Oprah praying.jpgSpeaking of book clubs, Oprah Winfrey has not only inspired a cult-like following–and a book by my religion writing colleague Marcia Nelson, called “The Gospel According to Oprah”–but now she has the sort of Christian critics that real cult leaders attract. According to this RNS story by Adelle Banks…

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. “For some Christians who have considered themselves part of Oprah’s electronic family, her sins against evangelical orthodoxy have increased in number and seriousness,” Rabey said.
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.'”

Is this fair to a woman revered by plenty of good Christian folk, and someone who describes herself as a Baptist from her roots? My colleagues over at Beliefnet’s “Idol Chatter” blog on pop culture have more dirt here
The best insight, for my money, is from Marcia Nelson, who traces the discomfort with Oprah’s popularity and influence back to the late 1980s and the heyday of the conservative Christian movement:

“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,” said Nelson.
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.

In the end, I suspect this will be about as effective as boycotting Disney Land, or Harry Potter.

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