I despise blackmail….it is the cowards way of profiting at the expense of someone's moral failure. Whatever we may think of the behavior of the one being blackmailed we should be equally outraged at those who would gleefully use bad news as a good investment.
Having said that, I also despise the steady lowering of acceptable public standards of behavior which is the result of our culture's embrace of relativistic thinking. The latest adherent to the "it's not that bad" mantra of morality is the New Jersey Pageant Board of Directors. Twenty-two year old Amy Polumbo, who is scheduled to represent the state of New Jersey in the Miss America Pageant later this year, was contacted by someone who told her if she didn't give up her crown racy pictures of her would be sent to the pageant committee. It turns out the despicable blackmailer picked the wrong victim and the wrong pageant committee. When word of the attempted blackmail leaked out, Miss Polumbo went on the offensive, refusing to give up her crown and vowing to publish the pictures herself after the pageant committee ruled on her case. The Committee looked at the pictures and agreed that although the pictures show her in "not a ladylike manner" they didn't rise to the level of requiring her to give up her crown. According to Mark Soifer, a representative for the Miss New Jersey pageant, the directors were unanimous in their decision.
I am glad the blackmailer was foiled and I applaud Amy Polumbo's refusal to be blackmailed but I am disappointed at the New Jersey Pageant Directors decision to lower the standard for contestants from respectable behavior to behavior that is "not that bad." But alas, that is the trend in our culture. I looked at the pictures and immediately the question came to my mind, "not that bad according compared to what?" Nudity would have been worse I suppose but how much worse? Two of the pictures show Miss Polumbo engaging in what can only be characterized as a drinking party with her friends. She is seen lifting, not a mixed drink or a beer or a glass of champagne, but a shot glass of what appears to be straight whiskey. Another photo shows her boyfriend biting her breast through her clothing while she smiles at the camera. She claims this particular picture was supposed to be a private moment but if that is true, someone should have informed the 25 or so people in the picture with her they should have gone home early. Another photo shows her with a different man (not her boyfriend) with his hand on her breast.
I suppose by today's agreed upon lowered standards these pictures are "not that bad." But I thought the purpose of pageant programs was to encourage a higher standard for their participants. By allowing Amy Polumbo to retain her crown the directors are endorsing her behavior as normal for a college student. Polumbo's mother, Jennifer Wagner, was said to be shocked when she saw the pictures but I guess after she had time to think about it her shock turned into "just normal college pictures." I wonder how many parents of aspiring Miss whatever's would be happy for their impressionable daughters to grow up and follow Amy's path to drinking parties and inappropriate sexual contact. Would most parents in America consider the pictures I have described as "normal college behavior?" Unfortunately for our culture's sake the answer is probably yes.
Polumbo defended her actions by admitting, "It's not in a ladylike manner. I'm not a robot. I'm a human being." Is that supposed to make us feel better? Are people who believe in a higher standard than engaging in irresponsible drinking and public simulated sex acts robots? I guess the new "not that bad" standard leaves us with the either or choice of being a robot or a human being. A robot is a mindless being which operates at the mercy of its programming. As human beings, we are supposed to have the moral capacity to rise above our basic instinctive programming. God has given us the ability to discern between right and wrong and the power to restrain ourselves from engaging in whatever behavior suits us at the moment. It is that ability that separates us from the animal (and the robot or mechanical) kingdom.
When Amy Polumbo found out her "not that bad" pictures would not cause her to have to forfeit her crown she said, "I want to thank the public. I also want to thank God for getting me through this." Since she introduced the idea of God into her situation by thanking Him for seeing her through her ordeal she might be interested to know how her assessment of His standards lines up with His Word. Timothy was probably about Amy Polumbo's age when Paul wrote to him, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe" (1 Tim. 4:12 NASV, emphasis mine). That sounds like a much higher standard than "not that bad."
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.