It was a brilliant sermon. Passionate, clear, articulate, historical, personal, short and with strong application. Oprah was on fine form at the Golden Globes this week. And her speech has rightly been getting a lot of traction and praise. It was a superb performance, but more than that, I think she meant it. And there was a lot of good stuff that many of us would say 'amen' to. Freedom of the press and the freedom of women not to be abused or treated like second-class citizens resonated. I loved the story of Recy Taylor who died just a week before the Golden Globes – Recy was kidnapped, raped and assaulted after leaving church in 1944 and became an inspiration for Rosa Parks.
It is essential that the Church takes seriously the biblical teaching that men and women are equally made in the image of God. It is just as essential that we recognise and deal with those who use religion as a cover for abuse. To deny it happens would be foolish; to cover it up is wicked – a sin both against woman and God.
There were however aspects of this short speech which were more mixed. I would love to sit and chat about them with Oprah – but given that is unlikely to happen, let's think about them here.
'What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.' It's nice soundbite for the TV news, but it's nonsense. My truth could be wrong, harmful and false. So could yours. We need to seek truth, but all of us need the humility that 'our' truth is at best partial and at worst a lie. Oprah seemed to contradict herself when she said about the press: 'It's the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice.' It was a somewhat rosy view of the press – are they really dedicated to uncovering the absolute truth? Most media I know seem to have as much an agenda as any individual, and are often as guilty of cover-ups and false news as any one else. But it's the concept of absolute truth that intrigued me – it just doesn't work when you place it alongside the idea that 'this is my truth, tell me yours, all are equally valid'.
And then there was the hypocrisy. At last years Golden Globes Meryl Streep gave a speech that was very similar to Oprah's. She lauded the media, attacked Trump and praised Hollywood. And the stars all loved it and gave her a standing ovation. Some of those who stood and applauded with such enthusiasm have ended the year disgraced and outed by the Weinstein affair and its subsequent offshoots. I have little doubt that some of those who stood teary-eyed applauding Oprah's fine sentiments will themselves be guilty of what she was condemning. And they seem to have forgotten that the problem they were talking about was a problem Hollywood created. To cite one example among several, many of these same stars applauded and defended Roman Polanski, a producer they knew had been found guilty of child rape. A Hollywood that thrives on violence and sex cannot shout too loudly when its chickens come home to roost.
But even more than that it's the hubris that gets me. Oprah declared that 'their time is up'. The 'they' being the powerful men who abuse. I wish it were true. It's all very well for the rich and powerful to sit and applaud as one of their own attacks the rich and powerful. But does it really change anything?
Oprah promised the young girls watching: 'So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!' It's perhaps a bit early to say that. Oprah diagnosed the problem but her solution was Disneyesque. Fine speeches, black dresses and MeToo hashtags are all good and well, but they won't change human society because they can't change human nature. In fact they could end up exacerbating the problem because they can result in triumphalism, virtue signalling and unrealistic assessments of the situation. Maybe instead of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, we could look to stopping it bolting in the first place. Is Hollywood really prepared to ask the deep questions about human nature, evil and redemption?
But let's not leave it there. Oprah spoke of those who really struggled: 'The one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.'
Hope for a brighter morning. I love that. What hope is there? As Christians we have the greatest hope of all: 'In Christ alone my hope is found, he is my life, my strength, my song'.
Maybe this year more Hollywood stars will be able to point to that.