Oprah is without a doubt one of the most influential women on television. For decades, Oprah used her influence to talk about her spirituality. Her use of “Christian” sounding language has confused many who believe she adheres to some brand of Christianity. As reported in Charisma Magazine, she now has a new series of videos called “Belief” where she introduces others to her spiritual practices. She says,
“Today, I feel the fierce love of all that is God … so deeply, so strongly and so purely in my heart that it lifts and carries me and sometimes I actually feel weightless in the love that is God because I feel it in all things.”
“Here’s the question” writes Jennifer LeClaire, “Is she talking about the same God we serve? Some Christian media sites are positing the video with headlines suggesting Oprah was getting choked up over Jesus.”
Let me be clear, while Oprah uses the name Jesus, her belief has no connection to the historic man or the teachings of the Apostles. I know, because almost a decade ago I wrote on this very issue. To provide context for her present “Belief”, below is the article I wrote back in 2008.
Moms Who Worship With Oprah (2008)
Recently my beautiful wife Suzanne sent me a link to a video which discusses the Church of Oprah, her message, and her influence upon American Christianity. Oprah’s TV show alone reaches more than 10 Million Americans, mostly women, and is seen in 108 countries. In a previous article I shared my concern over Oprah’s willingness to let ideology rise above truth. However, concern over her influence goes much deeper than the Oprahfication of America. For women like my wife, who lead MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups, the concern is about the content of her gospel. Oprah calls herself a follower of Jesus, but these women are seeing the negative power Oprah is having on Moms who are being led to abandon their faith in Jesus as the only Way of salvation.
In this video, Oprah gives specific reasons why she left her church; Trinity United Church of Christ led by now retired Pastor Jeremiah Wright. Newsweek Magazine describes some of these same motivations in their May 12th Issue.
According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host. “Oprah is a businesswoman, first and foremost,” said one longtime friend, who requested anonymity when discussing Winfrey’s personal sentiments. “She’s always been aware that her audience is very mainstream, and doing anything to offend them just wouldn’t be smart. She’s been around black churches all her life, so Reverend Wright’s anger-filled message didn’t surprise her. But it just wasn’t what she was looking for in a church.” Oprah’s decision to distance herself came as a surprise to Wright, who told Christianity Today in 2002 that when he would “run into her socially … she would say, ‘Here’s my pastor!’ ” (Winfrey declined to comment. A Harpo Productions spokesperson would not confirm her reasons for leaving the church.)
But Winfrey also had spiritual reasons for the parting. In conversations at the time with a former business associate, who also asked for anonymity, Winfrey cited her fatigue with organized religion and a desire to be involved with a more inclusive ministry. In time, she found one: her own. “There is the Church of Oprah now,” said her longtime friend, with a laugh. “She has her own following.”
Oprah’s message is affirmed in books like “The Gospel According to Oprah” by Marcia Z. Nelson. Nelson writes approvingly of Oprah’s Gospel and finds it uplifting to her own faith.
The best-known female talk show host in the world is a “reminder service of… values,” a font of self-help advice and a vision of humanity, says Nelson, a freelance religion writer (Come and See). She praises Oprah for using her entertainment pulpit to promote such positive spiritual values as gratitude, empathy, forgiveness and self-examination.
It is no doubt that Oprah’s message is a deceptive Gospel. As Nelson points out in the introduction to her book, “Oprah is, of course, speaking mostly to the nation’s women, especially the nation’s mothers. Oprah’s magazine and TV show advertise products for women. Her TV audience is overwhelmingly female.” So it is no surprise that leaders are seeing Her influence among Christian moms. To a woman struggling to understand the nature of Oprah’s message, Albert Mohler’s 2005 article offers a good summary of just why Oprah’s gospel is so dangerous.
Marcia Z. Nelson’s new book is intended as a celebration of Oprah’s significance as a harbinger of a new gospel. In the end, the importance of this book is grounded in the fact that it draws attention to Oprah’s influence and cultural impact. Oprah’s newly-packaged positive-thinking spirituality is tailor-made for the empty souls of our postmodern age. She promises meaning without truth, acceptance without judgment, and fulfillment without self-denial. Marcia Z. Nelson is certainly right about one thing–Oprah Winfrey’s “congregation” cannot be ignored.
Seeing the deleterious influence of Oprah provides us the opportunity to examine not just the content of her message, but how each follower of Jesus must respond. Here are some of the key aspects to Oprah’s message. As you read these, ask yourself,
“How many of these same influences do you see in other teachers and among churches that claim to teach the Gospel?”
“How many people, in the name of Jesus, have created a new way of salvation to replace the way of Jesus Christ? ”
Oprah’s Key Influences
- Oprah has drawn huge crowds with her reductionist gospel of Social Justice.
- In the tradition of Charles Finney, Charles Schuller and Joel Osteen, Oprah has captured the hearts of millions with a uniquely American Self-help gospel.
- Oprah’s “Big Give” endorses a consumer spirituality and prosperity gospel that is shared by many millions of Americans.
- Belief in a “god” who offers many paths to salvation reflects an inclusive gospel, shared by men like former Christian pastor Carlton Pearson whose church I used to attend, that lies in direct contradiction to Jesus own words (John 14:1-6).
I think Oprah is right in some of her concerns about the institutional nature of American Christianity. Yet she takes this palatable bite of truth and feeds it to her congregation with a serving of lies. Like so many others who fall under the broad category of “Emergent;” Oprah’s concern has unfortunately pushed her away from church and faith in Christ alone.
We are left then with the question asked by my wife, and other Christian leaders, “how do we convince the Oprah faithful that her gospel is contrary to faith in Jesus Christ?” Oprah’s vision of unity is wonderful, but unity does not come at the sacrifice of truth. Her desire for compassion is admirable, but compassion outside of the Gospel is a fleeting hope. As a matter of fact, unity can only come when we reject all other paths and submit ourselves to the person of Jesus. Compassion can only be given by feeding people the Bread of Life. The answer to the Oprah dilemma is found in this passage from Ephesians where Paul instructs every women, every believer, to take on the responsibility to speak the Gospel of Jesus to their neighbor.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:11-25)
The fact that so many moms who attend churches on a weekly basis are being so easily drawn away by a false Gospel is disturbing. What are they hearing week-in and week-out from the pulpit? Why has the dominant message coming from the church not equipped women, or men, to discern false from true?
Women–you are the solution! Moms–you must speak up and stand up boldly for Jesus Christ! You cannot wait for a recovery program, a prepackaged Bible study from Zondervan, or for a pastor to teach a series on Oprah. The Scriptures make clear that as a disciple of Jesus–you are responsible to speak Life to your neighbor. You have the knowledge, you have the Spirit of God in you, and you have the authority–use it and make a difference in the life of someone you love!