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Businessweek’s Mormon caricature cover draws fire
The cover is a caricature of a painting that shows John the Baptist blessing Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
July 13th, 2012
04:57 PM ET

Businessweek’s Mormon caricature cover draws fire

By Dan Merica, CNN

(CNN)-– Reaction to a recent Businessweek cover was swift and direct, with some bloggers and commentators going as far as to call the magazine exclusive “bigoted” and “out of bounds.”

The article – titled “How the Mormons Make Money,” by Caroline Winter – is an in-depth look into the business side of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with much attention given to the tax benefits the church enjoys and the extent of its holdings of property and stock in multinational corporations.

The magazine cover, the aspect of the article receiving the most criticism, is a caricature of a well-known Mormon painting that shows John the Baptist blessing two Mormon leaders, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Next to John the Baptist is a thought bubble that reads, “… and thou shalt build a shopping mall, own stock in Burger King and open a Polynesian theme park in Hawaii that shall be largely exempt from the frustrations of tax.”

In response, Smith replies, “Hallelujah.”

Michael Purdy, spokesperson for the church, responded to the cover in a statement to CNN, “The Bloomberg Businessweek cover is in such poor taste it is difficult to even find the words to comment on it.”

Purdy’s disapproval extended beyond the cover. He said the article was “biased, inaccurate and speculative” in nature. “The article misses the mark and the cover is obviously meant to be offensive to many, including millions of Latter-day Saints,” Purdy wrote in an e-mail.

Multiple calls and e-mails by CNN to representatives at Bloomberg went unanswered.

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Others reserved their criticism for the magazine's cover. Mormon blogger Joanna Brooks  wrote that while the cover was certain to ruffle some Mormon feathers – it already has – the article was a “generally balanced and straightforward assessment of LDS Church finances and enterprises.”

Even still, Brooks wrote, the shock of the cover image will keep most readers, especially Mormons, from taking the article seriously.

“Today, I’ve been in contact with a few of the sources for the article, and they believe the mocking cover image will lead most Mormons to dismiss the entire article as an anti-Mormon hit piece,” wrote Brooks. “Trying to sell a few magazines, Businessweek destroyed an opportunity for a serious discussion.”

The vastness of the church’s holdings are quite remarkable, especially considering the relative age of the church and the size of its membership, the article says. According to Businessweek, a recent study by Ryan Cragun, a sociology professor at the University of Tampa, estimates the church receives around $8 billion in tithing from members each years and is worth around $40 billion.

Those estimates would be tough to solidify, said Rusty Leonard, CEO of MinistryWatch.com, a site that keeps a database of Christian ministries and nonprofits for donors to use and evaluate.

The IRS does not require churches, which are tax-exempt, to file disclosure forms with the government. Leonard said that makes the totality of church holdings difficult to pinpoint.

“They get tax-free status as a church and they get the freedom to do what they want to do with their money,” Leonard said. This is true, he said, for everything from a local congregation to a large entity like the Catholic Church. But the difference, according to Leonard, is that people can see what is going on in their own congregation, something they can’t necessarily do for an entire religious body.

“When you are talking about an institution, like the Catholic Church or the Mormon Church, if they don’t voluntary disclose, you don’t really know what they are doing,” Leonard said.

When asked about the $40 billion figure provided by Cragun, Doug Anderson, public affairs manager for the Mormon Church, refused to comment.

The idea of Mormon hit pieces has been common in recent months, especially because likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney is a member of the faith, leaving conservatives and Mormons alike to worry that his candidacy will open the door to unfair characterizations of the church.

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Nancy French, a blogger for the website Patheos, spoke to this concern in her column about the cover.

“Can you imagine if they’d made a cover mocking your religion?” French wrote. “It will only get worse between now and November.”

The church-owned and operated Deseret News paper wrote an editorial that not only went after the reporting – “the corners cut in this week's Businessweek story do a disservice,” read the editorial – but also went after the legitimacy of Businessweek itself.

“In an earlier era, Businessweek was known for intelligently introducing its audience to useful conceptual approaches,” the editorial said. “But in this week's edition, Businessweek seemed out of its depth on the very issues it should own.”


soundoff (1,352 Responses)
  1. O.T.

    The Obama campaign and liberal media are engaging in widespread religious bigotry in an an effort to elect its candidate to the White House. Unfortunately, as evidenced by comments on Romney news stories, liberals are very willing to engage in bigotry for their political ends. it is disturbing.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • peter

      I am not a liberal nor did i ever nor will vote for obumo–But neither am i for that stinking mormon

      July 14, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  2. hubert39

    Hey..all religions-churches owned businrsses, shopping centers etc. Most in the USA know this is a racket.
    Plus all the TV religious show owned businesses today.
    Old time religion is a thing of the past.
    The best religion is practice in your home.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  3. Cindy

    Our early fathers were right about the Mormons. They called them evil and killed Joseph Smith and his brother. Mormonism is a cult, founded in the USA by a drunken treasure hunter. Looks like they are still hunting treasure. Just don't call it a religion.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • peter

      cindy–not only were our early fathers right but God(which won't happen) help them if the system breaks down

      July 14, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • LisaMBA09

      harsh, but well said and very true!
      sometimes the truth just cannot be said easily. 🙂

      July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Operator

      so you think it's right to kill someone for believing differently than you do? I thought one of the ideals this country was founded on was freedom of religion? I thought the Bible says thou shall not kill? Sorry, but it's hard to listen to an agrument from a hateful, intolerant, uneducated hypocrite such as yourself.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  4. Susan O.

    Hallejuah! About time someone called a spade a spade. I am so sick to death of churches hiding money-grubbing and child abuse behind the curtain of "religion". It's not about God, it's about money and power. Tax them. Tax them all. Put it out in the open. Honest religions, people, and businesses have nothing to hide. Don't you apologize for a thing, Businessweek!

    July 14, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  5. JulieMS

    They should spend more time looking into Scientology and expose their FALSE religion status.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • ironwolf56

      Scientology is known to sue the pants off anyone who so much as looks at them cross. Mormons may be a little odd but at least they don't run for lawyers the second someone says an unkind word about their religion.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  6. Utah Resident

    Absolutely positively honest cover and story.
    The Mormon Church is a money making business.
    Been in Utah for a long time and observed this first hand.
    All one has to do is come to Utah to observe clear eveidence as to the legitimacy of the article.

    Discrimination agains non-Mormons (aka folks like myself) is also quite common.
    Must admit, the first time I was described as "you people" (non-mormon) was wonderfully pleasing.
    Note that I indicate the 1st time, as there were 2nd and 3rd times as well.
    The LDS Church and the culture it spawned is just unhealthy.
    Stories told to me by many former members of the church are often shocking.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • peter

      You are living in their state–i despise those cursed people but if you don't like it move

      July 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Utah Resident

      Peter

      I love UT and will never move.
      Great place to live if mountains, skiing, and the outdoors are your thing.
      Never said anything negative about UT, just commenting on the article, the church, and personal observations.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  7. Rosslaw

    Not a single comment that anything about the article is even remotely inaccurate.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  8. Penseur

    Businessweek should now expose all the major religions, with their worldwide financial empires hiding behind a bronze-age veneer of gods, ghosts, and goblins, all of which contributes disastrously to the anti-intellectual climate of the time.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • robert

      LDS is not a religion. It is a financial scam, wrapped in a cult to protect it's wealth and from charges of fraud.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  9. TK

    I think all churches should lose their tax exempt status!

    July 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  10. Billy

    Who cares.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  11. Operator

    Notice how all of the posts that are filled with hate, judgement and insults are from non-mormons? Just an observation.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Crotalus

      Now if it were a story about gay marriage, the hate would be coming from the Mormons, and the money to bankroll the hate would be coming from Zion Banking and Trust.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Brigham Young

      How do you know their non-Mormons? Having said that, when you're brainwashed by the LDS church and have a "testimony" that the BOM is true, Joe Smith is true, etc, etc...you can't think for yourself.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • DB

      What's your point?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Operator

      See what I mean? You guys prove my point perfectly, thank you.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • FarLeft

      I'm not a mormon.., and I don't hate, or judge, or condemn them.., but the cover is accurate. The Mormons are very modern, yes? Cobbled together in the early-days of U.S. expansion? A guy name John Smith (that name is a tax scam if I ever heard one). This 'religion' was put together with money as their manna. Not a lot different from the power the churches enjoyed throughout history.. At one time, the catholic church was the largest landowner in the world.., so yes, let's call a spade-a-spade. This religion is not steeped in age-old values, mores and tenets.., it was contrived, by a guy with some vision, to manipulate what he saw as everyone's new 'religion'..., $$$.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • ME II

      @Operator,
      Don't think I ever heard anyone claim that Mormons weren't nice, usually too nice, if that's possible, ... at least on the surface.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Operator

      @Me, of course there are people in our church who are not very nice. I being LDS and married to a non-LDS man have received my fair share of judgements for not pushing my husband to convert. I think that's safe to say with all religions and groups of people that there are always a few rotten apples that make the rest of us look bad. My comment was trying to point out to people that making hateful comments towards a group of people that you are trying to say is hateful is kind of hypocritical. We all will recieve our judgements in the end by God, not anyone else. And instead of throwing poisen out there, why don't we all try to live as examples of what we believe in and how we want others to treat us like with respect, tolerance and freedom to worship and believe as we please?

      July 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  12. chickenworshipper

    How do i start my own religion to get tax exemption? Seems like Scientology and Mormons have figured it out. Next i want to run as President of the US too. Is there a dummy book i can buy?

    July 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  13. Brigham Young

    I don't have a problem with tax exempt status, but not for a "church" based on polygamy and bigotry against blacks

    July 14, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Erik

      Learn something about the church before making stupid comments.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Brigham Young

      Maybe YOU should learn something about the church...do you know your churches history? Of course not, you drink the Kool Aid and listen to what your elders tell you. Do a little homework at objective sources (not the church) and see if you aren't shocked. God will still love you.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • reality check

      Southern Baptists only recently apologized for their role in slavery.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • HeavenSent

      That means we're still waiting for the rabbis to admit they lie about Jesus Christ.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Robert

      The Mormon church should also have its Tax Exempt status revoked due to its activity in the political arena. I am not sure how they could be less political considering how they shook down their members for money to push an for legislative change (prop 8 in California).

      What really has me concerned is that Romney will have to answer to the Mormon church if he is elected. That church has a very strict hierarchy, and EVERYONE in it has to do what the church wants them to or they are pariahed. So that means America would essentially be voting the LDS to run the country. The one thing Romney has in his favor to combat this is that he has a diversified social network. He has friends outside of the church. So if they were to try to bully him by shunning him, he would still have friends and a network of support. So their threats to remove him from the community do not mean nearly as much as it would to the Joe six pack (although since they don't drink, that might not be the best description...) living in Utah who knows no one else but other church members.

      This is all assuming he would do something outside of the church's will. My guess is he does everything the church wants him to do. That is what makes a good Mormon a good Mormon after all. And he REALLY is a Mormon. Lots of politician's fake their religion in order to get elected. NO politician fakes being a Mormon as it is a huge disadvantage. So he is the real deal and comes with all of the puppet strings mentioned above.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  14. wAKE UP

    Give up your tax free status or shut up. I am sick of underwriting religions I don't believe in, which is ALL of them.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Penseur

      Hallelujah

      July 14, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  15. Roscoe Chait

    I think I'm going to make myself into a church so I don't have to pay any more taxes.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  16. Love

    Google Mormon Oath of vengeance against the United States.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • reality check

      Which was removed AGES ago. You may want to keep up with the times. Did you know that the only extermination order against a religion was against the Mormons. Look up Governor Boggs and Extermination Order for yourselves.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • DB

      Maybe you should Google "The Holocaust" because I'm pretty sure Mormons don't have a monopoly on being the subject of extermination orders.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  17. Leslie Lockner

    Frankly, I am surprised by the uproar. Seems a lot like the muslims attacking and the swedish pic. The news is free to investigate this kind of story and it is an important tenent of our free society. If you are offended don't buy the magazine. Free speech takes precedent.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Brigham Young

      Agreed...and after having to look at their ridiculous "I'm a Mormon" billboards for months I think this is perfect.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  18. Brigham Young

    Per the Bible, paintings like that one are Satanic in origin. If Mormons believe the Bible, they would realize this. But they only read the "other" doctrine books that Joe Smith and other heretics made up.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Love

      The bible is not based on an oath of vengeance; by the way, an oath of vengeance against the United States is treason.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • DB

      What painting are you talking about?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Brigham Young

      The painting on the magazine cover...

      July 14, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • DB

      How is it "Satanic?" Y'know, that's not a catch all phrase that covers everything that's against your own Church doctrine. It's almost comical how much people overuse that word..."almost" because it indicates that you really do see a world where Satan is around every corner. Lighten up!

      July 14, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Operator

      If you are going to make comments stating what the church studies or believes in, what don't you at least educate yourself and get your facts straight.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  19. Jacqueline

    In my experience, Mormons felt justified in making a work environment hostile in order to replace the employees with their own kind. Days later, members of their ilk demanded to be let into the unemployed workers' homes for a religious makeover. They knock you down, then kick you in the stomach. I'm a live and let live knee-jerk liberal who will never ever cast my vote for a Mormon.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • reality check

      I am ex-mormon and can only respond with : Liar Liar pants on fire. Yup, that's appropriate.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  20. answer is cold

    Mormons take themselves too serious. Believe me when I say ...you are not.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.