It’s no secret that I like Oprah. She’s been discussed on our blog a few times (here, here and here) and I’ve given a talk on ‘What Would Jesus Say to Oprah?’ But I think I like Ellen more. Sometimes I find Oprah a bit too full on and Ellen doesn’t take herself as seriously. But she’s a clever interviewer and her show’s a lot of fun to watch. One of her pranks this year has been to run a campaign to get herself onto the cover of Oprah’s magazine, O. Normally it’s just Oprah on the cover and the only person who’s even shared it with her has been Michelle Obama so it was a pretty crazy idea. Nevertheless, Ellen’s succeeded and her edition of O Magazine hits stands today. To complement that, she was interviewed, along with her wife, Australian Portia de Rossi on Oprah’s show this week (Part 1; Part 2). Being a fan, I’ve obviously been following all this with interest, but I often meet with disapproval from other Christians for this hobby. So I thought I’d share why I like Ellen.
1. Ellen and the image of God
Christians love to talk about how humans are made in the image of God. That’s what gives human inherent value. Human beings reflect God’s goodness in some way. I think that includes creativity and humour. That these things are present in Ellen and in her show is a gift of God’s general grace to the world, his goodness to all people, the sun and the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. I think it also includes, to some degree, recognition of such ‘imageness’ against the odds. A comeback career like Ellen’s is pretty amazing. Eight years ago after coming out, her career was left in tatters. And yet since then, her talent has been recognised. Not only is her show enormously popular, but she’s the only person ever to have hosted the Emmys, Grammys and Oscars, and of course, there’s her illustrious inclusion with O Magazine covergirls! I think both Ellen’s creativity and her achievements remind us that this woman too is made in the image of God and that is to be celebrated.
2. Ellen and homosexuality
The reason I suspect most Christians are uncomfortable with Ellen is that she is a proud lesbian. She says it’s part of who she is and she doesn’t want to be ashamed of it. Yet, the Bible shows us that in God’s design sexual and romantic relationships should exist between a man and a woman, and that homosexual relationships are a distortion of how God created humans to be. They’re anti-God for two reasons: firstly, they’re a rebellion against the design of the creator God; secondly, in distorting the image of God, they distort the humanity of their participants. That’s what sin does: it makes us less human, because to be human is to be in the image of God. But seriously, homosexuality’s an easy target when it comes to speaking of how we distort God’s image. Far more insidious are the values Ellen spouts of ‘making yourself happy’ and ‘being true to yourself’. These things are also dehumanising, for they take away from the worship of God, yet I rarely see Christians criticise Ellen, Oprah, or the hosts of Sunrise for such comments. I suspect that’s because if we were to do that, we’d have to take the log out of our own eye first. The Pharisees of our world wouldn’t think of associating with homosexual people, and just as well, because without that excuse, they might have to start confronting their own idols.
3. What can we learn from Ellen?
I think Ellen is in a position to make some of the most powerful critiques of our culture. Take, for example, her role as a CoverGirl (for the makeup company, not just for O!) CoverGirl traditionally has gone for a young, fresh, girl-next-door look and getting on the cover is one of the prizes for modelling competitions such as ANTM. So the very idea of featuring a 50 year old gay woman is quite ludicrous, even if it is in the ‘Simply Ageless’ range. And if you see the ad, it looks like a parody of a CoverGirl ad. No one but Ellen could get away with an ad for beauty campaign that starts with “Inner beauty is important, but not nearly as important as outer beauty.” Similarly, check out this monologue from Ellen on her show where she critiques the idea of being happy all the time in the context of promoting her own show. When Ellen tried to get her show off the ground, one of the main objections was that housewives wouldn’t be interested in a talk show hosted by a gay woman. And yet, because of her own background and sexuality, Ellen can get away highlighting truths that slice through her culture’s self-deceptions.
I watch Ellen because it’s fun. And part of the fun is that by not taking herself too seriously, Ellen often ends up making incisive and thoughtful comments. As one human distorted by sin, I reckon that God’s grace is such that there’s still something I can learn from another human distorted by sin.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.