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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. kuuipo

    What gives?! Why are people always picking on the Mormons? Because people always critisize what they don`t know. Just like any other religion Mormons think their higher power & their beliefs are genuine, who are we to say their not? Can you prove your logic is the right one? Leave the Mormons alone as far as I know they are the only religion that GIVE their money away to people who ask for it in the name of Jesus Christ. Now prove me wrong!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  2. Jerry

    What else would anyone expect from a "rag" (Businessweek) that is behind Mr. Obama 5,000 percent?!

    This "rag" is just practicing what is very normal for Mr. Obama and his clueless/divisive administration, particularly HIS so called "election team".

    I did get a chuckle a few days ago, though. Mr. Obama said, during a television interview, that he had failed to "tell a story to the American people."

    It's my humble opinion that that is all HE's been doing for the last 4 years. And, what is most surprising is that a fair number of Americans have swallowed HIS story "hook, line and sinker."

    Lord have mercy. And, PLEASE, PLEASE bless the US of A!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Cynthia L.

      Jerry, you just hopped on the ' Insane Train' again. The story in Bloomberg's is about the massive holdings of property and businesses that make this church ever more rich WHILE being TAX EXEMPT. These holdings aren't about religion or, of a religious purpose whatsoever. Yet, they milk profits far outside what is done for their ministry and don't pay on those profits like everyday businesses do.
      You are such a boring dope when all you do is bash Obama when something like this gets reported on. Alot of us have been howling about the injustice of religious organizations that stretch the rules in their favor FOR YEARS! The article is to point out ONCE AGAIN the improper use of our Tax Exempt Laws and we all need to be aware how this hurts us.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  3. Dragun

    So let me get this straight, this guy comes up and starts telling people about this book, that only he could see, that only HE could translate.....and they bought it?!?!

    "His book described itself as a chronicle of early indigenous peoples of the Americas, portraying them as believing Israelites, who had a belief in Christ many hundred years before his birth. Smith claimed he translated over 500 pages in about 60 days,[4] and that it was an ancient record translated "by the gift and power of God".

    Seriously?!?!? Man what a week minded race of beings we truly are.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Dangsickofitall

      Yep. There are too many Gull-i-bull, suckers born every minute. That's what you can expect when the education system falls to a caveman level.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  4. rockysfan

    What, can't take a joke? All you Mormons are so keen on baptising everyone that wasn't Mormon from the dead to the jews and you can't take a joke? Thin skin much?

    July 14, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  5. alphabatt1

    I wonder if the Mormons are tax exempt on their mythical planet Kolob?

    July 14, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  6. sick of christian phonies

    ELIMINATE THE TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR ALL RELIGIONS. Thieving, lying, self-righteous bast**ds, every one of them.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      We should just eliminate all non consumption tax.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Fantasy Island

      We should eliminate all consumption taxes and raise the capital gains tax......

      July 14, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Dangsickofitall

      -Sick of the injustices of taxes too. What is so wrong about an across the board tax on everything and everyone, with no exemptions? It's too fair? I'm sick of rewarding those who "can get away with it" and "stick it to the hard working middle class."

      July 14, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  7. Steven Colo

    Dunno why the cover omitted to mention C&H Cane Sugar, The Marriott Corporation, etc. The main difference between the Mormon church and a modern day corporation is that the Mormon Church is run exceptionally profitably. Massive amounts of free labor helps.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Cameron

      So, churches own whatever company their members found? Great logic, bro.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  8. Thomas

    Now that is funny right there.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • ldean50

      I agree. lol . I don't care who ya are – that's funny!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  9. Mario

    I applaud Bloomberg Businessweek for having the guts to expose a so-called church that is so secretive even its most orthodox members live in denial.

    In poor taste? I doubt it. This is America, and the American people has a right to know all there is to know about a church that supports Romney as the next president of our country.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • ajbuff

      Agreed. They pumped all that money into California for Prop 8, and now they have a presidential candidate, so their business dealings are relevant to the American public. Any group that enjoys tax free status or creates corporations is open to full economic exploration by the American public. We've seen this with the Catholic Church, Evangelicals, Muslim organizations, etc. Why should a group that is so overly involved in moving politics be exempt? Fair is fair.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  10. Jesus

    Religions are a plague on mankind meant to control your thoughts and your life.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Willow Brook

      I couldn't have said it better myself!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Jesus, jesus, if you start saying stuff like that, I may even become a convert, less the cash contributions of course.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  11. Marky

    Funny how just about all "religions" have such a keen business sense – yet they always need more money from their 'believers'. And, ever notice how it is always the indoctrination of children they target the most?

    Sorry, ALL religions are a scam

    July 14, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  12. ME In Austin

    Religion does not deserve respect. Teaching children that if they don't believe ancient myths the will burn in hell is child abuse. Christians calling anyone non-christian is laughable. It's all a business of delusion. Tax it and keep you kids away from it.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Andy

      Your opinion of the first amendment is appalling. . .

      July 14, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Toby

      I agree emphatically!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  13. ELH

    The wealth of the Catholic Church far outstrips the relatively paltry $40 billion held by the LDS. The total wealth of the Catholic Church due to its art and property holdings is probably incalculable

    July 14, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  14. jimranes

    The LDS church is tax exempt but their commercial business activities should not be. The IRS should closely examine if the Mormon church is evading taxable income.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Erik

      You are correct in that assumption, and all profits from for-profit ventures are taxed under current tax code. But being a church no donations are taxed. This is nothing new so why are people shocked. I wonder if Notre Dame Football is taxed?

      July 14, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Terrie Bittner

      The for-profit businesses are taxed. Many churches run secular businesses and call them part of their ministry, but the Mormons do not. They formed a separate arm so they would be taxed. You might be interested to know that Price-Waterhouse audits their books each year and publicly reports whether or not they are in line with the law and done correctly.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Mirosal

      Do the Mormons own Price-Waterhouse?

      July 14, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • ldean50

      Hey Morosa... if they own Price waterhouse, we'll never know... 🙂

      July 14, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Mirosal

      If they did, it would be the perfect way to cover their as'ses wouldn't it? lol

      July 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • talli

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PricewaterhouseCoopers#Controversies

      Pretty sure they don't have to be mormon to cook the books for the church. They seem to do it for a lot of other people and "people" (corporations).

      July 14, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  15. Ralph Henson

    More anti-Christian fodder, And it does not even address the cult, anti-cult question. It is as logical as NYC ban on sugar and sweet drinks. same man, same idioticy.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Erik

      Cult, anti-cult question? There is no question. The LDS church is not a cult.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Sure it's a cult. All religions are cults.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:34 am |
    • citizenmn

      Mormons are a cult.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Mirosal

      Look up the meaning of the word "cult". EVERY religion is a cult by definition. The only difference between a cult and a "religion" are the number of followers. 200 is a cult. 2 million is a religion.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Frank Zappa said another difference between a religion and a cult is real estate. Look at Scientology, they made some money and have opened up centres all over the world. Within a short space of time, a weird alien cult is considered a religion because of real estate.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Toby

      All religions are cults-some are just more widely subscribed than others and have a longer, more entrenched presence. Christianity was once considered a cult, and its members regarded as heretics and heathens. It took the political foresight of Constantine to make it more "respectable" by making it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Between that mandate and generations of imposing the belief system by violence, it is now fully established as a "respectable religion", and as such, can look down its nose at other up-and-comers. Of course, they are all nonsense, but that's another post.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • alphabatt1

      There is this cult who worships sugary drinks, cyanide laced.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  16. Jebbb

    How 'bout if we add Jesus and Moses, the Pope and the Chief Rabbi to the picture, and in the thought bubble, "And thou shalt assemble legions of ignorant and tribal followers, and thou shalt have wealth and power beyond all reasonable people. And thou shalt promote irrationality and all manner of foolishness, for the sake of wealth and power, and thy tribe." Amen, pass the collection plate.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      What are you implying? You seem to be saying that the vicar of christ on earth is a crook in popes clothing. I agree, carry on.

      RAmen... the FSM does not solicit cash offerings, but it wouldn't kill you to buy a T-shirt to help spread the message.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  17. david williams

    In a society that loves to throw around "hate speech" charges, here we really have genuine hate speech. Is Ms Winter presently preparing an article on "How Jews Make Money"? "How Catholics Make Money"? You bet she isn't.

    July 14, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Marky

      Too bad the author didn't put the finger on ALL religions. The names might change – but the delusion remains the same.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • Andy

      The first rule about hate speech is that it's only wrong if you are against the message. The many posters on this board have no problem hating on religion, but if you tried to hate on their secularism they would tackle you and press charges. That's just the way america works. Equality for some, so long as you are in the majority.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Disrespect and ridicule are the stock and trade of comedians and talk show hosts and fall well short of 'hate speech'. Defamation can be challenged and in such a litgiious society on a regular basis, but the standard of proof is quite high. All politicians attack each other, and third parties even more so, in the most vicious manner that they think they can get away with, c'est la vie.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • alphabatt1

      Great idea, next time maybe!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  18. Jim in Georgia

    Religion is not much of a factor in politics anyway. After all most of the GOP calls itself Christan yet doesn't seem to act that way. “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”

    July 14, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • pmmarion

      Jim, I admit that I don't want to help those worse off than me... That is why I pay taxes and do NOT give to charity... That is the great thing about the Republican party.. As long as they keep taxes low, I don't have to help the needy... lol

      July 14, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Toby

      "He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”

      For the sake of honesty, we also have to acknowledge that "He" admonished us to believe in him or suffer eternal damnation by being "cast into the lake of fire."

      This isn't necessarily someone with a moral message. Jesus said some terrific things and had some decent ideas about morality, but many of his preachments (love your neighbor as yourself, take no thought for the future, the idea of eternal suffering in hell, the claim that he "came not to bring peace but bring the sword" etc) are just immoral nonsense. We can do better than to follow his every word-assuming the man-god even existed. Peace.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  19. pmmarion

    Jeez, I guess the truth hurts. lol

    July 14, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  20. Ryan

    so they can make fun of the Mormon religion but poking fun at the pedophile mohommad is out of bounds?

    July 14, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • midwest rail

      Out of bounds ? Not at all. All YOU have to do is create, publish, and market a successful periodical, then have at it. No one will stop you.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • pmmarion

      Aside from the fact that pedophilia is a recently (100 years) made up crime, I've seen quite a few hit pieces against Islam and other religioins.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Mirosal

      Sorry, but ANYONE who marries a NINE year old girl, and consu'mates that marriage with her, is a ped'o'phi'le in ANY time frame. Maybe Mohammed had a ten year old pen'is?

      July 14, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • heather

      You don't have to call it pedophilia to make marrying a 4 yr old a crime.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:26 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.