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. Mi Poo

    All churches should be taxed. They've all got their hands in government and business. Stopping tax exemptions would benefit the economy hugely. Think of how much the individual tax rate could be reduced if these organizations had to cough up tax payments.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • coyoteliberty

      "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Removing tax exemptions would destroy ten percent of American religious organizations over night, more than that over time. Never mind that someone would have to pick up the cost of a lot of the charitable work that these organizations now do as they disappear or have to cut back to pay tax bills that in many cases would be arbitrarily inflated as a weapon to "get" unpopular sects of one type or another. How about the craziness of saying that it's okay now to start carving out exemptions to what the First Amendment really means? Where exactly do you think that would stop? The funny thing is that you probably believe that it WOULD.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  2. John the guy not the baptist

    Not a lot of humour among the religious crowds at the best of times, a dour, pedantic bunch, and if you include their chosen prophet, jesus, mohamed. tao,etc. in the joke they get right p*ssed off. We need converts to Pastafairianism, the whole concept is a joke, but try us out for thirty days; the least that can happen is you can go back to your old time religion and in the mean time you will save some cash from not throwing your hard earned money in the collection plate.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:58 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      PS: Headline from the business news...

      Shhh! The Vatican has received a report card on financial transparency, but it is secret.

      Kind of sums up the topic, religions should disclose the income they earn and pay taxes, period.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  3. TCS

    Live in a Morman controlled community. Be told that "your business will increase if you belong to the church". Be socially ostrasized. Commit your children to schools that are predominatly Mormon and watch their tears at home because of bully-ing. Witness open racial descrimination. Vote the Mormon churches' views in politicsl races.

    These are just a few of the aspects of Morman traditions. In business, a gentile is charged twice as much as a Morman breathern.

    Look around you in Washington D.C. The Morman influence is gaining by leaps and bounds. If elected, Romney will make sure that Mormon business will boom while others suffer, much like Cheny did with Haliburton during the Iraq affair.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • talli

      As a non-mormon growing up in a predominantly mormon town, I fully concur with this statement. I will also say that up until 8 to 10 years old, mormon children our allowed to have non-mormon friends. The non-mormon children are invited many times to attend church sponsored activities, up to and including attending church on Sundays. This is for the express intention of converting these children. In a Saturday morning cartoon commercial kind of way.

      When it becomes apparent that the non-mormon parents won't allow their children to attend these activities, or are not amendable to conversion, the mormon children are no longer allowed to hang around them, for the most part. There are, of course, exceptions. Especially regarding sports. And rich kids.

      I went through this, and my children are currently going through this.

      When I explain what mormons are really like, I explain that they are scientology light.

      July 14, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  4. 22X Richer

    No bias, however. Just good old fashioned news reporting. (sigh)

    July 14, 2012 at 6:47 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Being biased against stupidity and ignorance is preferable.

      July 14, 2012 at 6:52 am |
  5. Duff

    The Mormon "story" is no less ridiculous than all the other religious stories. Mormons are just one of the latest and therefore more visible through modern technology. Mormons are decent people. It is their church which is a joke. Just less dangerous than the Catholic church has been.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  6. Reality

    To be fair:

    Putting the kibosh on all religions: (it boggles the mind how inexpensive and easy this is)

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    July 14, 2012 at 6:37 am |
    • Gene Varner

      Wow! You sure shut down religious "faith", didn't you?

      Of course, none of your statements had any proof or even a hint of a citation, so I guess we'll just have to place our "faith" in your reasoning ability , alone, won't we!

      Is something wrong with my deliberations? Why do I adamantly hesitate to do that?

      July 14, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • John the guy not the baptist

      Please refer to the movie Doon and the Boni Maroni culinary tradition that resulted in their wotld being over run by giant pretzels and beer, probably no connection to Moroni, but can be seen as an early influence on Pastafaifianism. As you may know the Flying Spaghetti Monster has adopted pasta and beer as main themes of the religion along with universal peace and love(lusty to be sure). Faith is highly over rated, the amount of cash cotributed to the old timey religions will get you into their 'heavens' far more likely.

      RAmen...Peace and love from the FSM

      July 14, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Reality

      "Added details available upon written request.:

      As requested:


      Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

      "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family) (As do all Christians)

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      Some added references to "tink-erbells".


      "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
      Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

      "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

      And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

      "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

      "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

      "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

      For added information see the review at:


      July 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Reality

      Added details as requested:

      Only for the those interested in a religious update:

      1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

      “New Torah For Modern Minds

      Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. “

      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

      2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


      For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      Current RCC problems:

      Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      2 b., Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems:
      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      3. Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

      This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

      And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

      Current crises:

      The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

      4. Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – "Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’."

      The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism."

      Current problems:

      The caste system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence.

      5. Buddhism- "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

      "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

      Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

      Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

      Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

      July 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  7. Sugar1

    "The vastness of the church’s holdings are quite remarkable...". Wow, someone needs English lessons in subject/verb agreement.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  8. Travis

    There is a huge hole in this entire article and a glaring point that everyone here is missing. At the end of the day, all of this money that the Mormon church is receiving from donations and business ventures. . . what is it being used for? Who is getting rich off this? The answer is NO ONE. An article on a business, charitable org, non profit, or whatever that focuses on income and totally leaves out expenses is RIDICULOUS. Why don't all of you critics go research what the money is used for and whose pockets are getting lined with gold. Again, the answer is NO ONE. As a Mormon myself, I have been one who has deposited donations and written expenses. Some examples of checks I have written? Rent payments for a single mother of 5 who works 60 hours a week and can't always make her rent. Funeral expenses for a grandchild who committed suicide while on drugs. Utility payments for both members and non members who have lost jobs. Medical bills for many, many families in need. Materials to support our youth programs. If these are the types of things you are upset about all this money being used for. . . I won't apologize. Critique and speculate to your hearts content.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Do you read golden plates from a stovepipe hat?

      July 14, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  9. jdoe

    How is an organization that invest in business ventures for the sake of profit, be called non-profit?

    July 14, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  10. alice

    you cant trust the mormon church..its a company not a church..its a cult based on a book wrote by joseph smith called the book of mormon!!!! if mitt romney gets in the white house we're all screwed..need to pick up a copy of this mag before mormons try to shut it off!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 14, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • Mirosal

      They can't "shut it off". That issue has already been released, mailed to people and sold on news stands. What are they going to do... go door to door so they can confiscate every issue? Wait a minute, they already go doo to door don't they? lol Now they might have a NEW reason to barge in and interrupt your dinner. 🙂

      July 14, 2012 at 6:22 am |
  11. Flamespeak

    I like to joke with my Mormon friends about the 'holy underwear' and other such practices, but on the whole I respect Mormons more than a lot of other faiths because I have encountered very, very few that are not open to a good Theological discussion and most that I have met tend to take harsh criticism of their faith in good stride.

    That said, the image was obviously meant to ruffle their feathers and I can see why they would be upset because it isn't funny and just comes off as something being done in poor taste.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  12. KEVIN

    Business Week went way over the line with this religous depiction on their front cover. They have destroyed the ruputation of their own magazine.

    July 14, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • alice

      no...they stepped up and said the truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 14, 2012 at 6:20 am |
  13. Emdub

    Religions like other busiensses should pay their fair share of taxes.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  14. Rachel

    It is no secret that the Mormons take care of their own. They are also well know to be extremely business savvy among each other and can make millions.

    But of course, they are also known to be incredibly tight with the outside world (aka the rest of us). Its a dang shame that they won't spread their wealth where children are dying of starvation and disease.

    I despise the Mormon faith and it's greedy followers.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:50 am |
    • Westie

      Nonsense. I work for a Mormon.Have for years. I'm not a mormon and have never made any secret of that. We don't discuss religion at work hardly ever and in the few instances where it does come up in casual conversation, we could just as easily be talking about the Red Sox or the weather. My boss is a guy pretty much like most guys I know, except that he clearly has a moral and religious standard that has a priority in his life. He has been an exceptional boss. Even in tough economic times, he has been generous and fair. I'm good at my job and he has promoted me in accordance with the merit of my work, putting me ahead of people on his payroll whom are his "brothers and sisters" in the faith.

      July 14, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  15. Max - Park City, UT

    Truth hurts, eh GOP?

    July 14, 2012 at 5:48 am |
    • Condi for VP

      What truth is that? Your truth? The Democratic/Libera/Progessive/Socialist/Communist wannabe truth?

      July 14, 2012 at 5:57 am |
  16. DNA

    AHA your religion is a joke ... all of you.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:43 am |
    • Mirosal

      All religions are a joke, and it starts with the biggest joke of all. Some sky-fairy who supposedly knows all and is all. Yeah .. a 28 billion light-year diameter universe (that we know of so far) and they worry about what this "god" thinks about one little life form on some small pebble in space on the fringes of ONE of millions of galaxies. Uh-huh .. be real, people. Think in cosmological terms, and your "god" really becomes insignificant.

      July 14, 2012 at 5:48 am |
    • Condi for VP

      First person to say sky-fairy is a se xually-frustrated, antagonistic atheist.

      July 14, 2012 at 6:02 am |
    • Mirosal

      What's the matter? You don't like people thinking for themselves? You want everyone to conform to YOUR ideals? It's not going to happen. Deal with it. You are the one who cannot think on your own. You really think some guy peeked into a hat, stared at a stone, and saw "the word of god"? How gullible are you? I have a bridge to sell you.. cheap!! Remember, your "prophet" was convicted of fraud .. and HE is your role model? I think you need to re-examine your "faith".

      July 14, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  17. JAKE ID

    Funny, I guess the truth comes out. I live in Idaho and yes they are pretty much an occult. Every guy I know that dated one had their relationship end because he didn't want to convert to Mormonism. Oh and if your family is not Mormon they cannot attend the wedding at the Mormon Temple.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • Condi for VP

      JAKE ID said – yes they are pretty much an occult. JAKE ID is a dummass.

      July 14, 2012 at 6:06 am |
  18. Richard N

    So! When has the truth become "offensive"?

    July 14, 2012 at 5:26 am |
  19. JJ

    Great cover, wish more "religions" would get exposed for what they are.

    July 14, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  20. Jim P.

    Amazing what you can get away with when you cloak it in the guise of "religion".

    July 14, 2012 at 4:49 am |
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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.