Miss California and the Politics of Sexual Redemption
Is the church being hypocritical about sexual ethics?

I know this is little late, but for me, nothing illustrates the current state of the church's witness in regard to sexual issues in America better than the Ms. California/USA pageant episode a couple months ago. It was an embarrassing irruption of the Real that any follower of Christ has got to wince at (it's so embarrassing).

Here a woman prances before the media in a minuscule bikini (ironically designed by another ex-evangelical, Jessica Simpson), a woman who had ("sexually-enhancing") cosmetic surgery, who had been in a revealing photo shoot of some sort, and she is asked about her position on same sex unions. She responds by saying, "I think in my country, in my family, 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."

The next day on the Today show, she said "I don't take back what I said." She added that she "had spoken from my heart, from my beliefs and for my God. It's not about being politically correct," she said. "For me, it's about being biblically correct." Using the "B" word - "biblical" - in front of the cameras makes her an evangelical stereotype. In the process she becomes a symbol of evangelicalism's lack of political (communal) credibility to witness to the gay/lesbian populations.

By saying what she said about gay unions moments after the swimsuit competition, Ms. California was basically telling the world, "We do the same things, but for gay people it's sin. Lust is good, objectifying my body is normal, the fulfillment of all desire is good." Then, on the other hand, she says to the gay and lesbian world, "But you can't do any of this, because you're different."

Such an episode reveals the inner contradiction of our own sexual life and politics as evangelicals. It reveals how pointing out someone else's sin allows us to ignore the empty frivolity of our own sexual lives. We do not need to fess up that our own sexual habits are so badly skewed, our desires so poorly oriented. We can keep ignoring the emptiness of our own sexual sanctification by displacing our lack of "enjoyment" onto "the others." This has become the nature of our witness in society.

I believe the gay, lesbian, bi and transsexual groups pose the defining test case of the decade for the witness of the church in the new post-Christendom contexts of North America. And we evangelicals are failing miserably. The broader evangelical church of my heritage has, generally speaking, not been capable of speaking (any kind of) truth into the sexual lives of anyone - nevermind the gay/lesbian community. We have been hitherto incapable (theologically) of embodying the sexual redemption made possible in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And until we get our own communities to line up with the sexual redemption in Christ, to the gay community we look like empty, judgmental, duplicitous fools who see everyone else as thieves stealing away our enjoyment.

July 20, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 23 comments


October 29, 2010  8:45am

As a lesbian woman in a Christian committed relationship, I was interested in reading your post as you hit the hypocracy nail on the head that I see. However when you said, 'For those who need to know, I do not affirm gay/lesbian sexual practice as normative for the Christian church.' I had to laugh as heaven forbid you become classified as 'one of those.'

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Kyle Nolan

July 27, 2009  10:06am

Leonard, I disagree. She was addressing the issues of lust and objectifying her own body through her participation in the pageant, although not verbally. By stepping onto that stage on national television in a skimpy swimsuit, allowing herself to be ogled by (i'm guessing) millions of viewers, she was making a clear statement about all of those things. Then she answered a question based on the same Biblical sexual ethic that she'd been ignoring for the whole show, and presumably her whole pageant career. I don't have a problem with what she said, since it is apparently what she believes, but the sad part of the situation was that the Evangelical community embraced her and her statement without acknowledging the drastic contradiction between her words and her actions: "Biblical sexual ethics are important, but I'm going to ignore them when they pertain to my own actions."

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David Fitch

July 22, 2009  3:57pm

I've been in Canada relaxing with infrequent internet so I've not been able to respond.But I need to say thanks to the many people who made excellent and helpful comments. To leonard, I think my point (one of them at least) is that there can be no blurring because these issues because they are really all the same, deeply entertwined. The fact that we carry on the American sexualization of relationships in our church life, makes our witness so duplicitous to outsiders. Peace

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July 22, 2009  10:22am

I think you are mixing things together and that creates more confusion. The question was on same sex marriage. It was not about lust, it was not about pornography, it was not about bikinis and beauty pagents. She answered a question about same sex unions. To then draw a connection that says, “We do the same things, but for gay people it’s sin. Lust is good, objectifying my body is normal, the fulfillment of all desire is good.” Then, on the other hand, she says to the gay and lesbian world, “But you can’t do any of this, because you’re different.” is quite a leap. She was not addressing these issues. Are you saying that same sex unions are merely about lust? Is that a connection you are making? Are you saying that same sex unions are about objectifying? Is that the connection you are making? She was saying, "I believe that same sex unions are wrong" that is it. It was the rest of the world that reacted. I think you are right, we do mess up sexuality and contests like this might be a part of the issue. However I think you blurred the lines here of what She said.

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July 21, 2009  11:01pm

Isn't it more Godly to focus efforts on the sick, poor, the needy & the oppressed rather than on beauty contests or recreational sex? It's been more than 2,000 years & mankind still can't get it right. Whaddabuncha donkeys we all are!

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you betcha

July 21, 2009  9:24pm

well said!....how can Christiandom condone such behavior in young women? methinks it is because women are subjugated in the pulpit everytime the women's issue points out that men must be the head..etc, etc.... this erroneous cultural inscription layered over the true meaning of Christian redemption and grace has taken it's toll on Christianity's leading the way in the area of wholeness. men are going to have to concede power in order to gain power. the truth being that once women have the right to exercise their spiritual gifts, they will be respected and viewed as they ought to be. joint heirs of Christ. (sigh)

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July 21, 2009  2:28pm

This article made some good points, but never forget Ms. Prejean DID NOT choose to be in this position initially. She was ambushed by the question and answered it in a very courteous way. Much of the criticism of Ms. Prejean has come from outside the Christian community in an attempt to divide the Christian community. Even though this article provides some insightful commentary, it also has the potential to further that end. We hardly hear anything about Perez Hilton, and he was the one who actually started the whole fiasco with an agendized question and a vitriolic rant later.

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Fernando Villegas

July 21, 2009  2:12pm

Prophetik Soul, It's not just Carrie Prejean and the contemporary Christian music industry that embody this contradiction. It's me too, and probably more often that I'm aware of. And if the Bible is right, it's probably you too. It's very easy to point out the hypocricy and inconsistency in others. I think more of us need to worry about allowing God to point out the hypocricy and inconsitency in ourselves.

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Fernando Villegas

July 21, 2009  2:03pm

I don't disagree with the general thrust of this post, and I certainly think Ms. Prejean should have approached the aftermath of the controversy with more humility and with a deeper acknowldegement of her own flaws. That being said, I want to push back some on the criticism of Miss California. Ms. Prejean's comments were made in answer to a question that was asked of her, over which she had no control. She was suddenly put on the spot, having to answer a question on a controversial issue in front of a live national television audience with no prior prepation. I guess I ask myself how I would have responded in that kind of situation. Despite what happened in response to the controversy, it was not a controversy she was looking for; and I think it's kind of unfair to attack her personally for her initial answer at the pageant.

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Robert Angison

July 21, 2009  11:10am

I told our congregation the Sunday after this business with Hilton and Miss California happened that we should be mindful which whom we hitch our wagons in these situations. By attempting to make hay over this situation evangelical leadership threw the Church in with someone who's character and conduct had not been fully discerned. As it came about she is less concerned with her personal morality and sexual fidelity than she should be. If anything it is another reiteration of the evangelical conundrum of being fifteen miles wide and an inch deep. We need a holistic sexual theology that shows the biblical covenant expressed in the bond of a man and woman in marriage. Too often we tell kids sex is great but wait and proceed to make it the be all end all of our relationships. That isn't the point it. Living in a culture that is inbiding deeply of all things sensual we need to return to biblical fidelity about this issue. You are the Church! Robert Angison

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