Living in Texas but writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, I have the benefit of approaching the major Utah newspapers with some detachment.
I don’t have to follow them for my local political news or have neighbors looking at what’s been dropped at the end of my driveway.
But I have often found myself defending the Salt Lake Tribune. As the local newspaper, it covers The Church of Jesus Christ in critical ways more often than any other media outlet.
But that’s their job.
And I often point out that criticism is not the same as intolerance.
Unfortunately, the Tribune’s editorial board tapped Johnny Townsend, a former member of the Church, whose books include “Let the Faggots Burn,” “Mormon Madness” which suggests Latter-day Saint faith is akin to mental illness, and “Mormon Underwear,” to write their latest editorial.
Let me give the Tribune’s editorial board some advice. If someone is fixated on another person’s underwear, they probably shouldn’t be writing about them in your newspaper. How a man with this background was published in any reputable newspaper is astonishing.
Townsend wastes little time in his editorial. He calls the “Mormon God” a Nazi repeatedly. And describes the religious lifestyle Mormons choose for themselves as a concentration camp.
Normally this is the part of the article where I explain why what has been said is inappropriate in a society of religious tolerance? But should I have to?
Suggesting that people who avoid pre-marital sex are nothing but victims of a Nazi is so obviously inappropriate it suggests that perhaps the Salt Lake Tribune is signaling an end to their attempts to cover the Church of Jesus Christ in anything resembling a professional manner.
And what’s unfortunate is that unlike so many published offenses, it does not require any reading between the lines or out of context quotes to find the offense. Comparing Latter-day Saint faith to Nazism is the editorial’s thesis, structure, and conclusion.
What’s amusing is that in one paragraph Townsend describes God as a Nazi because of Old Testament acts. Much of the initial negative response to the article is focused on that paragraph because it is describing the Hebrew God as a Nazi, so the article is anti-semitic. As though somehow being anti-semitic is out of bounds while ridiculing Mormons is appropriate.
When someone called the Deadpool poster religious discrimination last week, I stood up and said let’s not be so sensitive. And this is why. This is obscene and outside the bounds of appropriate discourse. If Johnny Townsend wants to use his free speech to call the Mormon God a Nazi let him do it in his self-published screeds. No one owes him a microphone.
What’s particularly distressing about this situation is that it was published the day before Christmas Eve. The Tribune appears to want to wink to their sizable anti-Mormon readership at a time when Latter-day Saints would be too distracted to respond forcefully.
Paul Huntsman, and Jennifer Napier-Pearce owe their paying subscribers—including me—an explanation of how their processes failed in allowing such a piece to be published and George Pyle, the editorial page editor owes an apology.
What’s unfortunate is that Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Tribune’s excellent religion writer, who likely had nothing to do with the publication decision is the most likely person to be professionally harmed by this incident because it does such harm to her publication’s reputation on religion reporting.
In the meantime, national media outlets should stop treating the Tribune as a neutral source of news about the Church of Jesus Christ. Exempting an apology and retraction they have outed themselves as unfit to participate in the conversation.