We Lutherans believe in confession and absolution. That happens in every Divine Service, and, when someone is particularly troubled with a sin, the individual confesses to a pastor, who brings Christ’s forgiveness. This is an evangelical version of what Roman Catholics do (instead of requiring acts of penance, our pastors forgive sins in terms of the Gospel). (See John 20:21-23.) Anglicans and Orthodox also have something similar.
In our culture, though, Oprah Winfrey is our priest, or rather priestess. She is the one who took charge of all of our religions to organize our national worship service in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. She has her index of books that we are to read. She teaches us our morality. And now she serves as confessor for one of our heroes who has fallen from grace, with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his sin of doping on her show.
Of course, there are differences between Oprah’s ritual and Christian confession. The latter is intensely private. All Christian confessors, including ministers who do not employ a formal rite but simply do informal spiritual counseling, are committed to the highest standards of confidentiality, observing the “seal of the confessional.” Oprah, though, broadcasts Lance Armstrong’s confession–and those of other celebrities she interviews–to millions of viewers who witness and scrutinize and voyeuristically enjoy the sinner’s humiliation.Another difference is that the sinner confessing transgressions in a Christian context wants God’s forgiveness. Oprah’s penitent wants the public to forgive him. Or his sponsors to forgive him.
And what Oprah does not do and does not even try to do is give absolution, to pronounce God’s Word and Christ’s promises so that the sinner knows for certain that his sins have been forgiven. That you can’t get from Oprah.
For an account of what Armstrong said to Oprah–he didn’t seem to exhibit much remorse–see this.