(LDS Multi-Level-Mormon Fetish)

J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon


Image courtesy of AP News

It’s not a new accusation.

After John Huntsman’s brother filed suit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for defrauding him of millions (tithing) of dollars, there have been a lot of posts online that claim the LDS Church is the “ultimate Ponzi scheme,” or a pyramid scheme, and at the very least, a church that uses tactics of an MLM to gain, and retain, its members.

I recently finished a scathing a four-part investigative docuseries on Amazon called LuLaRich, which detailed the predatory, suspect, and outright deceptive pyramid scheme/business model of LuLaRoe, yet another Mormon-founded MLM.

As we watched, it was clear the owners/founders of LuLaRoe, Mark and DeAnne Stidham, were so oblivious to their own wrongdoing, they eagerly spoke with interviewers, seemingly unaware that documentaries tell all sides of the story.

They also seemed oblivious to how many disenchanted former employees and retailers the documentarians would feature to counter the corporate-culture these two pieces of…work claimed to have when they began their con.

Their willful oblivion shows a type of bubble-mentality that doesn’t allow for questioning their faith — in themselves or in LuLaRoe.

But it was all a lie.

They claim it’s about empowering women. They claim it’s about family — Family First. They claim it’s about financial success and freedom. They claim to offer opportunities to women: full-time pay for part-time work because stay-at-home moms choose to stay home for a reason, but there’s a financial hardship that sometimes comes with that.

They claim it’s about blessings. (Look at her face. I’m not being shallow — I mean LOOK at her “countenance.” She could literally be the photo in a Mormon dictionary under ‘Relief Society President.’)

There have been dozens of civil suits which have been paid off by LuLaRoe. The AG of Washington went after them for being a pyramid scheme, so they changed some of their contractual fine print, and then paid a fine to the tune of $4.75 million dollars.

According to Mark and DeAnne Stidham, they “see a need” and that need gave rise to their business, which was designed to help other people succeed through opportunity.

It all sounded so familiar. Too familiar.

(Maybe not) shockingly, LuLaRoe is still in business, because it’s not illegal to run an MLM in the United States.

But there’s a thin, hazy, green line between MLMs and pyramid schemes.

Our Blessings Bring All the Boys to the Yard…

Below, a reductive explanation about the differences between a “pyramid scheme” and an MLM. From Fair Shake:

Image courtesy of Fair Shake

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a pyramid scheme is a scam that can look a lot like a legitimate business opportunity or an MLM, but the main difference is that pyramid schemes are set up to keep a constant flow of new recruits (and their money) coming into the business. Because of this, participants will often be heavily encouraged to recruit others (often their friends or family) to join.

There’s a common misconception that if you’re asked to buy or sell a product, it’s not a pyramid scheme, but that isn’t true — pyramid scheme members are often asked to pay fees or consistently buy small amounts of product to keep their standing in the scheme, even if they still have a large amount of inventory they’ve been unable to sell.


Ibid? Same source? Just…yeah.

A multi level[sic] marketing scheme, on the other hand, is not illegal. MLM companies sell products or services, and recruit salespeople to market and sell them directly to their friends, families, and networks. MLM participants are usually referred to as “distributors,” “participants,” or “contractors,” and they are not employed by the MLM company — they work as independent contractors.

Participants in MLMs often also struggle to sell enough products to clear their inventory or reach sales goals that will earn them advertised rewards. But according to the FTC, what sets an MLM apart from a pyramid scheme is that, in an MLM, the company will pay its participants just for selling products, and while recruiting new members might help them earn more money, it’s not a requirement for membership.

So, I’d like you to consider, for a moment, the hazy, near-imperceptible line between the two types of business models together, above, and Mormon Church Inc.

In other words, the Mormon Church is their lovechild.

“I Am NOT… a Pyramid Scheme!”

Image courtesy of This Day in Quotes

“I am not a crook,” President Richard Nixon famously said on national television.

Sure you’re not, Dick.

The thing is, I’ve yet to hear a General Authority specifically state/claim that the LDS Church is not a business. Not in so many words.

And not just a business, an umbrella/shell non-profit organization for multiple business ventures, multi-level business organizations (I want to go on a self-pleasuring diatribe about profits/prophets, but unlike Mormon greed, I have some restraint.)

The LDS church has so many businesses, they need their own law firms to protect their other law firms to protect their many-levels of non-business and business-businesses and LLCs and so on.

Dizzying isn’t it?

Let’s walk through it. But first, I’d like you to consider what a ‘product’ is. A ‘service.’ ‘Inventory.’ I’d like you to consider the words ‘succeed’ and ‘opportunity.’ We’ll come back to these in a second.

When you start a business, you need seed money. While there are several ways to get that, Joseph Smith used crowdsourcing way before its time.

It came in the form of tithing, yes, but let’s not forget the women of early Church history and the wealth many of them brought to the venture via marriage, donations, “offerings,” and of course, “tithes.”

Men at the top of the faith-chain got their pick of women and girls as multiple wives to build wealth in addition to enhancing their celestial (and connubial) glory. Feel free to do a search for the persistent Mormon myth about absent young men in the early church because it is just that: a myth. In fact, according to the U.S. census from that time, men outnumbered women in many regions up to 3 to 1.

The truth of it is as ugly as it sounds — and more. The older men with more prestigious callings and coffers were “offered” prime young brides (along with whatever dowry that came with them) because younger men were needed to take on the arduous task of recruitment, aka missionary work.

And what was, and remains, missionary work? Why, it’s selling the oldest and most elusive non-commodity known to humankind: hope.

No, they don’t take cash, check, or credit.

Not yet.

Seriously? Oh, come, COME ON NOW, ye Saints

Screen capture from IMDB docuseries LuLaRich

Matthew McConaughey isn’t selling you a car in the Lincoln ads.

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t selling you a credit card in the “What’s in your wallet?” ads.

Jennifer Aniston, Michael Jordan, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt — I could go on — are not selling you a product. They’re selling you the most intangible “product” on the market. And it’s so ephemeral, we don’t even know why we want it.

We all know or oughta know that we won’t look like Jennifer Aniston if we use the face cream, we won’t have sex oozing out of our pores if we buy a Lincoln. We know, but it doesn’t matter.

Whatever they got, we want. We trust them because who doesn’t want to trust someone as clean-cut, shiny, glow-y, and beam-y as these famous, beautiful people?

And while it might be argued Mr. Jackson doesn’t rise to the level of beauty, per se, he absolutely has a certain… power and authority, doesn’t he?

I read an adorable article about why Dallin Oaks thinks Mormons are so dern gullible when it comes to MLMs and pyramid schemes, and his reasoning was along the lines of Mormons just “trust too much.” But he chastised some of them, too, saying that many take “self-reliance too far” and believe that material wealth on earth was a sign the Lord was blessing them.



And at the top of the pyramid, the wealthy are getting wealthier while they tell the members at the bottom 90% of the pyramid, when they can’t feed their families, that they need to persevere, pay their tithing, have faith.

Kind of like DeAnne and Mark Stidham scolding their bottom levels when they complained. From the docuseries, Mark Stidham responded to “retailers’” (the indie contractor, the downlines’ downlines) complaints about leggings being “all wet” when they arrived at their homes:

“The leggings are not wet! You’re all wet!”

Good one.

In other words, they weren’t succeeding because they failed to “hustle.” They didn’t have enough faith. They weren’t active enough. You know, anxiously engaged in their cause.

After conversing with an LDS bishop who lives in one of the most expensive, elite neighborhoods in downtown Salt Lake City, he told me glowing tales of the members in his ward, and how secure they were, how financially comfortable they were, how there were no ‘broken families’ or other problems, because of their faithfulness and active-statuses in the Church — I swear it took everything in me…

Instead, I asked him something like this:

“You ever go out to West Valley, check on the members out there, Bish?”

He said he assumed it was the same.

But it’s not. It’s not the same.

I understand, now, why Ezra Benson was so appalled at the idea of communism, despite Joseph Smith’s rather groovy vision of it. Communism would fuck the Mormon Church right in the assets, yeah?

Ohhh yeah.

Multi-Level Pyramid Scham (pronounced ‘sham’)

DeAnne Stidham began the docuseries talking about a magical moment with her mother.

One of 11 children, DeAnne remembers her mother coming home one night and telling all the children to stand downstairs while she stood atop the stair balcony. She instructed them to close their eyes. The children obeyed, and DeAnne’s mother took $3000 in five-dollar bills and showered her children with it, telling them to ‘scramble, git it! Grab it! Git it, grab all ya can and go shopping!’

DeAnne Stidham was bearing her testimony. Testi-money? Heh.

The story had nauseating implications for what this woman would do and the lengths she’d go to feel that ‘blessed’ again.

But getting showered with money isn’t what the LDS Church promises members and converts. It’s a tacit and unspoken understanding, and much like Mark and DeAnne, they’re simply given an opportunity, with only the glitter and trimmings of the promise of success. You gotta hustle, remember.

And it begins like this. (Fill in the relevant words, from the Fair Shake website AGAIN…)

How about ‘blessings’ you can earn? Anyone promising you a certain…glory?

A pair of beaming missionaries show up at your door, aglow and clean-cut, making extravagant promises to you — more extravagant than wealth. They promise salvation for you and your family. If you let them in, they teach you about the Plan of Salvation. After a few days, weeks?

They set a date.

A bad parent for not wanting to be with your family fer-ever? And don’t believe the anti-Mormons. They know noothin’, Jon Dough

When you get baptized and all the fuss dies down, you soon realize your life and the lives of those you’ve helped convert aren’t any different, except you’re 10% lighter in the bank account. If you have children, specifically sons, the “mission fund” begins and you find that — despite doing all the right things — you’re in debt.

Spiritual debt.

Remember the terms above? The product, service, and inventory? Mormon inventory isn’t something you buy, it’s everything you have and you owe them. The services and products they sell you? Hope for joy, peace, happiness, certainty and forever-family.

Put them all together and they create a trifecta of the many hoops you jump through, the collective biases of a community-based MLM that testifies, each week, of the greatness of The Church (Amway, LuLaRoe…) and how BLESSED they are because of them.

Hard to make a connection to an MLM, here. This is alllll pyramid. Selling hope while making you purchase it off your GROSS, not net, income.

The promises you make in the temple to hand over everything you are, everything you own, your time, talents, AND your SUV if an important Mormon guy decides he needs it, all so you remain ‘faithful,’ so you are always on ‘active status’ as a church member… how does this differ from the down-down-downlines in MLMs?

Only the ‘inventory’ isn’t a bunch of stinky, ugly leggings, it’s a spiritual gun held to your head with words, stated kindly enough, but still threatening to pull the trigger:

“What if it’s true and you’re wrong?”

All the above, for the rest of your natural life, is tied up and into this scam and scheme, which is directly responsible for you and your family’s eternal salvation. As if a 30-year mortgage isn’t enough pressure.

The Church believes in “free agency.” That means they can only give you the opportunity to succeed. In fact, consider yourself an independent-contract member, because the Church will NOT be there for you if and when you need it.

If you’re a convert, your upline is your local bishop. You are his downline.

And while he isn’t making money off your family directly, being a bishop pays well if you’re faithful and active, in ways I’ve seen over and over again.

But don’t get upset just yet.

The General Authorities who leave their full-time jobs to “serve” the Church only get a pittance. Just $120,000 and some change a year. And no, don’t be silly, that is NOT taken from member’s tithing for criminy sakes!

According to the Salt Lake Tribune and Church spokesman, Eric Hawkins:

“No funds for this “living allowance,” the spokesman said, “come from the tithing of church members but instead from proceeds of the church’s financial investments.”

Well that’s a relief!

The perks of being a white, Mormon male are unending, aren’t they? Look at allll the white.

And as boxy as it is…

Last three images discourteously provided by old, white men, DeAnne and Mark Stidham’s brothers and sisters (down at the bottom, there), and this website


It looks exactly like a pyramid scheme. Or is that an MLM? Doesn’t matter!


I suppose, in the end… the reason Mormons are so gullible, or rather, so easily persuaded to join a pyramid scheme or its barely-legal cousin, the MLM, is this:

They’re already in one so it’s not that big of a leap, is it? Plus, the chances of actually earning something they can use in this lifetime probably seems like a decent risk by comparison.

As opposed to blessings.

Shh, let’s not tell Mark and DeAnne.

LuLaRich — you can almost hear the GA’s sacks shriveling (even more) as you watch this doc.



J.A. Carter-Winward
Recovering Mormon

J.A. Carter-Winward, an award-winning poet & novelist. Author site, , blog: Facebook and Youtube