Biblical Morality - Miss America Speaks out on Faith, Home Schooling, and Abstinence

At the Cape Town Workshop of the SA Law Reform Commission there was a young woman who said: "I am a Christian and have decided to keep myself pure until marriage. So these new laws do not apply to me. I shall not have problems with a boy friend who leaves me or with fatherless children I have to support." - "True," they all replied, "If everybody acted like you, indeed, we would not need such laws." - Abstinence teaching is the most effective prevention of broken hearts and lives, but the authorities refuse to promote it.

Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, however, used her position to encourage young people to abstinence before marriage. Unwilling to let political correctness dictate her behavior, she stood for what she believed and endured the controversy that came with it. When pageant officials attempted to suppress her, she did not back down. Finally, on September 20, 2003, she passed the tiara on to her successor and gave the following interview to Radio host Jim Bennett of WorldNetDaily.

She said: "God started to make things happen for me in my life. I remember, He encouraged me to enter the pageant, saying, "This is something I want you to do." I wasn't sure that it would turn out successfully. But He enabled me to become Miss America.

He spoke to my heart after winning and said that He wanted me to speak about abstinence. There were a lot of people who discouraged me from doing that. But others sent me that verse from the Book of Esther: "Who knows that you have been brought to royalty for such a time as this." And God said, "This is why I brought you to royalty: For such a time as this."

When I look back on all the questions and doubts I had faced, I recognized instantly: That was why. Because I was on a national stage being questioned, being under fire, being targeted. And there were days when I did not feel that I could stand up to it. But God was saying again, "It's not how you feel, but it's about being obedient." And God never let me down… I can honestly say that I've come to love Jesus Christ. It's because He's real, and He loves me, and He is the answer for every problem that I may face in life." (Miss America 2003, speaking in Iowa on September 27).

In his interview Jim Bennett asked Erika Harold: You've had to do a lot of fighting for one so young - not only were you bullied, harassed, and threatened by your classmates in high school, but last year, as Miss America, your convictions made you a target because they were deemed politically incorrect. To what factors in your upbringing do you credit your strength?

A: Well, my parents raised us in a Christian family. I've got three younger brothers and sisters, and we had to go to church regardless of whether we felt like it or not. I was like a lot of teenagers. I think I actually said: "God's everywhere, he knows where I am, even if I'm in bed on Sunday morning!" But my parents didn't buy into that. They forced me to go, because they knew that there would be a speaker one day who would say something that would plant a seed in my heart. They said, "What you do as an adult, you're responsible for; but God entrusted you to us, and we're going to take the responsibility to train you up the way in which you should go." They taught me also to stand up for what I believe in. It's really easy to have a faith and to believe in something, but it's hard in this day and age to stand up for that. But if you have lifesaving information, if you have something that can be the hope and the answer, then you have an obligation not just to believe it for yourself, but to share it with other people.

Q: You're obviously very close to your mother. In fact, I believe I've heard you say more than once that she's your hero. I understand she home-schooled you through the fourth grace. Looking back, what are your feelings about the experience? Did it also prepare you for the struggles that were ahead of you?

A: I think home-schooling is a wonderful option, and there are a lot of misconceptions that exist about it. Some people think that those who have been home-schooled lack social skills or the ability to interact with others, but for me it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. My mother was able to gear my subject matter to things that were of most interest to me, and she was able to find ways to really bring out the best academic insights that I had. I think that kind of individual attention is something that a lot of students don't get in public schools.

Q: But your experience in public school was sometimes very dangerous, wasn't it? I mean you were threatened, your home was vandalized, you were sexually harassed, and some of your fellow students once told you they were pooling their lunch money to buy a rifle so that they could kill you.

A: As Miss America, I received many, many letters from young people chronicling their own experiences of victimization. I had read the statistics that over 80 percent of students are victimized at some point in time at school. I received letters from young people saying they woke up every morning wishing they could die because each and every day they were told they were worthless. They didn't have anybody to stand up for them. - They wrote me letters saying I had made them feel that they could believe in themselves. I actually had the opportunity to counsel a young woman who said that she was suicidal. I had the opportunity to pray with her and give her some hope. So that's the kind of legacy I hope to have left as Miss America.

Q: What was your first clue that the Miss America organization was trying to prevent you from talking about sexual abstinence?

A: I started to hear from pro-family groups that their phone calls were not being returned when they tried to book me for abstinence presentations. That really surprised me, because if you believe in the foundation of democracy you have to be able to share your ideas with a broad variety of media. That was probably the first indication to me. I really wasn't aware at the time of all the things that were going on behind the scenes.

Q: Once you won your battle, though, and were free to speak, you could have blasted those who tried to bully you into silence. But you didn't. You said you wouldn't discuss it until after your successor was crowned. Why?

A: Well, I knew that God wanted me to stand firm in what I believe. But I also knew that He wanted me to carry myself in a gracious and dignified way. It would have undermined my testimony if, while saying, "I'm going to stand up for what I believe," I was behaving in a manner that appeared un-Christian to the people in the Miss America organization. - God puts us in places where we are able to witness to people who oppose us. During the course of the year they had opportunities to see me present the abstinence message and to see that it's something that's received well by young people. It gives them hope. And I think that may have changed the way the Miss America organization views the abstinence issue.

Q: How did the Lord minister to you during all this? I assume your family played an important supportive role as well.

A: My family was a very strong support system. They would talk to me daily. They would pray. But I depended more on the Lord during that time because I wasn't with my family and friends. When you're Miss America, you are separated from those that are closest to you. So I was just traveling on the road with one traveling companion. At that time I really had to rely on God. I had to ask Him each and every day to give me the courage to speak the things that I knew He wanted me to stand for and to be able to treat people in a way that would honour Him. I had to pray to Him specifically: "This is an appearance that I have to make. I don't feel strong enough to do it. Please give me the strength, please give me the words to speak to this group of people." And He never let me down.

If you're saying that which everyone agrees with, you're not a leader, you're merely a cheerleader. You're an echo. If you want to use your position to influence people, you do have to take a stand. You have to challenge the status quo. And if you're pressing for change, inevitably there's going to be opposition. But that's the only way you actually make a difference.

Each and every day, God asks us simply to be obedient, and sometimes we think, "Well, how is this going to work out in the long run?" We have no idea how the groundwork we lay is going to help someone else. Certainly, people laid the groundwork for me - by their prayers, by standing up for things along the way. Each one of us is required not only to be the beneficiary of that, but also to leave behind a legacy. So I hope that my standing up gives other young people who have something they believe in passionately - I hope it gives them courage to stand up and recognize that they'll be supported by their fellow Christians.

This interview is slightly shortened.

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