“America’s Spiritual Leader”, “The Divine Ms. Winfrey” and “Reverend Oprah” are some of the titles Oprah Winfrey has been given over the last 20 years. Maybe “The World’s Pastor” could now be added to the list, since her show is broadcast in 136 countries. In just the United States alone, her show is seen by an estimated 49 million viewers.
“Oprah has emerged as a symbolic figurehead of spirituality,” says Professor Kathryn Lofton, who has analyzed the religious aspects of Winfrey in two papers she has written. “Inspirer-in-chief” is what Marcia Nelson calls Oprah. Nelson is the author of “The Gospel According to Oprah.” A couple of years ago a poll conducted at Beliefnet.com found 33 percent of the 6,600 respondents said Oprah has had “a more profound impact” on their spiritual lives than their own clergy.
So how did the number-one talk-show host and media mogul get these monikers? Winfrey has been promoting spiritual philosophies for quite some time but lately she has become much bolder in her foray into religion and politics.
With her celebrity charm, influence and power, Oprah is going deeper into expanded areas. She’s making political endorsements, like the one she did for Barack Obama, and is now co-teaching a religious Web class to over 700,000 people with New Age author Ekhardt Tolle.
And does she have influence. Any book she recommends for her book club becomes an instant best-seller, as did Tolle’s “A New Earth,” selling some 3.5 million copies worldwide. Tolle calls himself a “spiritual teacher” and says his philosophy includes Buddhist, Islamic and Christian influences. At the first Web class Oprah told one caller, “While Christianity is a valid way to achieve high states of spirituality, it must not be considered a unique way, or a ‘correct way.’” Not only that, she said, “I don’t believe that Jesus came to start Christianity.”
Daily classes on the book, “A Course of Miracles,” written by Helen Schucman, were recently offered on her XM radio show. Along with teaching the listener that there is no sin, they are told not to make the “mistake” of “clinging to the old rugged cross,” and the name of “Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol.”
Oprah’s come a long way in more ways than one from her childhood living in Mississippi and going to a Baptist church with her grandmother. Where once she held traditional Christian beliefs, she now believes “there’s no conflict between this teaching, which is purely spiritual, and any religion.”