Watch John Oliver Satirize IRS’ Lack of Church Oversight

In Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s recent segment on televangelists, Oliver illuminated how these preachers exploit the special tax exemptions granted by the IRS to churches and church based organizations. As churches aren’t required to make their financials available for public view, they can avoid the financial transparency and accountability required of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

Through the creation of his own “church,” aptly titled “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” Oliver demonstrated the ease with which anyone can create a church and solicit donations while remaining within the letter of the law. Yes, Oliver’s TV church is a joke, but an in-depth report from NPR (posted, ironically, on April Fool’s Day 2014) noted how even a multimillion dollar television network like Trinity Broadcasting Network can be designated as a church by the IRS.

Trinity Foundation (no relation to TBN), which assisted Last Week Tonight’s researchers, has been exposing religious frauds for over three decades, such as televangelist Robert Tilton, whose mail-marketing scheme was exposed on Oliver’s show.

While the televangelists receive the bulk of the media coverage, an examination of the finances of the now defunct Mars Hill Church reveals the prevalence of abuse in any church environment lacking adequate accountability structures. Even though the church formally dissolved in January 2015, the distribution of their assets remains buried beneath a myriad of LLCs. (For more on that, go to wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com.)

Even should a church be reported for financial misconduct it would hardly matter since the IRS hasn’t investigated a single church case in over five years. Furthermore, as reported by Americans United, pressure from religious right organizations continues to enable churches to avoid any public accountability for their finances.

  • Jim Reed

    This is just the American religion business, and this John Oliver program didn’t really seem to be as good as all the other John Oliver programs have been. Better luck next week. I hope he hasn’t run out of good topics.

  • Bill

    The fake church thing bordered on bad taste without really going far enough to be funny (did you notice the pointed avoidance of the word “God”?).

    Also, while churches may not get audited, preachers do. Housing allowances, for example, have definite limits, and ordained ministers who abuse them can get seriously socked.

    Oliver seemed to fault the IRS for rules that are too weak. But there is a legitimate First Amendment issue there. What is or is not a religion? The IRS really isn’t in much of a position to make that determination.

    Ultimately, Oliver was (pardon me) preaching to the choir. His critique may not even be heard by the naive folk who are exploited by unscrupulous preachers (or they will take as “persecution” by “the elites” and give all the more). It might be nice to cull the wolves in sheep’s clothing from the good shepherds—but there’s that pesky First Amendment again.

    So shame on the false prophets, but I’m not sure there’s much we can do other than shine a light on them. Donating to a fake church certainly won’t help.

  • Whiskyjack

    The donations will be given to Doctors Without Borders, so they will do a lot more good than anything donated to the televangelist hucksters.

  • cgosling

    It is interesting that every one thinks their perception of Oliver’s show is true rather than personal opinion. The facts are, that in the past, many of the TV evangelists have been involved in sex scandals, and many claim to have recovered and are back on TV asking for more money. Christians tend to forgive and believe them. If you think these are isolated happenings, you are wrong. Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) keeps track and publishes all such scandals, pages of them. No religion is without them, especially the Catholic Church. You would not believe how many religious leaders use their position to take advantage of those who trust them. Check it out if you don’t believe me. By the way, my opinion of Oliver’s show was favorable because it showed the hypocrisy and greed of some religious leaders with humor. Without his exposé some people would never know about it. Nice job John, keep it up.

  • Sam

    Well done.