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. Beadles

    How can anyone take this supposed religion seriously? Creationism, rising from the dead, and all the other craziness of Christianity is one thing – but the Mormons take it to a new level. Take a look at: http://www.exmormon.org/mormwomn.htm

    July 14, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Any of this is weirder than a weekly cannibalism ritual ... how, exactly? Just because it's newer doesn't make it any weirder – it just means we aren't desensitized to its weirdness as much.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • Tim Beeker

      Anyone that teaches/taught that there were six-foot tall Quakers living on the moon is good enough for me... good enough to stay away from. There are lots of other strange teachings within this group as well. "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become." Nope. It don't cut it. Where's the star Kolob? There's a lot more to look at and a LOT of it really gets crazy! Go google "troubles with mormonism" and you'll see tons of things. Cruise through Utah Lighthouse Ministry's site and you'll be amazed at some of the things you'll see. Ultimately, it's a child's religion, not in that it is childlike, but it is ultimately so childish.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • Toby

      From someone who was never indoctrinated into any of these sickly ideas, ALL religions are nuts. There isn't one belief system that has an edge in outrageous nonsense-they are all crazy.

      "All religions are an equal glimpse of the same untruth." ~Christopher Hitchens

      July 14, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • W Sayeth

      Joseph Smith was a misogynistic, bigoted, con man and traitor. That mormonism exists just goes to show you that as Mencken pointed out, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

      July 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  2. Jason

    Well I don't see anything that's false. Last time I checked the Mormon Church expects their brainwashed followers to pay 10% of their income to the church every year. So, how can you argue against anything on the cover of this magazine? This isn't even the worst of it.

    July 14, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  3. ronjayaz

    I personally believe Jesus wud have loved Affordable Care Act & wud have blessed O'Bama and scolded the Mormon candidate for the presidency. But then I'm not a Christian.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Dave A.

      Im withyou Ron. The idea that Jesus would have been a repub shows me how sick they are

      July 14, 2012 at 2:15 am |
    • Serious

      just because Romney is a meber of the mormon church does not mean the mormon church stands for the political ideas of reomney.

      July 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • johnCRoberts

      So you have no beliefs, yet you believe this to be true (your statement). Really?

      July 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  4. James

    Mormon beliefs might be absolutely nuts, but at least they usually take this kind of thing with a grain of salt. Unlike some other religions I could mention.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:48 am |
  5. Pierre

    1. I wonder what the reaction would be if the cover had Mohammed depicted in a similar way. I seem to recall a comic was made with Mohammed and people were killed in the streets.

    2. Whether you agree with churches or not, I'd rather volunteer to give my money to a church that worships Bacon than be forced to give my money to a Government. If you choose to do both, like the mormons, well then I guess that's remarkable.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • wrong side of the bed

      ..and when your church starts providing security,social services,infrastructure etc.,etc ,then they will be worthy of a contribution.People donate to a church for the selfish,and ludicrous,chance to get in good with with the big guy in the sky.

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

      for sure all complelety self serving.....no one would donate to a church or there humanitarian efforts for the good of those around them....never...my sarcasm button on my computer is not working but i hope i got my point across. I believe donating to churchs is a more effective way of increasing humanitarian efforts as companies like unicef take more and more of the pie that comes their way and passes less of it on. an example is a recent article in cnn which stated that a veterans society spent over 90% of their donations on advertising, mail outs, administration etc. But anyways i hope one day if you need help it is their for you.

      July 16, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  6. svann

    Churches should get tax benefits ONLY for donations. If they want to open businesses then they should operate under the same rules as anyone else.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • crocalan

      You're right. Fortunately, that is already the case. Your work here is finished!

      July 14, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  7. Michele

    My Bloomberg arrived in today's post and I have to admit I found it amusing though knew it would ruffle a few feathers. The article may be accurate but Mormonism is not much different than many other mainstream religions in that it is also big business. At least Mormons are out there volunteering in the community, to their credit.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Beadles

      They're mostly proselytizing when out in the community.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Sloppy J

      Beadles, you make assumptions based on what you see on the surface. A lot (though I can't quote you a percentage) of LDS humanitarian efforts aren't as visible as two guys in suits biking around handing out Books of Mormon. But even when talking about those guys, a lot of their time is spent doing service rather than proselyting. How do I know? I was one. I spent probably 5-10X more time translating for Vietnamese refugees at hospitals, courtrooms, and various government offices than I did actually talking doctrine. Forgive me if I decline to apologize.

      July 17, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  8. Atheist4Evr

    Oh noez! Someone is making fun of my religion! Please make the bad man stop, Jesus...pleeeease! Jesus? Jesus!? Why are you not responding to me?


    July 14, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  9. Kyle

    Seems like Mormonism is a cross between Catholicism and Scientology.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • no

      Seems like your an ignorant fool.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:33 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Frankly, I don't know of any Mormon ritual or belief (or Scientology ritual or belief, for that matter) that quite rivals weekly ritualistic cannibalism. The Catholics take the cake (or maybe that's the thigh, or ribs, or something)

      July 14, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • badlobbyist

      And they're all different from each other how?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • badlobbyist

      Lewis -well at least only about 1/2 of Catholics actually believe in transubstantiation (per a Pew poll). That begs the question if they are actually Catholics or Lutherns, but I can't seem to get a straight answer out of any of them I've asked.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:06 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      That's why the RCC has it's members first take the Jesus-meat when they're 7 years old. It's not like a 7 year old is exactly going to undertand the concept of bread magically turning into meat but still tasting, looking, and smelling like bread. Get 'em while they're young and unquestioning!

      And Catholicism seems to be as much of a social indentifier as it is a religion. In the same vein as my Jewish friends who certainly identify as Jewish but haven't stepped inside a temple in decades.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  10. rinsac

    Guess the truth hurts!!!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  11. D-Nice

    Somehitng related to this would be the mormon mafia and Howard Hughes. Look it up it's interesting, shows you how mormons do business.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  12. Fritz Hohenheim

    What's in bad taste? Mormonism isn't even a religion. It was invented by a conman who pretended to read some plates out of a magic hat and he couldnt do it again when some of the transcripts where hidden. Mormonism is just fools errand for the extremely gullible, more than your average christian or moslem.
    Oh and speaking of tax exemption: So are all churches and it is time they pay their fair share!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • 1question

      And how is that different than other religions?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • Beadles

      Well said.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  13. fritz

    Even though I declared myself a bonified holyman with my own one man religion, I still gotta cough it up to the government. How do these scammers get away with it?

    July 14, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • whaaaa?

      Better lawyers and CPAs.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  14. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    Boy! Have I been slow!
    We're all havin' a big get-together!
    Liverpool UK is the big get-together!

    July 14, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Pull My Finger

      Limey putz.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  15. dc3gal

    As a former member of the Mormon church I have to say that cover is not that far off. One of the belief's is not to work on Sunday or shop or do anything that cost money. They even go as far as people not to do housework or cook on Sundays, but to prepare the meals and do all that work before Sunday. The Marriott is Mormon held. Food for thought here.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Fritz Hohenheim

      That explains why they dont clean your toilet on sundays

      July 14, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • no

      You don't know what the sabbath is do you? So many ignorant idiots in this world.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      But ... but... the Sabbath is an OT law. I thought that, like beating your slaves, stoning your children, or eating pork, that was all thrown out. You're not suggesting that xtians should cherry-pick the bible and only follow what verses suit them, do you?

      July 14, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Atheist4nEvr

      You got most of it right, except for the cooking part.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Serious

      excellent overview of the sabbath beliefs of a mormon. The cooking part is not quite right as pointed out above. but also wanted to state that though the marriott is Mormon member Owned free choice still prevails. People can act as they may. From what i have heard their church does not own it but rather a member of their church owns it

      July 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  16. Dani

    Oh waaa. If they can make fun of Obama as a terrorist muslim then the Mormons are fair game.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • granny

      so true, from what i read nothing is off limits

      July 14, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  17. God

    Typical Democrat bigotry. But we shouldn't be surprised. The Democrats created and founded the Ku Klux Klan.

    July 14, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Well, God, given you lack of attention to detail that you displayed in the Bible, I'm not surprised you would state such an obviously distorted and misrepresented comment.

      Murdered any infants lately?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Ron

      And now it's ran and administered by the republican party.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • rinsac

      I'm not a democrat and am a former member. The article is right on!!!!! And Joseph Smith was a convicted criminal for fraud.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Ronald

      @ Rinsac: Convicted criminal of fraud by his own enemies and people who wanted to see him discredited. I guess all the African Americans who were wrongly tried and convicted of crimes during the discrimination era were guilty also...according to your logic and vast historical understanding of the kangaroo courts throughout American history. It's easy to be convicted by your peers if your peers are also your enemies. Food for thought.

      July 14, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Yes @Ronald, and Jerry Sandusky is just misunderstood. Visits from angels, magic, disappearing gold tablets are as common as grown men innocently playing with naked boys alone in the shower.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Va Curmudgeon

      God: The kKK was founded in the south right after the Civil War and re-emerged in the 1920s, a time when being part of the Republican party (The party of Lincoln) was an anathema to almost every Southerner.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:14 am |
    • Dave A.

      That was then... This isnow!! Duh!

      July 14, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • FredKelly

      Why am I not shocked? Months ago, someone told me, "in the months leading up to the election, we'll see Dem surrogates attacking Mormonism". I didn't believe it for a long time, I didn't think that we could be that petty or that we'd strayed so far our American values. It's very sad.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Lewis Keseberg

      Yes, @Fred, you're right. This has never happened in American politics since, since ... Republican surrogates attacked Obama's citizenship and religion.

      If you really didn't see this coming a mile away, then I have some ocean front property in Nevada you might be interested in.

      July 14, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • Mormon America

      Rinsac: Prophets are never popular in their time and country and are almost always considered outcasts, frauds, and cons. Even Jesus Christ, the Son of God was a convicted felon. I invite you to study the life of Joseph Smith and I'm sure you'll think differently.

      July 14, 2012 at 3:09 am |
    • tallulah13

      Fred, I'm wondering where your "American Values" were when John Kerry's distinguished service record was lied about, when Bush Jr. lied us into a war, and when members of the Republican party accused our current President of not being an American citizen. How did you miss all that? Were you under a rock somewhere?

      July 14, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • Toby

      "Typical Democrat bigotry. But we shouldn't be surprised. The Democrats created and founded the Ku Klux Klan."

      I think you're confusing Democrats with Christianity. The KKK was founded and built on the idea that white protestant men are superior to all other people. Get your facts straight.

      July 14, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  18. UK Dave & my fellow scientists


    July 14, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • Pull My Finger

      You moved to Manchester?

      July 14, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  19. Chris

    i read the front page and had to walk away. i was laughing to hard.

    This is pretty much why i dont think churches should be tax exempt.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • Beadles


      July 14, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • lewtwo


      July 14, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  20. Reality

    Bottom line: Mormonism is a business/employment/investment cult using a taxing i.e. t-ithing "religion" as a front and charitable donations and volunteer work to advertise said business. And the accounting books
    are closed to all but the prophet/"profit" and his all-male hierarchy.

    Tis a great business model i.e. charge your Mormon employees/stock holders a fee/t-ithe and invest it in ranches, insurance companies, canneries, gaudy temples, a great choir and mission-matured BYU football and basketball teams.

    July 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Catherine

      You hit the nail on the head, you sure have done your homework. We lived amongst them and they even cheated the village coppers to help the local ward and line their own pockets!! They are the most untrustworthy group I have ever had the misfortune for know!!

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

      yet they have their own money.....they do not come asking for handouts from the government. You see what they have and I would guess you are jealous of the plenty. What is the big deal if they want to do with their money as they want to do?

      July 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
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About this blog

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.