I admit it. As a former title-holder in the Miss America Organization, I've bashed the Miss USA Organization...more than once. I'll prove it. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "There's a difference between Miss America and Miss USA?"
Let me just hit the highlights.
Maybe I can refresh your memory of the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant where Miss Teen South Carolina was asked to give the reason why she believed research showed 1/5 of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map. Her response?
I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq... I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children."
If that's not enough, here are the real reasons:
Miss USA is owned by Donald Trump. Miss America is completely run by volunteers.
Miss USA does not have a talent competition. Miss America does.
Miss USA awards girls with cash, and contestants can pay to enter the pageant at the state level. Miss America only grants scholarship money, and every title must be earned by winning a local preliminary.
However, I was pleasantly surprised this year when Miss California USA was asked by judge Perez Hilton if she believed that other states should follow after the example of Vermont and allow gay marriage to be legal.
Bracing myself for a liberal answer, Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, responded, "I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
Her answer took me back to my very first interview in the Miss America system. A judge, who I later learned was just trying to play devil's advocate, asked me how my religious beliefs effected my view of women in the workforce.
"I think a woman's top priority should be her family," I said. "I won't say I have a problem with women having a job, but being a wife and mother should be her career. Jobs and careers are completely different."
"What's the difference?" he asked.
"A career is something that is always on your mind - something you don't clock in and out of," I said, trying to best explain my thoughts off the top of my head. "A job is just something you do to further your career. And if your job doesn't support your career, you should probably ask yourself why you're doing it anyway."
The judge rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in exasperation. "You know, the answers you are giving us are pretty much opposite of what the typical pageant girl thinks. Do you realize that? You are telling us exactly what we don't want to hear."
I smiled, ewen though I was thinking to myself that I had already lost the title and the pageant had barely started. I said, "With all due respect, sir, a year is a long time for me to be something I'm not. If you are going to put the crown on my head at the end of tonight, you deserve to know what you're getting."
I continued with the interview and competed the rest of the night, having complete peace about what I had said. In fact, since I already knew the outcome wouldn't go in my favor, I was really relaxed throughout the competition.
At the night's end, though, much to my surprise, I won. Confused, I went to thank the judges. Mr. Devil's Advocate grinned as he shook my hand. "You didn't back down, and I appreciated that. It's refreshing to see a girl who hasn't been programmed with answers."
I competed in pageants for the next three years. As I gained experience and figured out the system, the pressure to be someone I was not got more intense. I learned the "right" answer to say, even if it didn't match my personal beliefs.
The last year I competed at Miss Tennessee, I remember a final piece of interview advice I got before the competition began: "If you want to do well in this, you have to give "middle of the road" answers on controversial topics. You don't have to say that you are supportive of liberal ideas, but you can't speak out against them."
The morning of my interview, I spent some time reading my Bible and praying. The passage I was scheduled to read on my yearly reading plan was 2 Timothy 1. I was amazed by the words I read that day:
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us andcalled us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you." - II Timothy 1:8-14
Tell me God is not in the details. He knew that was just the word of encouragement I needed. He has called me to speak out of conviction of His truth - not out of compromise! He has entrusted His message to us - that we would boldly proclaim it to a lost world.
Chances are, if Miss California USA had given a different answer, she would have made up the difference to walk away with the title of Miss USA. Instead, she walked away as first runner-up.
But she wouldn't change her answer if she had the opportunity. On the Today Show this morning, Prejean said, "...With that question specifically, it was not about being politically correct. For me, it was about being biblically correct."
I was challenged by a Miss USA titleholder today, and if you're honest, I bet you were too. Just ask yourself - If you are a Christian who claims to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6), are you more concerned with being politically correct or biblically correct?