Former Miss California runner-up Carrie Prejean became a lightning rod for controversy this spring after she answered Perez Hilton's question about whether states should legalize gay marriage.
"We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," Prejean said. "And you know what, 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, and that's how I believe that it should be—between a man and a woman."
Several Christian organizations, including Focus on the Family, Liberty University, the Gospel Music Association, and Family Research Council, quickly scheduled Prejean for interviews and speaking engagements. Photos of Prejean in her underwear emerged, and pageant officials announced that they had paid for her breast implants. Miss California terminated Prejean's contract in June, alleging that she had breached her contract. Prejean then sued the pageant on several grounds, including libel. Prejean settled the lawsuit with the pageant last week, while a gossip blog reported that she had appeared in a solo sex tape. Prejean spoke with Christianity Today on Monday about her new book, Still Standing, and the recent allegation.
It's been quite a ride for you since the pageant. What's been the best part, what's been the hardest part, and how have you dealt with the turn of events?
I guess the hardest part was just all the attacks. I was just an innocent person at a pageant. I was asked a question and I gave an honest answer, and I wasn't trying to be this political person. I did not have my own agenda. I was just being honest. I think the best part was that some of my most memorable experiences have come from the pageant. It's so funny, in my book I talk about when I ended up at the hospital with the children instead of the other [event after pageant officials] gave me the wrong address, so I was able to visit for over two hours with kids in the cancer ward, just visit them. That's the kind of stuff I thought Miss California did. It's amazing how God works in such mysterious ways, because I wasn't even supposed to end up there, but I was able to serve and do what I really love doing—be with kids, especially those who are disabled or who have their last chance to live.
The hardest part was definitely giving an honest answer and being attacked for it. I've never experienced such hateful attacks and such personal attacks. It's not about me hating anyone. It was me answering a question and being honest with myself and the people around me, and it just so happened that because of the liberally biased media and culture that we live in, everything was just twisted around. Because I said I was a Christian, all of a sudden people are just trying to undermine me and discredit me and make me look like a fool.
Do you feel like you've become a spokesperson for traditional marriage since the pageant? Is that something you want to be known for?
That was never my original platform. I'm not the most vocal, but I'm the most visible as of right now. I'm not out there at rallies, and I'm not campaigning against gay marriage, but it's an honest opinion of mine. And I was asked; that's what people forget. I was asked what I thought. I told them what I thought, and no one should be punished and no one should be fired and no one should be attacked in the way that I was.
You refer to your pastor, Miles McPherson, throughout the book. You indicate that he played a strong role after the pageant when he met up with you in New York before a media interview. Do you think you would have handled what happened differently had he not met up with you?
I think it was so important that I had counsel there for me. I just had my mom traveling with me to New York, so it was such a blessing to have him there. I'd never met him before, so it's a remarkable story how he was able to be with me and give me the counsel that I needed at that time.
What's the best advice he gave you about handling the stress?
He basically told me every day, "Carrie, don't pay attention to the drama. Don't get into the drama. God has a plan for you, he chose you for this. This is your time to figure out what God has in store for you, and you will figure it out." He used to tell me, "I know you probably think this is a very hard part of your life, but you will get past this."
You said you grew up in a home where your parents took you to church. Did you have a turning point where you decided to become a Christian, or did you have a conversion experience?
After high school I went off to college, and I was just trying to fit in somewhere, trying to find my place. I went to Santa Barbara and I found out that it was a big party school, and I just didn't seem to fit in. So after I came back, I started going to San Diego Christian College, and that's where I felt at home. From there I started going to the Rock [Church], and I found where I felt I belonged. I think that was at a Christian school where it's cool to study on Friday nights, and you don't have the pressure of going out and drinking, and you are surrounded by people who have the same interests as you. That was a big turning point in my life, when I started going to the Rock, when I was about 18.
Was there a point in your life where you decided, "I believe in Jesus"?
I grew up being a Christian, and if you grow up in a Christian home, you just go along saying, "I'm a Christian, I'm a Christian, I'm a Christian," but you don't really know what that means. But when you become a certain age—for me that was when I was 18—I realized that I need the Lord. I need to surround myself with people who love the Lord as well. We're all in process. No one's perfect; Christians are especially not perfect. It's funny—there are people who think Christians are perfect or are holy people who go around judging everybody, but [it's] actually the complete opposite. We love one another, we don't always love the sin but we love the sinner. When I was 18, I was really serious about it, and it was a decision I made. It wasn't my parents saying, "This is what you need to do." I decided to go to a Christian college, I decided to start living my life the way that I thought I should have been living it.
Going back to your book, in the middle you explain the turning point in the pageant. Did you feel prepared to answer Perez Hilton's question?
Looking back now, everything happened so fast, but yeah, I was prepared. I think I'm a pretty good public speaker, I think I can handle questions, especially now after everything I've been through. I can probably answer any question there is. But I had the right team preparing me for tough questions. Did I think a question like that would be asked, and that [I would] be punished for giving an honest answer? No.
Looking back, would you re-word your reply?
Looking back now, I've become so much more educated. In fact, Perez Hilton wasn't even correct when asking the question. He said, "Vermont recently legalized same-sex marriage. Do you think other states should follow suit? Why or why not?" Actually, the people in Vermont didn't even vote. It was the legislature that voted. It's funny, looking back now; obviously I'm a lot more educated [now]. I'm not a spokesperson for traditional marriage, but looking back now, it was such a biased question. For a judge to ask that question and have his own agenda, and if you don't agree with him, [he will] call you every name in the book and then mock you for seven months? That's just crazy.
Have you forgiven him?
Oh yeah. I actually feel really sorry for him. I really do. If you look at his website, it's kind of scary what he does.
So how would you answer a question like that today: Why do you oppose same-sex marriage?
I don't oppose anything. I'm just for traditional marriage. I'm not against anything. I just believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. There's nothing controversial about it—most of the people in the state that I was representing believe it, and the majority of people in America believe it, from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama. They believe it, so why is it such a big deal?
What if the majority didn't believe that? Would you still say that?
Yeah, it just happens that everyone else agrees with me. I didn't know the percentage of voters who voted against Proposition 8. That was not my platform—I wasn't out there to say marriage is between a man and a woman. I answered the question just like I would answer a question on any other topic. It was just an honest answer.
Does your Christian faith inform your views?
Absolutely. If you read the Bible, it seems like everybody is trying to argue with the truth. It's in the Bible, and if you believe in the Bible you believe it's the truth. It starts with Adam and Eve and ends with a wedding.
How do you respond to people who might say you hate gays and lesbians?
People who say I hate gays and lesbians are, in a polite way, ignorant. I think they don't see that just because someone doesn't agree with redefining marriage that they hate you—I've never said that I hated gays. I have friends who are gay. I have hairdressers who are gay. I live in California—that's the most liberal state there is. I am not afraid of gays. It's just a personal opinion. They have an opinion; I have my own opinion. Why is my opinion not valid?
Your book talks about ways pageant officials mistreated you. Why didn't you drop out of the pageant early when you saw those signs?
It was a progress. They didn't start to show their true colors right away, but as time went on I began to see it. In the beginning I ignored it. I was tested twice—they asked me to not talk about God anymore and told me that people would get offended if I talked about God. Since when is talking about God offensive? I should never have to be afraid to talk about that. Why didn't I drop out? I was wanting to be Miss USA. I don't quit things. I'm a very competitive person, and I didn't let my detractors get in the way of achieving my goal.
Some Christians have spoken out against women participating in beauty pageants. How would you respond to them?
I think you can be a Christian and compete in a pageant. I think you can be a Christian and be a model. It depends on how you act as that role, and if you remember who you are and you remember what you stand for and stay true to who you are, you can be in any job. Just don't compromise what you believe in.
How do you feel about being held up as a role model for defending your faith?
I don't say I'm a role model. I just think it's something people see in me. Real role models don't have to come out and say they are. I feel good. I know I've impacted other people, especially my generation. I think my generation is apathetic. They really don't care what's going on around them, and that's a big concern because our future depends on them, and it's scary to know that some people my age aren't in touch with what's going on in the world around them. They don't care about voting and elections.
Christian groups have asked you to come to their events and included you in advertisements. Did you ever think these groups were exploiting you for their own ends?
No, I think they embraced what I stood for. People forget that I'm 22 years old. Not many people would have done what I did. Everything was on the line; I'd worked so hard for this goal, and I wasn't willing to lie, to be politically correct to win the pageant. Regardless of who you are, people are drawn toward that. People are drawn toward a 22-year-old speaking out for what she believes in and being brutally attacked because of it. I don't think any of these groups are exploiting me. I think they're embracing the younger generation doing something.
You wrote that you don't regret getting breast implants. Have you ever wondered whether it might be incompatible with your Christian faith?
No, I don't think there's anything wrong with getting breast implants as a Christian. I think it's a personal decision. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says you shouldn't get breast implants.
You write that you're still standing, but do you have any regrets from everything that happened?
No, I don't have any regrets with anything I said or that happened during the pageant. I think it's important to know that I will fail, I'm not perfect. We're all sinners, and none of us are perfect. No one should be pointing the finger, when we fall down we should get up and continue what we should be doing.
Can you comment on the reports that you settled a lawsuit against Miss USA because of sex tapes?
Everything that was discussed in mediation was confidential. There is a video out there of me. I was really young and immature. It was the worst mistake of my life. It was a really stupid, stupid decision that I made. But I take full responsibility for it. Did I think I would ever be a celebrity or that my boyfriend at the time, who I sent it to, would ever blackmail me? No. I think we all make mistakes and we all do things when we're young that sometimes backfire later in life. I give advice to younger girls in my book because I've learned a lot since I was 16 or 17 years old.
You've apologized to your fans for posing in some revealing photos. Do you think parents will worry that you're not a good role model for their children?
No one's perfect. You're not perfect, I'm not perfect. Everyone's made mistakes. So if people want to judge me and say that I'm not a good person because of something I did when I was young, that's their problem. But what really matters is who I am now. We as Christians need to stick together and realize that the Enemy is powerful, and that there are so many people out there who will try and destroy good people. It's a crazy world, that's all I can say. All Christians fall short, and hopefully mothers can hear my story and check their daughters' cell phones and Facebook pages. Young people are doing it every single day.
How would you respond to people who suggest you're trying to make money off of what happened by publishing the book?
I wrote my book because it's important for people to know what's going on and how Americans every single day are being attacked for their beliefs. If they read my book, they will be inspired. I don't care who you are: If you're a conservative, if you're liberal, I think everybody will be inspired by my book and they will take a stand for what they believe in. Never back down or be bullied, because they will throw whatever they want at you, but all that matters is who you are now and how you react.
How does your faith play into reacting to people who try to bully you?
It's remembering who I am today. I wouldn't be who I am today without my faith. That's a huge part of my life—and of course my family and the support I've gotten from so many people. Even the stuff from a few days ago that's been released about when I was a teenager. No one's perfect, and God's shown me: "Carrie, you just need to stand tall, stand strong, and I'll get you through this. They won't win."
Do you have future plans?
I don't really have any plans except to continue to be a strong woman and move on with my life. I'm excited to go back to being Carrie and doing things I care about. I work with the Special Olympics and do things with my church, and I'm excited about going back to doing that.
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Alicia Cohn reviewedStill Standing for Christianity Today's women's blog, Her.meneutics.
Christianity Today previously posted an op-ed on "Pageant Preachers."
CT's politics and women's blogs wrote about Carrie Prejean several times, including: