• Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 9)

The Mormons are stewards of a different stripe. Their charitable spending and temple building are prodigious. But where other churches spend most of what they receive in a given year, the Latter-day Saints employ vast amounts of money in investments that TIME estimates to be at least $6 billion strong. Even more unusual, most of this money is not in bonds or stock in other peoples' companies but is invested directly in church-owned, for-profit concerns, the largest of which are in agribusiness, media, insurance, travel and real estate. Deseret Management Corp., the company through which the church holds almost all its commercial assets, is one of the largest owners of farm- and ranchland in the country, including 49 for-profit parcels in addition to the Deseret Ranch. Besides the Bonneville International chain and Beneficial Life, the church owns a 52% holding in ZCMI, Utah's largest department-store chain. (For a more complete list, see chart.) All told, TIME estimates that the Latter-day Saints farmland and financial investments total some $11 billion, and that the church's nontithe income from its investments exceeds $600 million.

The explanation for this policy of ecclesiastical entrepreneurism lies partly in the Mormons' early experience of ostracism. Brigham Young wrote 150 years ago that "the kingdom of God cannot rise independent of Gentile nations until we produce, manufacture, and make every article of use, convenience or necessity among our people." By the time the covered wagons and handcarts had concluded their westward roll, geographic isolation had reinforced social exclusion: the Mormons' camp on the Great Salt Lake was 800 miles from the nearest settlement. Says Senator Bob Bennett, whose grandfather was a President: "In Young's day the church was the only source of accumulated capital in the territory. If anything was built, it had to be built by the church because no one else had any money."

In the first century of corporate Mormonism, the church's leaders were partners, officers or directors in more than 900 Utah-area businesses. They owned woolen mills, cotton factories, 500 local co-ops, 150 stores and 200 miles of railroad. Moreover, when occasionally faced with competition, they insisted that church members patronize LDS-owned businesses. Eventually this became too much for the U.S. Congress. In 1887 it passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, specifically to smash the Mormons' vertical monopolies.

But there is an additional aspect to the Mormons' spectacular industry and frugality. Their faith, like several varieties of American Protestantism, holds that Jesus will return to earth and begin a thousand-year rule, this glory preceded by a period of turmoil and chaos. During the dark years, church members understand that it is their destiny to sustain a light to help usher in the kingdom to come. In their preparations to do so, they shame even the most avid of secular survivalists. Church members are advised to keep one year's food and other supplies on hand at all times, and many do. The wheat-filled Welfare Square grain elevator fulfills the same principle. Of the millennium, President Hinckley says, "We hope we're preparing for it. We hope we'll be prepared when it comes."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9