In the District 7 race it clearly appears that one of the campaigns is gasping for air and has grown dark and desperate in their efforts. No longer able to stand on the issues in the race, Jonathan Mason, supporter and manager for Sabrena Turner, has resorted to attacking the religious beliefs of other candidates. One of those candidates, Phil Smartt, happens to be a Mormon. Mr. Mason seems to take issue with that fact. 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.
I personally am a Baptist minister, and a supporter of Mr. Smartt. While I have many theological differences with Mr. Smartt, I am like Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. who, addressing leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, said that despite our theological differences we have much common ground on which to stand and work to preserve our American way of life.
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.
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? Did we not enter a war in 1776 to, among other things, win religious freedom?
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? It is also likely they carry about a similar disdain and prejudice for those who are different because of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic position, and dozens of other components of our lives where we tend to be different.
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As a voter in District 7, father of five children, attorney, and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ("Mormon"), I was shocked to see a Facebook post today by your campaign manager (Jonathan Mason) regarding Mr. Smartt's religious views - namely that because he's a “Mormon" he does not fit into your definition of a Christian. 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. Is your campaign suffering so much that you have resorted to personal attacks on another candidates religion? But more importantly, I wonder how the voters in District 7 feel about this new approach of yours?
By allowing this post to circulate you have chosen to alienate the hundreds of Mormon voters who live in East Brainerd, Apison, Collegedale and surrounding communities. You have chosen division and bigotry over tolerance. You've chosen to ignore the issues and facts in the campaign and instead try to destroy your opposition by waving the flag of religious superiority. Reminds me of some of the tactics used by the current administration in Washington, D.C. But I digress.
While we may have legitimate differences from a theological standpoint, I can assure you that we talk of Christ, preach of Christ, rejoice in Christ, and know that it is only through Jesus Christ that we have any hope of resurrection, forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and being with our families after death. We know that it is only through His grace that we are saved - after all we can do. For heavens sake, the name "Jesus Christ" is emblazoned on every Mormon structure.
While you may disagree on theological issues, meanings, and definitions, please do not denigrate an entire religion (or some of the hard working voters in this district) by trying to destroy your opponent by personal religious attacks.
Your campaign manager's Facebook post asked "what does the Bible say?" Well, one thing the Bible says is to "love your neighbor as yourself" and it also teaches that "by their fruits ye shall know them." Let me share with you some of the local "fruits" of this religion. Having been affected by the tornados (twice) in recent years, it was my Mormon "neighbors" who were first on the scene with chainsaws, tarps, water, generators and comfort to those who were affected. Indeed, our local congregation (East Brainerd and N. Georgia) spent over two months and thousands of hours helping our neighbors on Cherokee Valley Road, Ringgold, Apison, and all points in-between. Our sister congregation in Harrison, Apison, and Collegedale did the same. It was the Mormons in Salt Lake City who sent multiple 18-wheelers to Chattanooga loaded with supplies to help in the rebuilding - and it was free to anyone who needed help (regardless of religion). It was thousands of Mormons from Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, and as far away as Michigan, that drove to Chattanooga to help in the clean-up effort.
More recently, it was the Mormons who just hosted a free Emergency Preparedness Fair, and a free Family History fair. Both benefited hundreds within the district. It was the Mormons within Chattanooga who just this week secured and delivered $500 worth of supplies to the Chattanooga Room In The Inn. It was the Mormons in North Georgia and East Brainerd who just last weekend spent a Saturday rebuilding the large playground barrier at Boynton Elementary School (at their sole cost). And by the way, Phil Smartt, his wife, and large family were deeply involved in each of the aforementioned activities.
Why do we do this? Because we strive to live by the two great commandments: (1) love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. Also, we believe it's what the Master Jesus Christ would do if he were here.
Finally, I wonder if Mr. Jonathan Mason would have felt so emboldened to attack Mr. Smartt's faith if he were a Muslim or a Buddhist? I suspect not since that's outside the lines nowadays. What if he were a Catholic, Presbyterian or Episcopalian? All have differing views of the Bible, Jesus, and His doctrines. Again, I think not. For some reason, Mormons seem to be the only religion left that some of our good Christian “neighbors” feel empowered to attack. Which begs the question - as a self professed Republican who exactly did you vote for in the last Presidential election? The Mormon Mitt Romney? Or did you "sit it out" due to religious convictions? I'm sure the voters of District 7 would be interested to know the answer.
In conclusion, I call on you to stop hiding behind your campaign manager's attacks on a person's religious views. If you feel this is topic is "fair game" in the campaign then go for it. Just come out and say it yourself. If you (like me) think this is way outside the lines of civil discourse in a Hamilton County Commissioner race, then I would ask you to make sure Mr. Mason's offensive post is removed immediately. He speaks for you after all and apparently runs your campaign.
Third, I'd ask you to issue an apology to the residents of District 7 for being the only candidate in Chattanooga / Hamilton County to attack a person's religious views.
I look forward to hearing from you.
James E. Ward