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. adrifter

    Churches have a long history of ripping people off. In the Old Testament, the priests – Aaron and his sons – got to keep and eat a lot of the animals people offered as sacrifices at the temple. You see, it was the word of God according to Moses. Beats working.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  2. retief1954

    In Jesus' day, it was the ROMANS who pursued money and power. Modern churches plainly love MONEY, which is the only thing being pointed out by the cover. Church defenders: 1 Timothy 6:10 "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." So, spare us your outrage when BusinessWeek pokes a little fun at your history and your doctrine. Disrespectful? Yeah. But who said you all were worthy of respect just because of your faith? All of you... Mormons, Catholics, whatever – you'd all have a devil of a time choosing between the faith you profess, and your church's wealth and power.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  3. Mysticlady

    For a more in depth picture of the Mormon church one must read "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakhauer. This should scare the crap out of any non Mormon. It starts out being about the fundamentalist fringe, the Four Corner folk, Big Love types, but he methodically goes into the history of the church, their finances etc, their hidden hand in so many businesses etc. In the newer editions he addresses some of the critiques of the higher ups in the church had of the book. Mandatory read for every American considering voting for this servant of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Also I was raised in AZ & had mucho contact with Mormons. My Dad worked for the IRS & said that probably 40% of his audits were Mormons. He found them incredibly deceptive.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • AgeofInsanity

      Interesting that your father would discuss tax returns with you!

      July 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  4. Peter

    Mormons, Scientology.....etc...all about money.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Joe Smith

      Yes it is. All of these religions are about money, power and control of people.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  5. Angela

    Check out the books by disgruntled Mormon Johnny Townsend.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  6. bill

    tax churches NOW!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  7. Paul

    The cover sure is bigoted, the article may or may not be, haven't read it. Clearly, most of the comments on this post are bigoted. Everyone seems to know so much about everyone else and think that they are all idiots.
    Stick to the facts please, and don't justify bad behavior by bringing out other bad behavior.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  8. Cooper

    Anything related to Romney is going to take a major hit with Obama and his nasty little machine throwing mud at anything and everything. People fear and make fun of ideas that they dont understand. What I fear is the direction of Economy has taken over the past 3 1/2 years.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Toss Pot

      Yes, because we all know that the GOP strive for 'fair play'.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • retief1954

      Huh, yeah, GOP are just "plain, decent folk" trying to "hold the line" against the tide of liberals, minorities, and miscreants. Okay then! Add THAT to your list of faith-based maxims, and keep watchin Fox News for all the latest in deception and distortion.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  9. tinker12

    Since when does big business and religion mix. As soon as a profit is turned (i.e. Hawai'ian resorts, food production, etc.), taxes should kick in...simple as that. If the Mormon church seriously wants to be considered a religion, all those profits should be funneled into philanthropic works. And that goes for any "religion."

    July 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |

    I know it is just a cover sheet but It looks to me in the cover that it is Jesus giving the blessing and not John the Baptist. All blessing come from Jesus and his Father.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • LiberaLIowan

      It is not "The Truth". It is your truth, not mine.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • 3vix6

      I've always wondered how people believe in something as so unproven as religion can call it "truth".

      Where is your basis? Where is the proof for existence of Jesus Christ in places other than the Bible and people that lived long after he was supposedly alive?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  11. Lee A.

    I think it is great, and funny, to put churches in the hot seat and show them for what they are: tax-free businesses. The next cover should be a Catholic priest bending over a small child, with the Pope watching. Sometimes the truth hurts, but that doesn't make it less true...

    July 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  12. Michael Donald

    So ... the mormon church is exposed for what it is and they cry foul! In typical mormon fashion, they complain about the cover to the publication, but don't comment about the article itself. Just like Romney, saying he left Baine in '99 but filed papers with the SEC saying it was 2002. Then, when people question his OWN discrepance, Mr Mormon crys foul but won't explain why the SEC was told 2002. Mormons are insidious, unscrupulous, clanish and exclusive. And, Joseph Smith prophesied that a mormon would become president of the U.S., and then the U.S. would become the world's first mormon country, with the president of the US also running the mormon church. This should be a warning to all non-mormons in the U.S. Be aware and be very afraid.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • .

      Ok, Michael and Me II, why don't you just cite your sources? Let's just expose you as liers right now.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Toss Pot

      @ . – before or after you're exposed as an idiot?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • ME II

      Sources for what?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  13. Jim

    Mormonism has nothing to do with Christianity. It is polytheistic, and not monotheistic for starters. Mormonism is a scam propagated by Smith to cover up a propensity for young girls. It's true – all his relevations started after an affair with a young girl. Thus, polygamy, which has no basis in Christianity nor Judaism. The scam continues, leading to their own state, own bigoted community and all sorts of unfair tax advantages because it is a 'church.' Wake up, folks. This is a scam.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • ME II

      There are plenty of reasons to not believe as the Mormons do, why make stuff up?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • CDG

      @Jim. Come on...I'm not a Mormon and even I know that his "revelations" started when he was 14.

      As Me II to says–you don't like their religion...fine. Making things up (that can be exposed by a simple google search) isn't helping your cause.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • CDG

      Also, you might want to read the Bible a little closer. Polygamy occurs in Jewish tradition...Abraham comes to mind immediately.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Robert

    I agree that Mormonism is an insane cult. It's just that the alternative has been turning the entire country into the equivalent of an inner city slum for the last four years.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Robert

      but we are not electing Mitt Romney to be our national pastor and theological scholar. We are electing him to replace a clueless man who seems to think that government can stimulate business by simply spending a virtual infinite amount of money, even though that government is already past bankrupcy. He's imitating FDR, who could do that because the country was not in debt at the time, but to think that we can do that now is insanity. It's going to take a whole culture change toward responsible spending in government in order to save the country, and Obama is going in exactly the opposite direction.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Jim

      Wrong. We need leaders of intelligence and morality. Mittens has a fair amount of the first, and none of the second. The wealthy will do great in a Mittens administration. The rest of us, not so much. If trickle down really worked, that would be enough. However, two decades of continuous record corporate profits, combined with the loss of the middle class, is proof trickle down has never, and will never, work. Obama ain't much, but at least he's a moral individual (and unllke Mittens, a Christian).

      July 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • netanyahu

      lets make one of the "J ews and see how far that one goes...

      July 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  15. Blue

    When more facts come out on Mitt and his reiligion, the American people will take a pause and second look.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  16. karlaporter

    When will the "my fairy tale is true and your's isn't" debate end? I find it comical and at the same time sad.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • ME II

      Hear! Hear!

      July 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • LiberaLIowan

      Good point.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  17. lmc2

    Although not Mormon, I have lived in Utah and have many acquaintances and friends among the Morman residents. The cover of the magazine is extremely offensive to me and, in my opinion, the result of fear among the elitist "journalists" who will not have an "in" if Romney gets elected. One can say bad things about any religious group but, just as there was an uproar when Kennedy was running for President because he was Catholic, it is a scare tactic that the ignorant will get sucked into.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • ThouShaltNotWorshipFalseGods

      But it wasn't offensive when they banned people of color from their church? Do you realize that President Obama wouldn't have been allowed in the temple in his youth because of his cursed skin color?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • peter

      imc–number one you are a mormon–so thats a lie right there–number two has nothing to do with catholics or baptist or anything about christendom–Mormons are not christians

      July 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • ME II

      While @lmc2 does seem biased, e.g. "the result of fear among the elitist "journalists" who will not have an "in" if Romney gets elected,"who are you to judge who is and is not "Christian"?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jim

      You cannot be telling the truth. Non-Mormons in Utah are routinely ostracized from business opportunities, state contracts and social events. It has been that way since before statehood.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Michael Donald

      I don't believe you are not a mormon. Any non-mormon who has lived in Utah does NOT defend the mormon faith.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Mkat2

      Doesn't ANYONE recognize that the Media now selects our Presidents and even officials at a local level?? "Mass Media Hypnosis" by the Media got Obama elected in the firsat place & now, vile, gutter tactics will get him re-elected. This magazine cover is disgusting & I am Agnostic, not religious at all, but, I DO have a sense of morality, that has not existed in the Media since the days of Edward R. Morrow!

      July 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • CDG

      @Michael Donald–I have family in Utah that are not Mormon and they think Mormons are great. I also attended school (high school and college) in Utah and have no problem with them or their religion. You are imposing your own feelings on a false generalization.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Mormon and Proud

      First, I am a Mormon; Second, I believe in Jesus Christ and he is my savior, which makes me a Christian by definition. It makes me sick to hear all the hated words in these posts. I don't care if someone is catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, or of any other faith. I don't care if they are Atheist. I don't care if they are black, white, Hispanic or any other group. I appreciate others views and opinions. I don't appreciate people talking down to others. I respect others and value differences. But, I guess Mormons are racist and not Christian as others are pointing out (Which makes no sense). I think it is funny to generalize. I am willing to bet that the parents of those making posts about racism etc.. were racist and judgmental to others in the 50s and 60s, so their families must all be racist as well and whatever group they are affiliated to is also racist.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  18. ThouShaltNotWorshipFalseGods

    Oh the irony of Mormon's accusing others of bigotry. This is the church that was forced to stop their racism and allow African Americans in the church when the IRS threatened their tax-free status as late as 1978.
    BYU was one of the last colleges to integrate its school and sports. It got so bad that African American players from other schools refused to play them. Once again, Google it if you don't believe me.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • ThouShaltNotWorshipFalseGods

      Info about racism in BYU sports:

      July 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • CDG

      @ThouShalt–that is the second time in few comments that you have accused the Mormon church of not letting AA into their church. You might want to research that bit more indepth–AA were members since the inception of the Mormon church. I think what you are trying to claim is that AA were not allowed to hold the priesthood until 1978 (which is true), but to claim that they were not allowed at all until 1978 is misleading and false.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  19. JC in Western U.S.

    I wonder if it would make any difference if this was the cover of Rolling Stone. Is it worse because it's the cover o Businessweek?

    July 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • ME II

      Personally I would expect Business Week to contain more serious and fact-based journalism than Rolling Stone, IMO.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Michael Donald

      That business week would expose the Mormon church for what it really is should be a warning to all.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Do they still print 'Mad'. Alfred E Neuman would make a credible VP for Romney.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  20. mttrailboss

    Does anyone have a sense of humor ? I knew that the Mormon Church and it's members' would not like the cover or story. However.., the story was informative and a sense of humor jab at the Mormon Church, especially self-made Prophet Joseph Smith. And yes.., BusinessWeek Magazine by Bloomberg is to the right or far-right. What happened to our sense of humor and trying to sell more magazines'.. This magazine cover and story, would not have come to light, if the Mormon Church and it's members', took it as it is, a amusing funny anecdote, and somewhat entertaining. Remember.., if you are Mormon, you didn't have to look at the cover or read the article or story. Lighten up.. Mike in Montana Go Romney !!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • judeamorris

      A humorous jab? Give me a break. If a cover took that big a poke at Christianity, people would be protesting in the streets. If it took it at Islam, there would be a violent repercussion somewhere. People's religious beliefs do not need to be mocked on magazine covers. It's tasteless.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • peter

      jude–i didn't read the article but was there anything there that wasn't true?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • ME II

      "i didn't read the article..."


      July 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • ME II

      ... or did you mean that you didn't read the Business Week article?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • LiberaLIowan


      All religion deserves to be mocked.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • James

      Tax exemptions for religious organizations should end at the front door,figuratively speaking. Investing tax exempt money for profit, and profits that are also tax exempt creates a tax vacuum to be filled by who?? That's right, you and I.
      Further, a financial giant like the $40,000,000,000 Mormon Church cannot help but exacerbate the divide between halves and have nots as it grows exponentially at our expense. No, I do not take it lightly.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
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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.