Here’s why John Oliver is starting his own church
Last night, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver decided to explore the religious phenomenon of television evangelism, touching on the millions of dollars that some bigger names in industry make (see: Pastor Creflo Dollar, who asked his flock to help him purchase a $65 million private jet) and the people they use to fund their religious—and non-religious—activities with promises of better health and improved finances.
“They preach something called the prosperity gospel, which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you,” says Oliver. “That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith, the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest.”
But Oliver, the consummate overachiever, didn’t just want to explain this phenomenon, he wanted to see it in action: Before last night’s live studio audience, he revealed that not only had he been corresponding with televangelist Robert Tilton for the last seven months—mailing the pastor’s Word of Faith Worldwide Church $319 over the course of 26 letters—but that he’d used the IRS’s very loose restrictions on setting up and taxing religious institutions to found his own church: Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.
“The IRS regulations are close to meaningless,” Oliver says. “We actually asked the IRS how many churches they’ve audited in recent years and they did one in 2014 and just two in 2013. When you can operate with so little oversight, it is amazing what you can do.”
And John Oliver is bent on testing those limits. There’s now an official Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption website as well as a P.O. box where viewers can send the church money and a toll-free number (1-800-844-7475) anyone can call. Then, of course, there’s a great fake infomercial, featuring the one-and-only Rachel Dratch as John’s wife, Wanda Jo Oliver. Check out the full, hilarious, insightful clip below. (Oliver’s church starts at 16:52)