GROVE CITY, Pa. — Racy Internet photos have prompted some social conservatives to question the Religious Right's embrace of Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean as a model Christian.
The Miss California USA pageant winner became an instant celebrity April 19 when she answered a question about same-sex marriage from a well-known gay blogger who was serving as a pageant judge. She said she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Two days later Baptist Press credited the 21-year-old college student — who attends San Diego's Rock Church but volunteers at Southern Baptist-affiliated Shadow Mountain Community Church — with standing by her Christian beliefs even though it may have cost her the crown.
Prejean got a standing ovation when she appeared April 23 at the Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in Nashville, Tenn.
The National Organization for Marriage featured her in a video ad opposing gay marriage unveiled April 30.
Even before semi-nude photos of Prejean from past modeling shoots began cropping up on celebrity websites, some were beginning to question whether religious conservatives' new heroine sent a wrong message about Christian modesty.
"Is anyone else puzzled by the response to our new family values spokeswoman?" Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, said in a blog. "For taking a position against same-sex marriage in a beauty contest, she gets invited to the Dove Awards and offered a scholarship to attend Liberty University during her senior year by Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr."
"Before some of my readers get all uppity, let me add that I think Perez Hilton was a jerk about the whole issue, should never have asked such a volatile question and reacted in extremely poor taste afterward," Throckmorton wrote. "But unless religious conservatives have some kind of answer to our girls about how they can lionize a Miss USA contestant and stress modesty at the same time, I do not see the virtue in giving her the platform."
Pastor Larry DeBruyn of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis wrote an open letter noting "the irony of this whole business is that here was a scantily clad woman — this of course can provoke lust in men (Matthew 5:27-29) — who was asked about marriage by a judge who supposedly isn't even attracted to women."
"She gives the politically incorrect answer and in doing so alienated the politically correct judges and forfeited possible victory in the beauty pageant," DeBruyn opined. "By giving a correct answer to a loaded question about marriage, and by doing so without hardly any clothes on, Miss Prejean has now become the cause célèbre amongst conservatives and evangelicals for her affirmation of biblically correct marriage."
Writer Dave Welch added comments on the conservative website World Net Daily in his article, "Is Carrie Prejean Really a Hero?"
"I respect Miss Prejean for her stand and her willingness to testify of her faith," Welch wrote. "However, I much more highly admire, respect and esteem my wife, my daughters and all the girls and women who have chosen the higher road. They are determined to show that their worth is not in how they look in a bathing suit but that they are wonderful creations of a loving God who designed them with meticulous detail as they are."
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson interviewed Prejean for a two-part broadcast aired May 11-12, in which she described what went through her mind when she was asked the question about whether all states should legalize gay marriage.
"Honestly I felt that Satan — and I don't want to say that this person represented Satan — but I felt as though Satan was trying to tempt me in asking me this question, and then God was in my head and in my heart saying, 'Carrie, do not compromise this,'" she said. "'You know, you need to stand up for me. You need to share with all these people — if there were 95 percent of the people in the audience who were gay — you need to witness to them, and you need to show that you are not willing to compromise that for this title of Miss USA.' So I just knew right there it wasn't about winning. It was about just being true to my convictions."
After the pageant, Prejean's pastor gave a sermon comparing her experience to the Old Testament Book of Esther, a story about a Jewish woman who ascends to the Persian throne and manages to save her people.
Asked about the comparison, Prejean asked Dobson, "I think it was a beauty contest she was in, right?"
Dobson said it was. "He was choosing a queen, and he chose Esther," he said. "She won the contest. So the parallel there is really interesting."
Thinking about it, Prejean told Dobson, "I feel as though God had chosen me. In the top five in Miss USA, he had trusted in me that I would have spoken out. I was going to stand up. I was the only one in that top five that wasn't going to be politically correct."
Dobson told Prejean "with your life you a preaching a Christian sermon" to people who lack the courage to stand up for what they believe.
"The media is going to try to destroy you," Dobson warned. "That is why I ask our listeners to be in prayer for you."
"They did everything they could to destroy Sarah Palin for much of the same reason, the fact that she dared to bring a Down syndrome child into the world instead of aborting that child like 90 percent of Down syndrome children are," Dobson said. "And because she dared to stand up for life, those are politically incorrect things, and they have done everything they could to hurt her. And they are already trying to do it to you."
On May 12 Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA pageant, said semi-topless photos of Prejean cropping up on the Internet were not racy enough to cost her to lose her Miss California crown.
Dobson told listeners the photos became public after his interview with Prejean was recorded but before it aired.
"Focus on the Family has been a strong supporter of modesty and righteousness in the culture for many years, and yet we have chosen to go ahead and air these two programs after Carrie explained that the pictures were taken when she was 17 years old," Dobson said "She's now 21, and in fact will be 22 on Wednesday, and she regrets doing it and said that she would not do it again. Most of us did things when we were teens that we're embarrassed about, too, but life goes on."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.