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How the Mormons Make Money

July 10 2012 at 9:30 AM
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from Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

How the Mormons Make Money

By Caroline Winter on July 10, 2012

What Slowdown? The Mormons Are Building a Mega-Mall

I'm a Mormonand I Play One on TV

Late last March the Mormon Church completed an ambitious project: a megamall. Built for roughly $2 billion, the City Creek Center stands directly across the street from the churchs iconic, neo-Gothic temple in Salt Lake City. The mall includes a retractable glass roof, 5,000 underground parking spots, and nearly 100 stores and restaurants, ranging from Tiffanys (TIF) to Forever 21. Walkways link the open-air emporium with the churchs perfectly manicured headquarters on Temple Square. Macys (M) is a stones throw from the offices of the churchs president, Thomas S. Monson, whom Mormons believe to be a living prophet.

On the morning of its grand opening, thousands of shoppers thronged downtown Salt Lake, eager to elbow their way into the stores. The national anthem blared, and Henry B. Eyring, one of Monsons top counselors, told the crowds, Everything that we see around us is evidence of the long-standing commitment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Salt Lake City. When it came time to cut the malls flouncy pink ribbon, Monson, flanked by Utah dignitaries, cheered, One, two, threelets go shopping!

Watching a religious leader celebrate a mall may seem surreal, but City Creek reflects the spirit of enterprise that animates modern-day Mormonism. The mall is part of a vast church-owned corporate empire that the Mormon leadership says will help spread its message, increase economic self-reliance, and build the Kingdom of God on earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attends to the total needs of its members, says Keith B. McMullin, who for 37 years served within the Mormon leadership and now heads a church-owned holding company, Deseret Management Corporation (DMC), an umbrella organization for many of the churchs for-profit businesses. We look to not only the spiritual but also the temporal, and we believe that a person who is impoverished temporally cannot blossom spiritually.

McMullin explains that City Creek exists to combat urban blight, not to fill church coffers. Will there be a return? he asks rhetorically. Yes, but so modest that you would never have made such an investmentthe real return comes in folks moving back downtown and the revitalization of businesses. Pausing briefly, he adds with deliberation: Its for furthering the aim of the church to make, if you will, bad men good, and good men better.

Its perhaps unsurprising that Mormonism, an indigenous American religion, would also adopt the countrys secular faith in money. What is remarkable is how varied the churchs business interests areand, at a time when a former Mormon bishop is about to receive the Republican Partys presidential nomination, that so little is known about the churchs financial interests. Despite a recent public-relations campaign aimed at combating the perception that it is secretive, the LDS Church remains tight-lipped about its holdings and offers little financial transparency, even to its members, who are required to tithe 10 percent of their income to gain access to Mormon temples.

The Mormon Church is hardly the only religious institution to be less than forthcoming about how it amassed its wealth; the Catholic Church has been equally opaque throughout its history. On the other hand, says historian D. Michael Quinn, who is working on a book about the LDS Churchs finances and businesses, The Mormon Church is very different than any other church. Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction. To Latter-day Saints, opening megamalls, running a Polynesian theme park, and operating a billion-dollar media and insurance empire are all part of doing Gods work. Says Quinn: In the Mormon worldview, its as spiritual to give alms to the poor, as the old phrase goes in the Biblical sense, as it is to make a million dollars.

Mormons make up only 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, but the churchs holdings are vast. First among its for-profit enterprises is DMC, which reaps estimated annual revenues of $1.2 billion from six subsidiaries, according to the business information and analysis firm Hoovers Company Records (DNB). Those subsidiaries run a newspaper, 11 radio stations, a TV station, a publishing and distribution company, a digital media company, a hospitality business, and an insurance business with assets worth $3.3 billion.

AgReserves, another for-profit Mormon umbrella company, together with other church-run agricultural affiliates, reportedly owns roughly 1 million acres in the continental U.S., on which the church has farms, hunting preserves, orchards, and ranches. These include the $1 billion 290,000-acre Deseret Ranches in Florida, which, in addition to keeping 44,000 cows and 1,300 bulls, also has citrus, sod, and timber operations. Outside the U.S., AgReserves operates in Britain, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Its Australian property, valued at $61 million in 1997, has estimated annual sales of $276 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet.


Winter is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

Odell Campbell, Today 10:43 AM

My questions as a Mormon,
and now ex-Mormon, remain: "Where is all the money being kept and used,
why aren't Mormons being told specifically about the use of their donations and
church property, and why isn't more charitable work being financed by church

As a missionary in Argentina in the 1980's I was expected to pay
my own way, even having to purchase copies of the Book of Mormon from the
church to distribute to potential investigators. As a church member I paid
tithing, fast offerings and other donations. As a member of the bishopric, I
was flabbergasted at seeing how much tithing and other contributions were being
sent to Salt Lake and how little funds were being
returned for local use. Our youth had to stop having activities. Meaningful camp opportunities, road shows and
youth sports leagues disappeared, all while the Mormon church collects and
invests donated monies.

The LDS Church leaders owe more to their members,
including honesty about donated funds and transparency in the use of funds.

It is too bad when Mormons
learn more about their church's use of money from this publication than from
their own leaders.

show more

19 people liked this. Like Reply

Luman Walters, Today 10:14 AM

"someone who is imporverished temporally cannot flourish spiritually". Oh you mean like The Buddha, The Christ or the Twelve apostles? yeah those guys poverty deinitely kept them from being spiritual.

16 people liked this. Like Reply

Adam Vigil, Today 10:11 AM

The LDS church reports they have giving $ 1.2 billion in humanitarian aid over 25 years. We have to take their word for it because they do not publish their financials for anyone to see. Now in contrast the SALVATION ARMY does publish their financial report every year and show humanitarian aid of 3 Billion a year for the last 3 years. So it would take 62 years for the LDS church to match what the Salvation Army gives in one year in humanitarian aid.

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 A Mormon speaks outBobJul 10, 2012, 7:07 PM
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