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James Dobson praised Miss California USA Carrie Prejean for preaching a sermon with her life. Miles McPherson, her pastor, compared her to Esther. Prejean claimed God chose her and trusted her to speak out. Even now that she has been stripped of her title, Prejean is on the talk show circuit talking about her beliefs. "When God is for you, no one can be against you," she told Larry King.

I've been studying religion and beauty pageants for my Ph.D. dissertation, and even I'm still trying to wrap my head around the last two months of headlines. Nobody expected Prejean's comments about gay marriage to be news, nor for American evangelical communities to promote Prejean as a pageant preacher.

The irony of the controversy is not how unique Prejean is for using the pageant to promote her Christian beliefs, but how in line with pageant tradition she is. Christians have long participated in such beauty pageants, and they quite frequently win. And not only do they have religious justifications for their participation, many frequently have Christian motivations for their participation.

Remember, for example, Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, who faced resistance over her desire to advocate abstinence during her reign. Miss America 1973, Terry Meeuwsen, Miss America 1990, Debbye Turner, and Miss America 1995, Heather Whitestone have also put their beliefs into practice through pageant participation. Indeed, they used their crowns to open doors to minister to others in unique ways, paving the way for other pageant preachers like Prejean.

But these are only some of the more prominent names. Winners of Miss USA and Miss America often herald their Christianity. In both contests, however, as well as in preliminaries and state pageants that lead ...

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