Oprah and Brother Jesus

Oprah and Brother Jesus September 25, 2015

There is a bit of a flap about Oprah thinking as a child that since God was her Father and Jesus God’s Son then she as a child of God must have Jesus as a brother. The flap about this is a biblical fail, a history fail and a pastoral fail. First a summary of her statements:

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey recently sparked an online discussion about the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity after recalling a time that she once considered Jesus Christ to be her brother.

In a Facebook video post that immediately went viral on Monday — garnering more than 1 million views and over 2,000 comments in less than 24 hours — the OWN network CEO opened up about her Christian faith to her 10 million followers. Winfrey is seen speaking candidly about how growing up without her father led her to faith when she was between the ages of 3 to 7 years old.

“For the earliest part of my life, I didn’t know my father,” Winfrey, who was raised by her maternal grandmother up until age 6, said in the 35-second clip. “Not growing up with a father, I heard in church that God was my Father and that God was the Father of us all and that Jesus was God’s son.”

The video, which was captioned with the hashtag #beliefstories, is just a snippet of a longer interview Winfrey gave.

“So … in my imagination, my way of thinking about God was ‘God is my Father and Jesus is His Son, so I am His child which makes me His daughter, which makes Jesus my brother,'” she said.

One may well doubt her orthodoxy, for which she would have few defenders, but she has said that she is a Christian. The summary continues:

“I am a Christian. That is my faith,” the former daytime talkshow host said in 2012 during her “Oprah’s Lifeclass: The Tour.”

“My favorite Bible verse — because I am Christian — is Acts 17:28. It says, ‘In God I live and move and have my being,'” she shared. “And you want to know why I’m so successful? Because I knew that at 4-years-old. … I wouldn’t be who I am today without a spiritual consciousness, without spiritual values and ultimately without spiritual love.”

This post is not about Oprah as a Christian and we at times need to remind ourselves that while we are called to defend Christian orthodoxy, it is not ours to judge who is and who is not a Christian. James 4:11-12 contains lines we all need to keep in mind in discussions like this. So please spare us of your judgments about whether or not you consider Oprah a Christian.

But I would like to defend the importance of seeing Jesus as Brother, even if “Brother” is not a sufficient or adequate christology.

First, she was a young child when she said this and was coming to terms with relations and faith. Children think things like this. I found her sentiments entirely appropriate for a child and the way we would want our children to think.

Second, she thought like this because she didn’t have a father in her life and that’s where pastoral theology enters. We should see in her statements something about how God steps in our lives, in part, to fill up what is lacking.

Third, in the Bible and in the history of the church many have found a theological anchor in Brother-hood with Jesus as a place from which we can pursue some themes. To call Jesus brother is to acknowledge his humanity not to deny his deity; if one think he’s only a brother, then brother is inadequate. But his fellowship with us, his “friendship” with us (Luke 12:4), can be legitimately called brotherhood at some level.

Mark 3:34-35: “Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew  he also predestined  to be conformed to the image of his Son,  that he might be the firstborn  among many brothers and sisters.”

Hebrews 2:11: “for the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters…”

To be sure, Jesus is not here affirming brotherhood will humans but with those who are “in him” — but brotherhood is entirely accurate for a Christian to factor in when it comes to our relation with Jesus. To the degree we are Christian, to the same degree Jesus is our brother.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ““Christ became our Brother in order to help us. Through him our brother has become Christ for us in the power and authority of the commission Christ has given him. Our brother stands before us the sign of the truth and the grace of God. He has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.” Life Together.

What theologians have you seen refer to Jesus as Brother?

Schalom Ben-Chorion, in his book Brother Jesus: The Nazarene through Jewish Eyes, entitles his book this because in his perception of Judaism, Jesus must be seen as Jewish and as a brother in that Jewish faith, though Ben-Chorion is no Christian. Hence, there is a brotherhood-ness of Jesus that we can affirm in dialogue with our Jewish friends. He says right away, “Over and over again I have heard his brotherly voice, which calls to us and teaches us how to the Law is to be fulfilled through love.” He does not embrace the Jesus of the Church, and hence he is not Christian and Jesus is not his Brother as quoted above from the Bible, but there is another sense in which Jesus’ Jewishness and Ben-Chorion’s Jewishness are related. D.A. Hagner’s book, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus, made this point: that touchstones between the faiths are clearly present while a full christology divides us.

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