Boston paper examines Mormonism of Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney

Published: Monday, Aug. 15 2011 11:41 a.m. MDT

BOSTON — The Mormonism of presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. was discussed in depth in this morning's Boston Globe.

Globe staff writer Lisa Wangsness draws from a variety of sources to contrast what she called Romney's "highly active and orthodox" membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with what she characterized as Huntsman's religious "ambivalence" and "ambiguity." Although neither candidate was willing to be interviewed for her article, Wangsness writes that the apparent differences "highlights a growing debate about whether this relatively new religion can accommodate a more classic definition of what it means to be Mormon."

The article makes it clear that "Huntsman does not appear to be estranged from the church. Friends and associates say that before he became ambassador to China, he often attended services at his local ward, or congregation, in Salt Lake City. And U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Huntman's former chief of staff, said that during his first gubernatorial run, Huntsman taught a class to prepare young men for the lay priesthood."

Others have said contrasts between Romney's and Huntsman's statements on their faith show "some of the diversity within the LDS tradition, making people less likely to assume all Mormons must fit the Mitt Romney mold," as Rachel Esplin Odell wrote last month in a "My View" guest editorial for the Deseret News,

Odell is a foreign policy researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and past president of the Harvard College Latter-day Saint Student Association. "In fact," she added, "(Huntsman's) bio would jibe well on the new mormon.org: "I played in a rock band. I ride a Harley. I'm a Mormon."

The Globe's Wangsness interviewed Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy. While he was not specifically speaking of Huntsman or Romney, he indicated the "strength of religious conviction among individual Mormons varies . . . those who are active tend to be firmly grounded in the faith."

The article says it is "unclear" how Huntsman's "less-orthodox Mormonism" will play politically, although David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina is quoted as saying it won't play well in the south.

But "Kenneth Foster, a communications professor at the University of Utah, thinks most voters will miss the nuance altogether. 'To the outside world, which knows nothing of Mormonism, how are you going to delineate 'I'm a sort-of-active Mormon?' he said. 'we can't even delineate that internally. It's going to be, 'Are you, or are you not?'"

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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