‘Last Week Tonight’ host explores faith-based greed, unveils Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption in hilarious report
“There are roughly 350,000 congregations in the United States, and many of them do great work: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor,” John Oliver says, opening his latest Last Week Tonight report. “But this is not a story about them. This is about the churches who exploit people’s faith for monetary gain.”
As Oliver explains, “televangelism is still thriving in this country,” with preachers like Robert Tilton using the “prosperity gospel” to squeeze out mind-boggling amounts of money from their impressionable audiences. One televangelist, Creflo Dollar, used a fundraiser to buy a $65 million jet, and many others – Kenneth Copeland, James Payne, Todd Coontz, Henry Fernandez – utilize this concept of “seed faith,” asking their devotees to make monetary investments for miracles. Oliver explores the story of Bonnie Parker, who pledged thousands of dollars to Copeland’s church in hopes of beating cancer.
For churches, this money is tax-free because of broad IRS exemptions and vague definitions of what constitutes a “church.” Oliver reads from actual IRS documents, which explain that the “IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs…are truly and sincerely held…and the practices…are not illegal.”
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