John Oliver mocks televangelists by registering his own church, accepting donations

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver turned his satirical eye on churches and televangelists — by registering his own church.

Church leaders in the U.S. raise millions of dollars in tax-free donations to buy mansions and jets

Call it a Kickstarter for your faith.

On Sunday's edition of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver turned his satirical eye on churches and televangelists in the United States who, in his words, "exploit people's faith for monetary gain."

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.

Oliver took aim at several televangelists who preach the so-called prosperity Gospel: the idea that followers will be rewarded if they plant a "seed of faith" by donating money to a religious organization or its leaders. Some preachers, shown in archive footage, boasted raising millions of dollars in this way to buy private jets.

Another troubling case involved a woman who died after she refused medical treatment for cancer, instead donating thousands of dollars to Texas ministers Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.

After detailing a seven-month, 31-letter correspondence with televangelist Robert Tilton, which involved repeated appeals for more and more money with vague promises of prosperity in his future, Oliver decided that Tilton was sending a message.

The front page of the website for John Oliver's church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, which is now accepting donations. (HBO/YouTube)

"I realized the message Robert Tilton was sending me was that I should set up my own church to test the legal and financial limits of what religious entities are able to do. And so that is what we have done," he told the audience.

With the help of a tax lawyer, Oliver set up his own church, dubbed Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, complete with its own website plastered with photos of himself in his Sunday-best sweater vests.

The "donate" page includes an address where Last Week Tonight faithful can send cheques, cash or money orders. Fine print states that "upon dissolution," money collected will be donated to Doctors Without Borders.

Longtime fans of satirical news will probably remember a similar stunt by Stephen Colbert in the leadup to the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Colbert set up a political action committee, the Colbert Super PAC, which allowed him to collect over $1 million US for theoretically unrestricted political purposes.