|Phil Smartt, from Facebook|
After what was characterized as a weak performance by candidate Sabrena Turner at a debate at East Hamilton High School on Thursday March 27th, 2014, Jonathan Mason, who is Turner's campaign manager, posted the following screed to his personal Facebook page:
“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 also contained a link to a YouTube video titled, “Are Mormons Christian?”
Candidate Phil Smartt, a Republican who is Mormon, fired back. On March 28th, Smartt called the Chattanooga Times Free Press to condemn the post, suggesting that it was a Hail Mary tactic by a candidate who is losing. Others in the community publicly condemned the post, including Smartt's son-in-law James E. Ward, and a Baptist minister, Alan Johnston. Letter from both were published in The Chattanoogan. Rev. Johnston wrote, in part, "Phil Smartt and I share a strong belief around things like family, civic pride, the sanctity of life, a Biblical definition of marriage and much, much more. On the key issues in District 7 I have found Mr. Smartt to be on the right side of every issue, and those include education, economic development, limited government, low taxes, and an opposition to discretionary spending in county government".
Stung by the backlash, Sabrena Turner, who is a member of Morris Hill Baptist church, quickly disavowed her campaign manager's sentiments. Turner denied any involvement in the post or any implied intolerance for Mormonism, and noted that as soon as she learned of Mason's post and the community reaction against it, she called Mason and asked him to take it down, which he did. For his part, Mason defended his post, claiming James E. Ward misunderstood it, adding that he posts a lot about religion, among other topics, on his personal Facebook page. His objective is to learn more about his own Christian walk by exploring the other religions that are out there, and says he has no objection to Mormons seeking political office. He added that he supported Mitt Romney in 2012. But although Sabrena Turner has now distanced herself from anti-Mormon bigotry, her supporters have been characterized as being uncivil; at the East Hamilton High School forum, Turner supporters allegedly yelled “liar, false, that is false, lies” when Smartt attempted to expound upon a local annexation issue.
Those who are interested in the details behind the annexation issue can read this PDF, which was published by the Turner campaign. While written from her perspective, it also contains many facts.
A Hamilton County native and graduate of Chattanooga High School, Phil Smartt graduated from Brigham Young University and serves as an Elder and Sunday School teacher in his local LDS ward. He has owned a small business for more than 38 years and is a member of the Hamilton Place Rotary Club. A devoted family man, he and his wife of 48 years, Gloria, have raised six children and have 28 grandchildren. Smartt received a powerful endorsement from former major league baseball player Dale Murphy, who is also LDS; the two have personally known each other for years.