15 May 2009

The Case Against Carrie Prejean

There are two elements of the Carrie Prejean matter that I found fascinating, from an ethical perspective. First, because she said she believed, on biblical grounds, that marriage should be between a man and a woman, she has received attention because of some photos taken while modeling. It is fascinating because her position is based on an explicit prohibition in Scripture. She is vilified, on the other hand, in the absence -- arguably -- of an explicit prohibition. (There is some debate about what the Bible's requirements for modesty really entail, not so much about the prohibition of same sex relations.) In other words, the Scripture explicitly states that a man shall not lie with another man as he might do with a woman, which, at the very least, is a prohibition of homosexual pair-bonding, or, at most, a prohibition of any and all sexual encounters between members of the same sex. Her position is based upon that explicit prohibition.

It is amusing to note that the controversy about the photos proceeds upon the notion that, in saying that she believes, on biblical grounds, that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, she was also saying that she, Carrie Prejean is a paragon of Christian virtue, or, as they put it at TMZ, "biblically correct." This is the behavior of people who have no arguments for their positions, as if gay marriage really is okay because someone who says it isn't is, arguably, guilty of some moral turpitude in some area of his life. In other words, if you're not morally perfect then you have no business making any assertions regarding moral issues, even if you are asked. Given this, I wonder if Perez Hilton perfectly obeys traffic laws. If he doesn't I wonder if he would assert that stealing is wrong. I mean, if perfect obedience is the qualification for making assertions about correct behavior then I hope, if he has any beliefs about correct behavior -- and we know he does (for example: don't say you disagree with same-sex marriage) -- that he perfectly obeys the law. Otherwise, he wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on if he were ever robbed.

For all that, however, there may be something to their ire. Look at the reasoning she employs in defending the photos:

"I am a Christian, and I am a model.... Models pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos." ~ Here.
There you have it. Her appearing in the photos is justified by her job description. The job description of a model includes posing for lingerie and swimwear photos. I am a model. Therefore I pose for lingerie and swimwear photos. (Models also pose for topless and nude photos, but never mind that just now.)

It's ethical because in my profession it's an accepted practice. Carrie Prejean is not the only Christian who reasons through ethical issues in this slip-shod, fast food fashion. I suspect many of her critics are angry with her not just because of her stance on same-sex marriage but because of her elementary school level justifications for the photos. They probably think a job description is not the place to go to answer questions about whether certain elements of your work are ethical.

Look at it from their perspective. When it comes to the ethics of same-sex marriage, she relies upon the Bible. Fine. But then when it comes to the ethics of certain photos for which she posed, she relies upon her job description. Gee, I wonder why they're upset.

I suspect her critics also, speaking of the Bible to which she alluded in her reply, understand that the Bible calls Christians to eschew sensuality. And I think they understand all too well the amount of sensuality involved in beauty pageants, lingerie and swim-wear.

Self-examination and ethical thinking is hard for some Christians. They've been fighting the culture war for so long that, while they are well practiced at comparing the culture to the Scriptures, they don't have much experience comparing themselves to it with the same microscopic attention to detail. And if we slow down and really think it through, perhaps we can see that, while not entirely correct, Carrie Prejean's critics do have something of a case against her. Yes, she is a bit of a hypocrite; but that's not all. When confronted with questionable photos she shrugs her shoulders and says, "I never claimed to be perfect".

Great. She's not perfect. But she still gets to do her job. Gays still don't get to marry. She seems, to her critics anyway, to be more bothered by the imperfections of gays -- and gay marriage -- than by her own imperfections. I'm sure they believe that she can spell out, with great eloquence, the harms to society created by gays and their marriages, but not as eloquently on the harms to society of her own, surely less important imperfections. No, she doesn't want to redefine marriage. But, one could argue, her profession, among others, has been in the business of redefining several other things (like modesty) for the last several decades.

Not that I really care, but I am glad she gets to keep her crown.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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