By Adelle M. Banks
Oprah Winfrey has become
a catalyst for a new journalistic project and increasing news
coverage by conservative Christians questioning and criticizing her
Some evangelical Christians have voiced alarm that Winfrey is
introducing the 46 million viewers who watch her each week to
nontraditional spirituality they don't condone.
In May, two dozen Christian newspapers pooled their resources to
publish an article titled "Oprah's `gospel'" that prompted higher
readership and more letters to the editor than any story some of the
individual papers had ever published.
In a first-of-its-kind venture, the evangelical newspapers hired
Colorado writer and editor Steve Rabey to write the story.
Oprah Winfrey's spirituality has been increasingly questioned by
evangelicals worried about her influence on her 46 million weekly
viewers. Winfrey is shown here at Liberty State Park in Jersey City,
N.J., earlier this year. Religion News Service photo by M. Kathleen
|For some Christians who have considered
themselves part of Oprah's electronic family, her sins against
evangelical orthodoxy have increased in number and seriousness,"
In recent months, Southern Baptist newspaper editors also have
written editorials declaring "It's time for Christians to `just say
no' to the big `O'" and calling her a source of "foolish twitter and
twaddle." And Charisma, a prominent charismatic and Pentecostal
magazine, ran a story in its July issue with the headline "Oprah's
Strange New Gospel.'"
Lamar Keener, publisher of the Christian Examiner regional
newspapers in California, came up with the idea to work with a dozen
"mom and pop" publishers to address Winfrey's theology.
"Our point is we want our readers to be aware that what she is
teaching does not represent traditional, historical Christianity,
according to the Scriptures," said Keener, who also is president of
the Evangelical Press Association.
Twenty-three monthly papers from across the country and Canada
published the story and distributed 500,000 copies to churches,
Christian bookstores, doughnut shops and other outlets.
Keener was inspired after viewing a video titled "The Church of
Oprah Exposed," which has had more than 7.2 million hits on YouTube.
"It's taking actual clips off programs," Keener said. "That's what
got my attention."
One of Winfrey's quotes highlighted in the story is her belief that
"there couldn't possibly be just one way" to God.
"One of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there
is only one way to live," Winfrey said.
A spokesman for Winfrey's Harpo Productions said the celebrity is a
"Oprah was raised Baptist and has stated many, many times that she
is a Christian and that she believes in only one God," said the
spokesman, who asked not to be named. "She has also said, `I'm a
free-thinking Christian who believes in my way, but I don't believe
it's the only way, with 6 billion people on the planet.'"
The spokesman noted Winfrey is hardly alone; 70 percent of Americans
said "many religions can lead to eternal life" in a recent survey
from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Part of the evangelicals' concern stems from Winfrey's recent
embrace of Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" as the first spiritual book
she included in her hugely popular book club. In the July issue of
O, The Oprah Magazine, she said the book's advice on "putting the
ego in check" had a "profound impact" on her.
"Spirit to me is the essence of who we are," she said. "That essence
doesn't require any particular belief. It just is."
Charisma editor J. Lee Grady said Winfrey's recent discussions of
hypnotism on her show may have prompted more people to question her
He has long thought Winfrey did not embrace "an orthodox belief in
Jesus Christ," but he thinks other Christians may just be starting
to draw that conclusion, sparked in part by what they learn about
her on the Internet.
"There's definitely an alarm because so many people watch her, that
she could lead people into New Age belief or deception," he said.
Religion writer Marcia Nelson, author of "The Gospel According to
Oprah," said criticism of Winfrey by conservative Christians dates
to 1998 when she included a spiritual emphasis on her TV show.
"Back then she got pretty much lambasted the way she is being
lambasted now, for telling us what to believe and telling us the
wrong thing to believe in, according to conservative Christians,"
But Nelson, who studied a year of Winfrey's shows, differs with
those who call Winfrey's spiritual ideas "New Age." She says Winfrey
would be more related to the "New Thought" movement, which is more
mainstream, focusing on positive thinking as a spiritual tool rather
than crystals, for example.
"I absolutely regard her as a Christian but ... she's one of those
capacious Christians," Nelson said.
What are your thoughts on this article?
(Editor's note: Marcia Nelson and Steve Rabey are occasional
correspondents for Religion News Service.)