Hit and Miss

    You would think that the people who run the Miss America pageant would be thrilled to have Erika Harold representing them. In contrast to the popular image of beauty queens as Malibu Barbies, Harold is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois, and she will attend Harvard Law School after her year as Miss America. Likewise, Harold, who is proud of her multiracial heritage, is a powerful symbol of the changing face of America. Yet, if recent events are any indication, pageant officials probably can't wait for Erika's tenure as Miss America to be over. Why? Because she takes the "Miss" in "Miss America" a little too seriously for their taste. Since 1990, Miss America contestants, along with contestants at affiliated state pageants, have been required to adopt what are known as "platform issues." In her successful campaign for Miss Illinois, Erika's platform issue was "Teenage Sexual Abstinence: Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself." In addition, Erika, a committed Christian, has served as a representative for Project Reality, an Illinois-based abstinence education program. So Erika's commitment to promoting abstinence was well known to Miss America officials before she was crowned in Atlantic City last month. Imagine her surprise when pageant officials began to pressure her not to talk about abstinence publicly. Then, just prior to her appearance at the National Press Club, those pressures became an order. Do not talk about abstinence, she was commanded. To her credit, Erika refused to buckle under. She told reporters, "I will not be bullied. I've gone through enough adversity in my life [not] to stand up for what I believe in ... " While the furor and the negative publicity prompted pageant officials to reverse themselves -- at least publicly -- we're still left with a huge irony: As a representative of Concerned Women for America put it, Erika is "too wholesome" for the people who run Miss America. It's ironic because, according to the representative, "the abstinence message and Miss America [should be] a perfect fit." The word "Miss" historically implies more than being unmarried. It carries "an image of purity and chastity." Even worse is the hypocrisy and blatant double standard involved in this controversy. Pageant officials defended the contest's continuing relevance in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times. In that letter they cited Erika's multiracial background and her academic achievements. In addition they wrote: "The most successful [pageant contestants] have the courage to take stands on controversial issues like gay rights, abortion, or the war against Iraq -- questions many politicians duck every day. The contestants challenge others to stand up and speak out." Yet they're still trying to silence Erika for doing just that. Apparently, a stand is only courageous if it involves a position shared by pageant officials -- one that apparently requires a liberal bias. Miss America's story serves as a cautionary tale about the obstacles Christians face in getting their message across, and as an example -- thank you, Miss America -- of the courage demanded of believers in the face of hostile pressures. For further information: George Archibald, "Miss America told to zip it on chastity talk," Washington Times, October 9, 2002. George Archibald, "Pageant permits promotion of chastity," Washington Times, October 10, 2002. "Judges sold on Miss America pageant," letter-to-the-editor, Chicago Sun-Times, October 1, 2002. Robert H. Knight, "Muzzling Miss America: Abstain from Discussing Abstinence, She's Warned," Culture and Family Institute, October 9, 2002. Joel Mowbray, "The 'Right' Miss America," National Review Online, September 23, 2002. Learn more about Project Reality. Peter Kreeft, How to Win the Culture War (InterVarsity Press, 2002).


Chuck Colson


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