published Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Commission candidate denies anti-Mormon Facebook post

District 7 Hamilton County Commission candidate Sabrena Turner is disavowing a Facebook post by her campaign manager that Republican primary opponent Phil Smartt called a slap at his Mormon religion.

“I haven’t seen it, but as soon as I was made aware of it I called and asked that it be taken down,” Turner said Friday afternoon.

The post on Thursday by Jonathan Mason on his personal Facebook page said this:

“Something to think about. Joseph Smith claimed that God and Jesus appeared to him and advised that Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists were all wrong and their beliefs were an abomination. How does this align with what the Bible tells us?’

It contained a link to a YouTube video titled, “Are Mormons Christian?”

Smartt, who is running in the May 6 primary with Turner and Perry Perkins, called the Times Free Press on Friday to condemn the post.

“It’s getting dirty, and you know why. It’s because they’re losing,” Smartt said. “When you start talking about somebody’s religion, you start getting into trouble.”

On Friday, district resident James E. Ward sent the Times Free Press an email titled “An Open Letter to Sabrena Turner.”

The post implies that because Smartt is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “he does not fit into your definition of a Christian,” wrote Ward, who is Smartt’s son-in-law.

“This is clearly an attempt by your campaign to scare voters or suppress support for Mr. Smartt based on his personal religious convictions. I cannot tell you how offensive, bigoted, and wholly inappropriate this post is,” Ward wrote.

Turner denied any involvement in the post or any implied intolerance for Mormonism.

“It doesn’t reflect me or what I believe or what I am running my campaign on,” she said. “I’m out earning votes on my record. I don’t play dirty politics.”

Mason said the same thing and said Ward misunderstood the post, which he took down Thursday afternoon. He said he posts a lot about religion, among other topics, on his personal Facebook page.

“I like to learn more about my own Christian walk by exploring the other religions that are out there,” Mason said.

He said he has “no qualms” with Mormons, who are a “very active part of our Republican Party,” and that he voted for Mormon Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign.

“I don’t know why they are coming after me instead of sticking to the issues that are facing District 7,” he said. “For them to misconstrue that was probably just a deliberate way to make me look bad.”

Another district resident also condemned Mason’s post Friday.

Alan Johnston said in an email to the newspaper that as a Baptist minister, he has theological differences with Smartt. However, he also has “much common ground on which to stand and work to preserve our American way of life.”

“Is Mr. Mason suggesting that Mr. Smartt’s religious beliefs disqualify him for service, or that one must be only a white Protestant to qualify for office?” Johnston wrote.

“My life’s experiences have taught me that a person’s stated intolerance is usually just the tip of what resides darkly within that person. If one is intolerant of religious differences what else is waiting to rise to the surface?”

Descending from the rhetorical to the practical, he added: “I also find it very curious that Mason decided to make his posting regarding Mormonism immediately following a debate at East Hamilton High School where his candidate did not perform very well.”

Staff writer Louie Brogdon contributed to this story.

Contact Judy Walton at 423-757-6416 or jwalton@timesfreepress.com.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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