You might laugh whenever you flip channels and see TV preachers shouting flamboyantly to crowds of applauding people, but on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explained the sinister reality behind these images: Televangelism is still allowing preachers to amass staggering—often tax-exempt—wealth by robbing their congregation’s most vulnerable members blind.
To illustrate how money-hungry these institutions are, Oliver joined televangelist Robert Tilton’s mailing list for $20. In seven months, Oliver received 26 letters—almost one per week—and paid a total of $319, receiving little more than some weird packets of oil and a tracing of the preacher’s foot in return. It’s easy to scoff at the idea of anyone donating, but these churches often target people trapped in desperate situations—like cancer patients, who one church promised could forego medical treatment to simply heal in faith.
And don’t forget, these donations are tax-free. Just how easy is it to become a “church” and start scamming? To find out, Oliver went one step further and created his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Apparently, it was “disturbingly easy.”