The latest topic to be lambasted by Last Week Tonight is the still thriving business of televangelism, or, as host John Oliver put it, "churches that exploit people's faith for monetary gain". The televangelism industry was popularized in the 1980s and still prevails today. There are still several media networks entirely populated by televangelists, many of whom live extravagant lifestyles and proceed to boast about their wealth.
Oliver called out several televangelists, including Creflo Dollar, who asked his congregation to fund his $65 million plane because "you can't stop me from dreaming". Mike Murdock was another called out for boasting about buying two planes, in cash. This was followed by a clip of Murdock encouraging those with credit card debt to donate, or "seed", their money instead. He claimed that if you donate enough money (to him), God will wipe out all your credit card debt.
In order to investigate exactly how the donation process/scam works, Oliver donated $20 to Robert Tilden, one of the most popular televangilists from the 1980s and who is still taking advantage of the faith of others today. Tilden sent Oliver 26 letters over a seven month period asking Oliver for a total of $319, and giving nothing but some cloth corners in return. As Oliver pointed out, this seems hilarious until you consider that these types of schemes often take advantage of those without money to spare.
Even more dangerous are the televangelists who tell their parishioners to donate money to the church instead of accepting medical treatment for life-threatening diseases. Oliver highlighted the story of Bonnie Parker, who refused treatment for cancer, believing that if she donated enough money to Kenneth and Gloria Copeland's church, God would heal her. This type of belief is not unreasonable, given that Gloria Copeland encourages her followers to refuse "chemicals" and to attend and "seed" the church instead. It wasn't until after her death that her daughter found her diary, filled with the teachings of the Copelands.
All of this is legal in the United States, and all money donated to televangelists like these is tax-free. The only real qualification the IRS has in this respect is that the beliefs of the church are "truly held and not illegal", which set the stage for "Megareverand and CEO" John Oliver to announce Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. The entirely legal church meets every Sunday on HBO and, of course, is more than willing to accept donations. In fact, Oliver closed the segment with a fake sermon, encouraging viewers to donate to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption and providing an address. He also asked viewers to call 1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL (or 1-800-844-7475) for another message. Callers are greeted by Oliver and are asked to send money to the church in an increasingly aggressive and hilarious prerecorded message.
Something not mentioned on the show, but contained in the fine print, is that the Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption may dissolve at any time, and all assets will then be donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Watch the entire segment below and let us know if you'll be converting!