Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption
|Formation||August 16, 2015|
|Dissolved||September 13, 2015|
|Type||Church or institutionalized sect|
CBS Broadcast Center|
New York City, New York
Megareverend and CEO
Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption was a legally recognized church in the United States, established by comedian and satirist John Oliver. Its purpose was to expose and ridicule televangelists like Robert Tilton and Creflo Dollar who preach the "prosperity gospel" as a way to defraud victims of their money, and to draw attention to the tax-exempt status given churches and charities with little government oversight. Oliver announced formation of his church on August 16, 2015, in a twenty-minute segment on his show Last Week Tonight.
Oliver established his church as a legal entity, partly to demonstrate that it is "disturbingly easy", in terms of paperwork, to set up a tax-exempt religious organization as viewed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). As Oliver explained, the definition of "church" is quite broad. Oliver chose his New York City studio for the church's official location, but he registered the nonprofit organization in the state of Texas. Oliver's "megachurch" used a toll-free phone number to permit callers to donate to the church, and said that donations would be redistributed to the charitable relief organization Doctors Without Borders upon the church's dissolution. During the satirical infomercial part of the episode, comedian Rachel Dratch appeared as John Oliver's "wife" Wanda Jo Oliver; she would later reprise the role in additional segments about the church; Dratch would again appear as Wanda Jo on April 8, 2018 in a sketch about crisis pregnancy centers.
Oliver criticized the practices of televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland and Robert Tilton as predatory, seeking donations from distressed people with promises of curing sickness through prayer, or of helping people of marginal means get out of credit card debt, by sending cash through the mail. In his broadcast on August 16, Oliver revealed letters of his months-long correspondence with Tilton, in which Oliver sent cash through the mail, only to receive more solicitations from Tilton, with nothing substantial in return. Oliver criticized pastors such as Tilton, Copeland and his wife Gloria, Creflo Dollar, and others for "taking advantage of the open-ended IRS definition of the word 'church' and procuring a litany of tax breaks", according to a report in the Washington Post.
In response to the episode, viewers of Last Week Tonight sent in $70,000, in addition to other items, such as a custom-made shirt, a variety of different packages of seeds (in reference to the "seed faith" gospel the show was parodying), international currency, a wooden statue of a penis, among other items. Callers to the toll-free number would hear a pre-recorded message from Oliver demanding donations. People who mailed in donations received a letter in return, thanking them and requesting additional money in return for blessings. These were satirizing the correspondence between Oliver and Robert Tilton.
Critic Matt Wilstein, writing in Mediaite, saw Oliver's stunt as being along the same lines as comedian Stephen Colbert's setting up of a 501(c)(4)—Colbert Super PAC—as a way to "test the absurd limits of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision"; Oliver's megachurch, in contrast, is a way to test whether the IRS might view his "megachurch" as a tax-exempt organization. Critic Steve Thorngate, writing in The Christian Century, suggested that the question of the religious exemption from taxation was more difficult and nuanced than Oliver portrayed, and not a simple matter of government regulation, describing Oliver's pivot to IRS policy as "unhelpful". However, Thorngate agreed that Oliver's exposure and criticism of "manipulative sleazeballs" who "fleece the faithful" is "spot-on". Critic Leonardo Blair, writing in the Christian Post, described Oliver's segment as a "brutal takedown" of televangelists and churches which preach "the prosperity gospel", a message that dupes people into thinking that cash donations will solve medical or financial problems, while in fact the donations go to the personal aggrandizement of televangelists who buy expensive jets or large mansions.
A week after the announcement of the church's creation, Oliver devoted a short segment of his show to the donations the church had received, which included money from around the world. Oliver said he had received "thousands of envelopes with thousands of dollars" from donors. Several US Post Office containers full of mail were displayed. Oliver told viewers that the more money they sent in, the more "blessings" would be returned to them, adding that "that is still something I'm—amazingly—legally allowed to say".
On September 13, 2015, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption was shut down by Oliver. While Oliver made it clear that the church preferred monetary donations, some supporters sent actual bags of seeds, and containers of sperm. (This was presumably in response to the satirized "seed faith" in which donations are referred to as "seeds".) Rachel Dratch (playing Oliver's wife) joked in response, "...when someone sends you jizz through the mail, it's time to stop whatever you're doing".
Upon the church's dissolution, Oliver announced that the tens of thousands of dollars received to date would be donated to Doctors Without Borders, and mockingly said that "if you want to send money to a fake church, send it to Scientology".
- Reed, Ryan (August 17, 2015). "Watch John Oliver Blast Televangelists, Create His Own Mega-Church". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
- Laura Bradley (August 17, 2015). "Praise Be to John Oliver, Who Started a Church Just to Expose Televangelists". Slate Magazine. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
... 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 ...
- Melissa Locker (August 17, 2015). "John Oliver Becomes a Televangelist and Finally Starts His Own Church". Time Magazine. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
... The satirical aim of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption will be to collect copious, tax-exempt donations ...
- Matt Wilstein (August 17, 2015). "John Oliver One-Ups Colbert Super PAC by Creating His Own Tax-Exempt Church". MediaIte. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
'... This is real,' John Oliver repeatedly told his Last Week Tonight audience last night after announcing the creation of his new megachurch, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption ...
- Abby Ohlheiser (August 17, 2015). "Comedian John Oliver takes on the prosperity gospel by becoming a televangelist". Washington Post. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
... 'Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland and other pastors of their ilk have been taking advantage of the open-ended IRS definition of the word church and procuring a litany of tax breaks,' Oliver says on Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption's Web site. ...
- Jonathan Ore (August 17, 2015). "John Oliver mocks televangelists by registering his own church, accepting donations: Church leaders in the U.S. raise millions of dollars in tax-free donations to buy mansions and jets". CBC News. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
... U.S. tax laws allow for a breathtakingly open interpretation of how to define a church or religious organization — which qualify for tax-free donations from followers. ...
- "Closed. Praise Be Unto You". September 13, 2015. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
- "John Oliver Shuts Down Fake Church Over Unsolicited Semen". Rolling Stone. September 14, 2015. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
- Brian Pellot (August 18, 2015). "'Megareverend' John Oliver trolls televangelists with new tax-exempt church". Religion News Service. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
... Oliver registered his church as a nonprofit corporation in Texas, named his New York studio as its "established place of worship," ...
- Nate Scott (August 17, 2015). "John Oliver takes on televangelism on 'Last Week Tonight'". USA Today. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
... You can donate to the church, too. (Though eventually, all the donations will be moved to Doctors Without Borders.) ...
- Claire Bracken (August 17, 2015). "John Oliver launches his very own anti-Evangelist church". Pedestrian News. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
... John Oliver ran a segment on "church's who exploit people's faith for monetary gain" and explored the ease at which these can be created in America ...
- Boggioni, Tom (2016-01-30). "John Oliver Hilariously Explains How Easy It Is to Set up a Church and Get People to Send You Money". AlterNet. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
- consumer (2015-08-24), John Oliver - Update on Pastor John Oliver's Church, retrieved 2018-06-24
- Pelon 1071 (2015-08-16), Calling Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption. (1-800-THIS-IS-LEGAL), retrieved 2018-06-24
- Maranda's Toys & Books (2015-09-04), Funny Letter From John Oliver's (Last Week Tonight) Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption!, retrieved 2018-06-24
- Ohlheiser, Abby (2015-08-24). "John Oliver has received 'thousands' of donations for his televangelism ministry". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
- Steve Thorngate (August 17, 2015). "Why is John Oliver's televangelism segment about the IRS?". The Christian Century. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
... Oliver's scornful outrage: televangelists who fleece the faithful ... The question of religious tax exemption generally is more complicated. ...
- Leonardo Blair (August 17, 2015). "Comedian John Oliver Lampoons Televangelists on 'Last Week Tonight' Show; Opens Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption Church". Christian Post. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
... From Creflo Dollar to Kenneth Copeland, late night comedian John Oliver delivered a brutal takedown. ...
- "John Oliver Televangelist Church Received "Thousands of Dollars," Seeds and Beef Jerky". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
... We have received thousands of envelopes with thousands of dollars ...
- Ohlheiser, Abby (August 24, 2015). "John Oliver has received 'thousands' of donations for his televangelism ministry". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
There were thousands of letters in all, he said, equaling thousands of dollars in donations.
- Felder, Adam. "What Does a John Oliver 'Evisceration' Really Accomplish?". theatlantic.com. Retrieved January 14, 2017.