What to Think About Oprah?

I’m betting there are at least two common reactions to the title of this post. The first originates from those who consider themselves Oprah fans. They might quickly rally to what we could label the “Oh No He Didn’t” perspective, saying something like the following: “He’s done it now. I’ve kinda liked this church blog thing so far, but if he starts criticizing Oprah, then it is soooo on!” The second reaction springs from those who are, shall we say, less favorably disposed to the queen of TV talk. It’s what we might call the “Blood In The Water” reaction, characterized by an I-can’t-wait-to-see-how-he-rips-that-woman-and-then-tell-my-
friends attitude.

Okay, maybe the representative reactions from both sides might not be quite so pyrotechnic, but you get the point. Oprah Winfrey is a polarizing figure.

So I’ll say at the outset that I hope this post satisfies neither extreme. Rather, it seems to me that Oprah is an excellent example of the fact that, if one’s goal is to evaluate things with a biblical perspective, labels like “all good” or “all bad” simply won’t do.

For example, Oprah’s life constitutes an amazing example of fortitude and achievement in the face of adversity. Overcoming both childhood poverty and sexual abuse, she has marshaled her prodigious talent to become a critically acclaimed TV personality and actress, the president of her own influential production company, and the force behind numerous other successful commercial ventures.

She is also exceptionally philanthropic. A 2005 Business Week report estimated her charitable giving at $303 million. Along similar lines, she’s extended her generosity to those who have helped fuel her success, having thanked her employees by taking them, along with their families (1065 people total), on a Hawaiian vacation in 2006.

Finally, Oprah’s well-documented transparency and empathy have earned her the trust and admiration of millions of viewers. And she has brought attention many issues that certainly deserve more cultural concern and action.

On the other hand, despite—or perhaps because of—her affinity for spirituality, Oprah has endorsed perspectives that run directly counter to a biblically informed worldview, including those of the self-help program, The Secret. Particularly because of her enormous personal influence (if Helen of Troy was “the face that launched a thousand ships,” Oprah’s opinion is that which sells a million books), this propensity can be dangerously problematic.

(As a relevant aside: for some time now, I’ve thought an interesting study would result from identifying the comments and beliefs that occasion applause on Oprah. My hunch is that, not only over time, but even occasionally in the same episode, one would find the both Oprah and her studio audience supporting what ultimately are conflicting truth claims—a reality that reflects the often inconsistent thinking of our culture. However, in the absence of the necessary time and resources to engage in said study, that remains only a hunch.)

So what’s the bottom line? Boycott all that is Oprah? Probably not. But just like everything else, Oprah’s TV show, magazine, etc., need to be thoughtfully engaged from an informed biblical foundation. To treat these things as unfailingly harmless or beneficial is terribly foolish. To consider them to be without any redeeming qualities would deny that God’s common grace is spread liberally throughout his creation—a view amply supported by the Scriptures themselves.

It certainly takes wisdom, however, to know what is beneficial and what is not. That means the more relevant question may be this: how capable am I of practicing biblical discernment regarding Oprah…or anything else for that matter? Can I recognize viewpoints that run contrary to biblical truth? Or would I be wise to invest more regularly in the study of Scripture and prayer, not to flee from the culture, but so that I “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10; italics mine)?

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