Last April, Oprah Winfrey upset her LGBTQ fans when the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) premiered The Book of John Gray, a new reality TV series starring a pastor who once compared homosexuality to lying and adultery. However, as Root.com writer Michael Harriot pointed out, it wasn’t the first time Winfrey has endorsed anti-LGBTQ religious figures.
T.D. Jakes, a man who considers homosexuals “broken”
In August 2016, OWN acquired the rights to the talk show of T.D. Jakes, a Dallas-based megachurch pastor who, according to The Dallas Voice, had called homosexuality a “brokenness” and said that he would never hire a sexually active gay person.
After Jakes’ own son was arrested for soliciting gay sex in 2009, queer Reverend Irene Monroe suggested that Jakes himself might be “hiding behind a stained-glass closet,” though she only cited speculative gossip as “proof.”
When The Huffington Post interviewed Jakes in August 2015, Jakes said that he was “evolving” on his feelings about the LGBT community and the black church, a comment that was widely misinterpreted as his “evolving” in favor of same-sex marriage. Jakes later issued a clarification that his “position on the subject has been steadfast and rooted in scripture.” That is, he’s against it.
Joel Osteen, a possible supporter of conversion therapy
Oprah has spoken with Texas megachurch pastor Joel Osteen a handful of times on-camera for religious and spiritual chat. As far as anti-gay pastors go, Osteen may seem like a meek among the rabid. Before marriage equality passed nationwide, he de-emphasized his opposition to same-sex marriage, has said that he does not like to preach against homosexuality because he does not fully understand it and has also said that God supports gay people and would let them into heaven (since God helped give them life). Even Salon remarked that Osteen was showing the religious right how “to tone down their views to stay relevant.”
But during a 2011 CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Osteen called homosexuality a sin and added that God gives gay people “grace to change,” a possible nod to so-called ex-gay conversion therapy.
Does that mean that Oprah is anti-gay?
Of course not. She embraced openly lesbian comedienne Ellen DeGeneres shortly after DeGeneres came out. Also, back in 2013, Winfrey argued that same-sex couples could actually strengthen the institution of marriage. But just because she’s an ally doesn’t mean she’s always perfect.
There are two possible explanations for why she has endorsed anti-gay pastors and both are likely true. The cynical view is that Winfrey has endorsed them because she wants to court a religious audience for higher viewership and more revenue streams (that is, more money).
The more gracious view is that Winfrey has hosted these anti-gay pastors because she believes in engaging people even when you don’t completely agree with their worldview. One can be anti-gay and still have the capacity to do good in other areas of life — it’s unpleasant to admit because we’re used to painting all anti-gay people as purely evil bigots, but people and life are more nuanced than such all-or-nothing thinking.
Winfrey’s reasons for associating with these men likely lies somewhere in the middle. But when you have a devoted gay audience, courting Christians means occasionally dancing with the Devil.
(Featured image of Ophra and Joel Osteen via Oprah.com)