Comedian John Oliver created a new mega church to highlight the absurdity of a federal tax system that rewards religious organizations who ultimately fleece their followers. Citing prosperity gospel preachers such as Creflo Dollar and Mike Murdock, Oliver wanted to expose evangelists who deceive followers out of hundreds of millions of dollars, explaining the creation of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption church “is about the churches that exploit people’s faith for monetary gain.”
The “prosperity gospel,” has been cited by critics as an insipid heresy. Its popularity among American Christians has taken “believers” by storm in recent years with a primary teaching which maintains that God blesses those he favors most with material wealth. One opponent of the theory said there are few theological ideas which ring more dissonant with the harmony of orthodox Christianity than a focus on storing up treasures on Earth as a primary goal of faithful living. The belief of critics is:
The gospel of prosperity turns Christianity into a vapid bless-me club, with a doctrine that amounts to little more than spiritual magical thinking.
It seems the prosperity gospel has found a landing-place mostly among the working class and poor people. Upon hearing that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and favor, followers strive for a life of luxury they cannot afford in effort to prove that they are blessed. Although many people blame the foreclosure crisis and spending binge of the past decade partly on reality television, critics of this doctrine blame it on teachings found in the prosperity gospel. It is this thinking that ignited the comedian’s challenge of the prosperity gospel and its host of gullible followers.
Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption was set up 100 percent legally in order to establish its validity. Oliver began the stunt with a 20-minute rant on the disturbing ways televangelists collect “seed” money from faithful, but often blind, followers. To complete the challenge, the comedian, joined by his “wife” (played by Rachel Dratch) Wanda Jo Oliver, asked viewers to send the money to a P.O. Box in New York and even urged them to call the church’s toll-free number 1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL. He admittedly received a greater “harvest” than imagined. In response to the stunt one critic said:
Oliver brilliantly points out the absurdity of tax exemption for grifters and charlatans. The fact that these organizations get public welfare like this is disturbing on many levels.
According to Oliver, setting up the church was “disturbingly easy.” The host used a tax lawyer and followed the official IRS guidelines to ensure everything was legit as they took heed to the vague, but legal parameters. One of the criteria was to establish a place of worship; this was quite easy because they show already meets in New York on Sundays for taping. After directing viewers to the accompanying website in order to make donations, Oliver declared:
If you do this, and this is real, great things will happen to you, and that’s apparently something I’m allowed to say!
Also to keep all things legal the donation page included “fine” print which revealed the ultimate purpose for any monies collected. The print advised “sowers” that the church “may wind down and dissolve in the near future. It also stated, at that time, any funds collected would be distributed to a non-profit charitable organization named Doctors Without Borders.
Before revealing on air, the massive harvest received from followers Oliver transitioned into his role as pastor. He thanked the “gullible” followers of the prosperity gospel challenge for sending in real money and paused to acknowledge the one who sent in a donation for $65 billion. After laughing at the followers for being so gullible, Oliver said the check for $65 billion may have been a joke, but added, “Who is laughing now because the check will be cashed?”
Oliver was sure to remind the viewers the more money sent, the greater the blessing would be in return. He jokingly added, “And that is still something I am amazingly, legally allowed to say.” In the end, Pastor Oliver did not reveal the total amount of tax-free money Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption church received in its first week of operation. However, the huge pile of envelopes suggested it is much more than anyone could have predicted.
In efforts of exposing the deceit behind the prosperity gospel, Oliver created his own church and appropriately named it Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Although he encouraged new followers to quietly meditate on the nature of fake, non-profit money-grubbing tax-avoiding churches, Comedian John Oliver was overwhelmed by the magnitude of donations he received in efforts of challenging the prosperity gospel and gullible followers who sow money with the expectation that a life of luxury will follow.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Mediaite: Here’s How Successful John Oliver’s Tax-Exempt Church Has Been So Far
Washington Post: The Worst Ideas of the Decade – The prosperity gospel
Top Image Courtesy of Democracy Chronicles – Flickr License
Inside Image Courtesy of Tax Credits – Flickr License
Featured Image Courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr License