Bigotry in America
A recent Businessweek cover has brought out the swift ire of many people.
The article, “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. The article focuses on the business aspects of the Church (as is the editorial mission of the publication), including the property and stock holdings, business subsidiaries, and tax benefits.
Overall the article, from a completely business analysis standpoint, is fairly neutral, but at times critical, and at other times fair. However, it is the cover of the magazine that raises questions. It is so blasphemous and bigoted as to stain the stone of the entire article. It is a caricature of the beloved painting of John the Baptist bestowing the Aaronic priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. The thought bubble next to John the Baptist 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.” Beside Joseph Smith the thought bubble replies, “Hallelujah.”
The artwork for the article passes the lines of decency and is insulting to all Mormons, if not all religions. It should never be acceptable to mock or belittle the sacred beliefs of any religion. To do so against Mormons is a slap in the face to all churches. However, it is highly unlikely that any other church would ever be so openly mocked.
It is hard to conceive of a mainstream magazine targeting any other religion with so much venom. Where are the articles about the art and real estate holdings of the Catholic Church? (The Vatican's real estate was worth about $900 million in 2004.) Where are the exposes about the finances of the Scientologists? How much money do all of the Baptist universities make? We don't see those articles because it would never be acceptable to blaspheme a more readily accepted religion.
The Church Responds
Church Spokesperson, Michael Purdy, 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.”
This is just one of the many “hit pieces” on the Church in recent months. It is no secret that the political rise of Mitt Romney has led to increased attention and scrutiny of the Church. We, the Mormons, have come to accept this as a way of life. But in light of this particularly intentional insult on the cover, it begs the question, can anyone imagine a major magazine producing a similar cover aimed at any another major American religion?
The article focuses solely on how the Church makes money. The IRS does not require churches, which are tax-exempt, to file disclosure forms, and therefore, little information is publicly known. But that does not stop different entitities and individuals from speculating on it. According to Businessweek, a recent study by Ryan Cragun, a professor at the University of Tampa, estimates the Church receives around $8 billion in tithing, and is worth around $40 billion. The Church denies this.
Articles on the Church's finances and business holdings are nothing new. Time magazine featured a cover story as far back as 1997, entitled, “Mormons Inc.” In 2009, the Free Republic wrote about the Church ranch and property holdings in Florida. Earlier this year the Economist wrote about the “Mormon Way of Doing Business.” Not every article has been completely favorable, but none has been so insulting as the cover art for this particular article from Businessweek.
The Church has responded to the article on the Mormon Newsroom website (excerpts):
Does the Church own for-profit businesses? Yes. In the Church’s earlier history as it was establishing itself in the remote Intermountain West, some of those businesses were necessitated by the simple fact that they didn’t exist elsewhere in the community. Gradually, as private businesses developed and the need for Church-owned businesses diminished, they were sold off, donated to the community or discontinued. Zions Bank and the LDS Hospital system are examples.
Today, the Church’s business assets support the Church’s mission and principles by serving as a rainy day fund. Agricultural holdings now operated as for-profit enterprises can be converted into welfare farms in the event of a global food crisis. Companies such as KSL Television and the Deseret News provide strategically valuable communication tools.
From time to time, some people, including journalists, try to attach a monetary value to the Church in the same way they would assess the assets of a commercial corporation. Such comparisons simply do not hold up. For instance, a corporation’s branch offices or retail outlets have to be financially justified as a source of profit. But every time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds a place of worship, the building becomes a consumer of assets and a financial obligation that has to be met through worldwide member donations. The ongoing maintenance and upkeep, utilities and use of the building can only be achieved as long as faithful members continue to support the Church.
On occasion someone will try to estimate the Church’s income and determine how much of that is used to care for the poor and needy. Again, they rarely capture the whole picture. The bedrock principles underlying the Church’s welfare and humanitarian efforts are Christlike service and self-reliance.
...Those who attempt to define the Church as an institution devoted to amassing monetary wealth miss the entire point: the Church’s purpose is to bring people to Christ and to follow His example by lifting the burdens of those who are struggling. The key to understanding the Church is to see it not as a worldwide corporation, but as millions of faithful members in thousands of congregations across the world following Christ and caring for each other and their neighbors.
Bigotry is Bigotry Even if it Sells Magazines
The sad fact is that we still live in a bigoted era. Four years ago the media asked the questions daily, “Is America ready for a black president?” “Are we ready for a woman president?” The following articles were always written to prove the point that yes, Americans are bigger than racism and sexism, and that we were ready for such “forward-thinking” elections. But somehow that “open-minded” way of thinking has not extended to religion. It is still okay to openly mock or disparage a candidate solely on religion, if that candidate is Mormon.
Bigotry is bigotry, no matter which way you spin it.
To be against Mitt Romney (or Harry Reid or Orrin Hatch) because of his religion is just plain bigotry. It is no different than opposing Obama because of his race, or Hilary Clinton because of gender, or Marco Rubio or Nikki Haley for their ethnicity.
But we are not here to discuss politics. We are here to discuss open bigotry against a religion.
But for people to come out and say that they won't support a candidate because he's Mormon and is no better than saying "I'd never trust a Jew" or "a black could never do the job.