; your religion has nothing to do with your ability to lead and should not be a factor in your determination. Neither should race or gender.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Darrin

      You're a dip stick Joe Pelican. The best leaders are excellent followers. The U.S. president should follow what the American people want as this is a Republic "For the People, By the People", not a monarchy. Any person running for President who has no moral values like Stalin, Hitler, Sadam Hussein, Ahmedinijad, etc., should not lead this country.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • JoePelican

      Glenn Beck is a radio personality with a viewpoint. He's no leader and NO, I don't listen to him and didn't know he was Mormon until you pointed that out. And to Darrin, when I see Mormons running all over the place asking for permission to plant "Vote NO on prop 8" signs, that reminds me of Stalin, Hitler and the likes of you.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • skarphace

      @Joe: so Stalin and Hitler promoted voting and other democratic values? Weird, I never heard of that before.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  4. skarphace

    Note to Republicans: Huntsman and Romney are among the VERY few Republican candidates that independents and moderates like myself would vote for. Nominate one of your TPers and you are giving the nod to Obama.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • CF

      Good point. The problem with Romney is that either he believes in Mormon teachings or he is being dishonest by saying he does or at least not saying he does not. Neither is good. Huntsman seems not to take Mormon teachings seriouly and says so, at least indirectely. I prefer Huntsman.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • william

      I agree. I like Huntsman for this reason, as he's man enough to say it's nobody's business. I dispise so many of these evangelicals, trying to turn this into a "Christian" nation. We aren't, never have been, and if we have anything to do with it, it never will be.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Darrin

      Both Romney and Huntsman believe in the same teachings; American-grown religion that teaches honesty, faith in a higher power, hard work, etc. Romney just chooses to practice his religion while Huntsman, for some part, chooses not to.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • CF

      The honesty and hard work part is okay. The faith part is pretty far from okay.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  5. tiredof this

    It seems that CNN is being relentless in offering up the mormons for a circus side show. Let's move on already–this is getting tiresome, and the mormon-bashing is getting old. Let's talk about the candidate's politics like adults.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  6. capnmike

    Yet another religio-nut. When if ever the people get the guts to elect an Atheist, someone whose mind isn't loaded with the baloney of religion, maybe we will make some real progress.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • CF

      Amen. Oops, I mean right on. What could possibly be wrong with people who have no irrational preconceived ideas about the nature of reality and are willing to look at the evidence, change their minds when appropriate, and refuse to prejudge people, issues, or ideas?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  7. Joe citizen abroad

    The only reason politicians play the "faith" card is if they think the majority of voters identify with them. If Huntsman was Muslim, you'd hear nothing about his faith, guaranteed.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  8. cisom

    I distinctly remember a pamphlet when Huntsman was running for Utah governor. There was a picture of him as a boy working with his Grandfather, David Haight, who was a well recognized leader of the chuch. He didn't seem so distant from his religion at that time. I disagree with the author. It disturbs me when people wear their religion on their sleeve for political gain; likewise, I question the character of a person who thows their religious convictions in the garbage for the same reason.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Squeaky Voice

      Not long ago in human history it was the Catholic Church and Rome that dictated politics in many European countries. Given half a chance the Mormon Church would do the very same. It would be far cheaper than what they do now. Religion is nothing more than a way to govern and control the populace.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  9. Stewart

    Everyone on earth strategizes their faith. While I think it is a bit misleading to appeal to a certain people, any who subscribes to a religion does so to strategize something: their happiness, approval of family heritage, lack of independent though..etc

    I hope what people see from an article like this is the reality of faith, we're all wrong anyway.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  10. jerry

    To Clarify the tickling of the body parts done by Mormons happens when people get married in the temple and is done by someone to fertalize the reproductive system. As I said this is one of many wierder than normal religous practices Mormons have.

    Fun Fact! Did you know George Washington is a Mormon? Yep, baptized after he died like a lot of people so in Mormon Reality we've already had a couple Mormon Presidents. Why you ask? Because they baptize people after they die so one can be "saved" in the afterlife. This was created to answer the question of what to do with loved ones who didnt get a chance to get the real thing.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Jimbo

      They also baptised Hitler.

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

      Seriously? Do you have nothing better to do than make up ridiculous stories about what others believe? Obviously you don't like Mormons. Get over it and leave them alone.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Jerry, "wierder than normal religous practices"? All religious practices seem weird to me. Is body part tickling for fertility any stranger than drinking wine and calling it the blood of christ?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Not made up, look it up.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • JSLaw

      Longtime, devout Mormon here. You have no clue what you are talking about.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jet

      Been to Mormon a Temple a few times, must say I have never seen that. Pretty obvious you have never been to one! Shame on you for attempting to ridicule some else's religious beliefs. Something Mormions actually teach their people not to do. I thought this was cured by the Holocaaust?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Mel

      Tickling of body parts? What the HELL? You are FLAT. OUT. LYING. I was married in the SL Mormon temple 17 years ago and had nothing of the sort done. Just FYI, I was scared to death that day of what I may find in the temple, and I can thank people like you for that. What I had was a beautiful ceremony with my husband and family members, all based on the building and sealing of eternal families.

      I believe in freedom of speech. Please respectfully disagree with anything I have to say about religion, parenting, anything. But do NOT LIE about sacred temple ordinances that are kept quiet (sacred) so that people like you will not turn them into something sick like this. Yuck.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • MindiK

      I have a friend that was married in the temple. He said he was groped. He's no longer a member.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • dogmet

      Ha, religious intolerance cured by the holocaust? You are surely joking, right? Maybe you should look up how hateful Israel is. Yes, that's right. The country full of JEWISH is full of hate. Look at Netanyahu. He seems to think because jews were a significant victim of the holocaust, he can just up and do whatever the .... he wants to muslims, as if they were guilty of every crime in the world (surely they were a big part of the holocaust too. right). I've known plenty of nice muslims. If they want to look OK in the worlds eyes (talking Jewish) then act decent. Fact is no single religion is innocent of crimes. Different kinds of crimes, even. Just like atheists may be too. The difference is atheists don't usually bicker and whine and claim the hate is because of their "faith". Religious people on the other hand – it's often their religion and therefore "hate".

      As for Netanyahu – look at how his country murdered the Turks supplying aid. In international water even. This is only one example. And to make it worse: they use the same nonsense claim that Bush used about Saddam: he's a risk to the world. Yeah, he's a huge risk hiding in a hole! If he had weapons you think he wouldn't use it when his country is under major attack? Yeah, and then Israel is so at risk they have to board a ship when they had firearms. Why the need to board the ship then? They're under attack, then be sensible and stay at a distance. Fact is the israelis on that day are guilty of piracy.
      Related article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11414973 (which also shows that some jewish do see it right; fact is, many do not). So, how can a religion actually expect others who do not believe in their book to respect them, if they can't respect others ? Fact is religious tolerance is an oxymoron.
      Interesting read, slightly related. Note the last question: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4211761.stm

      Quote: "I feel that Israeli society has not learnt the full humanitarian lesson of the Holocaust as we should and I feel that if we had given more attention to the humanitarian legacy of the Holocaust, we may act differently on the occupied territories.

      Still the policy on the occupied territories is influenced by a very deep-rooted fear which we all carry in us. Perhaps without the Holocaust we would be a more normal people, but we are not. "

      That's from an Israeli historian.

      And there's more at that link.

      Religion tolerance indeed. That's a laugh and a half.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  11. Deborah

    Jimbo sounds like you are going after the ones carrying the ball.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Well you guys are sure carrying the ball in Utah, that is for sure.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Jet

      Jimbo, you would have been a good proponent of the "the final solution" out lined in a letter in 1941. They found using movies depicting those of the Jewish religion in a negative light very useful as well move the population politically. History seems to show, that if you can find those who can be excited by bigotry, the leaders of hate will appear to lead them. I don't think there is anyone here that will fall for this!

      June 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  12. Barbara

    I have lived in Utah for 34 years now, originally from NY. I know many many Mormons of all types. Most of the LDS people I know are fine people. They just have a very odd religious belief system that preaches unwavering belief in the current "prophet".
    My problem with voting for someone who practices the LDS faith is this: Their belief system is very far fetched, and the LDS church goes to great lengths with smoke and mirrors to make their beliefs more palatable to Americans and others.
    I cannot put my trust in a person who believes that if he follows certain precepts, and is "good enough", he and his wife with become a god and goddess of their own world.
    Mormonism isn't just not Christian, it is polytheism, and it changes its public face depending on the current mood in the populace. See the "prohpecies that ended polygamy and allowed black men to hold the priesthood. I do not believe G-d changes his mind as much as Mormon history would have us believe.
    It takes only a superficial look to find out very peculiarchanges in Mormonism's history. I believe that anyone gullible enough to believe the Mormon church is true is way too gullible, naive and brainwashed to be a good president of the USA.

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

      is a mormon's belief in weird things any weirder than protestants or catholics or whoever that believes in a great flood, a virgin birth, raising the dead, floating an axe head, walking on water, etc? that's all in the bible. Hmmmm...

      June 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      Barbara, I'm assuming you're a Christian. You've just explained why you don't like someone else's religion, so perhaps now you understand why many of us don't like yours. Think about it.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • cisom

      Barbara,

      How do you think he did as governor?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Jet

      We make mistakes and it takes a while to figure it out sometimes, but hopefully we progress. No one can disagree with our standards of faith, hope, and charity and living a viruous life. Those are qualities that every candidate would be aided by.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  13. Deborah

    so what exactly is wrong with being mormon or lds? I find it always funny when people go after those who carry the ball. Saying you would not vote for someone who is Mormon is like saying I would not vote for someone who believe in Jesus or his father.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Well, I would be less inclined to vote for a Mormon, Christain, Jew, Muslim or any candidate that makes it seem that thier beliefs will enfluence their decision making process. Kind of like in Utah you have to purchase your beer from state ran stores that are hidden and have no coolers, so you get warm beer; kegs are illegal and so is brewing your own in your garage. Can you convince me that this has nothing to do with mormon politicians in Utah?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Squeaky Voice

      For one, that religion's lack of equality for women. A woman can not get into "Mormon Heaven" without a man bringing her into it, be it her husband, or male relative. During many wedding ceremonies in the "secret" section of the church hangs a gauzy curtain that separates husband and wife. He puts his hands through the sheet and "pulls" her through to symbolize how it's gonna work later in Heaven. That's right, ladies. You need permission from a man to get into Heaven because you're somehow not good enough to get in on your own. And you want a President who agrees with that?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • bradlee

      Jimbo has never been to Utah. Beer has always been in the beer isle in every grocery store for a long time. Go to the beer isle jimbo. Hard liquor is sold at liquor stores. Giant ones, sorry they are not cold so you can drink it right off the shelf.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  14. Steve

    The "Hall of Presidents" gives a link to a 404 error page, come on guys.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  15. +Long Haird Mormon

    You boys are un-correct & not too charp but its America so carry-on.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Kate

    Jon Hunstman was my governor and let me tell you, he's not worth voting for. I am a republican and a Mormon and I would still not vote for him for President of the United States.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Jimbo

      At least when he was governor he tossed that ridiculous law you guys had in Utah about having to be a member of a bar to enjoy a tasty beverage. There is still a lot of work to be done in that beautiful state to make it more enjoyable. I'm trying to recruit people to move there so we can vote out all the mormons and bring it to normalcy.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Paul

      Say what? Huntsman had an 84% approval rating as governor when he left to become China ambassador. He even hit 90% at one point. So maybe you didn't like him, but most the of the state doesn't agree with you.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • jerry

      This just in!! Mormons adapt to political and social change... You won't let Utah become a state because I have 20 wives? Thats funny, I just had a "vision" God told me to denounce polygamy.

      Whats that? Its now socially exceptable to have black people around? I just had a vision that allows them into my church just like whites (IN 1981 BLACK PEOPLE GOT TO BE MORMON). They made sure that one was tested and safe for a 100 or so years

      June 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  17. Escaped Mormon

    This guy has no faith save the faith he holds in the gullibility and trust of the ignorant, he is a politician. Nothing will change as long as the people keep letting these bums get rich off the labors of the middle class.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  18. +Long Haird Mormon

    He who is with-out sin cast the first stone ! Every human sins-- Hippo Hippo critssssssssss

    June 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  19. Jimbo

    As a Libertarian religious candidates don't really appeal to me. I believe that they will let their beliefs influence their decisions and I also believe that religious voters want this trait in their leaders. To me an ideal candidate would not mention their religion as if it were a non-issue. The worst candidates will bring up thier religion on their own, stating something along the lines of "we need to bring christianity back into this nation". A comment like this will surely turn me away, not because of the lack of trust I have in christians but because we aren't a christian nation no matter how hard some of you try. We are AMERICA built on many levels of different backgrounds and cultures. The best leaders will acknowledge this the worst will try to implement the religious beliefs of a few into law for all. RON PAUL!

    June 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Fellow Libertarian

      Jimbo, dream on. Ron Paul is a faithful and committed evangelical Christian. In his statement on faith on his website, Mr Paul, who once considered becoming a minister before entering medical school, says "I freely confess that Jesus Christ is my personal Savior, and that I seek His guidance in all that I do." As a fellow libertarian and fellow Christian, I salute that.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Would Ron Paul grow the government to make sure his religious social beliefs were being forced on the whole population?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  20. Matthew

    To this Day, going into the 2012 election, This so called religion has 0 yes 0 elders not of the color white

    June 28, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Matthew, I don't want to upset anybody but this video will. On youtube look up "Banned Mormon Cartoon", this might answer the question as to why there are currently zero elders of color.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Laura

      Matthew- this is simply false. Anyone with a genuine curiosity about the LDS church, please go to lds.org for what our members believe. And Jimbo- using this forum as an excuse to mock another's faith is just plain sad.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Jimbo

      Laura, your religion did not make this cartoon? Until you convince me otherwise, I have every right to mock your faith.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Penobscot

      Matthew...it is painfully obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about. Get informed and come back later.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Mark Geist

      That cartoon referred to by Jimbo was made by an anti-Mormon group and is full of lies and distortions. Learning about Mormons from these hate groups is like learning about Jews from the Nazis.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Mel

      So not true! Several members of the seventy are "colored" as you call them. Also Hispanic, Asian, and many other cultures and colors. We have a lovely gentleman from Germany in our first presidency! Please, say what you feel and enjoy your freedom of speech, but I have to warn you, you look foolish posting things that are so far from truth.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:20 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.