Jon Huntsman is expected to announce a run for the presidency of the United States soon, making him the second Mormon to announce his candidacy for this campaign. Mitt Romney is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons. This unusual occurrence is leading some to refer to this year as the Mormon Moment. This article will discuss Huntsman’s Mormonism , since it is a religious blog and not a political blog.
Jon Huntsman’s Mormonism goes back to the very earliest days of the religion. His ancestor, Parley P. Pratt, was a contemporary of Joseph Smith and in some ways, Pratt’s early history mirrored that of Joseph’s. His family, like Joseph Smith’s, were hardworking farmers, but were somehow never quite able to become successful. Like Joseph, his parents did not join a church, although they attended many and Parley P. Pratt, even as a child, was puzzled by the diverse number of churches all claiming to be God’s church. At age twelve, he began to study the scriptures, searching for an answer. He became a Baptist when he was eighteen, but did not feel he had found the true church yet.
After Pratt’s marriage, he became a follower of Sidney Rigdon, who was then a Campbellite. Rigdon worked to restore New Testament teachings, which appealed to Pratt. However, he still felt they offered no claim of authority to select official doctrine. In 1830, he and his wife set out for New York to preach the gospel. However, Pratt felt an impression that God wanted him to leave the boat at Newark. He did so and there he received a copy of the Book of Mormon. He was captivated by it, reading it continuously, without even stopping for food, and stopping for sleep only when he had to. When he finished, he had received a testimony that it was true. He then traveled to Palmyra to meet Joseph Smith. He encountered Joseph’s brother Hyrum first, however, and Hyrum taught him the gospel. He felt the missing piece of his search—that of authority—had been found. He was baptized and became a prominent Mormon leader. He was especially remembered for his impressive skills as a missionary.
Pratt wrote nearly fifty hymns that were in included in the first Mormon hymnbook, including seven that are still in the current hymnbook, as well as a number of books that were best-sellers among the Mormons. Parley P. Pratt became known as The Poet Apostle.
When Joseph Smith was murdered, Pratt worked to prevent Sidney Rigdon from reorganizing the church before the governing body of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could return to Nauvoo. His efforts helped Brigham Young to take his rightful place as president of the Church. Pratt later became a Mormon apostle. Interestingly, Mitt Romney is also descended from Parley P. Pratt, making them distant cousins.
In more recent times, another of Jon Huntsman’s ancestors became an apostle. Huntsman’s grandfather was David B. Haight. Mormons are led by a prophet who also serves as the president of the church. He has two counselors who form the highest governing body and together the three are known as the First Presidency. Following the structure set up by Jesus Christ, there are also twelve apostles who form a quorum. The apostles serve as special witnesses of Jesus Christ, so their mission is to testify of Jesus as they travel the world. When a prophet dies, the First Presidency is dissolved and the counselors return to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. They are ordered in seniority based on how long they’ve been an apostle. The senior apostle becomes the new prophet. There is no voting or campaigning. It is an orderly way that lets God clearly select the next prophet.
David B. Haight became an apostle in October of 1976. He was noted for his love of serving and his determination to learn from any job he was given in the church. Mormons have a lay ministry, and every member is expected to take on volunteer assignments. These are normally given through inspiration, not requested, and people change callings (positions) often, so they have many opportunities to learn new skills and to grow. It was noted that Elder Haight, prior to becoming an apostle, had served as a stake president (similar to leading a Catholic diocese) and then served as a mission president in Scotland, overseeing hundreds of missionaries. At the end of those responsibilities, he found himself teaching teenage boys. Some people might have considered that a demotion, but there are no demotions in the Mormon Church, just new experiences. His wife reported he was as happy and as busy learning in that seemingly less important position as he was in ones that might have more prestige in some eyes. He knew that helping teenagers develop their faith was very important.
An example of Elder Haight’s leadership ability is the way he handled a young missionary when he was the mission president in Scotland. The young missionary wanted to go home, feeling he’d been a failure as a missionary. Elder Haight said he had clearly let the young man down and wanted to know exactly what was wrong so Elder Haight could help get things back on track. After listening to the missionary, he told the young man there was a woman who had asked that missionaries come to teach her. It was an area that had never had missionaries before. He said he was sending this young man as senior companion to train and work with a brand new missionary. They were to teach this woman and find others to teach as well. The missionary protested he couldn’t do it and that he wasn’t worthy, but Elder Haight explained that he was sending this man in because he completely trusted him to open a brand new area. The missionary went and lived up to the expectations and trust he had been given.
This illustrious heritage of leadership has been handed down through Huntsman’s large Mormon family. His own father is an Area Authority Seventy. Seventies give voluntary service to a specific geographic area while having normal personal careers. Huntsman’s father, although a wealthy and influential businessman, is best known for being a philanthropist. In 2000, Forbes listed him as the sixth largest philanthropists. Although he donates his wealth to many causes, with a goal to die broke having given his wealth away, his special focus is on the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. His parents died of cancer and he is also a cancer survivor. Poverty, education, and homelessness are also priorities in his charitable work.
Jon Huntsman has a formidable heritage to live up to. His own life has been one of hard work and success. He was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Taiwan, where he learned to speak Standard Mandarin Chinese and a dialect called Taiwanese Hokkien. In church he has served in a variety of volunteer positions, including working with teenage boys, as did his grandfather.
Although he got off to a somewhat slow start, having dropped out of high school to be in a hard rock band, like so many other teenagers, he later obtained his GED and went to college at the University of Utah. He has a degree in International Politics from the University of Pennsylvania. He has served under four U.S. presidents of both major parties. He was a White House staff assistant for Ronald Reagan, and a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and a United States Ambassador to Singapore for George H.W. Bush. In that position, he was the youngest U.S. ambassador in a century. He served under George W. Bush as Deputy United States Trade Representative. He recently resigned as an ambassador to China for President Barack Obama. He has also served as the governor of Utah.
Careful students of both Mormon candidates will note that although both are practicing members of their Mormon religion, they have differing views on many political issues, including some on which the Church has spoken out. The Mormon Church is politically neutral in that they do not endorse candidates, even when the candidates are members of the Church. Nor do they endorse political parties, having made it clear that the Church’s stance on various political issues do not line up with any one party. They do, however, speak out on issues that are natural territory for religion, but do not dictate to political leaders, even if they are Mormon.
“Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent” (See Political Neutrality, LDS.org).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.