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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. Jsmith

    While the cover is rude, many of the posts here are far worse.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  2. Admit that you were wrong

    A public apology by Business Week is in order.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • answer is cold

      LMAO@people like U

      July 14, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Brigham Young

      You are wrong. Mormonism is a false "religion".

      July 14, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  3. Smako

    Stay calm people, maybe next week they will tell us how the Jews make money, oh wait, that would be anti semitic. How about telling us how the Catholics make money? No, that would be anti whatever they are. How about the Baptists? They smoke, drink, curse and fornicate, they should be able to tell us how they make money. So, now, besides all of the other stereotypes Mormons have to face, now they are all millionaires?

    July 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • peter

      Smako if it was for romney we wouldn't be talking about you or the rat holes you come from

      July 14, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Natrldiver

      And you are free of any wrong doing? It is sad that this country has become a bunch of leeches to prey on anything that does not fit the status quo. I find it almost sad how everyone pursues faults in eachother rather than worrying about their own well being and spiritual well being. It does not matter that one is Catholic, Morman, Baptist, Pagan, Agnostic, Atheist or any other belief. No one belief is above another it is what is inside you that counts. If you do not agree with a belief than ignore it. We have this thing called freedom of religion.

      Apparently America forgot that was one of the core reasons our ancestors started this country in the first place. To be free of religous persecution regardless of belief.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  4. Will

    Now we know how they finance their gay bashing

    July 14, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Gay folks should hurry up and pick up the KJV of the Bible as soon as they can and read Jesus' truth for the rest of their lives and stop listening to the scribes and pharisees followers that crucified Jesus. I pray that all gay folks convert over to being sheep that hear Jesus' voice.

      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 11:03 am |
    • Nope!

      Will you, miserable q&&rs stop your bratty whining!

      July 14, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  5. johnmenacherjr@rocketmail.com

    It simply in an abomination to even think to tie this group to even the simplest form of christianity from Christ . Simple awful!!! and Sinful according to my religious up bringing as a Catholic. Its a cult where belivers actually belive they are going to be a god after death. Awful!

    July 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • peter

      They are insane–remember we put those people in utah for a reason–They actually went to war with us in the 1800s–They are a cursed people as is their prophet and his anti-christ

      July 14, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Operator

      Very Christian response there. I'd say that it would make me happy to not be a Catholic but fortunately I know many good Catholics.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  6. G

    everyone should be taxed... churches too. At least over a certain amount. If they wheel and deal like a corporation they can dam well pay tax like one.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  7. MormonChristian

    Most of the money generated goes into paying for new buildings and maintenance of existing ones worldwide. This way, wealthier members in the US fund chapels in 3rd world countries, etc. Furthermore, only full-time LDS leaders at a global (General Authority level) are paid any stipend, and it is a fraction of what they made in private life (they are "called" at retirement age unless already church employees). Examine the wealth and lifestyle of these people and they have a very modest living.

    So no one is "getting rich" off of this money...it goes to run the global church, its charitable work, buildings, scholarships, universities, missions, etc. Example: BYU students at Study Abroad centers pay a fraction of the real cost. Was this kind of information front and center in the article or was it more to get people's attention about $8 billion in holdings by Romney's secretive global church??

    July 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Vesstair

      To be completely honest, it struck me more as a caricature illustrating the difference between a high-minded ideal (a church focused on helping others and spreading it's message, or the "WHAT") and the specifics required to actually DO those things on a large scale (the "HOW").

      In my mind, they're taking a picture where you would expect them to be told the WHAT, but instead they're being told the HOW.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Valmaggiore

      Hey MormonChristian –

      How in the world can a Mormon be called a Christian when they do NOT believe in the "trinity". I lived in Utah for a few years and I can tell all the readers that Easter Sunday.....is like any other Sunday in Happy Valley, Utah. Yet, it is the most significant date/season in Christianity.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  8. sick of christian phonies

    Why does no one question Romney's intelligence, for believing in a "religion" that was created by a 19th century con artist? If he actually believes the ridiculous tenets of this sham religion are true, than he is not fit to be president.
    Hmmm... now that I think about it, that holds true for any stooge that believes ANY of the nonsense espoused by any of the "religions"....

    July 14, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • MormonChristian

      Get to know a member of the church and then make your judgment. I'm wary of the hate speech espoused by you and others who would cringe if it were directed your way...

      July 14, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • peter

      mormon so self proclaimed christian-you can throw hate and curse christendom all you want-The fact is you sir are no christian and no matter how many paintings or how many missionaries you send out will never make your book of mormon the word of God

      July 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Brigham Young

      That painting proves Mormonism has Satanic roots. Wow.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Mike In Durango, CO

      The hate in your speech undermines your weak argument.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Nope!

      Peter, you are correct! No matter how a cult is dressed up, it is still a cult! Mormonism IS CULT!

      July 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  9. Machipongo John

    The really offensive part is the "original Mormon" painting- a piece of kitsch of the lowest order. I'm sure that Christians especially will find it repulsive.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • peter

      mormonism is blasphemy

      July 14, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • southernsugar

      Yes, I do find it repulsive. I also find it to be heretical.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  10. whybs on twitter

    All religions = 1 big ponzi scheme!

    July 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • floridamom1

      It can't be a ponzi scheme because the money the church has does not go to line the pockets of its leadership.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  11. ED

    Next week to be fair, the cover will have a rabbi with a hand on Madoff and Bloomberg instructing them to make billions but be careful!

    July 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  12. Brian

    Well if they are made they can call the mothership to take back to the planet Zoltar. Or wherever their "bible" says they come from.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Mike In Durango, CO

      Shame on you for your dishonest and demeaning comment, Brian. You obviously know nothing about the LDS Church and speak in thoughtless ignorance and hate.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Operator

      Unfortunately Mike, when they don't have an educated argument, they respond with ignorant remarks.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  13. NorCalMojo

    It's pretty wild that a Jewish publication would publish a story like that. If there was a similar story about their own religion they'd be comparing it to the holocaust.

    It's not a can of worms I would want to open, but to each their own.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Valmaggiore

      Political Correctness suggests that this subject is off limits. However, we are an election away from possibly putting a Mormon in the WH. I'm OK with that. I do feel it is the media's responsiblity to publish sometimes uncomfortable stories – and this one makes us all a bit uneasy.

      I lived in Utah for a few years and got to know a lot of Mormons. The entire Mormon faith is based on their belief that a boatload of Jews landed in Central American and were greeted by Jesus. Hence, Native Americans are actually decendents of Jews. Anybody who can accept that should be able to stomach a magazine article that discusses the revenue generation of that faith. It might even explain a bit about where so much campaign money is coming from in support of Mitt.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  14. JOHN

    The article was 100% accurate, being a former member of the church and knowing how thr church operates, everything was spot on. if only teh general public knew more aboiut the church and it's history, they woould appauled that things like that could happen in this contry.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • MormonChristian

      What do you mean specifically?? You make an accusation as a supposed "informed" person. You know not one penny is paid to any local or regional leaders (they are all lay people), and that the general (global authorities) make a modest living. No one is getting rich off of this. Yes, there are 20,000 chapels and 150 temples worldwide but go inside any church or temple and there is no wealth there.

      You're free to leave the church, but don't lie and insinuate that any of us make any money from it. You know it is not true.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  15. db

    test

    July 14, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  16. Jaren

    The church may invest and make money which is non-taxable, but it does not line the pockets of the leaders. It goes to helping millions of people around the world both physically and spiritually. It would seem that. Businessweek and many others need to find more facts before jumping to conclusions.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Denise

      The high priests in their fancy, expensive dresses, and the churches with their ornate trim and expensive stalls where the herds bow and scrape to their sky fairy all give lie to your words.

      I'm free and I bow to no god; religion is anti-American. Tax all religions.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • floridamom1

      Mormons do not have high priests in fancy dresses, neither do they bow to their leaders.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  17. Anonymous

    This is nothing new and is not exclusive to Mormons. If the LDS is worth $40 Billion, then the Catholic Church has to be worth at least $1 Trillion or more! They are all businesses and should be taxed as such. The only reason this article attacks the LDS is because Romney is in the spotlight at the moment. If the Republican Nominee was Catholic, it would have attacked Catholics, etc., etc. For some reason, people in this country find the LDS to be somehow different or more devious than other religions. Let me be clear, they are ALL THE SAME. They all push agendas that are meant to brainwash their devout followers in an effort to raise more money and increase their POWER and holdings. Anyone that thinks otherwise has already been brainwashed...

    July 14, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • MormonChristian

      RE the brainwashing...where is your proof? Seems like hate speech to me. You are not free if given to blind hatred of others who think differently...

      July 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Love

      Google Mormon Oath; No other religion bases on an oath of vengeance against the country and the people that it is based except maybe the nazi’s.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Anonymous

      Again, let me be clear...I am not bashing Mormons exclusively. I am throwing all religion into the same bucket. They all do the exact same thing. Their messages are slightly different, at best, but their goals are identical. They brainwash their followers, steal their money, use said money to influence politics, expand their empire, and make their leaders rich. The entire equation is about POWER. All religions follow this same equation. The Mormons are not alone.

      July 14, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  18. PeterVN

    As the famous blog quote goes, and it's particularly apt for Mormons and their hilarious fictions,

    "Religion is for the ignorant, the gullible, the cowardly, and the stupid, and for those who would profit from them."

    Believe what you must, even the Mormon tall tales if you are that gullible, but put your wallet away. Tax all religions.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  19. Grahame Rhodes

    MORMONISM = PONZI SCHEME. And you want this country run by Romney.............forget that

    July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • floridamom1

      No ponzi scheme. If so, then how can it pass the auditing process which occurs on a yearly basis with a fully accredited accounting group.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • talli

      Just because their accredited doesn't mean they aren't crooked.

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

      July 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  20. Deb

    The cover is appropriate. The TRUTH hurts those who are blind to it and prefer to live in darkness.

    July 14, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Deb

      Deb's a name for people who eat @$#%. The truth hurts Deb. Unless your blind to it.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • floridamom1

      Actually the cover is not appropriate, it pokes fun at beliefs that are held closely to member's hearts. By doing so, they ridicule many people who may actually purchase their paper. It is never right to ridicule the beliefs of others, even if you don't agree with them. In this era of discord and lies, one thing is certain, the cover of that magazine will never bring civility to the conversation. And it doesn't matter how much the church owns or how much money it has, everything is carefully audited by a fully accredited accounting group.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • southernsugar

      The mormons are heretical. How dare you claim to be Christians!

      July 14, 2012 at 10:52 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.