Harold had no qualms. "Christians swim and they wear swimsuits," she says. "The outfits worn in the competition are far more modest than ones at the beach."

Some Christians are opposed to the entire concept of a beauty pageant, yet Harold draws a parallel to Esther in the Old Testament. While humans picked Esther as queen because of her physical attributes resulting from six months of beauty treatments, God designated her to stand up for virtue in a hostile society. "I am under no illusion that I won because of beauty or talent," Harold says. "God has creative ways of using people to make a difference. We should never limit him to the traditional ways we conceive of ministry."

Staying the course

The Miss America organization has vast control in determining Harold's schedule until she relinquishes her crown, but she strives to attend events that are important to her, especially where young people are present. As she continues her reign, Harold is trying to ignore the criticisms about her beliefs and focus on helping young people.

"Certainly there are going to be people who disagree with me on every issue," the future law-school student reasons. "If I get sidetracked debating and trying to change opinions, then I become less effective. But I won't endorse agendas that run counter to my belief system."

Harold has found her newfound fame to be a tremendous training ground for political life, noting the daily interaction with media and being subjected to public examination. But for the moment, she's enjoying the national spotlight and the opportunity to boldly proclaim her Christian values.

"If you're a Christian it needs to be manifest in every aspect of your life," she says. "If you encounter any adversity in life, God can use it."

A Christian Reader original article. John W. Kennedy is a writer and editor based in Springfield, Missouri.Christian Miss Americas Through the Decades

Vonda Van Dyke Scoates, 1965

She was the first Miss America to speak about her faith on national television. An accomplished singer and speaker, her first book, That Girl in Your Mirror, sold over 1 million copies. Her late husband, David Tyler Scoates, was a well-known minister in Southern California.

Terry Meeuwsen, 1973
Today this wife and mother of four is best known as co-host of Pat Robertson's 700 Club. "We need to share [God's] light with gusto," she says, "understanding that the opportunity is a privilege."

Cheryl Prewitt Salem, 1980
At age 11, Salem's face was scarred and her left leg crushed in a near-fatal car accident. Doctors said she would never walk again, but she was miraculously healed five years later after attending a revival meeting. An inspiration to many, she has written several books, including Mourning to Morning, which deals with the loss of her 5-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor in 1999. She now travels and speaks extensively with the Salem Family Ministry, an evangelical outreach.

Heather Whitestone McCallum, 1995
Profoundly deaf since she was 18 months old, McCallum was the first woman with a disability to be crowned Miss America. Today she says the biggest handicap in the world is negative thinking, as she shares her message of faith and inspiration. Last year, she received a cochlear implant, which she hopes will restore some of her hearing. Her latest book is Let God Surprise You.

Erika Harold's message on sexual abstinence places her in a long-standing Christian traditon. For a quick history of the abstinence message in the church, click here.

Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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