According to many pundits, a major cultural change took place in American life this past week. Oprah brought her TV program to an end and moved to a different TV station which she owns. One could not avoid all the accolades that came to her this week. She was a major shaper of the American culture, she was the best friend that women had, she was the chaplain to the American soul, she was the best example of how talent can take one from rags to riches, she was the maker of US presidents and she was able to propel unknown writers to become bestsellers
One of my friends who is an Oprah fans asked me if I watched her program. The assumption was that I was watching! Then I had to think. I do not think I have every watched an entire episode. I think I have watched 5-10 minutes once or twice, while surfing channels. I had to wonder if I am culturally poorer than some of my fellow citizens because I did not watch the show! On the other hand, I have read many articles about Oprah in various magazines, including her own magazine.
During these past two weeks, I have been talking to people in our community about the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration held at the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove. I found myself explaining to people about Billy Graham, who came to the Great Auditorium in 1946 at the beginning of his evangelistic crusades. Now at the patriarchal age of 93 he still hopes to preach another sermon for people to come to Christ. His grandson Will Graham did a great job preaching during the three days that he was here in NJ. 884 people made commitments to Christ, out of which 614 of them were first time commitments.
However, what surprised me more than the need to explain the evangelistic event is how many people did not know where the Great Auditorium was in Ocean Grove. Some have never been to Ocean Grove and some have been there but never been to this great place.
Things have changed and they have changed drastically. The people that shape our lives have changed. The way we respond to certain events and community activities have changed. The drastic change for me was clearly seen in the week before Easter. For the past 20 years, since I became a pastor at Central Baptist Church, I would distribute fliers to be placed in the windows of businesses on First Avenue and adjoining streets. 20 years ago I would be welcomed to distribute it in almost every business place. Now the major businesses and the government places have a policy against religious advertisement of any form. Banks, post offices, and large food stores no longer allow such advertisements. In other places, I was told that I can leave the flier and they will talk to the manager, who will post it for me. The posting in this category has been rare. In the last category are the places where I am welcomed to post religious information. I would say that in our community the places where I am allowed to post such information is slightly above 50%.
What has caused our community culture to react this way? Sometimes it is the visible customer, and sometimes it is the invisible customer. We have become afraid that if someone sees that we advertise about a service of the resurrection of Christ, they will no longer frequent our business. That can be true, but the posting of religious fliers may be an encouragement for other people to come.
There is no way to measure how Oprah has influenced the American culture. I am sure that for those people that have watched her programs she has been a formidable influence. I think that her rise from poverty to superstar status is admirable. I am sure that she has done a lot of good internationally.
When I tried to make a comparison between the evangelistic good that the Grahams have done for the past 60 years and the good that Oprah has done, I was startled to hear the argument that Oprah has been all inclusive, but the gospel that the Grahams have presented has been exclusive. Many people think that Oprah was a great counselor and chaplain because she would tell most of the people that they are good. In an interview where she was asked if she was a Christian, she replied positively, but when they checked with her church, they found out that no one could remember seeing her there.
In one of the most poignant passages of the Scripture Jesus is talking about accomplishments. He talks about the proverbial person who was able to get the entire world, but lost his soul. He asks then, “What would a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The answer to the question is given by Jesus and by Paul, “But to those who believed in him (Jesus) to them he gave the right to become the sons/daughters of God (Jesus) Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved!”