When it comes to God, Oprah Winfrey and Dallas — the city that many consider the evangelical capital of America — I am sure of two things.
(1) I am sure that there plenty of people in the greater Dallas area who think Oprah is wonderful and has God in her cell telephone’s speed dial.
(2) I am sure that there are plenty of people in Dallas who think that Oprah is (pick one) a New Age goddess worshiper, a heretic, a fake semi-Christian, a first cousin of the Anti-Christ or some other similar — perhaps softer — variation on these themes.
Let’s face it, Oprah is the very human face of American religion in this confused, mysterious, post-doctrinal age in which we live. That’s why I have, for years now, called the muddled middle of our religious marketplace of ideas “OprahAmerica.”
I think it would be hard to write a story about Oprah coming to Dallas without some representation of both of these camps, even if camp one is much, much larger than camp two. I mean, Dallas is Dallas. Camp two exists. Trust me.
However, I do not work for the Dallas Morning News and I certainly wasn’t assigned to write the story about the Oprah love-in at the Texas State Fair. This story is absolutely soaked — baptized, even — in semi-religious images that hint at the devotion between Oprah and her disciples.
You have to read it all, but I’ll point out one or two. We are told, concerning this revival/television event:
Fans came to worship Winfrey, too, sharing their favorite memories of her show and thanking her for inspiring them. … Fans like Chandra Quaite of Cedar Hill knew this would be their best shot of seeing their TV friend in person.
“This would be my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before she retires,” said Quaite, who records the program every day. “She relates to each of us. She crosses all boundaries. She can see the hearts of people and the needs of people.”
Maria Ceja of Grand Prairie doesn’t know life without the talk-show powerhouse.
“The sky is blue and Oprah is Oprah,” she said. “Oprah’s been around since I was a child.”
They came despite threatening weather. Although Monday’s skies were gray, it did not rain.
“We have this weird hook-up with Mother Nature,” Sally Lou Loveman, an audience coordinator, told the crowd before the taping. “It’s called Oprah.” …
Later in the day, Winfrey anchored WFAA-TV’s 5 p.m. newscast at Channel 8′s Victory Park studios. Outside, hundreds of fans stood on planters and pressed against railings to catch a glimpse of her.
“This is like God,” said Connie Green, 44, of White Settlement.
I think you get the picture.
Now, journalists who were interested in the religion element of this story would have quickly asked one of the following two questions — or maybe even both of them.
(1) Was there anyone involved in this scene at the state fair or the television taping who DIDN’T think that Oprah was on the side of the angels (or, at least, angels associated with a conventional approach to a major global faith)?
There is no way to answer this question without being present at the actual events. Were there any unhappy folks there? Were there any counter-demonstrators? How would we know?
(2) Are there people in Dallas who have studied Oprah and her work and, even though they may be thinkers whose views would offend many in the newsroom, they might make logical sources for material representing a different point of view in this story?
Well, it only takes a second or two on Google to find an answer for that.
You see, there are these outspoken writers — Christian apologists who, in some circles, are quite famous — who have just written a new book on Oprah and what she represents in postmodern America. Their names are Josh McDowell and David Sterrett.