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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. the_dbs

    2 boys kneeling at the crotch of Jesus. There is no better way to depict it. What's that poking one of the kids in the eye.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • spaceroy1964

      that is truly funny, you made the milk fly right out of my nose, thank you for that, I think....

      July 14, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  2. spaceroy1964

    please go to 1857massacre.com and learn how the early church received its funding through the killing of innocent travelers and the theft of their horses ( worth 300,000 1857 dollars ) and their surving children.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  3. Lisa

    I don't see this as an insult to their faith. It merely exposes the business side. With a national debt out of control, it's not unlike a household budget. You look at ways to cut costs and ways to bring in more money.

    Romney alone – and I'm not saying this is reason to vote against him – gave a high percentage of his massive income to charity hence saving him federal taxes. His charity? A church that has palaces. More than one and we're not talking just big buildings but huge ornate ostentatious palaces. And our federal government, who is in debt, forgives taxes so this can be done.

    I'm not saying all tax deductions for churches should be eliminated but some of these big organizations are not like the community church down the street. They are wealthy in their own right and its just not reasonable to give them tax breaks.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  4. Mike S

    What do you expect? This is from Bloomberg an Obama supporter.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  5. Thomas

    Wow. So many people are so ignorant about the LDS Church. No other people, aside from the Jews, have endured such bigotry in the public eye. Apparently people are not aware of the 1st Amendment. So sad. The devil works overtime when he instills in peoples' minds ideas like this cover. I mean really, could discrimination be any more blatant? I agree with Brooks. This is so funny, how can anyone take it seriously. As if this has anything to do with a person's individual right to live and express their own beliefs. Enough said.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Rick

      I think you need to look a little deeper into the inner workings of the Mormon church. You might be surprised at what they do with their money.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Also THOMAS

      Read an American Massacre The Mountain Meadows tragedy 1857 if you want to learn about the early history of the Mormons. A band of Mormons led by Brigham Young dressed as Indians ambushed settlers from Arkansas headed to California in the Mountain Meadow pass Utah in 1857 slaughtering all men woman and children but first raping all the teenage girls while the parents watched. True story.

      Tax havens and draft dodging have always been a good reasons to start any new religion.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Nookster

      If a church does business it should pay taxes. Whats so difficult about that? Just like the guy who sells "Shamwow's". The only difference between him and the mormon church is that with his product you actually get something for your money.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  6. Shayna

    People in this country would rather vote for a person who believes that when he dies he will become a god & get his own planet than an atheist. We are seriously FU.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Nelson

      Nicely said. I do not understand WHY one is not supposed to say anything bad about religion or religious groups in this country – another case in point, the nut-case Catholic League. I grew up Catholic, gave it up for Lent when I was 18, and can't possibly say enough bad things about it. I am sick of delusion being called religion. I don't want everyone to think as I do. Unfortunately, THEY do – mainly Catholic hierarchy, fundamentalist Protestants, and Mormons. I want religion ENTIRELY UNMENTIONED in political life too. Leave my secular laws secular please.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  7. JustSaying2U

    Interesting... A caricature of Mormons on a magazine cover is noted as "bigoted" and "out of bounds" and the bloggers & conservatives are aghast. Yet when a good Christian man is falsely labled a Muslim, no noise is heard. Even today, some of those conservatives & bloggers still hold that this Christian man is a Muslim.

    Interesting...

    July 14, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • JustSaying2U

      But on the other hand, he has lied about being born in the US. So he also must be lying about not being a radical muslim in disguise. He truly wants to bring America to its knees and prove that we are infidels that must be converted or killed.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Nelson

      How about this idea? How about if religion is left out of SECULAR POLITICS and LAW altogether and never mentioned for the next millennium. The country would certainly be better for it.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  8. Teachdiesel

    If the current repub candidate wasn't mormon, no one would care. The media wouldn't even run this story.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  9. Breezanemom

    If this had been the Catholics that had been treated this way, the Pope and everyone else would have been in a total uproar. It's offensive to me (not a Mormon) that any magazine would do this kind of thing. I am an avowed atheist, but I find this type of treatment of a group of people to be rude and demeaning. I would not have believed that this magazine would do such a thing.

    The editors should be ashamed and should print an immediate retraction along with a very public apology.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • 13directors

      I think it's spot on, and the only question I have thus far is, what took so long?

      July 14, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  10. Richard E.

    Call Mormonism what it is "A CULT" it brainwashes it followers. Google Morminism and get an insight into the ridiculas they believe.. And this lying flipflooper wants to lead our country. Help us!!!!!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Emax

      10-4 Richard. I live "behind the Zion curtain" and can confirm what you say.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  11. jpw2010

    The mormon religion is an idiotic religion that deserves ridicule. It itsults the intelligence of a normal person.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      As do all religions.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  12. Ron

    Wow, at least the Mormon response was a simple statement to something that really is pretty offensive. No one was blown up or murdered over this. And for anyone who thinks Obama doesn't hold sway over the biased mainstream media, you are just kidding yourself.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Breezanemom

      You are right. The Mormon church was very quiet in their response to this. The Catholics or Methodists would have been screaming from the highest mountain.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  13. Drew

    Yesterday in New Jersey, thousands flocked to see the virgin Mary in the bark of a tree trunk. Sometimes humanity hasn't come very far from the cave mentality. But! People can believe what they want to. Just don't give tax breaks to theme parks because they're owned by a church.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  14. Colin

    I guess if you are naive enough to believe that a being powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies whispered the secrets of life and death to a failed conman in upstate New York by means of some gold tablets and a big black hat, you are vulnerable to being financially exploited.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Emax

      Thank you, Colin. You see through the silly ruse – as do many who live in Utah.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  15. Carol

    get use to it! the Catholic Church is always getting covers with mud thrown at it for any little reason. If your faithful know and believe the articles will make no difference. This give fuel to the unbelievers – but the Holy Spirit puts it out there to work in ways we are unaware of!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  16. Notea4me

    All religions are focused upon money.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  17. George

    Finally people are looking at the Mormon religion. Everyone's been trying to be tolerant and accepting. It's no better than Scientology!
    Catholics and Evangelicals don't want to question any faith because it might encourage people to question Christianity's 'truths. Is that a bad thing? Religion has been used throughout the centuries to scam people and it's a tragedy that we can't question them still. 1st Amaendment: freedom of religion and freedom of speech allows us to talk about all the hocus pocus that goes on. That includes Islam too!

    July 14, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Bill the Cat

      Sorry, George, but your post is simply inaccurate. MANY Evangelicals challenge the claims of the Mormon Church.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Mirosal

      I think it was Ben Franklin (please correct me if I am wrong) who said "Religion is seen as true by the foolish, false by the wise, and useful by the rulers."

      July 14, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      @mirosal
      Ben told it like it is and said it well.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Mattski

      This is the stuff that gets attention as the election gets closer. I agree with George, people are starting to look, and ask.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  18. maniacmudd

    Joseph Smith – "Here, then, is eternal life - to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves,… the same as all Gods have done before you... To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God... " (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346, 347)"

    "…We must accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less powerful than He is today. Then how did He become glorified and exalted and attain His present status of Godhood?... Thus He grew in experience and continued to grow until He attained the status of Godhood..." – Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Steven & Wallis, 1945), pp. 114-115

    July 14, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Thomas

      The Bible says the same thing about Christ. Luke 2:40 – And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him, and Luke 2:52 – And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • havetocomment

      There are thousands of beliefs in the world today that try to explain what life is all about. Starting from – there is no purpose to life what so ever, it is all a random chance scientific event to, one of many different interpretations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith's explanation is one of those. Joseph was saying – God is our father, we are his children and He wants for us to become like Him. He wans us to grow from manhood to Godhood. Life experience is a step in an eternal progression.

      I don't see a problem with this. Its an explanation that seems very plausible. Its the same thing I want as a father for my kids to grow with knowledge and experience from childhood to adulthood in this life. Whats wrong with my Father, our God wanting me to be like Him?

      July 14, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  19. Bandunk

    So people are mad because the cover displays a truth about their church? Sorry but you are a religion more focused on money than anything else, so this is why you deserve this scathing cover on of all things Business WEek magazine.

    What's funny is that the church doesn't state anything about the article being being factually inaccurate, but in bad taste. Well if it's in such bad taste maybe you shouldnt run you church like a tax exempt Berkshire Hathaway, then you wouldn't get this type of attention.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Bandunk

      I'm also a complete idiot with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than post bigotry and hatred because it's hard to sleep with all of this anxiety bottle up inside my pea sized brain.

      There. I said it.

      I feel much better now!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  20. Colin

    If you hold foolish, childish, transparently untrue beliefs, don't be offended is somebody calls you a fool.

    July 14, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • lordshipmayhem

      Yes, truth hurts.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Colin

      I'm a real sicko. I'm always on this site posting hate theist bigotry.

      I'm sorry. It's just that I don't have a life. What else do you expect me to do?

      Get a girl friend?

      I'm gay!

      Hooray!

      July 14, 2012 at 8:46 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.