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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. TheMagusNYC

    It seems smart and legal; and note that corporate profits are easily absorbed and evaded, and whatever may be left can can donated to the church, and Mitt graciously promises to eliminate corporate taxes, so np.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  2. Zon

    Also, why is it that the Mormon church is exempt when it comes to a candidate's religion? When all the wing-nuts have talked about for the last 4 years is the President's association Reverand Wright?

    July 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  3. Luis Wu

    Up until as late as the 1960's one of the Mormon teachings was that after Cain slew Able he went to the Land of Nod and took a wife and that he married an ape (there were no other people around but Adam & Eve and family), and that's where black people came from. The black skin is the mark of Cain. A Mormon minister and his wife (our neighbor) told me that around 1960. I've read it since then as well. They've removed it from their official teachings but a lot of them still believe it.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Operator

      That's wierd, coming from a very big LDS familiy on my dad's side, though I'm inactive, and being surrounded by Mormons my whole life, I don't know any who believe that. Great factual info there.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • ME II

      @Operator,
      That was the official teaching of the LDS though, correct?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Operator

      I've never been taught that. Not saying it wasn't part of the early teachings but don't all religions have teachings or practices that they've evolved from? I've never met a Mormon who hated anyone of a different race, I grew up a military brat with many different races (white, black, asian, hispanic) going to many different wards and never met anyone who expressed or treated a person of another race as anything but another child of God. Of course there are probably racists and bigots in the church, but we can say that about all religions. And it isn't our place to judge them for what they believe, even if we find it morally wrong. God will judge those who need it, in the mean time we should be thankful for a country that lets us all believe and worship what we want.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  4. CarrotCakeMan

    While we know for a fact the Mormon leadership is breaking our country's laws to throw elections, we should remember that many Mormon individuals are good and honest people who are ANGRY that their leadership is misusing the church's vast wealth to poison America's political process. Many Mormons now refuse to donate to the leadership.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Operator

      Please tell me where you got these facts, links or references would be great. Thanks!

      July 14, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  5. Zon

    Anyone who thinks the Mormon church isn't little more than a tax-exempt multi-national corporation is either one of their brain-washed minions or incredibly stupid. And they are on the cusp of putting one of their fervant adherants in the most powerful position in the world.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Agreed, but the likelihood of Willard being elected is dropping to zero with the proof of his lies.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  6. Andrew

    I grew up as a non-Mormon in Salt Lake City. That culture is horrifying. And there is no boundary between the religious life and the political life in Utah. If you doubt that a Romney presidency would give the LDS church a chair in the Oval Office, you are hopelessly naive.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Operator

      You mean the kind of naive like believing in Hope & Change? And transperancy?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  7. wakeup333

    This column ("religion blogs") is always the same: So-and-so has gone "too far" criticizing religion!!

    Get used to it! Religion will NEVER AGAIN be safe from criticism! For thousands of years, believers have forced their obnoxious belief in invisible beings down the throats of the rational. Those days are OVER!!

    Thanks to the internet, rational people know they're not alone. We've found our voice. And strength in numbers. Get used to hearing our opinions about your absurd belief in imaginary beings, angels, devils, "holy" men, "holy" books and ideas that can't be disputed!

    July 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Exactly right. Religious people seem to think everyone should have respect for their beliefs. But ignorance and stupidity don't deserve respect. Especially when they try to force their ignorant nonsense on everyone else.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Chutzpah

      Hallelulajah!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  8. Tom

    I never liked it when Mormons would come to my door and want to chat about their religion. I thought they were pukes then, and I still do.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • peter

      I chased two of them off my property–They ran like little girls–Listen we been telling them for 180 years we don't want you nor do we want you around

      July 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  9. namvet

    The last thing the mormon cult wants is exposure. This is especially true when it comes to money. This is one of the reasons Romney has decided to keep his tax returns secret. Romney provided Sen. McCain with over 20 years of his tax returns when Romney was hoping to be the VP pick that went to Palin, but he doesn't want the public to have the same info. Yes there are many things the mormon cult wants kept secret, money is but one.
    Thge more a person knows about the mormons the less likely they are to vote for one. Strange cult!

    July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Only vetted Mormons may enter their temples, and that's just where the secrecy starts.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  10. Jason D

    The mormons hide their past the way romney does....its nice to see some light on the 'faith'

    July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Good point, Romney got caught lying also.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  11. nvmature

    And just what would an article about the Catholic church divulge? Or Baptist? Or Episcopalian? All churches are business enterprises.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Jason D

      The fact though is that the light has been shed on them many times and their hypocricy but the mormons have done them utmost to hide in the shadows, raising money from people they wont even allow into their temples...so now the light comes, will it brighten or burn?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Please don't try to drag the Episcopal Church down to the level of the Catholics and Baptists who try to force their "beliefs" onto all other Americans.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  12. Luis Wu

    All tax breaks for religious groups should be eliminated. That alone would balance the budget.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Frank Vanis

      I agree! Especially how the churches manage to insinuate themselves into politics. NONE should be tax exempt!!

      July 14, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  13. RightCoastVA

    Seems more fitting to the cover of Mad Magazine, not Businessweek. Do they really expect people to take them seriously with that picture?

    July 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Reasonable people know it accurately describes the Mormon business accurately.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      You are a nutty Mormon...that painting is what is ludicrous to start with. Businessweek just leveraged the Mormon crazy.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  14. PraiseTheLard

    Why pick on the Mormons? The other religions are just as dishonest...

    July 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      They might be dishonest but they don't base their religions on polygamy and bigtotry. Mormons still believe in polygamy...now just in the afterlife. Bigotry? Oh yeah, people of color are "cursed".

      July 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Absolutely.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Most religions don't have billions and billions and use their billions to poison our political process. We KNOW for a FAT that Mormons committed criminal acts to poison the political process, such as their breaking California law to throw the 2008 anti-gay H8te Vote.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • TheMagusNYC

      We couldn't even host Bingo at our Methodist Church.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • ME II

      @Joseph Smith,
      To be fair, those things are no longer part of the LDS. What the members believe personally is their business. Additionally, you think every other religion doesn't have its own past evils? Inquisitions, Southern Baptist Convention (or whatever) and racism, etc.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • nvmature

      To Joseph Smith: Most Southerners are Baptists. The overwhelming larger base of Southerners are racists who believe in white supremacy or at least dark skin submission. Doesn't that logical conclude they believe in a blessing for lighter skin and a curse for the darker shaded one. ALL religions are bigoted and racist.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  15. zoyster1

    I'd like to see the same kind of coverage of Muslims from the left wing looney media.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      Why? Are you a Kool-Aid drinking Mormon?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • midwest rail

      Is a Muslim currently running for President ?

      July 14, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • peter

      Don't worry–they are on our radar just as much as your cursed religion is

      July 14, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  16. TheMagusNYC

    The tax exempt issue will be moot if Mitt gets chance to eliminate corporate income taxes.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      Huh? I think you're reading a different article than the rest of us.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  17. Joseph Smith

    I love how the LDS church invests in things it says it doesn't believe in. Hmmm...

    July 14, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  18. Dennis

    The Mormon empire grows. Romney is a great model for young people that want to move away from the Evangelical a southern baptist religions.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Joseph Smith

      Yes, what a great model...a liar, hypocrite. Awesome.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • TheMagusNYC

      You underestimate the leap from trinitarian Christian to unitarian Mormon, with a carnal Father, and a created Christ.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  19. Bobby Weird

    I am so tired of footing the bills for the Mormons, Catholics, Jews, etc. with tax subsidies. How did this whole thing about cults not paying taxes get started anyway?

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

      Google is your friend.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • CarrotCakeMan

      Most churches barely collect enough in contributions to keep their church building maintained and they deserve their tax-exempt status, and this applies to most Jewish congregations as well. However, the Mormons and Catholics have been CAUGHT committing criminal acts to poison our political process (The 2008 California anti-gay H8te Vote) with their VAST wealth. They SHOULD have their tax-exempt status revoked.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • bill constantine

      Let us share the females. The females do not share the males. The cchurch has enough money now to help females get money to have males..Momen women do not have equal rights..

      July 14, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Mike

      I am so tired of comments on tax-exempt status for churches being unfair. As a tax accountant I know from personal experience that all churches that operate for profit or non-profit organizations pay tax on income just like other traditional businesses. Please research Form 990-T (the information readily available on the internet). What is tax exempt is the donations they receive, not the "income" they earn on those donations in for profit enterprises. And any monies paid to members of the clergy are taxes as wages. With all the information on the internet there is no excuse for ignorance.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  20. Annie

    Happy someone is showing the real Mormon way. They are the real bigots, will take your job away and give it to a fellow cultist. Once one gets in the job environment, watch out, everyone gets replaced sooner or later. Big Love Romney will make sure Un-Mormons suck-up.They don't want to have to explain multiple wives,teen wives or incest. PUKE!

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

      Anyone who has worked with Mormons know you are speaking the truth.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:45 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.