Comedian John Oliver has a message for the IRS: Televangelism is big bucks, Oliver says, and the government’s tax collectors should take note of the massive revenue streams hauled in by religious hawkers – especially by those promoting “the prosperity gospel” and living by their own well-heeled creed of bounty and abundance.
Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight and the Senior British Correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, made his point by simply rolling out an invite to his viewers to send donations to support a clearly fictitious ministry – and received thousands of dollars in response.
Writes The Washington Post on August 24: “In just one week, John Oliver has received thousands of dollars in donations for Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, the ministry the HBO host said he founded to draw attention to the tax-free practices of prosperity gospel churches.”
Oliver ripped into the fact that televangelists procure millions from their faithful followers, and criticized the fact the IRS offers little, if any, oversight on the reaping of such massive funds. Adds Newsweek, via MSN News: “The IRS conducted a mere three audits of churches in 2013-2014, and had suspended them entirely between 2009 and 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office.”
Prosperity theology, or the prosperity gospel, teaches that one will be blessed with “health and wealth” if they give materially of themselves to support God’s will. The doctrine views the Bible, not as the inspired word of God that provides guidance on how to live now and a promise of a better life to come, but as a financial instrument – a contract of sorts – that states if humans give, give, give, God will have to honor his so-called “promises” of material prosperity.
Oliver says adherents “argue that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith—the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest.”
Perhaps no example comes to the fore better than the aptly named televangelist Creflo Dollar, a man that recently asked his flock to donate at least $300 each so that he could purchase a $60 million private jet — not only to spread the Gospel of Christ, but to do so via the luxury he evidently deserves.
According to Newsweek, The Trinity Foundation, an organization that investigates religious fraud, “holds that the wild success of televangelism has in part been fueled by the IRS failing to audit churches, which are exempt from taxes due to the constitutional right to exercise religion freely.”
Trinity Foundation’s founder, Ole Anthony, said when the IRS allowed Scientology to become an officially recognized and tax exempt religion, it opened the door so that “anybody can call themselves a church.”
Anthony thinks people are clearly being duped by these televangelists. “They keep trying to send more money, more money, more money so they can get healed,” Anthony said. “My God, they should at least say that fraud is illegal in the name of God,” he quipped.
All jokes aside, do you agree with John Oliver and his belief that the IRS should step up audits on televangelism?