The Mormon church is lashing back at a business magazine that parodied their prophet's mission and portrayed the church as lucratively rich but miserly with charitable donations.
A lengthy story in Bloomberg Businessweek that hits newsstands on Friday (July 13) details The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' vast financial holdings, from a $2 billion mall in Salt Lake City to a $1 billion ranch in Florida.
Reaction to the magazine's cover has overshadowed the article, however. The illustration satirizes the moment when Mormons believe John the Baptist bestowed the priesthood on Joseph Smith, the faith's founding prophet.
In the parody, John the Baptist tells Smith, "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 ..." Smith answers, "Hallelujah."
LDS church spokesman Michael Purdy said the magazine cover is "in such poor taste it is difficult to even find the words to comment on it."
"Sadly, the cover is a reflection of the bias and speculative nature of the article itself," Purdy told the LDS church-owned Deseret News. "It is narrow and incomplete, omitting, for instance, a good deal of information given on how church resources are used."
The article itself is not satirical. It states that the LDS church owns media companies, a hospitality business, an insurance firm with assets of $3 billion, an agricultural company with 1 million acres in the U.S., and an ample real estate portfolio.
The church also makes money through an investment fund and trust company, according to the article.
In all, the LDS church is worth about $40 billion, according to a study cited in the article, and takes in $8 billion each year in tithes.
"What is remarkable is how varied the church's business interests are and that so little is known about its financial interests," writes Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Caroline Winter.
Meanwhile, the LDS church donates less than one percent of its annual income to charity, according to a study cited in the article. Other churches donate nearly 30 percent.
Mormon leaders responded with a lengthy statement on Thursday, saying that comparing their church to a business misses the mark, and arguing that the charity study omits their vast non-monetary and welfare assistance programs.