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.