As ambassador to China, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. likely will go out of his way to avoid being seen as promoting the LDS Church despite a Utah lawmaker's supposition to the contrary, a BYU professor said Monday.
Huntsman will "be careful and cautious in anything he says about the church or to further the church's presence in China," said Matthew Christensen, who teaches Chinese at Brigham Young University.
Christensen's comments came after state Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, on his blog underthedome.org, suggested Huntsman could use his new position to share his faith with millions of Chinese. Mormons believe they have a "divine mandate" to teach their beliefs to all the world, and many upon hearing about Huntsman appointment speculated it could provide a golden opportunity for the church if Huntsman were able to open up China for Mormon missionaries who are prohibited from entering the populous country.
"Huntsman's ambassadorship not only puts him in an excellent position to address U.S.-China relations," Frank wrote, "it puts him in an even better position to teach the gospel ... in Mandarin."
The LDS Church did not have an immediate comment, spokesman Scott Trotter said Monday.
Christensen said he believes Huntsman's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be apparent to the Chinese because of the church's requirement that devout members forgo alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco.
"The Chinese put on huge feasts and there is always plenty of liquor. If you don't drink it or tea, it will be obvious," said Christensen, who has spent at least one semester running BYU's study abroad in Nanjing. "That can't help but raise the image of the church."
Despite China's prohibition on missionaries, the LDS Church has 11 international branches in nine cities for its expatriate members.
Expatriate Mormons first started arriving in mainland China in the late 1970s "as diplomats with the embassy or consulate staffs of foreign countries, followed by those assigned to Chinese offices or branches of major international corporations expanding into the new People's Republic of China market," according to a Jan. 10 article in the LDS Church News . "Increased educational opportunities and exchanges followed, bringing additional foreign members as English teachers, students and guest instructors and professors to the international branches. More recently, the latest wave of expatriate members coming to China includes entrepreneurs and owners and operators of small businesses."
BYU has been sending singing groups to China since the early 1980s, and students to the school's study abroad program almost that long. It also sponsors the China Teachers Program, sending mostly retired LDS couples to various universities to teach English for one year.
Before the school sends any of them, however, they have to agree to some strong inhibitions on promoting their faith. They can answer questions about Mormonism, but not initiate any conversations about their faith. They may not teach missionary lessons or distribute pamphlets or copies of the church's unique scripture, the Book of Mormon.
"You're not even allowed to suggest they go to the church's Web site," said Christensen, who was an LDS missionary in Hong Kong as a young man.