It was an exciting moment. Carrie Prejean’s turn had arrived to answer a question from a judge during the final round of the Miss USA pageant. When the question came, Carrie’s stomach turned. The judge wanted to know what she, as the reigning Miss California and the potential Miss USA, thought about “gay marriage.” She knew what the man wanted to hear. But she also knew what she truly believed.
Carrie wondered: should she give the popular answer or speak her conscience? She quickly prayed for guidance.
We’ll get to her answer — and its aftermath — in a minute. But first, let’s take a quick look at Carrie’s life leading up to the Miss USA pageant. That will help us zero in on the point of this lesson: True marriage is worth defending … even when it costs you dearly.
Carrie Prejean was a shy child but, in high school, she became a four-sport athlete. Her softball team won a national championship. Then, encouraged by her parents, she joined a youth group at her evangelical Protestant church. She found that she loved to learn more about God, his love for her and his love for everyone. This knowledge became a source of deep joy for her.
Her parents and her church also taught her that her faith and her values would be challenged in the world today. She made a personal commitment to Christ and to her Christian values, prepared to deal with the challenges this commitment would bring.
You really think I’m pretty?
When Carrie was 17, some people began insisting that she enter beauty pageants. “I didn’t even know what a pageant was,” she told the press recently. But Carrie had always liked challenges and trying new things. The idea that she could be competitive in a beauty contest stirred her imagination.
Going for it
Carrie isn’t exaggerating when she describes herself as someone who can be very enthusiastic once she decides on a goal. She got the name of a woman who helps organize beauty pageants and called her. When the woman met Carrie, she seemed impressed. She explained the basics of the pageant and gave Carrie some information to look over and some forms to fill out. So it was that, at 17, Carrie entered her first beauty contest … and won!
In college, Carrie continued participating in beauty pageants. She spent her freshman year at a state school, but after prayer and discernment decided that she wanted to attend a Christian college. She transferred to San Diego Christian College, a school known for promoting a strong faith life.
Carrie greatly enjoyed her new school. She saw the environment of faith and intellectual challenge as an opportunity to prepare for the future: She wanted to be a Christian leader. She wanted to help bring Christ to others and make a difference in the world. Most of all, she wanted people to know the deep sense of satisfaction she had found through a personal and prayerful relationship with Jesus.
Besides her studies and her beauty pageant preparations, Carrie also got involved in outreach programs to the handicapped and the hurting. She took part in a ministry to women exploited by prostitution and pornography.
During this time, Carrie’s attitude toward beauty pageants was, “Just be joyful and be myself. Be happy with who I am and try to show kindness to everyone else.” It worked. Her successes mounted with each contest. This past November Carrie won the Miss California USA pageant. She was also voted Miss Congeniality by her fellow contestants.
Winning the Miss California USA title was exciting in itself, but it also qualified her for the Miss USA pageant. She decided to take a semester off from school to prepare for the pageant. She worked out, followed a demanding diet and studied many of the topics she might be asked about.
The Miss USA pageant took place in Las Vegas over a two-week period. Only the last day of the pageant, April 19, was shown on national television. Which brings us back to the question that changed her life.
Facing Down Fear
As the telecast began, the host named 15 finalists. Several rounds of competition followed until only five girls remained. For the final round, each finalist would have to answer a question from a celebrity judge. The girls picked judges’ numbers from a bottle and Carrie ended up with Judge No. 8 — Perez Hilton.
This man’s real name is Mario Armando Lavandeira. He is famous for his abrasive personality and insulting commentaries on TV and the Internet. He is also famous for promoting changing the definition of marriage so gay couples can get “married.”
“Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage,” said Mr. Hilton. “Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?”
This was a loaded question. Perez Hilton was setting Carrie up to either cave in to popular pressure or make a fool of herself in front of millions of people.
Or so he thought.
At first, Carrie tried to soft-pedal her beliefs. “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” she said. “We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.”
But as she spoke these words, she heard a still, small voice speaking to her heart. Which crown did she want more — the Miss USA crown or the crown Christ wanted to give her?
She interrupted herself in mid-thought. “And you know what?” she said. “I think that in my country, and 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 and … I think that it should be between a man and a woman.”
As Carrie spoke these words, an immediate reaction rose from the audience. Most people applauded, encouraged by Carrie’s bravery and honesty, but there were also some boos. You probably already know that Carrie lost the contest.
Afterward, a famous television reporter asked her about Perez Hilton’s question. Carrie was surprised that such a famous reporter would want to talk to the runner-up rather than the winner. In her mind, what happened to her was simply a side story. She soon began to find out that this was not just a side story. It had already become national news.
Digging up dirt
In May, a celebrity-gossip blog ran a photo of Carrie partially undressed. Her back was to the camera, and the image was not especially racy by today’s standards, but the organizers of the Miss California pageant announced that they were investigating. Carrie, they said, might have her Miss California title taken from her.
Speaking in her own defense, Carrie stated that she had posed for the shot when she was 17 and pursuing a career as a model. She objected to the release of the photo.
“I am a Christian, and I am a model,” she said. “Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos. Recently, photos taken of me as a teenager have been released surreptitiously to a tabloid Web site that openly mocks me for my Christian faith. I am not perfect, and I will never claim to be.”
She has also pointed out that she was “naive and young” at the time of the photography and regrets having made the decision to pose for that particular shoot. Maggie Gallagher, head of the National Organization for Marriage — which works to keep marriage between one man and one woman — spoke out in Carrie’s defense. “You don’t have to be a perfect person,” said Gallagher, “to have the right to stand up for marriage.”
The media circus followed Carrie around for weeks. Then, on June 10, the final ax fell. Carrie was stripped of her Miss California crown. This was the title that had gotten her into the Miss USA pageant to begin with.The organizers of the Miss California pageant claimed Carrie had not been cooperative in carrying out her duties. Carrie disputed that claim.
“They don’t agree with the stance that I took [on gay marriage],” she said. “They don’t like me. From Day One they wanted me out, and they got what they wanted. … I was very respectful of people even when they slandered me and humiliated me,” she added. “I have not once stooped down to their level.”
With these words, and with her acceptance of embarrassing defeat, Carrie showed the world what Christian forgiveness looks like.
A Crown lost, a crown gained
Carrie may have been stripped of her crown as Miss California, but she certainly can stand tall. She has been given a crown of courage, even if many mock her and call her a hypocrite. She has stood up for marriage at a time when it is extremely important to do so.
Marriage really matters. It matters for all of society. Carrie has done her small part to witness to the beauty and truth of marriage.
What does Carrie Prejean’s future hold? That remains to be seen. She still has many choices ahead of her.
One thing is for certain: The battle for the truth about marriage will continue. Legal experts foresee a very heated and difficult battle, because, with the approval of gay “marriage” in many states, the Christian view of marriage may be considered bigoted “hate speech” by government.
We Catholics, too, will be called on to defend marriage. Will we have the courage to stand firm as Carrie Prejean did — even when it means losing something we have worked hard for? When we experience loss, we can remember that nothing is truly lost when we stand up for truth.
On the contrary, we help others. Let us continue to speak the truth with love. Christ will give us our crown, and we will know the happiness of having helped others with our lives.