Comedian John Oliver, who started his own parody "church" called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption to highlight the predatory nature of some televangelists, recently revealed that the joke paid off in a big way.
Sunday on his show "Last Week Tonight," the British host revealed that viewers had already sent him thousands of dollars with their letters after he told them earlier this month to "sow a seed" — mocking the style of preachers like Robert Tilton and Kenneth Copeland.
"To be honest, slightly more of you responded than we were expecting," "Megareverend" Oliver said while surrounded by hundreds of letters, two bags of actual seeds, and beef jerky, among other things.
"The more money you send in, the more blessings will be returned to you," he said. "And that is still something I'm — amazingly — legally allowed to say."
Oliver's initial segment on prosperity preaching and televangelists aired two Sundays ago. He admitted then that of the 350,000 churches across the U.S., the vast majority are "a cornerstone of American life," but attacked preachers like Mike Murdock and Creflo Dollar for using millions in church funds to get private jets.
Those same televangelists argue that "wealth is a sign of God's favor, and donations will result in the wealth coming back to you. That idea takes the form of seed faith — that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest."
The comedian added that the IRS' tax code regarding religious organizations is "purposefully broad" and "a little vague." In the IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations, "the term church is found, but not specifically defined" and the "IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs are truly and sincerely held and the practices are not illegal."
Oliver also displayed the massive amount of mail he received from Robert Tilton who repeatedly commanded him to send sums of money to him over the course of seven months.
The comedian isn't the only one criticizing seemingly money-hungry televangelists. The Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit that calls itself "the leading 'watchdog' of religious media," is also critical of televangelists that profit off of people in need to amass their own personal wealth. The organization's President, Ollie Anthony, said that Oliver's parody wouldn't even be possible if it weren't for the IRS' relaxed laws concerning "truly and sincerely held" church doctrine.
"A few years ago, the IRS named Scientology a church. Since that happened, anybody can call themselves a church," he told CBS News.
The IRS suspended audits against churches from 2009 to 2013 and audited only three churches between 2013 and 2014, according to reports.
Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption is still collecting donations, but all funds will go to Doctors Without Borders.
YOU CAN WATCH THE COMPLETE TAKEDOWN BELOW:
Editor's note: Warning, the video from HBO contains some offensive language and lewd comments.