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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. pork&beans

    Excellent cover. The truth will set you free.

    July 14, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  2. Bart Flaster

    Don't worry. Mitt's got the little guy's back.

    July 14, 2012 at 4:33 am |
    • Condi for VP

      At least Mitt's not going to sound a call to prayer 5 times a day.

      July 14, 2012 at 5:58 am |
  3. Bart Flaster

    Errrybody knows Jesus was black anyway.

    July 14, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  4. BurstBubble

    I believe the cover is a little distasteful, however; they could have focused the cover to bring more attention to the money maker it is. Instead of lambasting it, they could have joked about how much money it makes which is what seems to be the point of the article? Anyway, I believe the leader is more of a profit, then a prophet. When the church leadership hide things from the membership, could that be a problem? Privately the church leaders have okayed electroshock therapy for gays, so they can make them straight. How can the so called prophet even justify allowing that to happen within the church? That is pretty messed up......

    July 14, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  5. GaryO

    I think ths is totally from the eft and Eastern leaning religious fanatics.

    July 14, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  6. Doug

    The mormons don't like it when the real truth about them comes out, and yet they spent millions to make sure gays in California could not marry.. This is a church of arrogance, fraud, haters, money monsters and the list goes on.. I was raised mormon, I know exactly what I'm talking about.. They will invest in companies they themselves don't allow their flock to have anything to do with.. Hypocrites for sure.. The best thing this country should do is this, any religion shall lose their tax exempt status the moment they become politically involved.. Do I hear an amen up in this beach ?

    July 14, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • Doug

      And one more thing, please please America, do not put Romney in the White house, this would be the biggest mistake our country could encounter !

      July 14, 2012 at 4:08 am |
    • GaryO

      You are wrong and I am not Morman.

      July 14, 2012 at 4:11 am |
    • Doug

      No, I am not wrong at all.. I know exactly what I talk about.. Don't play me like that !

      July 14, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • Jesus

      Doug Repent

      July 14, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  7. Aristocles

    If this were a cover criticizing Judaism, it would be an outrage in the media, and not be relegated to some blog.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  8. onestarman

    I Think it is FAIR GAME to Examine the Tax Exempt Status of Churches especially their COMMERCIAL CORPORATIONS.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  9. 2fortea

    Lets try this with a cover of the muzzie's beloved mohammad. Oh the leftist machine would cry and cry. Its freedom of speech attacking christians, but insulting if its done to islam.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • whaaaa?

      Yup, this is totally a left v. right thing. Fox News puts out images of Muhammad all of the time and the right has never attacked Obama's belief.

      *sigh*

      July 14, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • Conservative Playbook

      1. When someone says something you don't like, change the subject. It is always best to change the subject to the Muslims, even if the link is ridiculous.

      2. Always always always make everything a liberal conspiracy, and prefer the use of a childish epithet like "libtard" or "liberal machine."

      3. Always loudly declare that the problem is that the liberals, who must be responsible, are on the side of Muslim terrorists, even though the topic is Mormon business practices.

      4. Always say that the liberals will howl and whine and cry if the Muslims are somehow slighted, even though this has never been the case.

      5. Never ever address the subject at had directly.

      6. When your ridiculoous diversionary tactic is inevitably shot down, abuse them for being libtards and change the subject again.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • Doug

      Nice spin, the truth is not avoidable on this one.. Please don't play this " hey look over there on this one ....

      July 14, 2012 at 4:09 am |
  10. Donal

    Religion deserves to be mocked, especially the Mormon religion. The important thing is that the right of people to believe whatever they want is respected, but the actual beliefs themselves have no right to automatically be respected or to be free from ridicule. Mormonism and it's tenets are patently ridiculous and they really need to get over themselves instead of claiming to be offended and outraged anytime someone pokes fun at something that clearly deserves to made fun of. If you choose to believe a proven charlatan & huckster was a prophet of god, then you're going to need to grow a thick skin.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:17 am |
    • Stebe

      Thanks for the room temperature IQ definition of "thick skin" - just shut up and take it. I bet you take you own advice all the time.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Donal

      They don't need to shut up and take it, they can of course defend themselves from perceived attacks – however simply saying you find something offensive is not a defence. Saying that criticism is "out of bounds" just because you think your beliefs are sacred and should not be mocked is not a defence. I will listen if someone wants to offer a cogent and logical reason as to why Mormonism's dogmas are not transparently man-made nonsense but in all my years I have yet to hear anyone make any such sensible case for LDS.

      July 14, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  11. GodFreeNow

    CNN Breaking News: Crazy people angry about being exposed as crazy.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • Allah

      Just because you close your eyes does not make something go away - you should have learned this around 18 months or so. Sorry.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  12. God

    Democrats. What a bunch of bigots.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:53 am |
    • Zeus

      You'd expect an ignorant hate-filled, over-generalized comment from an angry, jealous, insecure deity.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • Allah

      Yes - much better to hear from a drunk, weak, egotistical, womanizer.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:07 am |
    • Zeus

      Weak? Let me shove this lightning bolt up your ass and then tell me how weak I am.

      Pretty much spot on with everything else, though. Especially about the ladies. Can't keep my hands off the ladies.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • Allah

      Dude - Lightning? How about keeping your wife in line first?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:20 am |
    • Zeus

      Sometimes, you gotta pick your battles. Trust me, anyone that can birth a god of war is someone you want to tread lightly around.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • Allah

      Amen to that, brother.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:32 am |
  13. Mike

    Funny, Mormons complain, Muslims make violent threats for much less insulting images. If this was about Muslims the comments would be 700 hundred pages deep. But Mormons aren't scary so they are an easy target. South park was censored because they want to show muhummad and the media went nuts, this, eh who cares, they are just Mormons. I hate all religions but just want to point out everyones hypocrisy.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • whaaaa?

      Ok, so Muslims are more violent in their reactions (to over-generalized) than Mormons. You've succeeded in stating the obvious. You've completely failed to state how everyone is being a hypocrite. Perhaps you should consult a dictionary because I think you're rather confused as to what 'hypocrite' means.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • Mike

      Media reaction genius.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:03 am |
    • Stebe

      "I hate all religions" - what an open-minded foundation for a comment on hypocrisy.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:05 am |
    • whaaaa?

      Still not seeing hypocrisy. Are you suggesting that becausea a minority of one religious group threatens violence, media should not critique religion at all? Or that members of the media just shouldn't care about death threats?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:06 am |
    • whaaaa?

      I mean really, by calling the media hypocrites, what you're saying is that all religions view satire in the same light. That's like saying all races view racial slurs in the same way. But that's just faulty logic because you don't have to be a genius to figure out that calling some white guy 'whitey' and calling some black guy 'ni****' is necessarily going to elicit a different response, and rightly so.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  14. morgan b

    I've been a mormon my whole life and am extremely greatful for the teachings of the church. The church has helped me in countless ways. From allegiance to God and country, to striving to serve those around me. At first I was dissapointed in the comments here on this board but I realize that those who are most vocal here really dont represent the country at large. For the most part the news readers of CNN I think are mature and wise enough to know what this distasteful comic is really trying to do and is keeping their opinions to themselves. So for those of you reading these comments, do not be discouraged, they do not make up the majority, simply the uninformed cowards who could have benefited much but did not from good parenting and direction that has been afforded us by churches like The Church of Jesus Christ (mormons) and good parenting. In the words of Neal A. Maxwell, the caravan keeps moving though the wild dogs nip at their heels.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • Mirosal

      You do not need any kind of religion or deity to raise quality kids. My parents did a very good job with my 4 brothers and me (yes that IS grammatically correct). As far as being a coward, let's compare military uniforms, shall we? I'm a retired Navy E-8, how about you?
      At least I am not part of an organization that is like a mirage. It may look nice and pretty from a distance, but as you get closer it does not stand up to scrutiny. All you'll see when you get ther is the sand, or a deserted highway. I've had your teenage "elders" come to MY door and tell me that I'm inherently 'bad' and need THEIR word to save me. They were rather personal about the questions they asked me. It was almost like a background security clearance check. Yet we're NOT allowed to do the same with your little group? If you really believe that a convicted fraud man can look into a hat, stare at a rock, and see the "word of god", then you better be ready to face some serious scoffing. If you can't handle someone making fun of, or pointing out the flaws in, your religion, you're better off finding another faith.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:36 am |
  15. Walter

    You ought to call this blog "lack of belief", since the only things you print are those that present someone writing something demeaning about religion.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • Persecution Complex Detector

      Looks like someone has an inflamed Inferiority Complex. Poor you.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  16. Marty

    I did some business with a variety of Mormons and I sadly found them to be dishonest, unethical and immoral. Never came across people like them in all my years in business. And they all stick together and lie for each other.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • ralph

      You'll find people like that everywhere, but that's no excuse. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with bad Mormons. There are plenty of good ones out there.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • morgan b

      Marty you lie. Simply not true and I'm not sure why you are saying this other than you have a chip on your shoulder. Just not true...

      July 14, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Stebe

      Like my dad used to say: "All Indians walk in single-file - well, at least the one I saw did"

      July 14, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • HRPuckinfutz

      I did some business with a variety of humans and I sadly found them to be dishonest, unethical and immoral. Never came across people like them in all my years in business. And they all stick together and lie for each other.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Jakewagin

      Too funny, just spoke with a guy a couple weeks ago who parntered with some mormon investors. Said they have more money than they know what to do with and can't invest it fast enough.

      Religion is like any other performance improvement, self-help, training program. I wonder if Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil are tax exempt.

      Curious, was Jerry Sandusky mormon? Sick puppies (i know mormons, but read your history).

      July 14, 2012 at 4:48 am |
  17. Gary Herter

    Living in Oregon home of many Mormons i was told 20 yrs ago that Blacks couldnt join because Noahs 3rd son didnt believe his father and help build the ark and after the flood God punished him darkening his skin and casting him south to Africa. The leader of the church had a dream and they were let in. What do blacks think with that history never mentioning its once all white membership thats never mentioned?

    July 14, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Whereyomama

      I am an active member of the LDS Church, and have obviously studied my own religion thoroughly. This is a false statement. Whoever told you that was greatly mistaken, and that is not the stance of the Church's doctrine.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:50 am |
    • mormonator

      whereyomama, it is not their stance NOW. it once WAS. deny it, and you might as well deny the declaration of independence. It's a fact

      July 14, 2012 at 2:53 am |
    • whaaaa?

      As an athiest and non-ex-mormon, I'll certainly side with @where on this – Gary isn't correct. However, the LDS certainly does have a rather nasty history of racism, Gary just botched the details.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • Whereyomama

      @mormonater: I love it when those not my faith tell me what my faith is. Can I see some factual evidence of this claim?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • HRPuckinfutz

      Google the Legacy of Cain. The Mormon church used to preach that blacks were the offspring of Cain and were thus evil. That ended in the 70's when they were threatened with losing their status as a church due to their bigotry.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • HRPuckinfutz

      While the majority, if not all, of Cain's descendants would have been killed in the great flood, according to Mormons from the late 19th to mid 20th century, Cain's bloodline was preserved on the ark through Egyptus, wife of Ham (son of Noah). The Book of Abraham, accepted by Mormons as part of their canon, is the source of the story of this Egyptus who preserves "the curse.... as pertaining to the Priesthood" by surviving the flood as Ham's wife. One must note, however, that in this canonized source no connection is made between her and Cain (her lineage is not given), nor is anything mentioned concerning her skin color. Thus, though Mormons combined the widespread belief that Cain's curse was shown through the mark of the blackness of skin with another idea common in Europe and America (that the curse of Ham for seeing his father's nakedness was black skin), the idea that Ham's wife preserved a curse of black skin inherited from Cain that was passed on is not canonized doctrine.[7] This interpretation is now generally rejected by mainstream Mormons.[8]
      From Brigham Young: Let this Church which is called the Kingdom of God on the earth; we will summons the First Presidency, the Twelve, the High Council, the Bishopric, and all the Elders of Israel, suppose we summons them and appear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with us and be partakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day and hour we should do so, the Priesthood is taken from this Church and Kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction–we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the Priesthood until that curse be removed. (Speech by Gov. Brigham Young in Joint Session of the Legislature, giving his views on slavery, Feb. 5, 1852).
      In 1978 the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ allegedly received a revelation from God allowing all worthy male members of the church to receive the blessings of the priesthood.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:23 am |
  18. Kane

    Religion is corrupt. Worship however you want freely, whether it be by yourself, with your family, or with a church. But beware of smiling holy men asking for handouts. The Church cannot promise spiritual peace: only you can make that for yourself.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:34 am |
  19. Ed

    First inaccuracy they do not pay taxes. Fact the Church's for profit businesses do pay business taxes. Most of the Church holdings are meeting houses. In Utah 2-4 congregations time share a meeting house for the services. A temple is shared by more than a 100 congregations. Where would you have 14,000,000 people worship in the open air?
    The Hawaii Cultural Center primary purpose is to provide employment for islanders to attend collage. Canneries produce food for the church welfare system, and to provide a way for people in hard times to work for some of the assistance they receive from the church. They also provide opportunities for people who just want to do some charitable work to do that as well.
    The mall development in down town Salt Lake City was really a redevelopment project to keep the heart of the city from becoming run down. The government did not have to step in and redevelop that area. It kept the area around the Salt Lake LDS Temple and the main part of down town as an attractive destination for visitors.
    Does this sound like the activities of a corrupt greedy corporation? No. It sounds more like the LDS Church is using its business holdings to help out mankind.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • ralph

      I agree 100%.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • mormonator

      Nah, it sounds just like a greedy corporation

      July 14, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • mormonatorinstructor

      Clean out your ears then

      July 14, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • whaaaa?

      Except when it uses church holdings to try and restrict the rights of other's. That's not exactly helping man kind, but it certainly is injecting itself in politics to further its agenda.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:17 am |
    • Doug

      Nice try.. this is a church that will do anything to make itself look good.. This is one evil church..
      I was taught when I was a child that blacks were evil, until the profit decided in the 11 hour of a law suit that it was not so.. Can you dispute that ? NO !

      July 14, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Rick

      They are using their money to make themselves look good for everyone to see. They don't give to anyone who does not belong to the Mormon church.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  20. Just Saying...

    I'd rather have someone with business sense as POTUS than the liar and divider we currently have.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • Kane

      I'd rather have someone whose got all of America's interests at heart as POTUS than someone who will sell us out to a corporate oligarchy.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Doug

      Are you kidding me ? REALLY ?

      July 14, 2012 at 4:22 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.