The Mormon Corporate Empire
Reviewed by Malin L. Jacobs


The following review was written shortly after The Mormon Corporate Empire was published in 1985.  Although the book is out of print, it has been cited by a number of anti-Mormon writers.  Therefore, we feel that this review is still relevant.  For publication on the SHIELDS web site the format has been altered somewhat, and several sections have been rewritten.  The dollar amounts given by Heinerman and Shupe are undoubtedly obsolete.  I have made no attempt to update their estimates of church worth or annual income.

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

" DESTROYED from the land and SENT DOWN TO HELL..." (pp. 2-3)

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 immigrants:

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. 63)

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 LDS church.