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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. SR

    It is fascinating to me how many bigots are still left in the United States. Obviously those who mainly look at CNN are your typical anti-religion or don't have strong core beliefs in a God. People can rail against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all they want, but that won't change the fact that the gospel continues to be spread throughout the world and millions of people have gained their own testimonies of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as a another witness of Jesus Christ, that Christ is our Savior and it is through his grace and mercy that we have the ability to return and live with our Father in Heaven for eternity.

    I know the Church is true and that everyone is a child of God and our Father in Heaven wants all of his children to believe in him. If you actually want to learn more about the church then visit Mormon.org, versus just going off of information you may have heard that is not correct.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      And here I thought that mormans were to stay away from addictions of any kind, even for a jesus freak, your addiction is way out of control. HALELUJAH and pass the plate.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • ME II

      Is it bigotry to be opposed to the doctrine/beliefs of a church/religion? I have nothing against most Mormons, as far as I know, but believing in some of their stories/myths just seems silly to me. To be fair most religion's myths are silly, but the whole seer stone, golden tablets, not-quite-hieroglyphics, etc. is too much for me to accept.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Verlain

      Zeus takes all mormons to a planet called Jupiter while his army fights all the non mormon believers in heaven. Cherie puis-je avoir du cognac.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • .

      @meII. Have you read the Bible? Nothing in Joseph Smith story is out of line with the scriptures that appear in the Bible. In fact, his story totally conforms to the scriptures. You are not against Joseph Smith. You are against Judeo-Christianity!

      July 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • mcdanp

      SR, I just went to mormon.org and read that the angel Moroni revealed the mysterious golden sheets to Smith. Is Moroni where the word moron came from?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • LinSea

      ME II, it isn't bigotry to disagree with someone's beliefs. It is bigotry when you mock and ridicule and hate someone because of their differences, whether because of their race or ethnicity or beliefs.

      July 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  2. John the Historian

    What a joke is the mormon cult. Yeah the angel moroni gave the con artist, bank fraudster, polygamist and murderer Joseph Smith gold tablets that disapppeared written in some ancient Egyptian script and it said Jesus Christ was a polygamist and preached to the American Indians, the American Indians were the 13 th tribe of Israel, which by DNA testing has proven to be wrong, and that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri. Yeah I will believe this. Brigham Young a rapist and polygamist and also a murderer who killed non-mormon settlers in Utah. Yeah he was was holy. Mormon cult followers need to start reading Mark Twain account on Brigahm Young. mark Twain called the book of mormon chloroform in print. Just read the American History magazine about Mrs Brigham Young the 19th in the August edition. What a pervert was Brigham Young with his riches like Willard and buying his wifes furs and houses and then ignoring them when they bored him. Mormon gets educated about true Christianity. How many soouthern Baptists will vote for Willard. I doubt very many. Flip flop Romney is just like the mormon cult, only got rid of polygamy in 1890 so Utah could become a state.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  3. .

    Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (New Testament, Luke, Chapter 6)

    How many of you have done a single positive thing for a fellow human being in the last year? Instead of criticizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which does a tremendous amount of good in the world, why don't you put your own money where your mouth is and donate to a good cause. I would like to recommend "KIVA" which is not afiliated with the church,but is a favorite charity of mine. You give nothing, you lend $25 to them which you can get back and it does a tremendous amount of good to help people help themselves!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • MadAdDem

      "Instead of criticizing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which does a tremendous amount of good in the world, why don't you put your own money where your mouth is and donate to a good cause."

      You mean like pay millions to pass discriminatory laws that hurt families that are different than theirs? They can keep their good!

      July 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • .

      @mad. I have no idea what you are talking about and neither do you. What laws are you talking about and why did the Mormon church have anything to do with them?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      "Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye. (New Testament, Luke, Chapter 6)"
      You are misapplying these Scriptures! Those who don't belong to God are not our brothers. And no , we are NOT all the children of God. The Scriptures declare so!
      And, if you want to parrot "you're judging" phrase....to speak the truth of the Word of God, and exposing lies of the enemy of our souls and his workers, is NOT judging. In contrary, we are commanded to do so throughout the Scriptures! But it is no wonder that satan would use the Scriptures to accuse those who speak the truth. Yet we are not ignorant of his devices!

      July 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  4. rob

    The Mormon cult is a repulsive, immoral, disgusting, bigoted organization that spreads hate against others. And Mormon beliefs are laughable. And if they can spend tens of millions of dollars on hate campaigns, why can't they pay taxes? Why are taxpayers subsidizing government services to this pathetic, faux "religion?" The sooner this cult is brought down, the better off the country will be.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Sounds like just about ANY Christian denomination.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • cobra

      Sounds like you have an issue that could apply to all churches, which one do you support and does it have a tax exemption also??

      July 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Does anyone watch Ancient Aliens? Will they send me to hell for not worshiping the correct religion upon their return on December 21, 2012?

    July 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Hell is an individual perspective. I attempted to make a batch of bathtub gin using my grandads recipe figuring if romney gets in, he will probably try and bring back prohibition as per his religion. Needless to say the hangover was hell.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  6. normsf

    hello, 40 billion sounds large but how much does Harvard have in its endowment accounts. Now thats large, for a school!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • ME II

      "In 2010, the prestigious university[, Harvard,] reported that its endowment in fiscal year 2009 was $26,035,389,000." (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/06/28/10-universities-with-largest-financial-endowments)

      What's that got to do with the LDS?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  7. King Kong Kolob

    I say yea, I shall hie thee to Kolob today, where thou shalt have all of the whacky tobacky, kolob kool-aid, and golden plates that thou shalt desire!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  8. DJR

    So Bloomberg thought this the big story of the week as his cronies like Geither are in the skillet and the thieves of the federal reserve are dogging ridicule of theft and more theft. I'd worry not about the church who's participants give by choice, and spend a lot time on the theft, fleecing and prosecution of individuals who support businessweek, with trust, only to become aware the icons of their stories are simple purse thief's. How to steal from grandma. Bloomberg and company need spend a bit more time in the pew of their choice.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  9. chuckie

    As we learn more about the Mormon church, not only will Romney lose, but people will want the United States to invade Utah and restore democracy. Do people know that the Romney family fled from Utah to Mexico to avoid being jailed on polygamy charges?? That Mitt's father was born in Mexico?? Do a wiki search on Parley P. Pratt, Mitt's great grandfather. See why he was killed by a jealous husband. Oh yeah. He had 12 wives.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Majesty Rider

    SPOT ON!.. THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS!!!! It's ALL about $$$$ and God does not live on some crazy planet either.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  11. Vern

    Considering the plethora of religions/cults that have sprung up and flourished because of our antiquated tax code regarding exemptions for religious holdings its time that we change it. Only the actual church buildings should be exempt, all other property
    should be subject to all federal, state, county and city taxes.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Nothing belonging to churches should be tax exempt. Period.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  12. Stephanie

    I'm Mormon, and not offended. I see cartoons about political parties, people and Churches all the time – this one has some truth to it, and it's funny. I don't think the artist was intentionally rude, and the artist did not attack my faith or doctrine. The cover makes me interested in reading the article.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • D. Diamond

      Good for you, Stephanie. It's called freedom of the press. 1st Amendment.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • What if they mocked muhammad like that?

      They surely be pursued, found and killed.

      Good thing that you're a Mormon Steph. That if.....you're not lying.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Glassbutt

      It's more of a stupid and desperate political stance.

      July 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  13. liam

    Where are all the nice people?

    July 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Erik

      'Meandering about Liam, no worries Bro.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  14. mcdanp

    Hilarious! Organized religions are a crock, but Mormonism is scarier than most. If you read the crap they believe (or regular Christians for that matter) you will see how crazy it is. It really started out with Joe Smith just conning some gullible twits into following him. BTW, did you know that when Christ returns he is coming to Missouri. This is America, so worship as you please, but tax exemption and non-disclosure should be revoked for ALL religions.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Exactly. But I would also add – Don't try to push your ignorant superst!tions on me, especially in the form of legislation. That's what we'll get if Romney is elected. He'll try to abolish abortion, birth control and try to bring back forced school prayer.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  15. CONCERNED!

    It always gets me when people say, that some truth is right for some, and some for others! Do you people realize that there is not many truths when it comes to God. There is only one God, only one truth and if it does not live up to His standards and His revealed Word of which the Holy Spirit testifies, then it is no Truth! There are many opinions, and many voices that claim they've got it, but the Word of God, and the Spirit of Truth do not bear witness to them, and they are only man's opinions, worth only dime a-dozen!
    There is a disadvantage living in country with people of pluralistic mentality. They have been conditioned to think that there are many truths and many paths to God, but that couldn't be further from the real truth! And what this does, it desensitises the people, numbing their ability to discern true from false, leaving them open to all kinds of lies, making them have false securities. This goes hand in hand with the spirit of secular humanism, which even though it denies God, it has the same effect on people's perception of things...
    But there is something everyone should ponder, especially those who are caught up in false religions: it is not enough to have faith, unless your faith is in the truth of God's Word, and in testimony of His Spirit about who Christ is.
    Mormons say they worship God and are true Christians. But the Jesus Christ they say they worship and put their faith in, is NOT the Christ Jesus of whom the Holy Spirit of God , who is the Spirit of Truth, testifies of! the angel Moroni is no other then the messenger of satan, clothed as an angel of light, and Joseph Smith his minister, as it is written in(2Cor. 13:15). For those who refuse to face this issue, there is only one thing left! They'll find out whom they have served!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • mcdanp

      Oh, so you have the truth down pat do you? I hate to burst your bubble, but people from other religions are just as sure of themselves as you are. God schmod. Prove his existence to me. Maybe he's there, maybe he isn't, but don't act like you have a monopoly on the truth, because you are just as ignorant as the rest of us, probably more so.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      How utterly stupid.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • mcdanp

      Luis Wu, Who's stupid, me or CONCERNED! Just curious, because I at least know that I am stupid.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      @mcdanp – Concerned. He (and most religious people) think they know the "truth" but it's always about THEIR version of god. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Shintoists, Buddhists, tribal religions, etc. etc. all think they know the truth. It's pathetic. It's unbelievable to me that so many people actually accept ancient mythology and ignorant superst!tious nonsense as "truth".

      July 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • CONCERNED!

      True Chritianity is NOT a religion, but revelation of God Himslef to mankind through Jesus Christ His son whom He sent to redeem us. To Him ALONE the Holy Spirit bears testimony that He is who He says He is.

      He said, I am the way, the trtuh and life. No man comes to the Father but by ME!

      He said, His sheep hears His voice and will not follow a stranger or impostor.

      He said, If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it is of GOd or not!

      You people, do not know God, or else you would recognize the truth and would not equal the Chrits who is the Way, Truth and Life with impostors!

      July 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  16. letsgomets2012!

    I attended a university that had 3 campuses in my neck of the woods.

    Colleges are non profits so they do not pay tax.

    However, the universtiy gave a 'goodwill donation" to the township where my campus was; they did the same for the other 2 towns that had their other 2 campuses. At the time it was 4M a year; this was way back in the Seventies.

    YOu can bet none of these churches are handing over any type of "goodwill donation" to the towns they have their buildings in.. Even if they all submitted a goodwill donation, wow, think of what a boon - and ratable, more or less - they'd be to the community that hosts their house of worship.

    It's time to end the tax exempt status of houses of worship. Sorry.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  17. cisom

    As a Latter-Day-Saint I'm ashamed to say the cover is very disrespectful, but I can't help laughing. My regards to whoever came up with it.

    The article on the other hand poorly represents the intentions of the church and its holdings. I wish my government managed resources like my church.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • peter

      I didn't read the article–But you have to laugh at people who think the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ published in 1830 is the word of God–You laugh but than it gets sad–Reject the claims of joeseph smith–cursed is his name and his christ

      July 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Leslie

      Peter- "His name will be known for good and evil". He was an amazing man and I truly believe he was a prophet of God. Don't call me ignorant or foolish because I don't believe I am neither. I know that God lives and that He speaks to men on this earth just as He did in the Bible. He has blessed us with prophets on this earth and if you took the time, not just listen to what people have to say or assume, you would also feel the same way.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  18. vp

    Mormonism is a cult.

    It is not a religion.

    & they hate the rest of America.

    They want to bleed us to death.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • tosca

      You obviously have no idea what you are talking about

      July 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • CG

      It's a little of both. It has the corrupt authority structure and financial demands of a cult, but the spiritual belief system of Satanism. It's basically a cult which is being guided by Satan with its members deceived into thinking it's righteous and God-centered. A very sad state of affairs.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Ntrain2k

      It's amazing to see the idiocity you posess.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  19. Bens

    Mormon here. No need to get angry about a caricature of our faith. People have been doing it non-stop since the establishment of the Church. Life is too short to be worried about trivial things like this. If we feel like blindly given our hard earned money to the "evil cult" so be it. I work in the Emergency Room and constantly see people making choice that I believe to be poor, but that it what freedom is, the ability to pursue what you believe will make you happy. Whether that be drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior, promiscuity, or religion.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • peter

      ben–fair enough but there is nothing trivial about it

      July 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Fixxy

      As much as I loath organized religion, Benny boy is absolutely right. And I'll say another thing, I've never met a mormon i didn't like. Then again, I was once told that they are actually trained to be super charming so...

      July 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • peter

      fixxy–they are just like scientologists –Mormons and scientologists have plastic surgery smiles and are always "happy"'–must be very tiresome for them–That's how brainwashed cults operate

      July 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Scowl

      Do black people get into Heaven, or do they have to be "sufficiently righteous" so that their skin turns white THEN be allowed in?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Bens

      By trivial I meant the cover not the contents of the article if that is what you were referring to. No training to be super charming, it is mostly based on outlook on life that makes one happy. Peter I will not respond to your second comment because that was meant to be antagonistic and counter productive. Scowl, there are a lot of issues with the Mormon church and its history with race. I do not pretend to understand all of it but I believe that all persons will be judged by their own character and physical attributes will not be a factor. I also believe that a majority of scripture is allegory based rather than literal. When the scriptures use skin color or "whiteness" as a marker for purity or righteousness it is not literal but creating a physical example of a concept. Like comparing beached vs. unbleached socks. A mental picture to illustrate a grading of inner character.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Leslie

      Peter- I'm a Mormon and believe it or not, I have bad days as does everyone else. I truly believe you have not been around Mormons and are assuming that is how we behave. You sound like you live a very sheltered life w/o exploring the world around you. Take a World Religion class sometime. I think it would open your mind up a bit about cultures and beliefs.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  20. redd

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-financial-independence

    THE MORE YOU KNOW!

    July 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
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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.