I have seen a number of people who I count among my friends fall on the other side of an issue where I’m not certain they’re seeing the proper perspective.
If you look at the situation from the world’s view, Maddi Runkles is being punished because she became pregnant and chose not to abort that pregnancy; yet despite that commendable pro-life stand she is being denied the honor of taking the stage to accept her diploma, among the other discipline handed down by the Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown.
However, I look at it from the standpoint of a Christian, and perhaps more importantly, that of a step-parent who could theoretically very well be in the exact same situation as Kim and I have a daughter in a Christian school. So as I was reading some of the reaction from my friends (and their friends) on social media, I was led to the statement from the school, or as one particular friend put it, the group of “lost souls, despite what they are ‘preaching.'” Since this is probably creating more traffic in a week for the school than their website previously received in the last year, their front page has this statement so I’m choosing to reprint it for posterity when this all eventually dies down and the school returns to normal. (Otherwise, the link will point incorrectly.)
Dearest Heritage Family:
As I begin, please understand that my wife and I have fallen in love with the people of Heritage Academy. Therefore, it is for Heritage’s protection that I write this.
The main reason I have been silent to this point is because in disciplinary situations, each Heritage family deserves confidentiality. The conduct of your children is not everyone’s business. This perspective would have been the best way to deal with Maddi Runkles’ disciplinary situation. However, her family has chosen to make her behavior a public matter. Before sending this letter, I contacted Scott Runkles who gave me permission to discuss this publicly. In my thinking, these were the two to protect: first Maddi, then Heritage, in that order. Unfortunately, both are now being hurt by those who do not know or understand the situation. For this sole reason, I am now willing to comment publicly.
Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. The Student Pledge which every student from 5th grade through 12th grade signs states that this application of Philippians 4:8 “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs”. Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation. Secondly, she will receive her diploma that she has earned.
Much has been said about grace. I believe that there are two kinds of grace: saving grace and living grace. One is concerning spiritual birth “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) which demanded no effort on my part, because my Savior Jesus, finished this on His cross and from His empty tomb. The other kind of grace is spiritual growth that does demand my effort (2 Peter 3:18). It also includes discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11). A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.
As I conclude, I have two concerns. First, I am concerned that my Heritage family feels that the Board and I are harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have spent countless hours in prayer and discussion. The Board has listened to three appeals from the Runkles family and compromised all three times. Secondly, I am concerned about our graduation ceremony on the evening of June 2nd. That night, I want God to be glorified in a dignified manner. Please enable us to do this.
With deepest sincerity,
David R. Hobbs
(All emphasis mine.)
Before I go on, I want to add the context of Phillippians 4:8 that their Student Pledge is apparently based upon:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
In so many words, do the things which are good and which are right based on the Biblical values being taught in the school.
But let me step away from the Biblical and moral for a moment and consider the practical. Whether a young lady is taking birth control pills or not, whether the young man is wearing his own protection or not, whenever there is sex there is always the possibility of unplanned pregnancy as has occurred in Maddi Runkles’ case. And bringing a baby into the world as an unwed couple means the child is more likely to grow up in poverty and/or with single parents, neither of which are the more desirable outcomes. That’s not me talking, that’s a statistical fact: the best way for a couple to avoid poverty is to finish their schooling and find work, get married, and then have kids – in that order.
Most of those people who are taking issue with the school are saying they are punishing her for doing the right thing insofar as having the child; but the problem remains that she violated the school code and she faces a punishment for doing so. However, the punishment cannot be given to both participants because the young man does not attend the school, and the truly unfortunate fact of life is that, for boys (even if they attended that school and got a non-student pregnant) they could get away with doing the same thing Maddi did because they’re not going to get pregnant and it’s quite likely they could deny getting the girl pregnant until there’s no need to anymore. (It would be his word against hers.) It’s not fair, but neither is life.
I can’t speak to this for a fact, but as I read this there was the distinct possibility the school could have expelled Runkles immediately without giving her a diploma. We don’t know what other previous transgressions (if any) may have occurred involving her, either, but we do know that she has been made out to be the victim in this case because she lost out on the privilege of receiving her diploma with her classmates. But what she has lost out on are just her privileges. She will still be a graduate of Heritage Academy and can do with that what she will.
To me, the reaction to this story coincides very well with the reaction to the news about the group of graduating students who made the public show of walking out on Vice-President Pence as he delivered commencement remarks at Notre Dame last week. Those who thought the students were justified seem to also believe this school should bend its rules to allow Runkles to receive her diploma because she deserves it, despite one incident of wrongdoing (that we are aware of.) On the other hand, people like me who think the Notre Dame students should have handled the situation differently (perhaps by boycotting the ceremony entirely) are more likely to believe the school should remain firm in enforcing its rules.
One final thought. I’ve seen a number of comments from people, particularly of the Millennial generation, that basically run along the line of “well, no wonder they’re having a hard time getting kids to come to Christian schools when you have such draconian, backward rules.” I agree, to a point: for example, I could understand the girls being pleased about being able to wear pants because they ditched the skirts-only rule a few years ago at our school. Small stuff like that isn’t worth sweating over.
But the larger stuff, such as alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco, and premarital sex? Such prohibitions are among those I find entirely appropriate for a Christian school. And yes, I think it is appropriate to expect Biblical-style morals from our children. Why should we settle for less when we see the results in the world today?
As parents, our charge is simple, and it’s reflected, among other places, in Proverbs 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
That’s not to say any parent will do a perfect job, but there’s a reason it works best when a couple gets to know one another well enough to make a commitment to be wed then prayerfully and reverently embarks upon the job of rearing children (and even then it’s not foolproof.)
Apparently the plan was different for Maddi Runkles. I hope and pray when graduation is over she has a healthy baby and she and the father decide to do what’s right. I also hope and pray that the fifteen minutes of fame she receives for this episode, good and bad, will be gentle about chewing her up and spitting her out (as I’m sure it will, because that’s the fate of most “average” people thrust into the limelight so someone can make a point.)
Finally, I pray that the Heritage Academy weathers the storm sure to come from a world that’s sure it’s right but knows nothing of the sort. If I were them, the only people who need to be at their graduation a week from Friday are the graduates, their families, and invited guests. The media wouldn’t care a whit about whatever number of solid Christian graduates the Heritage Academy (and other schools like it) send into the world any other time, so why indulge them now?