John Oliver’s televangelism stunt was designed to raise awareness about religious organizations, the donations they receive, and the response of the IRS. Although Oliver’s church is clearly fake, he reportedly convinced thousands of viewers to fund the “religious” organization.
During a recent episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, the host introduced himself as Pastor John Oliver. He then announced the establishment of a new church — which he named Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) August 24, 2015
Although John Oliver is not a televangelist, and his church is fictitious, he requested “seed offerings” from his viewers. One week later, he announced he “received thousands of envelopes with thousands of dollars.”
It is unclear how much money was actually received, or whether the “church” plans to keep the donations. However, John Oliver’s televangelism stunt was never meant to be a fundraiser.
Churches and religious organizations are generally exempt from taxation, as they are classified as charitable organizations by the IRS. However, religious organizations can be audited — under certain circumstances.
“The IRS may begin a church tax inquiry only if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption, may be carrying on an unrelated trade or business… may otherwise be engaged in taxable activities or may have entered into an… excess benefit transaction with a disqualified person.”
As reported by Newsweek, religious organizations are rarely audited by the IRS. Between 2013 and 2014, the government agency audited a total of three churches.
In an attempt to raise awareness, John Oliver designed a televangelism stunt — and asked his viewers to help with “seed offerings.” Although he is not a pastor, and the church does not exist, the host reportedly convinced his viewers to donate thousands of dollars.
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) August 18, 2015
Oliver discusses his religious organization and his “mission” on the Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption website.
“When John Oliver found out Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland and other pastors of their ilk have been taking advantage of the open-ended IRS definition of the word “church” and procuring a litany of tax breaks, he founded Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.”
It is unclear how many donations John Oliver’s televangelism stunt inspired. However, it has drawn attention to the IRS’ failure to audit religious organizations.
[Image via Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Peabody Awards]