Miss (Christian) America
- Thursday, May 01, 2003
Immediately after the telecast, Miss America officials accused Scoates of breaking the contract because she mentioned Christianity. Scoates responded that Parks had raised the subject and therefore voided the agreement. Nevertheless, she consented not to bring up religion during the year unless first asked. Usually her faith became the first question in appearances. Soon churches inundated the organization with requests for Scoates to speak. Seeing that discussing religious views on the air actually created favorable publicity, the Miss America organization eventually dropped its objections.
—Terry Meeuwsen, 1973
"It was so out of the context for the day," says Scoates, the only Miss America also to win the congeniality contest at the event. "No one mixed the secular and religious in conversations back then." Hundreds of people sent Bibles to Scoates in gratitude for her stance. In effect, she opened the door for future Christian contestants to be more outspoken about their beliefs.
Scoates believes the Miss America pageant attracts a large number of Christians because of its format. "Kids raised in churches have many opportunities to perform in front of people," says Scoates, who used ventriloquism as her onstage talent. "What better place is there to tell about your faith than the Miss America pageant?"
The fact that participants now readily proclaim their faith also is an indication of how the lines between sacred and secular in society are more clearly delineated. In 2001, first runner-up Abbie Rabine (a.k.a. Miss Massachusetts) recalls that all five finalists professed to be committed Christians, and she estimates that 30 of the 50 women that year held Christian convictions. Contestants these days quickly determine how public they will be with their faith during the preliminary events before the telecast, which have stretched to 17 days now compared to five days when Terry Meeuwsen participated.
Meeuwsen recalls all contestants gathering for prayer every night before the competition back in 1972. Erin Moss estimates that one-third of last September's contestants professed to be evangelical Christians. Each day, the Christian competitors met for prayer and Bible studies.
Thirty years ago Meeuwsen had an opportunity to evangelize the moment after being crowned. Because the show ran short that year, Bert Parks asked her what being Miss America meant to her. Meeuwsen proceeded to talk about Jesus' parable of the loaves and fishes. During the next year she spoke in churches about twice a month.
Meeuwsen remembers only one request to tone down her rhetoric. One of the organization's sponsors asked her to not mention Jesus but instead talk about God. Meeuwsen refused.
"I had perfect freedom to say whatever I wanted," says Meeuwsen, who began her reign before
—Nicole Johnson, 1999
As Miss America changes with the times, the "swimsuit fitness" portion of the program has become more revealing. In Meeuwsen's day, all the women wore one-piece bathing outfits. Today, women don both one-piece and two-piece swimsuits for the nationally televised pageant.
Tangra Riggle says she struggled with the swimsuit competition but reasoned that it only counted for 10 percent of the score. "It didn't violate my morals and I figured the benefits—scholarship dollars—outweighed the costs," she says.
Moss calls the swimsuit segment the most difficult part of the event for her, especially because of her ministry plans. "I came to the conclusion that the judges are looking for physical fitness and muscle tone," she says.
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