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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. mary

    John the Baptist came to the states in the 1800's to bless Smith ?
    I thought only Jesus had those powers .
    Dang , there goes my religion expert certification . . .

    July 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  2. Wildone

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Church of Scientology have much in common.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  3. no

    Salt Lake City where Romney is alleged to having saved the Olympic's by conducting a modern day " Snow Job" while leaving his Sole Share holding in Bain Capital to well...himself. It is no surprise Businessweek has done a great job of reporting what the Mormons are in fact!
    Most people that have visited the Oregon Trail Interperative Center in Oregon have the historical accounts of the Mormons outright thieving and manipulation of the pioneers.
    This article just allows those with little knowledge of the Mormons to see what they are all about, which is a financial cult.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  4. db

    Why is everyone so upset and all crankey about Morman's. It seems that we went through this back in the early 1960's with Kennedy and the Cathlic Church. Seems pretty stupid since we are suppose to be a nation that accepts almost anything as a belief system, including those that do not believe at all. Somehow we as a nation of people, need to get over this hang up that their God is the only God, and recognize that God can and does take up any form that God deems fit to give those that want to believe in God their form of belief.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. KJV

      John 14:6

      John 10:27-30

      27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
      28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
      29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
      30 I and my Father are one. KJV

      Amen.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  5. Phil Muse

    Hooray for Businessweek! They had the nerve to come out and say what many of us have long suspected about the Mormons: beneath their squeaky clean exterior, they are a very profitable commercial empire.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • db

      Is there a problem with that?

      July 14, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • mary

      Yes and the ' Problem ' is the abuse of the tax shelter which is intended to be for spiritual work , schools or hospitals on a NON profit basis .
      The LDS have latched on to a clever way to Dodge paying taxes on corporate activity .
      If that spreads the taxes on the working guy will have to double or triple .

      July 14, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  6. asif

    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.”

    Also in "poor taste" is your attempt to PRETEND that you're doing the lords work, all under the guise of making money off of commercial ventures that in turn makes you and your church filthy rich . . . and all TAX FREE . . . pay your taxes like everybody else . . . this magazine cover speaks the truth about ALL churches hiding behind religion for get tax breaks . . . PAY UP!!

    July 14, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • db

      Churches. What are they, nothing more than an organized way to bilk the money out of the poor while The Church continues to grow in holdings, stocks, bonds, land, buildings, bank deposits, wealth, and a few of the upper managment of that particular church,no matter what the labled belief, get to dodge all kinds of laws, taxes, commit acts not accepted against our children under the guise of wearing a robe, dissavow knowedge of anything negative about them and pray to false icons all in the name of bilking money out of the ones that need guidance the most. Nope, Churches are nothing more than a commerical venture no matter what belief system they try to represent. People are people and are always trying to bilk money and power out of those they can. I totally expect this to be refuted by defenders of the system that are devout to their own form of religeon and try to convince us that their form is the best one while not showning us the negative sides which no doubt are many.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  7. zisee

    We wouldn't even be talking or seeing anything Mormon, but the liberals are making it a big deal because Romney is a Mormon, what a bunch of sick people out there. The media being the worse.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • peter

      to believe that the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ published in 1830 is the word of God is a mental sickness–You sir need to repent of this false evil religion. By the way, im no liberal

      July 14, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • asif

      "We wouldn't even be talking or seeing anything Mormon, but the liberals are making it a big deal because Romney is a Mormon, what a bunch of sick people out there. The media being the worse."

      Total B.S. . . . people like you just love to politicize everything. The fact of the matter is the churches of the world are in business to make MONEY - they will lie, cheat and steal to do it - all in the name of their invisible gods while emptying the pockets of poor people everywhere who they've duped into believing giving up your cash will get you into their INVISIBLE heaven!

      July 14, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  8. Cedar rapids

    notice none of them are actually saying the article is wrong, they just dont like how the message was given.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  9. Wastrel

    All organized religions are in the business of making money. The cover is an exaggeration for comedic purposes but no one should be offended by the truth.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Pilgrim1

      That's funny.....

      Only the Mormon's and Catholics turn a profit on any level. The rest are barely making ends meet. Maybe the questions should be how do LDS and RC "churches" differ from those who practice real faith?

      July 14, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  10. 71556

    A similar article should be written about the Fallwell, Graham, and Robertson family business empires, not to mention the large number of lesser-known scammers.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Emax

      Poor Jesus. He had no notion of the foolishness that would occur in his name.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  11. David

    So it is perfectly okay for huge Mormon contributions sponsoring a vicious TV campaign to take away the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans in California but not okay to publish anything humorously critical of Mormons on a magazine cover? As the old saying goes, "if you can't stand the heat,stay out of the kitchen".

    July 14, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  12. Frank Cardenas

    Mormon=money. That is the way this church operates and that is just the way it is. Why churches can have tax-exempt status beyond their specific church building is not right anyway you look at it.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  13. Dennis

    TAX RELIGIONS! All of them.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • asif

      And make them disclose their "holdings" . . . you'd be surprised how many so-called churches have investments in strip clubs in Las Vegas . . . it's all about the almighty dollar.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  14. babooph

    ALL religion should be taxed as the private clubs they are-non believers are taxes extra to pay for their delusional foolishness...

    July 14, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • donna rochester

      How true!

      July 14, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  15. Newyorker

    In order to advance, mankind should not let 'religion' off the hook. If there is any wisdom in a religion, then it can be argued as such on its own merit, just like any other bit of "wisdom" that does not come from a "Holy Book". People should not be crushed by the dogma of a "formal" religion.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Emax

      Thank you, Newyorker. This needed to be said.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  16. Ronnie Harper

    Mormonism is patriarchy – all religion is patriarchy, making slaves of followers, fleecing them of their money, and stealing from the nation, from our children. Religion is outright abuse.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Carl

      Yeah, and with Obama as President we don't need religions because HE is making slaves of followers, fleecing them of their money, and stealing from the nation, from our children.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Bob B

      Carl what are you talking about? Your comment makes no sense.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  17. Sick.of.Religion

    It is time for ALL religions to start paying thier fair share of taxes! With the billions of tax free dollars that they have, they could joine that 1% of tax evaders and start to contribute back! With the exception of SOME religious oraganizations that do give back to the poor, MOST take those donations and pay themselves with more property and investments for finanacail gain to themselves. GREED and DISHONESTY is what religion is. WWJD if he came and saw the mass of wealth these so called churches have?

    July 14, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Dennis

      Jesus was at best just a human -maybe a good speaker, nothing more, despite all the embellished tales in the buybull. He'd probably do what most humans would, with money.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • spencer

      @carl- taxes are the lowest they've been in 30 years. with our current economic situation, perhaps pathological fear-mongering over taxation isn't appropriate. it's time to tax the rich, tax the churches and cut spending on military. we also need to regulate the banks and political donations so that the ultra-rich cannot purchase the legislature anymore.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • HeavenSent

      So sick, you want you soul to be taxed? That's what you think of yourself? Tune in to Jesus Christs' truth about life and the hereafter.

      Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. KJV

      John 14:6

      John 10:27-30

      27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
      28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
      29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
      30 I and my Father are one. KJV

      July 14, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You don't even know how to read, HS.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Tommie Tom, I noticed that within a minute of my posting on this blog, you scribes and pharisees loaded at least 7 pages of baloney.

      You're going down Tommie, you and all your dummy handles if you don't repent and give your life over to Jesus Christ.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  18. Ronnie Harper

    It is a crime that religous organizations do not pay taxes. Write your representatives today and demand that all religous organizations pay taxes like every other business – such as tarot readers, and magic stores. Religion is a pox on humanity, a disease of the mind.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Dennis

      Right on, Ronnie.

      July 14, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • donna rochester

      I agree completely!

      July 14, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • asif

      I just wish I could live long enough to see ALL the religious vultures bite the dust . . . unfortunately it takes alot of time to clean out the thieving religious vermin in societies everywhere.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  19. Newyorker

    So, it's OK to mock Scientology, but Mormons aren't fair game? Actually every religion should be fair game. But the real problem are those scary Christian and Muslim zealots.

    July 14, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  20. SandeeM

    It's only fair to read the response made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to this news story –
    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-financial-independence?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LDSNewsRoomTop15+%28RSS%3A+LDS+Newsroom%29

    July 14, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • peter

      mormonism like scientology is a mental illness–modern day prophets

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

      No it isn's "fair" as you call it . . . unless of course the Mormon church is willing to fess up and admit that throughout the years they've been nothing but hypocrites and thieving liars . . . stealing from the very people who need their money the most . . . quote all the articles you like; if it looks like a rat, walks like a rat, bites like a rat . . . it's a RAT!

      July 14, 2012 at 10:33 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.