Beliefs Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

10 reasons Mormons dominate multi-level marketing companies

A guest post by Mette Harrison

LipSense, dōTERRA, Nu Skin, Young Living, Nature’s Sunshine, Tahitian Noni/Morinda, Amway, Melaleuca, Neways, Thrive, Xango/Zija, Younique, Jamberry, Unicity.

If these names sound familiar to you, you probably live in Utah, the number one state in the union for multi-level marketing companies.

I admit, I have multiple issues with multi-level marketing. So many people in my ward are into one of the above companies that sometimes it feels like I have to turn someone down every day. I get invitations to “parties” every week, and just when I think one wave is over, a new wave of marketing starts up.

I was first introduced to MLMs when my aunt tried to sell my father on Amway. Then when I was a new mother, an older woman in our ward quickly tried to resolve any difficulty I had with a new baby by hawking a product from her company. And on it went, with wedding showers with an MLM on the side and visiting teaching companions peddling their wares on our visits.

I’m tired of my friendship being used as “downstream” for people who want to make a buck. I’m also tired of trying to explain science to friends who think that one personal experience with an oil or a supplement is sufficient for extolling the virtues of an unverifiable, unscientific claim for healing.

But I’m also very much aware of the reality that Mormon culture breeds these kinds of companies for a variety of reasons. Here are ten:

  1. Insularity. Mormons tend to be trusting, especially of other Mormons. We tend to want to believe that other Mormons are good, because surely if they know and believe in the gospel then they want the best for other people and aren’t trying to cheat people out of money.
  2. Money as a blessing. Mormons may not know what the phrase “prosperity gospel” means, but many believe in the principle that if someone has money then they must be blessed by God.
  3. An unusually high number of SAHMS. Mormons encourage women to stay at home, but these days that leaves many families to struggle for any extra income. It also means that Mormon stay-at-home moms use their time to try to make money for extra things.
  4. Easy mobilization. Mormons have a built-in network, complete with phone numbers, physical addresses, and emails. They may not think twice about using this information to send out invitations to their “parties” about a new product/brand that is also an MLM, even if using ward lists for business purposes is against the rules of the church.
  5. Door to door experience. Former Mormon missionaries are used to sales techniques. They’re not afraid of rejection and they are sometimes very aggressive.
  6. The personal touch. Mormons are used to hearing testimonials and connecting that to “deeper” truth. Some might argue this means Mormons are particularly vulnerable to anecdotal evidence.
  7. Big claims. Mormons often hear people scoffing at our religious ideas, our founder, and our scripture. Because we’ve grown accustomed to that, we may be more likely to shrug off criticisms even when we shouldn’t.
  8. Top-down structure. Mormons are comfortable with a hierarchical institution where people at the top know more than people at the bottom, and to paying money “up-stream.” I know this may sound like a crude way of describing tithing. But looking at it from the outside, there are certain similarities.
  9. Naivete. Mormons have a tendency to believe that they are “chosen” or “special,” and may be more easily led to believe that an opportunity has come to them from God rather than dismissing things that are “too good to be true.”
  10. Skimming the surface. Sadly, Mormon church meetings do not lead Mormons to ask hard questions. Instead, we may be more vulnerable to being led to ask the questions that people want us to ask. If a question/answer format is offered, we may not think more deeply.

It’s such a big problem that LDS apostle Dallin Oaks wrote a book about Mormons and Get-Rich-Quick Schemes in 1988, when he worried that members of the Church may be “specially susceptible to materialism.”

More recently, multiple news organizations have also written on the topic (see here and here). But as far as I can tell, there aren’t any significant changes happening.

My Mormon friends, this has to stop. If you are selling something, please don’t confuse that with our church. Don’t use our ward list to target people. Don’t sell your product over friendship with people. You might think it’s not a problem, but it is. I guarantee that you have friends who are pulling away because you are pushing this too hard on them and are having problems distinguishing the gospel from your MLM solutions.

I beg church leaders, bishops especially, to speak from the pulpit on this issue. Please ask ward members to keep MLMs out of church meetings and out of any church connections like home or visiting teaching.

And it would make me happy if you’d spend one of our fifth Sunday meetings on the dangers of MLMs. Bonus points if you can get an actual physician or trained medical professional to help church members learn to distinguish between scientific claims and fake claims. It would also make the ex-Mormons a little less gleeful when there’s another news story about Mormons getting cheated out of their retirement funds—like this one or that one or that one.

 


Other posts by Mette Harrison:


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

52 Comments

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  • 10 reasons why Mormons dominate multi level marketing companies?

    The satire on that could almost write itself.

  • I think l will post a sign on my door that reads: “MLM persons wishing to talk to me about their product must give me the same amount of time to listen to me give a presentation of the Gospel – NO BATHROOM BREAKS EITHER.”

  • Thanks! The week I returned home from my mission to Chile (many years ago!) I received a call from a friend at church who invited me to a meeting for a “business opportunity” that I would be perfect for. “This isn’t Amway, is it?” I asked. “Oh, no, no” was the response. I arrived to find a house full of other people from the ward and the presentation began…it was Amway. I got up and walked out. Everyone looked at me with raised eyebrows and wagging heads as if I were walking out on a general authority speaking at stake conference!

  • Wow, that wasn’t biased! While I’m well aware of the abuses MLM people can perpetrate, MLM itself is a viable marketing model, not Satan on Earth. Certainly it should be conducted outside of religious environments, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Official church lessons on the dangers of MLMs? We’re going to make a religious and moral issue out of a business model? Seriously?

    (No, I’m not involved in an MLM, so none of you have to go there.)

  • I just must wonders if any in your ward have brick and mortar businesses such as ? hairdresser or mechanic or a retail store and if so do they not advertise. Or should they hide their light under a bushel? Contraire to popular opinion MLM is a business much like any other the difference is we advertise but weird of mouth.

  • Nope, MLM is Satan on Earth, Mr. D. Michael Martindale. Just ask the people duped by Bernie Madoff. Why is it that church members are SO INTO MLM’s? Because, rather than working hard, they want to fall for the “get rich quick” scheme. Getting rich is almost as good for a Mormon as being spiritual. It’s disgusting. Do you have to go to school to dupe people with an MLM scheme? Nope. Do you have to be bright to dupe people with an MLM scheme? Well, maybe yes, and it does’t hurt to be just a little bit evil. Just a tad bit overly concerned with pulling money from your friends, regardless of whether it’s a good deal or not. I’ve seen this happen in Utah valley (Jeff Mowen, scammer extraordinaire, was a member of my ward – read http://rqn.com/blog/utahsecuritiesfraud/2012/03/07/lessons-to-be-learned-from-jeffrey-mowen/#.WUmmFBPyv6Y) and California wards my whole life. Mormons are ripe for the picking because they’re too shallow or dumb to look carefully into what they buy/invest in. Mormons are ripe for the scamming because Mormonism is a status driven religion where wealth is more important than righteousness, doing good for others, or having a brain.

  • Except MLM doesn’t sell a product, it sells salesmen. Or more appropriately, the promise of downstream salesmen.

  • A viable marketing model for selling membership. Not products it is a dishonest sales model.

  • Yeah, that’s why Amway became a billion dollar company, because they don’t sell any products,

  • He made no issue of a business model. He made an issue of turning the temple into a place of commerce. I’ve already acknowledged mixing business with religion is not a good idea, so what is the point of your comment?

  • Yup. They sell people selling products of questionable utility and value. Who needs to buy anything as MLM? Nobody. Online sales be more direct, time and cost effective if the goal was pushing goods. Amway sells the promise of earning money off of the efforts of others.

  • Try commenting on the legitimacy of anything else in my post … “MLM is Satan on Earth” is just a silly phrase … so I’ll agree that is silliness. But everything else in my post is backed up by the experience of being a Mormon for my entire life and court documents (in the case of Jeff Mowen). Sure, there are generalizations there … but most mormons have had similar experiences. Lesson here? Don’t adhere to MLM scams. Grow a pair, study a legitimately difficult and useful major in college, learn a trade that is needed, GET A BRAIN and USE IT. Don’t try and get rich quick by cheating your fellow members of the church. It’s been tried for years, by people who claim to love you as a fellow church member, but really just want to cheat you out of money that you… frankly deserve to lose because you’re too dumb to check the validity of this scammer’s claims. Jeff Mowen told his investor’s that they would make 33% MONTHLY by investing in his scam … and any fool could have googled him, taking a minute out of their lives to do so, and found that he had a criminal record a mile long. His investors were too greedy to google Jeff Mowen, and they lost a ton of money. I’ve heard this type of story over and over again. Yes, I listen to myself. I could follow suit by asking you an insulting question … Do you ever THINK? A good chunk of Mormons just want the easiest way to make money. They don’t want to work hard and study hard and do something that makes sense and is a legitimate source of income.

  • (sigh)
    MLM scams
    Grow a pair
    GET A BRAIN and USE IT
    cheating your fellow members
    too dumb to check the validity
    any fool
    greedy
    Do you ever THINK?
    A good chunk of Mormons just want the easiest way

    Oh, yes, these are SO much more legitimate, objective, and thoughtful than “MLM is Satan on Earth.”

    You have offered obviously biased, agenda-driven anecdotal evidence that is not mere generalization, but crass smearing of people’s character. You have offered a single evidentiary example of someone who abused the MLM model, and this after I already acknowledged that the model (like anything else in life, including religion) can be abused. You have used the logical fallacy that if there are people who abuse the model or are gullible and don’t perform due diligence with the model, then the model itself must be evil, not that the people who abuse it are evil or the people who are gullible with the abusers are stupid.

    Your pathetic efforts to present your case are easily swept away by the many companies and people who have made a success with the MLM model. You have offered nothing of substance to convict the model itself. The model itself is legitimate. It has simply been abused by a number of people.

    By your logic, we must also call the Mormon Church Satan on Earth, because I can give all sorts of examples throughout millennia of history where evil humans have abused the concept of religion to oppress, become rich, and even murder, and more evidence where people were stupid and gullible and believed silly religious claims and lost their money. Therefore Mormonism is Satan on Earth.

    That’s your idea of thinking. By that definition, no, I don’t think. Fortunately I use an accurate definition of thinking and by that definition am a master at the skill.

  • My broker once warned me that a high number of investment and marketing schemes (read: fraud) come out of Utah and are usually hatched during long boring Sacrament meetings. Any member of any church using the Ward/congregation phone book as a prospecting tool should be excommunicated.

  • God is an exalted man and created spirits and sent them to Earth. His job and His glory is to raise his children up to exaltation also. As his children are exalted he is exalted to higher state. As his children become gods and have their children exalted everyone moves up to hire exalted State. These are the teachings of Joseph Smith. In essence, the entire gospel is an MLM program and that is why it comes so naturally to the LDS people to be part of MLM businesses.

  • There is a reason it’s called a pyramid scheme. Pyramids were built by slaves for the benefit of a few.

  • Uh, maybe this is just a Utah problem…please dont confuse anyone by saying this is an overarching “Mormon” problem. Plenty of members outside of the Utah bubble that listen to our priesthood leaders.

  • Salt Lake City is also the “investment fraud capitol of the USA.” The reasons are the same: Saints tend to trust each other, and the church encourages victims to not call law enforcement after being defrauded.

  • My point is that it is a breach of trust to leverage people’s good faith and religious unity to sell them stuff. Selling stuff in the temple is an implied endorsement.

  • Amen, Sister H. I hate it when I find myself wanting to avoid people because they r going to MLM sell me. I have even heard people bear testimony that they needed money, and they prayed for God’s help, and God led them to “one more door” where a golden pigeon, er…, customer gave them the sale. They knew the Lord had blessed them.

  • Amen to all the reasons cited in this piece for get rich schemes among Mormons. But here’s another: Mormons in Utah have huge families, make an average wage nationally, have the highest cost of living in the inter mountain states (homes, etc) and give 10 percent of their income away to their church. This means they need extra money– and fast–and they often have high default rates and bankruptcies per capita. Utah is a backwater when it comes to financial integrity.

  • Next! To funny. And actually quite sad on the part of the author of this diatribe who lacks the character qualities of grace, understanding and kindness. >>> Follow me: Kindness, Caring, and Charity are commodities of the human soul and spirit that Jesus Christ sold – via word of mouth marketing- while on planet earth. He had a front line of 12 who each found approx 12 strong leaders (over a 4 year period of time), and within a generation Christianity became the dominant philosophy for goodness, faith and societal organization that self-centered man – in all the world – has ever experienced. When prospects bought the gospel message with a very real payment of privately owned humility, repentance and faith they received (and still receive to this day) a product labeled “Peace that passes all understanding” and a “Hope that never fades” (even in the midst of suffering). In review: there was (and is) a real cost, an actual payment, and a real product with amazing value that people could (and can) either accept or reject. >>> Life is a marketplace. Humans by nature are all selling something. This author is selling fear, idleness, and selfishness. Her commodities pay little. She would do well to move to Russian or China where she would not have to tolerate the human marketplace.

  • I’m not here to talk about religion. That to me is a personal thing. What I’m here to do is simply clear up what MLM is. Many companies use this distribution method to get their products and services to the consumer. Webster’s definition is this:

    What is Multi-Level Marketing? It’s definition is below. It stands for, Many Levels of Distribution

    M:Many
    L:Levels
    M:Marketing:
    the total of activities involved in the transfer or distribution of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling. Based on that definition, what companies are not MLM’s. As a student of the industry for over 30 years, I hope this helps clear this issue up, so people will look more at the company, than it’s distribution method. Thanks.

  • re “church encourages victims to not call law enforcement”…based on what??? I’ve been a member my whole life and have never heard anything close to that, but rather the opposite, as the article states since the 80s (and before) leaders have encouraged members to be more self aware and wise with their finances; those who invest in sketchy investments are doing so against the advice of church leaders (and against common sense). It’s not a problem where I live but I’ve heard of it being a problem in places like utah and california…

  • You could have summed this up in only 2 words… affinity fraud. When you realize that you have signed up for an organization that requires monthly membership “tithing/commitments” and a punishment for not providing them, you know you are in Mormon country.

  • How flipping amazing is it to sell a belief in Kolob. You don’t even have to ship it or worry about fancy packaging. Plus NOBODY in the downline EVER gets cut a check. The money ONLY flows to the top

  • As a Jew, I do not understand this comment. What in the world does that mean? That’s like saying that oranges are second rate apples. The oranges aren’t trying to be apples …

  • The Truth behind the Church and the Land of Zion, The Land of Zion (State of Utah) is the Land of Cain, The Book with no name that shall not be written about until the End. (The Book of Life) not to be confused with the Lambs Book of Life. The Book with no name in the End times which we are living is The Book of Life written by Mankind (The State of Utah) the Key to it is the Book of Mormon. The Book of Life written by Mankind (The Mormons) is the First Book that shall be opened (the eternal Abyss of Hell) for Cain is the Lion Beast that walks upon two legs, The Guardian of the Under World who was exiled from Eden (The Lambs Book of Life) (All of Northern Arizona and the Northwest Corner of New Mexico. Both Books have several things in common, they both have missing Corner pieces, the Lambs Book of Life missing Corner Piece is Created by the State line of Nevada and Arizona, The Book of Life written by Mankind missing Corner Piece is the state lines of Utah and Wyoming. There is more on this subject at https://themessenger.world/ Feel Free to read it, Pictures are worth a thousand words.

  • This comment seems like some type of joke, but it has a lot more ad ad hominem than evidence or logic. If the author’s statements or so lacking in substance why the necessity for ad hominem — as that is the tactic of those that cannot stand on the basis of evidence.

    MLM’s have been exposed for decades now as scams. The math results in the people early in doing well and everyone else getting the shaft. MLM’s are Ponzi schemes. And this is evidenced by the average earnings of MLM members. This article did a great job of explaining why Mormons in particular are susceptible to MLM. It taught me quite a lot.

    As for the author’s case being “swept away by many companies and people who have made a success of MLM,” those are people on top of these ponzi-MLM schemes. Those are the people who get in early. Many of Madoff’s investors did well…….if they got out early. The research into the overall results of MLM are a finished research conclusion at this point.

  • I think it means that Mormons are like Jews in that they are very monetarily focused to the exclusion of other interests in life. I never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.

  • Ha ha…..that is a great point. Really fantastic actually. Large family size creates a higher monetary need, and this means more focus on raising funds. Now why doe Mormons propose large families? Grow the congregation, more donations. The Mormons should really analyze that as we are consuming far more than the planet can support. Not Mormons per say, but all humanity.

  • What a bunch of utter horses***. This type of post illustrates the mind control that comes with spending too much time in a church listening to a man who has one book at his disposal. And by the way, you “Big American Flag Loving Patriot” people who disagree with MLM don’t need to leave the country. It is curious how you first extolled the virtues of kindness, caring and charity early in your comment, and then at the first opportunity tell the author to go and move to Russia or China! You should be aware there is a hypothesis that the religious are just hypocrites, and your comment is a lovely little parcel of evidence in that direction.

  • Yes….that is right, the MLM business model is a moral issue. It is immoral. And seriously. If you can’t apply morality to your business dealings, there is no point being religious at all. You may as well just don the red suit. Agnostics are completely worn out from hearing about supposedly godly people who then show no morality outside of the church.

  • And there you go practicing a different form of ad hominem. MLMs have not been exposed as shams. Many specific incarnations of MLMs have been. Your comment is like, “Blacks have been exposed for decades now as thieves” or “Mexicans have been exposed for decades as drug dealers.”

    Not to mention, anyone who says “a finished research conclusion at this point” does not uderstand the nature of research.

    I recommend you be every careful about joining any MLM. Do your due diligence. Make sure it’s viable. But you’re no better sweeping all MLMs into the same basket as any other person who judges entire groups of things or people in absolute terms because a subset of them are bad apples.

  • I beginning to see a pattern of why you have such an emotional kneejerk reaction to MLMs. So I have to be religious by your definition or I should wear a red suit? That’s what they call a false dichotomy, since youre so big on logical fallacies like ad hominem.

    Business models can’t be moral. They’re not thinking beings. They have no volition. People implementing business models are capable of doing so in moral or immoral ways.

    Yeah, a lot of people have implemented MLMs in less than moral ways. But that doesn’t make the model itself immoral. The big granddaddy of them still exists and has always been operated in a moral fashion–Amway. Lots of the distributors who signed up as independent contractors may not have, but what’s that got to do with the model or Amway itself.

    From what I can tell, you’re a black-and-white thinker who can see no in between or nuances. Either you totally approve of something or demonize it. I invite you to demonstrate otherwise, but you haven’t yet, and I find such thinking utterly tedious.

    Also, you might want to consider not infecting your arguments with silly religious issues among your emotional baggage.

  • In your response, I count three ad homeniums.

    1. “The comment is based on an emotional kneejerk reaction to MLMs.”
    2. “I am a black and white thinker.”
    3. “I infect arguments with silly religious issues + with emotional baggage.”
    4. “My thinking is tedious”

    As the lines are presented (there are 10 in my browser) that is 4/10 or one ad hominem per 2.5 lines. But you added silly also. It seems that your strategy is to add what are snuck premises. And then as the debate goes on, you continually tear down the credibility of the person you are debating, but not through debating the points or the evidence, but through reducing the credibility through a confluence of ad hominems. Your intent is to stop just short of critiquing harshly enough so you get called out on it.

    Let us review the snuck premises you put forward.

    Emotional and Emotional Baggage, Kneejerk, Black and White Thinker, Tedious Thinker

    That is a shocking number of critiques in such a short response. Are you finished, how many ad hominems can I expect in the next response? Now you are switching from ad hominem of the author to ad hominems of me. Again, why not try addressing the argument, not the person.

    Now for my response. I have never taken time for a separate introductory coverage of ad hominems before, but your use of them is off the charts. Once we get rid of the ad hominems your response can be distilled to the following.

    1. My red suit comment is a false dichotomy.
    2. No business model can be immoral, only people can be immoral.
    3. The only problem with MLMs is a few bad apples.
    4. Amway has been a moral MLM (although some of its distributors have not, but this has zero to do with Amway)

    That is it. You present only two positive arguments the “few bad apples defense” and the “no business model can be immoral defense” Actually, 3 and 4 are essentially the same, so I count two arguments in total.

    So the first ad hominem is that I am emotional. It is not emotional to state that MLMs lie to their devotes. Where is the emotion? It is an observation. MLM lie to devotes. MLMs exaggerate the properties of what is sold to an extreme degree. They are highly concentrated in selling products using pseudoscientific health claims. I know quite a bit about health, diet, and the MLM products are quite clearly exaggerated. NuSkin, dōTERRA, etc…their claims are false.

    The statement I made to you about wearing a red suit is not a false dichotomy. Although I can see why you would say that it is. The state is exaggeration or humor on my part, but it is stating that if you can’t apply morality in business, don’t bother with pretending you are moral by being religious. It seems that people at the top of MLMs are immoral so that a red suit is appropriate for them. I made that observation because you stated that morality could not be applied to a business model. So let us get into that topic.

    No Business Model Can Be Immoral

    Let us take Apple for instance. Apple runs, through a contract manufacturer a 1.3 million person sweatshop and pays very little taxes through offshore IP transfer between the US and Ireland. That is immoral. That is their business model. The business model is immoral. Should one not critique the model and only critique Tim Cook?

    Let us discuss slavery. Under slavery, people are paid nothing, beaten and kept in inhumane conditions. That is immoral. And slavery was (still is in many parts of the world) a business model.

    This is like saying that rape is not immoral but the rapist is immoral. But both the act and the individual committing the act are immoral. Following your argument, no act can be immoral because the actor rather than the act/model/behavior is immoral. The argument you put forward is pure sophistry.

    Now let us discuss Amway, as you brought it up. Amway has always lied and bilked people out of money and has always been a joke. Amway’s reputatio is horrible and it is sort of amusing to see you try to defend Amway. It takes around 2 minutes to see Amway is a scam. That is why people who get other people to come to Amway meetings don’t tell them its Amway. A co-founder of Amway was Richard Marvin DeVos, whose children are Betsy Devos, a complete sleazebucket and current head of the Department of Education, which she is in the process of ruining, and mercenary government contractor Blackwater owner Eric Prince. Therefore, Amway’s success has resulted in two highly unethical children having great wealth. So a lack of ethics appears to run in that family. Where did Devos and Prince learn to be so immoral?

    The Few Bad Apple Argument

    The argument you are using, which is “a few bad apples” is something the MLM operators rely upon, but at a certain point, when there are that many bad apples, there is something wrong with the cart. If I can easily identify deceptive language in marketing material, if we have videos that clearly show people being told by the MLM to make false claims, it becomes impossible to hold to the “few bad apples” argument. Also, notice that a person who makes the few bad apples argument has no other recourse. They can’t deny the bad actions, so the only argument available to them is a few bad apples. But if it were only a few bad apples, MLM would not be so widely known as a scam. It would not be the subject of so many federal investigations.

    I don’t see where you have enough information on my thought process to declare that I am a black and white thinker. MLM is not exactly a nuanced topic. It is a full on scam. And sometimes the conclusion is black. There is not a grey. Stating that the answer must be grey, does not provide evidence that it is, it merely states that grey is the desired outcome…that is it prescribes the outcome before observing the evidence. I see nuance in many however, MLM does not happen to justify nuance. You can tell MLMs are a scam by simply surveying their websites. Even if you knew nothing about MLM, the MLM literature which is published is chocked filled with deceptive claims. Once again, it takes the criticism away from the subject and moves it to the observer.

    Finally, the article’s topic is religion and MLM, and specifically why so many MLMs are out of the most Mormon state in the country, and with the author specifically stating her fatigue with constantly being propositioned by MLM salespeople. Therefore it is a curious statement to say that I should not use religion as part of the arguments. But observers in this comment I have not mentioned religion. But it is a valid topic for MLMs, simply because of where so many of them are based and because of how they are spread in particular through church affiliation.

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