Margaret Gorman was the first Miss America, crowned in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1921. Gorman, who died in 1995, once told a newspaper: "I never cared to be Miss America. It wasn't my idea. I am so bored by it all. I really want to forget the whole thing."
The Miss America beauty pageant (pardon me, "scholarship competition") has bored me ever since I had occasion to meet a certain Miss Ohio back in the 1980s. As a fledgling radio news reporter, I was sent to the pageant contestant's home to do a story on her and her parents.
I recall little about the experience -- save that the young woman was really nasty to her mother and dad, ordering them around like servants. She was a finalist at the national pageant that year. But the encounter turned me off and made me dismissive of Miss America.
Until this year. A 23-year-old Wisconsin native, Laura Kaeppeler, was chosen a week ago Saturday in Las Vegas as the 91st Miss America.
All the contestants are encouraged to trumpet a social cause -- to advocate for something beyond themselves and their personal (and fleeting) physical beauty. What intrigues me is that Kaeppeler chose as her platform supporting and mentoring children of incarcerated parents.
Kaeppeler's choice is more than simple altruism. It's personal. Her dad is a felon, once having served 18 months in prison for mail fraud.
On her website, Kaeppeler discusses the shame associated with being a child of an inmate. The stigma such a child receives (e.g., "the apple must not fall far from the tree") caused her anguish and turned her -- she says -- into a more forgiving and compassionate person.
Two nights later, a pair of Republican candidates sparred in a televised debate over the status in society of felons who have served their time.
One would-be president said he thought a person who paid his debt to society should be allowed to vote. Another said that those convicted of a violent crime should never be allowed to vote again, even after successfully serving a prison term.
I suspect the latter candidate's view will resonate with much of our nation. It's a tough position, and perceived toughness usually wins at election time. I wonder, though, where Jesus might have come down on this matter.
Jesus once found himself in the midst of boiling anger. A crowd had gathered around a woman. The issue wasn't her voting rights but her right to keep living. She had been accused of adultery, and the rock-toting mob had come to dispense final justice.
Jesus turned the group aside with well-chosen words. Kneeling in the dirt, he looked up at the woman in question and made it clear he hadn't been fooled. Jesus told her he didn't condemn her but that she should go and "not sin again."
There's sounding tough and being tough. Toughness, thy name is Jesus. Compassion, thy name is Jesus. Love, thy name is Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.