This past Sunday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, delivered an in-depth look into the practices of televangelists like Robert Tilton and Kenneth Copeland.
Oliver discussed the predatory nature of so-called “seed faith” and preachers like Tilton who sermonize that “wealth is a sign of God’s favor and that donations will result in wealth coming back to you.” Oliver had taken particular exception with Tilton – and he hatched a plan.
Beginning in January, Oliver began a correspondence with Robert Tilton that started with a small donation. Over 8 months the comedian received a total of 36 letters back from Tilton, each asking for for more money. Oliver displays the letters, prayer oils and cloths, and the outline of Tilton’s foot, designed to bilk gullible congregants, received from Tilton across his desk. In total, Oliver sent Tilton $319 over the eight-month period.
Oliver states that Tilton is, “a pen pal who’s in deep with a loan shark.”
Watch the entire clip about Tilton and egregious televangelist practices here, please note some language is NSFW.
This culminated in Robert Tilton and John Oliver making a spiritual connection that results in Oliver founding a new religious organization: Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, to “test the legal and financial limits of what religious entities are able to do.”
The IRS publishes a list of tests to determine if entities, such as those operated by Tilton, qualify as churches. One of the tests involves demonstrating that a religious organization has a “recognized creed and form of worship.”
To fulfill this request, Oliver’s lawyer suggested that he have members take part “in some specific ritual, such as having congregants silently meditate on the nature of fraudulent churches,” as Oliver feels those operated by Tilton are.
In the 1980s, Robert Tilton founded a religious show entitled Success-N-Life that was reported to have generated over $80 million in annual donations at the height of its popularity – Tilton continues to operate today.
One of many who lost money to Tilton, former Coca Cola executive, Harry Guetzlaff, handed over his last $5,000 to Tilton, as reported by the New Yorker.
“It made perfect sense at the time. I believed that God was active in my life, and Tilton was saying, ‘Give me a buck and God will give you back a hundred.’ I needed some snake oil, and he had some snake oil to sell.”
True to the Tilton style, newly anointed Mega-Reverend and CEO Oliver has set up an 800-number, 1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL and is accepting donations.
Oliver closed the piece stating, “Actually do it now [call and donate], because if Robert Tilton, Kenny Copeland and all these b****rds can get away with it and we get stopped, truly we have witnessed a f***ing miracle!”
[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]