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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. Mick

    Get over it, Mormons. Businessweek did the right thing by publishing the cover instead of bowing down and kissing religion's a$$, like the media usually does. You may be exempt from taxes, but your not exempt from criticism.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Steve

      Yeah!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • LDS Historian

      Under the Exalted Supreme Leader-for-Life, his Holiness Mittens, America was rescued in 2012 from Satan, and the Evil journalists who dared speak out against the church were put to death. The laws of the Great Mormon States of American were then amended to prevent any further blasphemy ... and there was much rejoicing.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  2. mm

    Freedom of speech – true democracy! I just love it!

    July 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  3. Jim8

    Let's just ignore religion this time, it's too inconvenient.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  4. palintwit

    I fail to understand why more isn't being written about Bristol Palin. She's bright, attractive and a very gifted individual. She will no doubt do very well in politics, having an equally gifted mother who will show her the way. I look forward to the day she boards her own tour bus and visits my town.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • bill

      Oye!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Steve-O

      I'd like to board her bus..

      July 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • facts

      just arrange an or-gy and she'll be right there.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  5. No American Theocracy

    Although the cover is offensive, the article does provide valid points in how LDS (and organized religions) conduct financial business behind closed doors. I do not like the way American religions pull at people's spiritual heart strings while acquiring wealth and power for political gains. I do not believe that greed is a virtue in any religion. Churches SHOULD disclose all of their assets so that followers know how their money is being used. Why the tax loopholes? America should NEVER become a theocracy. One last thought: One must ask WHO owns that TV station/newspaper/magazine? The media is a powerful tool in elections and industry/Wall Street. One man, ie Rupert Murdoch, can easily slant/tarnish public opinion for their own financial gain.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Toss Pot

      To those of us with a sense of humor, this cover is far from offensive.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Reality99

    No wonder BusinessWeek is bankrupt and had to get a lunatic political hack to try to bail them out. Both of them are moments away from joining their peer Air America in the trash heap of history.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  7. pohakulua

    Just for the record the polynesian cultural center in Hawaii is not tax exempt. Also any funds made provide scholarships for thousands of young people to receive an education at the nearby BYU-Hawaii. Students also are given employment there to help them pay expenses at school. I know of many people from small poor island countries who would never have been able to fund education otherwise. To me that is a great use of any churches funds.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • okiejoe

      Question: Do they employ or enroll anyone who isn't a Mormon at the Polynesian Center?

      July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Are You Sure?

      Okiejoe. Yes. Both of my (non-morman) sisters worked at the Polynesian Center.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  8. Reality

    Tis a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders a fee/t-ithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, canneries, gaudy temples, a great choir and mission-matured BYU football and basketball teams.

    And all the profits and losses are kept secret by the present prophet/profit and his merry, twelve white males.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Mike

      That is untrue, all for profit enterprises pay taxes on their income there is no "tax exemption" for that. Additionally non-profits organizations run by churches file Form 990-T paying tax on all unrealted business income. Please look up the Polynesian Cultural Center's Form 990 filing on Guidestar (it's free) and find out for yourself. To suggest that churches (Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, etc.) don't pay taxes on for profit enterprises they control or unrelated business income is factually untrue, even the Businessweek article acknowledged that. Ignorance is largely responsible for the perpetuation of this and other untruths.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Reality

      From guidestar.org:

      POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER (resort)
      Income: $79,213,147
      Laie, HI 96762

      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
      >

      Income: $0
      Also known as: LDS Church
      Salt Lake City, UT 84150

      (Said resort/museum is owned and operated by the Mormons apparently for Mormons. Interesting that it is considered a non-profit considering the large amount of money made on admissions to said resort/museum. There does not appear to be any notation on said 990 Form that the Center paid any taxes on their income.)

      Said resort's funds apparently are used to fund a BYU campus next door. Interesting.

      And note, the Church of Latter Day Saints do not submit a form 990 so no one other than the Prophet and his merry group of Twelve apostles know what the "ti-the" take is.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  9. DeadGuy

    Wow... Must be a slow day over @ KOS... CarrotHead and Joe-Bob... morons writing about Mormons. Why don't you guys go crawl back up inside the A-n-u-s from whence you crawled. You too Annie...

    -Dg

    July 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  10. annewandering

    What is appalling here is the comments. Don't haters ever bother checking facts before spewing hatred? It seems logic and intelligent though are a lost cause if these comments are any indication.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • facts

      religious brainwashing blocks logical thinking.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • peter

      If push comes to shove we are going to put you people in your right place like we did in the 1800s–you mam are no christian

      July 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • salamander

      Facts? Why don't you check your own facts about your false religion, you nut case. You are not Christians, get that through your head.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • facts

      salamander, thank you. I'm a Realist. If you don't know what a Realist is, I'll help you understand. A Realist doesn't waste time on a belief of a god's existence or non-existence. To us, it would be like arguing both sides of the existence of an easter bunny. Hope that helps.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  11. facts

    all religions are silly. We need to tax them all including their properties.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  12. DaTruth

    Things Mormons believe:

    1) The Garden of Eden is in Mississippi, thats where human beings were created

    2) Native Americans are ancient Jewish tribes who came to American on boats. The individual groups were so violent, God changed their skin red to reflect the blood shed

    3) Jesus came to America on a boat, where he later created golden tablets and inscribed upon them in an ancient hyroglyphic language unknown to anyone else, another testament and burried it somewhere in the Midwest.

    4) The book of mormon was created when Joseph Smith placed his special golden plates, which no other living human being EVER saw, inside one of his top-hats, placed some special rocks inside the hat which translated the language into english, and the read out loud what he "saw" while someone else recorded it

    5) The first copy of the book of mormon was stolen by the wife of the individual who wrote it. She was skeptical, and believed that if Smith was a prophet then he could surely do the same thing again. Smith attempted it again, and his second "translation" was completely and totally different from the first one. However, the second attempt is what was published into the modern day Book of Mormon.

    And some of you want one of them to lead our Country??

    July 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Yep. Pretty goofy, but not much goofier than other religions.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • dyslexic dog

      AMEN!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • SDC43

      You obviously have no real information of what Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe. If you are going to make a comment, at least please use factual information. Your ignorance and bias is as glaring as is the magazine's cover.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • peter

      Sd-mormons believe that the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ written by joeseph smith and published in 1830 is the word of God–It is not the word of God nor are you people christians–You are frauds that promote blasphemy–That is the truth

      July 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Are You Sure?

      Wow! DaTruth you're posting is 60% wrong, 20% over simplified, and 20% right. You should run for congress! Doesn't matter which party, since both would recognize you as one of their own.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • widow

      you are spot on!!! the Mormon Religion is a joke... but are you telling me catholics or any christians or muslims or any religion are any different? All the stories are meant to be a building block and serve as a source of support for the community. I could care less what religion someone is, they are all a joke IMO.. I live by one rule.. be a good person and help other good willed or struggling people. Are you telling me you would rather have someone spend us into a 3rd world country like Obama is with zero sustainability.. One thing you could ask is this.. would you follow a Mormon businessmen or a lawyer whose buddy Rev. Wright once called for an over throw of the US government? I would trust a businessmen any day over a lawyer... that said they both are HORRIBLE candidates.. but the useless spending has got to stop. you cannot stimulate the economy zero sustainable jobs in your package.. trillions that went to government temp projects and to his buddies at acorn and solyndra... Solyndra got the money after being advised NOT to give it.. but they made a big contribution to Obama's campaign so they got the money.. What happened to Change? To think things could be any worse under Romney is a joke. I think making horrible investments with my tax dollars is worse for the future of the nation than Romney's Religious choice...this is America after all

      July 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • See

      @Luis - yes, it IS goofier than at least the much older religions like Christianity, because at least a lack of scientific understanding of their world contributed to much of that in an attempt to explain what was then otherwise unexplainable. It's become entrenched over the centuries, and a lot of energy is spent now trying to come up with explanations for the explanations (intelligent design, seriously?) Mormons don't have that excuse. This is recent enough history that common sense should have stopped it dead a century ago.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • D. Denis

      The Garden of Eden is in Independence Missouri, not Mississippi. Missouri is bad enough.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Craig Hammond

      Da Truth-

      1. False
      2. False
      3. False
      4. False

      You have a couple half-truths, but overall, you are greatly uninformed. Its probably a good thing you are hiding behind a pseudonym because your ignorance and sheer lack of intellect are extremely glaring. You, sir, need an education.

      Peter-

      You too. If you're so courageous to share such a (extremely moronic) bold statement, at least provide people your full name so you can be known for the unintelligent, bigot you appear to be. Mormons believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. That's not Christian? Let me give you a lesson (you obviously need): Despite being in existence due to their disbelief in Catholic doctrine, most protestant and evangelical churches take the premise of their beliefs from a creed that was voted on from a counsel formed of men mostly of the state and not of 'the clothe'.
      However, if that is your belief, I fully respect that and support your faith, just as you should everyone else, rather than spitting religious bigotry and hatred. Terribly misleading and incorrect article and comments. Who knew there are so many uneducated people...

      July 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  13. Karm99

    Yes the cover is in poor taste.

    However, if Mitt Romney is considered a representative of the Mormon Church's view on business, then the cover is more accurate than inaccurate.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Are You Sure?

      What does Mitt Romney have to do with the article or the cover? Neither are about Mitt Romney. The article is about religious/non-profit business practices, not about the differences between Romney's business practices and a church's practices. Read the article.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  14. M.E.

    Hahaha, my dad would have loved it! The exact thin that made him hate Mormons so much was the Polynesian Cultural Center. Funny enough though, I also know Mormons who take issue with the Disney-fication of other cultures.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  15. bill constantine

    The Jewish tempels send their money to Israil..God bless all the Jews, but he best part of them went down their old mans leg.. Bill the Greek

    July 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Mormon Jack

    Not in a million years would I vote for a Mormon. You cannot trust them. Any Mormons I've known personally have been nice... While they try to court you to their religion. Once it is obvious that you are not coming over, they have no interest in the relationship.

    July 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  17. Luis Wu

    Mormonism is a cult, like Scientology. Would you elect a Scientologist as president?

    July 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  18. Heather

    just a few of the ways the Mormon Church uses it's funds:
    1. to build/maintain churches and temples 2. worldwide missionary efforts 3. education (e.g. Brigham Young University) 3. humanitarian aid 4. church welfare program 5. church employees 6. publications (books, manuals, magazines) 7. for groups such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir 8. broadcasting, filming, movies 8. Perpetual Education Fund (student loans to young adults in 3rd world countries)

    July 14, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • TexDem

      The Bloomberg cover is AWESOME! In America, we have the freedom to believe whatever we want, but we also have the freedom to call it like it is. Just like Scientology, Mormonism a secretive cult with a tax exemption run by rich, white men.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Kevster

      Yet, everyone who is not a practicing Mormon is considered a "tool of the devil." (This comes from a personal friend who is not Mormon, but whose childhood friend is Mormon.) Really, I'm a "tool of the devil?" No matter how much good they say they are doing in the world, it's just a load of crap from another brainwashing cult disguised as a religion (i.e. Church of Scientology)!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • taffylinden

      According to its own website, the LDS church's humanitarian aid came to about $5.5 million per year since 1985–not much for a church that takes in at least $40 billion a year. The missionaries do not feed the hungry, build schools, or help the sick: they are door-to-door evangelicals, many of them working in the US. I know many fine Mormons, but in all honesty, the LDS church spends most of its money on helping...the LDS church and its members.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Stephan

      Heather, that is a great use of the fund, but I'm sorry, if you are investing, and making money with church funds, you get to pay full taxes, so that our government (which includes me) decides how it is spent, not the Mormon church (which does not include me) Get it?

      July 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Are You Sure?

      Did any of you read the BusinessWeek article? Or at least the CNN article about the article?
      Taffylinden. The article claims the Mormon church is worth $40b, and has an annual income of $8b. Not $40b annually. The article admits that most of the numbers they quote are suppositions. I'm glad to see that you know more about a religion's finances than BusinessWeek does.
      Kevster. The mom of a friend is your source of all things Mormon? I have a great business opportunity for you. If you want references, my friend’s mom will vouch for me.

      July 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  19. Orthodox Pete

    All religions are cults. End of story. Get over it. That's right, I didn't stutter, i said ALL.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Are You Sure?

      Very true. Depending on your definition of the word "cult."

      July 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  20. TheMagusNYC

    It seems smart and legal; and Mitt graciously promises to eliminate corporate taxes all around, so np.

    July 14, 2012 at 11:57 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.