Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

By Kathryn Lofton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Preacher Queen
The Race and Gender of America’s Confessor

On September 23, 2001, mourners gathered at Yankee Stadium to remember the missing and the dead. Just two weeks after planes crashed into the Twin Towers, organizers assembled a five-hour interfaith ceremony titled “A Prayer for America,” which offered a series of speeches, benedictions, and songs. The New York Times would call the Bronx rally akin to an Olympic event, as the crowd broke into chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Pleas for tolerance blended with prayers for unification by a cornucopia of religious representatives, who sat on the dais in rows alongside the governors and mayors. Included in the collected congress of America’s faithful was Cardinal Edward M. Egan, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York, Imam Izak-el Mu-eed Pasha, of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem, and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, as well as several other leaders of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu faith. There was no apparent cynicism about the scripted religious buffet in this posttraumatic moment, as families who had lost loved ones wept while hearing Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Sunni prayers.1 This was a portrait of an America assimilated into national resolve.

Who would be the right person to steer this collective? Who could best organize the assorted religious vestments and somber political suits into a soothing visual and spiritual clarity? At the dawn of the twentyfirst century, there was but one nominee. Oprah Winfrey was America’s middle ground. No Protestant preacher dominated the airwaves, no other celebrity ruled over the flyover country, and no CEO transcended

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