Ms. Winfery's generosity is well known. Now, a group of con-artists are cashing in on her reputation and instead of rewarding people with cash gifts they are scamming people; stealing large sums of cash from them on the promise of being a recipient of one of Oprah's generous gifts (in this case, one million dollars).
Sadly, there are those who will fall for the ruse; sadder still is that many who do really are in desperate need and can't afford the loss they are going to sustain.
Now of course everyone knows that Oprah should be held responsible for this - after all they are using her name and she is the one who makes the scam believable by her visible generosity. Should someone try a scam like that in my name, no one would even nibble at the bait. So in a very real sense, she is responsible for the success of this scam and should be held accountable, don't you think? (If you stop here you will be confused. Keep reading..)
The answer to the above question of course is "no." Ms. Winfrey is not responsible for those who have hijacked her name for their own evil purposes. We can only hope that the perpetrators are caught before too much damage is done.
Unfortunately, while many understand the lunacy of even suggesting that Oprah be held accountable for the deplorable actions of these thieves who are taking advantage of her name, few seem to understand that the same thing, on a much grander scale, takes place spiritually in the name of Christ. Jesus warned, "Beware of false teachers who come disguised as harmless sheep, but are wolves and will tear you apart. You can detect them by the way they act, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit. You need never confuse grapevines with thorn bushes or figs with thistles" (Matthew 7:15-16, The Living Bible).
Not everyone who comes in the name of Christ is really a representative of him. The Bible says, "My dear friends, don't believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world" (1 John 4:1, The Message).
Our problem is, while we may carefully weigh offers made by those who would rob us of our money, we don't seem to put the same weight on those who would rob us of our souls, who would rob us of eternal life.
John in his first epistle goes on to list three ways that one can tell if a person is a true representative of Christ. First, that person has to agree that Jesus is God. Deny that and you are denying the cornerstone of the faith you claim to follow. Second, you have to agree that God took on human flesh to become our Savior. Third, you have to agree that the Biblical account is truth. Those are not my standards, they are standards the Apostle points out in 1 John 4:2-6. There are other tests to be sure. Jesus in the Matthew verse quoted above reminds us that those who truly represent him will produce "good fruit" and Paul lists that fruit for us: "God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways" (Galatians 5:22-23, CEV).
You won't reject Ms. Winfrey because of those who abuse her name, don't reject Christ because of those who abuse his name.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard Thursdays on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m.