Religious Biography

Jon Huntsman

Jon Huntsman Jr. was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the eldest of nine children in a Mormon family going back at least six generations. Huntsman’s maternal grandfather and his father, Jon Huntsman Sr., a self-made billionaire, both served as high-ranking officials in the LDS church. Huntsman also is a descendant of Parley Pratt, one of the church’s earliest missionaries, according to a March 2011 article in The Washington Post.

Growing up, Huntsman attended schools in several states, including a Lutheran school in Los Angeles. He dropped out of high school his senior year to play keyboard in a rock band but soon began attending classes at the University of Utah. Huntsman suspended his college education to complete a two-year mission for the LDS church in Taiwan, where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987, Huntsman embarked on a career in business and public service in the U.S. and abroad. Huntsman served as Utah’s governor from 2005 to 2009 and was the U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama. He and his wife, Mary Kaye Cooper Huntsman, have seven children. Mary Kaye was raised in the Episcopal Church but converted to Mormonism before the two married in 1983.

I believe in God. I’m a good Christian. I’m proud of my roots. You have to take me for what I am and make a decision based upon that. Take a look at my family. Take a look at my values.”

– Jon Huntsman speaking in a May 2011 interview with CNN’s John King

According to 2011 articles in The Salt Lake Tribune and The Boston Globe, during his governorship Huntsman attended LDS services and also regularly attended services at other churches. As governor, Huntsman garnered media attention for his support of civil unions for same-sex couples and his backing of a law that loosened state restrictions on serving alcohol in restaurants.

In a June 2010 interview with Fortune magazine, Huntsman said, “I can’t say I am overly religious,” adding, “I get satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.” As examples of this, he cited how his children have attended Catholic schools and how his two adopted daughters, one from India and the other from China, were born into Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions. In a June 2011 speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Huntsman said his family first decided to adopt a child after his wife volunteered at a Catholic orphanage in Taiwan. They eventually adopted Gracie Mei, who had been found abandoned in a produce market in China. “When asked who found her in the vegetable market, she simply replies, ‘Jesus,’ ” Huntsman said.

Huntsman described himself as “a very spiritual person” in a May 2011 interview with Time magazine and said he was “proud of my Mormon roots.” But when asked by the reporter whether he has remained a member of the LDS church, Huntsman replied, “That’s tough to define,” adding, “There are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.” When asked if he is a practicing Mormon in a May 2011 interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, Huntsman replied, “I believe in God. I’m a good Christian. I’m very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon. Today, there are 13 million Mormons. It’s a very diverse and heterogeneous cross-section of people. … And I probably add to that diversity somewhat.” When asked by Stephanopoulos in the same interview whether his Mormonism would be an issue in the campaign, Huntsman replied, “I don’t think so. I think people want to know that you … are going to be a problem solver. … I think everything else that people like to talk about, in many cases, are less relevant. In fact … some are sideshows.”

In a May 2011 interview, CNN anchor John King asked Huntsman how he would respond to some evangelical Christians whom King characterized as viewing Mormonism as “a cult.” Huntsman replied, “We’re breaking barriers in this country all the time. And when people say that because you come from a certain background, that you’re not able to get from point A to point B, I’d say nonsense. That’s not part of the American tradition. … People are worried about the real issues and less about someone’s heritage or background.”

Like 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon and his distant cousin, Huntsman would be the first Mormon president if he were elected.

Published on November 8, 2011