Monday, July 28, 1997
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Mormon Church is the most prosperous of American religions and is preparing to focus that considerable wealth on an unprecedented campaign of international expansion, according to a cover story in Time magazine on newsstands this week.
Time correspondents claimed "unusual cooperation" from the hierarchy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in researching the article, which gives what may be the most accurate financial snapshot of the church to date: a minimum of $30 billion in assets and annual gross income of $6 billion -- more than Utah's state budget this year.
According to the article entitled "Mormons Inc.: The Secret of America's Most Prosperous Religion," the church last year brought in $5.2 billion in tithings alone from its roughly 10 million members, who are asked to give 10 percent of their income.
If the Mormon Church were a corporation, that yearly revenue would place it midway through the Fortune 500, a little below Union Carbide and the Paine Webber Group, but bigger than Nike and the Gap.
"And as long as corporate rankings are being bandied about, the church would make any list of the most admired: for straight dealing, company spirit, contributions to charity (even the non-Mormon kind) and a fiscal probity among its powerful leaders that would satisfy any shareholder group, if there were one,'' the magazine said.
All of this, according to the magazine, is in preparation for a major expansion outside of North America. Church membership this year reached a watershed in that there are more Mormons living abroad than in the United States for the first time ever. The church is positioning itself to push that expansion to the next level which, according to one author cited in the story, could create a membership of 260 million in 83 years.
"The Mormons could well emerge as the next great global tribe," author Joel Kotkin told Time.
The church, the seventh largest in the United States, is growing at a rate of 4.7 percent domestically and nearly double that abroad.
To accommodate that growth, the uniquely American Mormon Church is ready to spend billions of dollars overseas to erect 350 meeting houses and add 15 more temples to its existing 50, the magazine said.
The story details just a few of the church's expansive holdings, including the world's largest beef ranch -- the 312,000-acre Deseret Cattle and Citrus Ranch outside Orlando, Fla. The ranch's land alone is worth $858 million.
The church also owns America's largest producer of nuts, as well as Bonneville International Corp., the country's 14th largest radio chain, and the Beneficial Life Insurance Co., with assets of $1.6 billion.
Time lists the church's assets as $12 billion in U.S. meeting houses and temples; $5 billion in meeting houses and temples in foreign countries; $6 billion in unspecified investments; $5 billion in ranch and farm real estate and $1 billion in "schools, etc."
Of its annual income of $5.9 billion, the vast majority -- $5.3 billion -- comes from tithing. Of that, $4.9 billion comes from church members living in the United States.
"There is no major church in the U.S. as active as the Latter-day Saints in economic life, nor, per capita, as successful at it," the story said.
The magazine said the church is also downplaying its differences with other Christian faiths. The Time writers, in turn, emphasized the church's social aspect -- its missionary program, its successful welfare system and a binding common purpose -- as the probable reason for its ecclesiastical and financial success.