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. Toby McDooogan

    I didn't realize that this magazine was doing so poorly that it had to resort to this for publicity. Wow!!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  2. Bob

    The Bloomberg Enquirer has sunk to a new level.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  3. HolySee

    No religious organization should be tax exempt.
    They all amass wealth in order to live 'comfortably' while they continue to 'sell' their religion.
    Religion is an opiate. It doesn't bother me unless it drives people to war... GW Bush and the Red states... "on a mission from God'.. actually on a mission for Big Oil (Dick Cheney) and big military industrial complex.
    The truely rightious do not (should not) need to live in palaces and amass wealth.
    The irony.. that Jesus's message is spread by those who are the worst possible representatives (i.e. rich pastors.. rich presidents)
    yadda, yadda, yadda..

    July 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  4. oldbones24

    Believe any way you want just quit accepting tax payers money. I am dead set against the federal, state and local tax money being given to churches. I'm not paying taxes to support a church for any reason! If they want to run a school, or a food closet then they support it, not my tax money.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  5. mistamista

    As an atheist, I find Mormonism to be a comically distorted non-religion, but no more than the other theological crutches used by weak men to supplant the higher thinking in human nature. We made god. We wrote his "life" story. We made a villain and we created a savior. Why is it hard for people to understand that none of this is new, none of it is real and none of it is beneficial to our livelihood? Can we PLEASE stop acting like we're all three years old for a few weeks, save ourselves from ourselves and make the changes necessary to collectively make our world a better place?

    July 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  6. obsthetimes

    Just the land that Catholic Churches or Synagogues sit on is probably worth 10 times the net worth of the mormon church.
    I found that article to be almost persecutorial in its treatment. Very sad that this would happen in the 21st century.
    I'm not mormon but do admire their work ethic. Mormons behave pretty much like first generation immigrants and such a quality should be fostered.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  7. 5th Wife of Joseph Smith

    Look everybody –

    Many people accuse my husband of starting polygamy to attract followers. I suppose it worked because Mitt Romney came from a long line of wonderful polygamists. Brigham Young had about 13 wives, about half of them are buried about a block from the Mormon Temple Square in SLC. So a church that got off the ground like this could only prosper with a keen sense of business savvy leaders.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • maestra730

      Your attempt at humor didn't work. It just makes you look schizophrenic. Fail.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm |

    Found a copy of the Book of Mormon which is supposed to be the basis of the Mormon religion. Curiosity got the best of me so I started reading it, and the more I read the more I laughed my a$$ off. If anyone truly believes this garbage, then I have a bridge I want to sell you. I find it hard to believe that any intelligent person to buy into any of the books' content. A person would probably have to be high on dope and brainwashed to believe any of the book. Mormons must be the village idiots of society.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • 5th Wife of Joseph Smith

      My husband should have included some cities and towns that actually existed on the planet when he made up the story. The Bible got it write – real places, real faces. Joseph Smith must have had a hard time making this stuff up. Where in the world did we come up with Planet Kolob, the planet that God lives on?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • obsthetimes

      This is hard to believe as well: ' Apparently, God made the earth in 7 days needing rest on the next. hmm? Then the lord sent his only begotten son, not daughter, who fed thousands with a fish and 1 loaf of bread who died then was resurrected, then ascended and through his body sacrifice we are saved for eternity'. I find this no less fantastic than anything in the book of Mormon...

      July 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  9. Jason

    Oh, come on! Mormons are no worse than any religion but their savvy business use of their tax exempt status has been known and reported about for many many decades. In fact they nearly had it revoked at one point, it got so audacious. Mormons think anything critical of their religion is a hit piece. Mormons also have a deeply ingrained persecution complex that comes out at these times and should be seen for the overreaction that it is. A tough and critical examination of the church, its' beliefs and political and business activities is appropriate and necessary at any time, particularly now.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • A in Pa

      Especially in light of the fact that prospective members are called investigators and are invited to investigate "The Church", if the Church can't stand up to scrutinization, then how can it be "The ONE TRUE CHURCH" as self proclaimed?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  10. justin

    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.”

    As a Roman Catholic I couldn't give a s**t. We get our religion mocked all the time. Cry me a river.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  11. L. H. McCagg

    If the article had taken on ALL tax-avoiding church businesses, it would have been legitimate. American Christianity's business ownerships are a scandal that the IRS should investigate.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  12. Valmaggiore

    I lived in Utah for 5 years.
    I loved living in Utah for all 5 years.
    I learned to love the Mormon "business model" as it was absolutely clear to me that the doctrine was so "fictional" that only a successful "pyramid" for making money would actually drive the Mormon church to grow.

    Take away the Mormon business and this church would have been gone years ago. It is painful to hear this, but my sister converted to being Mormon and after about 3 years figured out that she converted to a "business". That said, she made a boat load of money and has shared the weatth with several family members. She stayed in the Mormon church for about 5 additional years just to stay in the money. Then she formallly left the Mormon church because she did not want her kids to hang around any longer that they had to.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Liz

      How'd she make all that money? I've been a member my whole life and have never made a red cent from the church, in any way.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Erik

      HOW did she make money? One example – try please.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mormon America

      There is fundamentally no plausible way this is true. There is absolutely no system, no method, no structure for making money in the LDS church. Members of the church are unpaid including the lay clergy. The whole church in voluntary.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  13. James PDX Mostly Straight

    Don't worry, Mormons. you'll have the last laugh when everyone else is left behind when you make your trip in your magical underwear to Planet Bob to become gods.

    July 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  14. Flower doe


    July 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  15. Brent

    As a former Mormon I can say that the estimate of $40 billion in church net worth is wildly low. The Mormon Church has not had debt for bout 150 years, while buying vast amounts of land and owning Buffet-like stakes in Fortune 500 companies. They spend some money on the church schools (BYU) and missionaries, but even there students and missionaries pay some of the cost. The vast majority of church workers are unpaid (members even clean there own chapels, so as to not pay janitors), although there are a number of full time employees of the Church in Salt Lake doing accounting and other professional administration. The Mormon Church does give away money to those in need, but not much compared to how much is brought in. Assuming the $8 billion a year number is right, since they do not have to pay taxes and as I mentioned pay no interest because they have no loans, have owned vast tracts of land for many years all around the world and the land all the meeting houses and temples are on. I would be shocked if the real net worth is less than about $200 billion. The $40 billion is probably cash in accounts and not investments. Money for a rainy day indeed.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mormon America

      Why is it a crime to be successful in America these days? Americans are so accustomed to spending more than they have, borrowing to pay for their wants, and destroying their own prosperity. Why is it a bad thing that the Church doesn't spend more than it takes in? That is what WE ALL SHOULD BE DOING!

      July 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • obsthetimes

      All that you have written is also true of Christian, Jewish and Islamic churches. They all own vast tracks of land, actually in city centers where its more valuable, and they don't pay tax.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • oldbones24

      Jesus: "No one can serve two master." (Me: you serve God or you serve money).
      Jesus: "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven." (Me: I would guess that applies to churches as well).
      Peter: "the love, desire and pursuit of money is a root to all evil." Nuff said

      July 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  16. Hawk in Texas

    Want to know about mormons? google, the mountian meadows massacre.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Erik

      Yes, because googling "priest abuse" will teach you about Catholics. Wow.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Kyle

    First off I wonder how many of Obama's campaign jesters posted comments on here to hurt the other campaigners popularity?
    2nd with literally over thousands of religions in the world and billions of people, someone is going to be wrong.
    3rd If you have not done your research, I suggest you do it; then comment.
    4th Do not reply to people and say you know your particular faith is correct, unless you have a picture of you and Jesus Christ standing together, you have no proof. Or whom ever you believe exists
    5th Didn't Adolf Hitler try to make a specific religion look like a group of evil monster? Should I compare some of the commentators as Adolf Hitler?

    July 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  18. Russell Coleman

    Mormons are in most part offencive

    July 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  19. liam


    July 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  20. Steve

    As a Roman Catholic, I consider Mormon beliefs heresy. But I also respect their right in America to believe whatever they want, so long as their beliefs do not hurt others.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Mari

      heresy, seriously, what about praying to a bunch of virgens and saints like catholics do, isn't that heresy as well. arent people not supposed to bow down to images or confide in no other than God himself

      July 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Mari

      heresy, seriously, what about praying to a bunch of virgens and saints like catholics do, isn't that heresy as well. arent people not supposed to bow down to images or confide in no other than God himself. people really need to stop criticizing. let ppl believe whatever they want. there's heresy in every religion.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:27 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.