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SALT LAKE CITY — Unlike the presidential campaign four years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responding to political attacks. Tuesday, a Church spokesman addressed an open letter to an evangelical journalist who verbally attacked Mitt Romney's faith.
I believe a candidate who, either by intent or effect, promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve.
–Warren Cole Smith, evangelical journalist
The head of the Church's public affairs department, Michael Otterson, was careful not to discuss a particular candidate, stating Church leaders' insistence on neutrality. However, he very strongly talked of what it means to be an American.
"There's a lot about Romney I like." Smith wrote, "but certain qualifications make a candidate unfit to serve. I believe a candidate who, either by intent or effect, promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve."
With the greatest respect, Warren, your position is unreasonable, un-Christian and untrue to American ideals.
–Michael Otterson, LDS Church public affairs
Otterson wrote, "That would be news to Senator Orrin Hatch ... and to Senator Harry Reid ... to former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt ..."
Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is not surprised at the attack. "If you feel very, very strongly that no Mormon should ever be allowed to be in the White House, now is the time to start speaking out because now is the time when apparently Mitt is making his move."
Bennett said he feels it is appropriate for Otterson to have written the open letter defending the faith.
"Now, there are those who are going to bring it up again and again and again, and no amount of conversation is going to be able to change their minds," he said. "They have made up their minds that anybody who believes in a religious tradition that is absolutely not in lock-step with their own, can't qualify to be president of the United States."
Rev. Greg Johnson, of Utah's Standing Together ministry, is upset with Smith.
"If I don't stand up for Mitt Romney and the Mormon community for their right to practice their faith and run for a particular office, then what will they do when I'm discriminated against?" Johnson said. "This is the bedrock of discrimination and bias and should not be a part of the American conversation."
Johnson also backs Otterson's right to defend his faith. "If the LDS Church does not seek to define itself and defend itself in the public square, it will allow itself to be defined by the worst of its critics," he said. "We can have an important and worthwhile conversation about doctrinal differences, but we can do that with civility and respect."
In the open letter, Otterson asks Smith: "Isn't there something called Article VI, a constitutional provision that forbids a religious test for political office? With the greatest respect, Warren, your position is unreasonable, un-Christian and untrue to American ideals."
Otterson does extend an invitation to Warren Cole Smith for a meaningful discussion, should he visit Salt Lake City.