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C. Jane Kendrick: How defining were Jon Huntsman's comments on his Mormonism?

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 3:47 p.m. MDT

Last week my email inbox lit up like a Christmas tree. Family and friends were abuzz about Jon Huntsman's seeming refusal to make a commitment to Time magazine about his membership in the Mormon church.

The reaction in my circle was harsh, as if one of our own had abandoned his moment to flash his membership badge for the world to see. I could feel some intense disappointment and shock from the emails I read. Here's the first lesson for Huntsman's future campaign: DON'T UPSET THE MORMONS.

But it didn't bother me one minute. I could clearly see where he might have been coming from. As a public Latter-Day Saint blogger with non-Mormon readers, I find it complicated to explain Mormonism — specifically my brand of Mormonism — when it is a religion that relies heavily on personal revelation.

Take my family, for instance. Of nine siblings you will find all of us active Utah Mormons with differing beliefs on how to be a Mormon. Some don't eat meat, while some do. Some don't drink caffeine, while some do. Some don't watch sports on Sunday, while some do. Some are (lo! behold!) Democrats and some are (definitely) not.

Does it do us more harm than good to try and explain ourselves culturally when we are so different? And although we do agree on the basic tenets of our religion — first and foremost being our faith in Jesus Christ — still, many of us envelop ideas and truths found in other religions as well.

Sometimes in my own realm I feel I should say, "I am a Mormon, but not a Mormon like you are thinking. I have one mom who is the one wife of my one father." But I also want to say, "I am a Mormon, and my ancestry is full of polygamists — men who we revere, honor and name our babies after."

So, what is a Mormon to do?

And when a reporter asks about being a member of the church, are they really asking about the serious part of the religion, like the promises we make at baptism, or are they asking about a mix of feelings they've derived from "South Park" episodes and bits from "Big Love"?

Huntsman also touched on a truth; the varying degrees of Mormonism. I am a daily reader of the Book of Mormon. I pay a babysitter weekly so I can attend the temple. I sign up to bring meals to the sick and afflicted. But when my sisters and I spoke at BYU Women's Conference a couple weeks ago, we met so many incredibly humble and sweet women. Some of them even knitted during our session. Knitted! I could not help but think, "Wow, these women are way more Mormon than me."

I'm certain this now-famous-for-the-Mormons interview wasn't as anti-proselyting as my circle has imagined. The intrigue resulting from admitting our religion is tough to define begs more questions and hopes for more answers. He could have said, "Yes, I am a Mormon," and if he had, the conversation would have ended there. But keeping a door open for more inquiry also keeps the door open for more discussion. At least, I can't wait to hear more about how the ghosts of his ancestors make friends. Huntsman's words: "I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides."

My only hope now is that Huntsman will define what is exactly "tough to define" about his Mormon membership and doesn't wait until national polls decide how Mormon he needs to be to win. In the meantime, I have him to thank for my newest go-to phraseology. For instance, the next time someone asks about the state of my hair color, I have the perfect retort.

"Well, that's tough to define. There are varying degrees of color. I am a blonde right now, but I am proud of my brunette roots. Part of me is blonde, part brunette — I draw from both sides."

Thanks, governor.

C. Jane Kendrick writes for cjanerun.com and cjaneprovo.com. She lives in Provo with her husband and two children.

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