The Oprah Phenomenon

Last week, Oprah took her final victory lap after 25 hugely successful years of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Friends and fans gave her a blow-out farewell party to celebrate her legacy and the global following she has acquired (a reach of 150 countries). They also put front and center strong evidence of the powerful impact she has had on women and girls that should not go unnoticed by us.

A cluster of young girls, calling themselves “Oprah Show babies” and describing her as “the sound track of our lives,” offered up a litany of evidence that was quite moving to hear.

“Oprah, because of you, I love to read books.”  “I’ve learned to stick to my beliefs and not let anyone change who I am.”  “Your show taught me to take better care of myself.  I’m thirteen and I’ve lost 20 pounds.”  “My mom and I watched your show every day together. I was only 14 when she died and I know she would want me to continue to learn from you.”  “Oprah you helped me lift the shame of being abused and taught me that it wasn’t my fault. Thank you.”  “We’ve learned from the Oprah Show that we’re enough, that we matter, that our lives have value.”  “Because if you every morning I look in the mirror and say, ‘Good morning gorgeous!'” “Oprah, I learned from you that I can be anything I want. Like the president of the United States.”  “Because of you, we believe girls can run the world!”

Singer, actress, Beyoncé chimed in, “Because of you, women everywhere have graduated to a new level of understanding of what we are, of who we are, and most of all who we can be”—extraordinary praise of Oprah’s impact on women, (although the provocative dance routine that followed made me wonder just how much of Oprah’s message Beyoncé has actually grasped).

In her post, “Filling the Oprah Void,” author Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira points out that one of the reasons for Oprah’s significant contributions has been her fearless openness in discussing painful subjects of interest to women and raising those subjects to new levels of seriousness.  Caryn writes,

“Oprah understood the power of speaking truth as a method of healing. And, for all the people who criticize us for being a talk-show culture, ever-keen on spilling our guts, there are many more entirely set free by knowing we are not alone in our troubles.”

While I welcome Oprah’s undeniably positive influence on many lives, at the same time I grieve the fact that instead of taking the lead in giving women and girls a bigger vision of who God created them to be (and, trust me, we do have such a message—even better than what Oprah has to offer), the Christian community is lagging woefully behind. And why is it that we are so often in catch-up-mode in addressing subjects that are painful realities in the lives of countless women and girls?  Shouldn’t we be first?

We can sit on the sidelines and criticize Oprah for what her message lacks or for the flaws in her  theology. Or we can ask ourselves if girls (and for that matter, boys too) in the church are saying, “Because I am God’s image bearer, I know my life counts, I have value, I can change the world.” “You helped me lift the shame of being abused and taught me it wasn’t my fault.” “The church has graduated women to to a new level of understanding of what we are, of who we are, and most of all who we can be”?

About carolyncustisjames

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3 Responses to The Oprah Phenomenon

  1. jeedoo says:

    Well done, Carolyn. Honoring Oprah where she should be honored, but calling us to a higher, truer effort for girls and women–as image bearers and ezers.

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  2. We should certainly be first, Carolyn. I wrote an article about this on last week. Hope that the magazine picks it up. In summary, God's good book has a clear and yes higher message for his girls and women. I too hope that women in the church will step up to honor their calling in Christ Jesus in such a way that Oprah (with all of her good intentions) has not fully understood or embraced. Natasha Robinson

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  3. I love your call-out. I think Christian women either get caught up in calling out non-belivers (as if they expect them to act any different) or they are indifferent to the wrongs they see around them, either of which are not what we would do if we were truly following Jesus. May God help us to truly respond in love.

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