Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader?

May 27, 2011

Below is an excerpt from “On Faith,” a daily online religion section sponsored by The Washington Post. Each week, Sally Quinn engages figures from the world of faith in a conversation about an aspect of religion.

Oprah Winfrey aired her last show after 25 years on television. Is Winfrey a spiritual leader?

An Oprah skeptic: Encouraging women and others to think positively and to help themselves is certainly worthwhile, but I wish Oprah would also tell her audience to be skeptical about taking the advice of untrained professionals — including herself.

Herb Silverman

president, Secular Coalition for America

Oprah following in the sacred footsteps of Elvis: Oprah Winfrey is a powerful and interesting figure in today’s popular culture who is offering a kind of spiritual solace beautifully suited to her audience and the media of her time. She’s just not the first.

Susan Brookes Thislethwaite

professor, Chicago Theological Seminary

Closing the First Church of Oprah: There is no question that Oprah created a kind of religion over the past 25 years. It had priests and teachers of sacred wisdom such a Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Truddi Chase, and Nate Berkus, just to name a few. It even had ‘fallen angels’ like James Frey.

Brad Hirschfield

rabbi, president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

We are all ‘religious leaders’: Each of us has access to a God who reveals truth to us constantly, and we can choose to be channels of that light and love.

Max Carter

director, Friends Center, Guilford College

One cheer for Oprah: The Church of Oprah is having its last revival service, measured by the hype. Don’t believe it. Oprah was never a church, but was an excellent entertainer.

John Mark Reynolds

director, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University

If not Oprah, who? She’s not a religious leader, but Oprah does talk about the things that matter most to us.

Katharine Henderson

president, Auburn Theological Seminary

A message for the times: She may not claim the mantle of a religious leader, but like any prophet, Oprah has her flock, her commandments and her scrolls. Her unabashed embrace of pluralism — many potential paths to one eternal Truth — is an urgent message for contemporary times.

Aseem Shukla

co-founder, Hindu American Foundation

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