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CULTURE DIGEST: Miss America TV ratings hit record low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite the shortened telecast, brief talent contest and skimpy swimsuits to attract more viewers, this year’s Miss America pageant hit a record low with 9.8 million viewers — about 500,000 fewer than last year.

More than 25 million people watched the contest in 1995, but ratings have declined in eight of the past 10 years, according to the Associated Press.

The pageant was broadcast on ABC Sept. 18 and was controversial because of two changes that implied the emphasis had been moved from scholarship to sex appeal to gain viewers.

Organizers cut the talent routine from five or 10 women performing to just two. Also, most contestants wore string bikinis provided by sponsor Speedo.

“It was so little, when I pulled it out of the bag, my eyes were as big as my head,” Miss Louisiana Jennifer Dupont said in an AP report. “I said, ‘This is what I’m wearing in Miss America?’ I was so self-conscious, I didn’t even want to model it in front of my father and my interview coach.”

All but 10 of the 52 contestants, and all of the finalists, chose to wear the two-piece suits.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable baring that much,” Miss New Jersey Erica Scanlon said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable on stage in it, and I wouldn’t want my daughter to wear it either.”

Two-piece swimsuits were first allowed in the Miss America pageant in 1997, and some would prefer the string bikinis not be an option.

“I think it sends a mixed message,” Miss Massachusetts Erika Ebbel, told the AP. “If it’s a scholarship pageant but we have string bikinis on, I can see people saying that’s not appropriate. I’m small. There’s enough fabric to cover me. But a little more coverage would have been helpful.”

Miss Alabama Deidre Downs won this year’s Miss America crown. A graduate of Samford University, Downs attends Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., and plans to become a pediatrician after her reign as Miss America 2005.

CHRISTIANS, NON-CHRISTIANS DIVORCE EQUALLY — A study by the Barna Group has found that born-again Christians have the same likelihood to divorce as do non-Christians, and most Americans reject the notion that divorce is a sin.

Among all adults 18 and older, three out of four have been married, and half are currently married. Among those who have been married, more than one out of three have been divorced, Barna found.

Though one-third of the married adults from the preceding two generations had been divorced, nearly half of all married Baby Boomers have gone through a divorce, the study, released Sept. 8, said. Barna predicted Boomers will become the first generation in which a majority experience a divorce.

Twenty-seven percent of married Baby Busters have already been divorced, despite the fact that the youngest one-fifth of that generation has not yet reached the average age of a first marriage, Barna said.

When broken down by religious affiliation, both 35 percent of married born-again Christians have experienced a divorce and 35 percent of married adults who are not born again have experienced a divorce. Barna noted that some non-Christians tend to place less importance on the need for marriage and opt to cohabit instead, which would leave them out of the marriage and divorce statistics altogether.

“Among born-again adults, 80 percent have been married, compared to just 69 percent among the non-born-again segment,” George Barna said. “If the non-born-again population were to marry at the same rate as the born-again group, it is likely that their divorce statistic would be roughly 38 percent — marginally higher than that among the born-again group, but still surprisingly similar in magnitude.”

Concerning whether divorce without adultery is a sin, just 15 percent of adults agreed that it is, Barna found. The vast majority, 66 percent, disagreed with the statement “when a couple gets divorced without one of them having committed adultery, they have committed a sin.” Even 52 percent of the born-again group disagreed with the statement.

DEATH PENALTY LESS FREQUENT — Far fewer criminals have been given the death penalty in each of the last four years than they did on average over the previous decade, The New York Times reported Sept. 15.

A study by the Death Penalty Information Center found that in the 1990s, an average of 290 people were sentenced to death each year, but for the last four years the average has been 174. Last year, just 143 death sentences were handed down, the fewest since 1977, the DPIC report said.

The DPIC said the decline is due to growing public awareness of death-row exonerations and concerns that innocent people might be sentenced to die, but that claim is disputed by some death penalty supporters. The report, based largely on data from the Justice Department, says 116 innocent people have been released from death row since 1973, but critics say the number is closer to 20 or 30.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming capital punishment at the 2000 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. While Southern Baptists believe every human life is sacred and God forbids the taking of innocent human life, they also believe God authorized capital punishment for murder as noted in Genesis 9:6.

SBC messengers voted to “support the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.”

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  • Erin Curry