It was one of the better episodes of HBO’s Last Week Tonight in an already illustrious canon. During last week’s edition of the satirical series, host John Oliver targeted the fraternity of shady televangelists fleecing Americans for millions as part of “The Prosperity Gospel.” These hucksters demand “seed” money from their followers in exchange for the lord’s blessing and then use said seed money to treat themselves to lavish private jets, vacations, and luxurious “parsonages” in the form of mega-mansions. Oh, and to make matters worse, all of these donations and purchases are tax-free under the guise of religious exemptions.
After the episode aired, the IRS came under fire for conducting just three audits of churches total in 2013 and 2014, and zero between 2009 and 2013. Anything designated a “church,” including the Church of Scientology, is exempt from paying taxes by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants the free exercise of religion.
In order to prove how ridiculously easy it is to establish a tax-free “church” that pads its coffers with donations for “blessings,” Oliver established his own church—Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption—and asked his viewers to send cash donations to a P.O. Box that he’d then donate to charity.“To be honest, slightly more of you responded than we were expecting,” Oliver said on Sunday night’s program.
He then assumed the character of Pastor John Oliver, mega-reverend and CEO, in order to address his acolytes.
“First, apologies to you. My wife, Wanda Joe, cannot be with us this evening. She’s at our summer parsonage in Hawaii for a week for spiritual introspection and occasional parasailing,” announced Oliver. “Last week, we asked you to send us your seed offerings, and I would like to show you a little of what we’ve received. Look at this harvest that you gave unto us. Praise unto you.”
Oliver then presented an orgy of crates filled with letters and packages from donors, including actual bags of seeds and beef jerky.
“So, let me be clear, we want U.S. currency,” he said. “I should have mentioned that last week because we have received currency from all over the world, including this $100 trillion bill from Zimbabwe. I was actually genuinely excited about this and was about to send 100 trillion blessings your way until I checked the exchange rate and found out this is worth about 40 cents, so now, I wouldn’t even bless you if you fucking sneeze.”
It turns out that, aside from the bags of seeds, beef jerky, and foreign currency, Oliver and Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption received a boatload of money from viewers.“For those of you who have sent U.S. currency, blessings unto you. We have received thousands of envelopes with thousands of dollars—some featuring heartwarming notes, such as this $5 bill with the message, ‘Take my seed, you rat-faced bastard,’” Oliver proclaimed. “We also received multiple checks, including this one for $65 billion, which you may have sent in as a joke, but guess what? We’re fucking cashing it. So who’s laughing now?”
He continued, “The more money you send in, the more blessings will be returned to you. And that is still something I’m, amazingly, legally allowed to say.”
Your move, IRS.