John Heinerman and Anson Shupe, The Mormon Corporate Empire
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1985).
In The Mormon Corporate Empire, authors Heinerman and Shupe
review the growth of the enterprises of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints (LDS), with emphasis on the period since World War II.
They list church investments and estimate the total income and financial worth of
the church. In addition, they discuss LDS influence in politics and the military, as
well as analyze church attitudes which they perceive to conflict with democratic
principles. Finally, they ask if religious pluralism can be preserved in a free
society should one religious group obtain great power.
It is the authors' thesis is that the church plans to create a
theocracy in the U.S. to prepare the world for Christ's second coming. The church
has therefore created a PR organization to maintain a positive public image. This
facilitates other activities, foremost of which is influencing the media. Church
media holdings are estimated at $500 million and include eleven radio stations, three TV
stations, and one newspaper. The church has also invested in public utilities,
stocks and bonds, short-term investments, commercial and historical properties,
agribusiness, archival and library holdings, and insurance. Heinerman and Shupe also
estimate the replacement cost of temples, chapels, and other religious edifices.
They place church wealth at $7.9 billion with a total annual income of $2 billion.
The authors believe the church has gained political and military
power because members have attained high positions in the government and armed forces.
Political power is wielded through the LDS vote and through those highly placed
members. Ties to the Moral Majority, the Freemen Institute, and LDS Think Tanks are
also discussed. These connections are exemplified by the role of an unnamed Regional
Representative (also a Defense Department member) in the decision to not locate MX missile
bases in Utah.
An entire chapter is devoted to "The darker side of
Mormonism." Included therein is media manipulation to create Welfare
"myths," censorship at BYU, pressures on those who publish material unfavorable
to the church, success in Communist countries, biases toward minorities, and involvement
in litigation. Church dealings with the IRS are mentioned, including the tax status
of the church-owned Polynesian Cultural Center.
Finally, the conflict between democratic principles, including the
separation of church and state, and the accumulation of wealth and power by the church is
discussed. The idea is espoused that a church loses spiritual quality when it concentrates
on material prosperity. The authors conclude:
"Mormons would do well to contemplate how fragile their faith
may have become in the midst of so many temporal accomplishments." p.258
This book contains much information about church enterprises and a
worthwhile discussion of religious pluralism. Since the church has not published
detailed financial information since 1959, members have generally been unaware of its
non-religious activities. These activities should prove interesting to member and
non-member alike. Also, questions of ultimate loyalty and the role of religious
institutions are a concern to all people.
Regrettably, the authors have let an opportunity to produce a
genuinely informative work result in merely another anti-Mormon book, albeit one less
vitriolic than most. The term "anti-Mormon" is appropriate because the
book is designed to leave a bad taste about the church in the reader's mouth through the
misuse and misinterpretation of evidence.
A few preliminary observations are informative. Beacon Press is the
Unitarian church publisher. Since the Unitarians and the LDS are religious
competitors with differing outlooks, it should not be surprising that a Beacon Press book
about the LDS church would have a negative bias. Also, the book is dedicated
"To Dean R. Brimhall, a steadfast public servant and tireless
observer of Mormonism."
Brimhall is quoted thirteen times (all unfavorable to the church),
and we are informed that he had an ax to grind with the church (pp. 182, 186). A
dedication to one decidedly antagonistic to the church does not inspire confidence in the
authors' neutrality. Finally, John Heinerman's LDS membership is supposed to lend
credibility to the book. One can presumably trust the book's accuracy because
Heinerman, a Mormon, knows. This argument was used by one Denver area
"Christian" bookstore, The Upper Room, which shelves the book with its other
anti-Mormon polemics. But being LDS proves nothing about one's knowledge of church
history, doctrine, or policy. The book's errors show that the authors either aren't
knowledgeable, or aren't concerned with the accurate depiction of LDS history and beliefs.
For example, Lehi's people are said to have sailed west
across the Atlantic (p. 7), while The Book of Mormon teaches that while on
land they went east or southeast (1 Ne. 16:13, 33, 17:1). The Book
of Mormon says nothing at all about their direction of travel while at sea, merely
saying that they steered, and the winds drove them, to the promised land. However,
virtually all the studies done by the LDS from the earliest days, though sometimes
disagreeing with each other on precisely where Lehi landed, have concluded that his party
sailed east across the Pacific. Indeed, on September 15, 1842, the LDS church
newspaper, The Times and Seasons, stated that:
...Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and
crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and
improved the country... (V. 3, p. 922)
One apocryphal statement attributed to Joseph Smith has Lehi landing
on the west coast of Chile (James A. Little and Franklin D. Richards, A Compendium of
the Doctrines of the Gospel. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1882, p. 289). It is
simply not possible for one to study The Book of Mormon and what various LDS
authors have said about Lehi's journey and then conclude that either The Book of Mormon
or the LDS church teaches that Lehi sailed west across the Atlantic. Such a view is
proof-positive of ignorance on the part of the authors.
The Mormon Corporate Empire quotes from an article in Orson
Pratt's newspaper The Seer, that unbelievers will
"...be DESTROYED from the land and SENT DOWN TO HELL..."
The church officially disavowed portions of The Seer over 100
years ago, but the authors do not mention this or indicate whether the quotation is from a
portion of The Seer which was not disavowed. Furthermore, without presenting
any contemporary evidence, the authors insist that this quotation accurately reflects
current LDS feelings (pp. 3-4). One would think that evidence a mite more
contemporary than a quote from a 130-year-old newspaper would be available to demonstrate
the modern LDS church view.
The authors' conclusions that the LDS Church initiated the Mountain
Meadows Massacre and that "Blood Atonement" was involved (p. 16) are not
supported by their own source (p. 260, note 21), Juanita Brooks' The Mountain Meadows
Massacre (Norman: The University of Oklahoma, 1970). It must be kept in mind
that in 1857 (when the massacre occurred) virtually all the non-Indian inhabitants of Utah
were LDS. Consequently, it could be said that LDS were responsible for almost
everything that occurred. The fact that church members were involved in the Mountain
Meadows Massacre does not by itself implicate the LDS Church as an institution or Brigham
Young as its president. Although Brooks considered President Young to be an
accessory after the fact, she says:
This clears Brigham Young of any direct responsibility for the
massacre. His frequent cautions against shedding blood are evidence that he would not
approve, much less order, a massacre. (Brooks, p. 67)
She quotes President Young's letter of instructions concerning the
You must not meddle with them. The Indians we expect will do
as they please but you should try and preserve good feelings with them. (Brooks, p.
The term "blood atonement" appears in neither the Table of
Contents nor Index of The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Nor does "blood
atonement" appear as part of Brooks' conclusions, which are:
Perhaps, when all is finally known, the Mountain Meadows Massacre
will be a classic study in mob psychology or the effects of war hysteria. It seems
to be a clear case of how a group, stirred and angered by reports perhaps only half true,
frenzied by mistaken zeal to protect their homes and families and to defend their church,
were led to do what none singly would have done under normal conditions, and for which
none singly can be held responsible. A careful study of the lives of the
participants will show that they were normally not highwaymen or murderers; they were
sober and industrious folk, deeply religious, superstitious, perhaps, but unquestioningly
loyal to their church. To understand how such men as these could bring themselves to
take part in such an atrocity may be to understand also war crimes of more recent
occurrence. (Brooks, p. 218)
... That this particular company met disaster was due to a most
unhappy combination of circumstances: they were the first to pass when the war
frenzy was at its height; their own attitude was such as to fan that frenzy and provoke
added violence. Had they been of the temperament of the group immediately following,
they would likely have escaped unharmed...But the reckless boasts and acts on the part of
those who called themselves "Missouri Wildcats" culminated in disaster for the
whole train. (Brooks, p. 219)
The above examples clearly show Heinerman and Shupe's misuse of
source material to paint a negative picture of the LDS church. While this approach
is not limited to anti-Mormon writings, it is certainly typical of them.
That the authors present LDS history and theology incorrectly and
with a bias that is negative to the church is important because they insist that all
church actions have a theological motivation. If the reader can't trust the authors'
expositions of theology or history, why should he trust their conclusions about LDS
methods or goals, which are supposedly so dependent on the theology?
Concerning public communications, the authors create the impression
of widespread LDS control of the media. The influence of radio and TV stations the
church owns can be evaluated only in the context of the total number of stations
broadcasting and the markets they serve. In 1980 the U.S. had 1130 TV and 9238 Radio
stations. (Britannica Book of the Year, 1981, p. 648). Three TV and eleven
radio stations don't control the broadcast media. Even in Salt Lake City there is plenty
of non-church competition. At the time The Mormon Corporate Empire was
published, the church did own Times-Mirror stock, but the evidence shows this stock was
not used to eliminate criticism of the church in Times-Mirror newspapers. While
discussing the reluctance of church leaders to talk about this stock, the authors point
out that a Times-Mirror journalist dug up the details (p. 44), and the story was printed
in the Times-Mirror owned Los Angeles Times. The Denver Post (at that
time also owned by Times-Mirror) regularly printed articles critical of the church.
Two examples were the highly critical series "Inside the Church State" and
"The Black Athlete in Utah."
The authors' conclusions about church wealth are misleading.
While some of the holdings discussed are clearly used for religious purposes (pp.
109-127), in many cases the authors don't separate religious from commercial holdings (see
Table 3-10, for example). Also, calculating the wealth of the LDS church by using
the replacement cost of church buildings is particularly misleading. What is the
open-market value of an LDS temple should the church decide to sell? Considering the
highly specific construction of such buildings, it is clear that the resale value would be
only a fraction of the replacement cost. If the true "worth" of the church
is the total amount of money in the bank after liquidating all assets, then Heinerman and
Shupe's estimate is ridiculously high.
Especially misleading is the term "agribusiness." To
most people this means the production of food for profit. The authors fail to
mention that much LDS "agribusiness" output is donated to the needy through the
Welfare System. Had the authors wished to provide an accurate picture, they would
have compared the agricultural output sold on the open market with that donated to the
needy, including non-Mormons. For example in 1979, over 23 million pounds of
commodities (including non-food items) were given away (Conference Report, April,
1980, p. 28). The authors point out that the 927,000 acres of Church farm and ranch
holdings is larger than the state of Rhode Island (p. 119). What they don't mention
is that this is less than 0.065 percent of the 1,440 million acres of U.S. agricultural
land (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Agricultural Projections
for 1975 and 1985, V.2, United States, Paris, 1968 p. 9). The reader
comes away with an impression of a religion primarily interested in economic control when
in reality the bulk of LDS assets and income are used for religious purposes such as
building houses of worship and helping the needy.
Heinerman and Shupe are concerned that there are Mormons in
government policy-making positions. They admit there is no church conspiracy to manipulate
government policy, yet they imply that when necessary a Mormon office-holder will do what
his church wants rather than what his oath of office calls for (p. 177). The
evidence they present to support this implication is incredibly weak. One example is
that of former ambassadors to Norway, Sweden, and Finland. No evidence is given that
these persons' ambassadorial performances were less than exemplary, but the fact that they
discussed the church when asked about it, and that the result was favorable
publicity for the church, disturbs the authors (p. 137).
In several cases where members were involved in decisions affecting
LDS enterprises, the authors imply that the fact of Church membership determined
the outcome (pp. 52-54, 132-136). However, the evidence presented in the book shows
that instead of dancing to the tune of church leaders, Mormons in government generally
take their jobs seriously. For instance, when the church expressed in writing to LDS
congressmen its views on some impending legislation, five wrote back chastising the church
for this attempt to influence them (p. 141). In discussing a different subject, an
example has an LDS judge ruling against the church (p. 241). The authors
spend a lot of space on the potential for Mormon abuse of office, and then indicate in a
short sentence that it rarely happens. Typical is the following:
"We do not mean to suggest that all Mormons in Washington vote
on or promote every policy with some knee-jerk concern for how the Salt Lake City Elders
will react. There is evidence to the contrary." p. 137
Pages 209-215 discuss the issue of church censorship of its
historians. This reviewer has personally run into the problem of having his words
criticized for being insufficiently "faithful." In his opinion more
problems are created than solved when the church attempts to have only
"faithful" works published. However, Heinerman and Shupe distort the
picture. It is proper for the church to question a member who says or publishes
something deemed negative to the church. The problem arises when he is given a
choice of distorting (or ignoring) evidence, or having his faithfulness questioned.
Regrettably, this has occurred, but not as often as implied by the authors. The
church's attitude is easy to understand: Anything negative is eagerly pounced on by
the enemies of the church. The fact that members such as Sterling McMurrin (who
openly denies the historicity of the Book of Mormon) and author John Heinerman have not
been excommunicated shows that the church is not the ogre the authors suggest it is.
While lack of space prevents detailing more examples, the major
weakness of The Mormon Corporate Empire can be summed up quickly--a deliberate lack
of perspective. Eleven radio stations sounds like a lot, until it is realized that
there are nearly 10,000 radio stations in the U.S. Two billion dollars annual income
seems scary, until it is realized that it goes for chapels and charity, not Presidents and
Congressmen. One million acres of agricultural land seems large, until it is
understood that it is only about 0.06 percent of U.S. agricultural land (about 1 percent
of the U.S. population is LDS) and that much of the output is donated to the needy.
The authors' conclusions are usually arrived at by innuendo and a one-sided
presentation of evidence. While the estimates of church worth may be accurate, the
significance of church enterprises is distorted. The book's
message to the reader is:
Look out for the Mormons. No matter what they
say or do, or how good they may be individually, they really want to take over the
country, and when they do, everyone will be in trouble.
Despite a great deal of research, a scholarly style, and the
authors' insistence that they are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, The Mormon Corporate Empire does not accurately portray the history,
doctrines, motivations, or goals of the LDS Church. This book belongs in the corpus
of pseudo-scholarly works which claim to be the latest in sociological research about the