Friday, May 15, 2009
Prospective Appointment Of Jon Huntsman Jr. As Ambassador To China Offers Incredible Opportunity For The LDS Church To Establish Itself There
In a completely unexpected development, Utah's Republican Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. will accept an offer by President Barack Obama to become the United States Ambassador to China. This is being reported by numerous mainstream sources, including the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KTVX Channel 4 with video, Politico, and the Provo Daily Herald.
Huntsman met late in 2008 with representatives of the Obama Administration about a possible appointment. The governor has served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and was on a short list to fill the same role in China under President George W. Bush. Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and led a Utah trade mission to China during his first term.
Huntsman has said he would not seek a third term as governor and has been widely touted as a possible candidate for president in 2012. He has made several trips to key GOP primary states. But accepting the appointment likely means he'll put his presidential ambitions on hold until 2016. He will resign as Governor to accept the appointment; Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert would take over.
But that's just part of the picture. Governor Huntsman is also a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Chinese government does not permit proselytization in China by Mormons; only foreign LDS expatriates are allowed to worship, and then only in private homes in small groups. They are strictly forbidden from preaching the Gospel to Chinese nationals, and the LDS Church has honored the Chinese government's request. The only exception is in Hong Kong, where full religious freedom exists and where a temple has been built. In addition, Governor Huntsman is a proven consensus-builder; despite speaking out in favor of civil unions and CO2 cap-and-trade, he maintains an approval rating in the 80s.
Consequently, this is an unprecedented opportunity to open up all of China to the Gospel, either in degrees or all at once. And if anyone can get the job done, Jon Huntsman can. He will be circumspect at first, allowing the Chinese government to get to know him. Then, as Chinese confidence builds, he can then exercise patient leverage to break down the walls against Gospel penetration. One reason the Chinese government is so sensitive about this issue is that Christian missionary work in the past often served as a precursor for Western imperialist intervention in the country.
If Huntsman does indeed accept this opportunity, I predict that, within three years, the LDS Church will obtain official permission to operate in certain parts of the country, primarily in the bigger cities. But I don't foresee any temples being constructed right away. Chinese citizens could visit either the Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Seoul Temples to do temple work in the interim.
Huntsman's religious diplomacy could also pave the way for other Christian denominations to preach the Gospel in China, and may even go so far as to effect a reconciliation of some type between the Chinese government and Tibet's Dalai Lama. This isn't merely a smart choice by President Obama; it is an inspired choice.