You’re eighteen years old, single, and pregnant, and you’re keeping your baby. I am proud of you. Before we go any further, I just want to say: you go, girl. I want to support you in any way that I can. I want the church to support you in every way that it can.
I also know that you made a mistake. Except in the case of rape, pregnancy in this scenario is the result of your sin. I want to help you repent of that sin, and the fact that you’re keeping your baby is a good sign that you’re ready to repent, and ready to face the consequences of your actions. But that sin needs to be dealt with. It won’t do you or your child any good if you ignore this burden.
Maddi Runkles, I’m talking to you. I want you to know that I stand with you in your decision to keep your baby. I think your story shows that you are a courageous person, and I respect that deeply. I will pray for you and your child, but I have some things to say which you may not like. I’m saying them because Christians need to hear them.
Maddi, you are being lied to. Why do you think The Washington Post gave you an opportunity to write your story? Do you think it’s because they care about you and your baby? I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think your parents love you–I even think your school loves you. The Post? They’re just trying to score points. They’re trying to drive a wedge between compassionate Christians over your situation, and I think you’re helping them do it. Please don’t give them this opportunity.
Here’s a sampling of the 2,700 comments on your piece:
“Tragic and typical reaction by so-called ‘Christians’ who supposedly live by WWJD and then act in almost the exact opposite way. Even more irony in the tragedy of the school’s behavior is that a pro-life church condemned a young woman for making her choice to be pro-life. Sickens me to read this story.”
“Not surprised that your fellow christians turned out to be hypocrites.. and now you know…”
“I just want to say that you don’t deserve any of this. Deciding whether to keep a child or not is a very personal thing, a decision no one else should be making but yourself, so the one you settle on is going to be the right one. I regret deeply that the environment around you doesn’t value you and your future son the way they should, the way their own doctrine should encourage them to. That sort of vile attitude is the very thing that led me away from the faith when I was your age.”
I want to focus on that last comment. When you say that your school “humiliated” you, that is not a good witness for your faith. You are encouraging, despite your efforts, people who ultimately hate the values that you and your family stand for and call the faith that you treasure “vile.”
Maddi, if you read this, please: take your piece on The Washington Post down. You can turn this around. You could become an advocate and a voice for women who find themselves in this situation without giving encouragement to the enemies of Christ. You seem like someone who is a leader. Maybe you’re the next Abby Johnson. But something’s gotta change for that to happen. You have to accept that your school (and maybe your church) have the right and responsibility to discipline you. Then you can leave that sin, and that discipline, behind and go on to do great things for Christ. I believe that you can do it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is the story of Maddi Runkles. She is an 18-year-old high school senior at a small Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland. At some point, she had a sexual relationship and became pregnant. Maddi’s school, Heritage Academy, requires students in its code of conduct to “abstain from sexual immorality.”
The administrators of the school initially decided to suspend Maddi, and directed that she finish her coursework at home. The school relented after pressure from Maddi’s family, and she was allowed to finish school on-site, but was not allowed to walk during the school’s June 2 graduation ceremony.
This sounds like a fairly normal instance of discipline at a religious school–not the sort of story you’d expect to see in The New York Times. But there it is, a May 20 article that published Maddi’s story for the whole country to see. The reason? Students for Life of America, a pro-life group with chapters on more than 1,000 college campuses, has advocated loudly on behalf of Maddi. Christian publications have inveighed against the school for forbidding Maddi from receiving her diploma with the rest of her class.
Maddi Runkles herself is not satisfied with the school’s conduct. In her piece in The Washington Post, she says this:
My school could have made an example of how to treat a student who made a mistake, owned up to it, accepted the consequences, and is now being supported in her decision to choose life. But they didn’t. It is my hope that the next Christian school will make the right decision when the time comes.
Is it somehow wrong for a school to discipline a student who broke the rules, while supporting her and allowing her to receive her diploma? No. The school has other students to think of. The school needs to make sure that it’s calling a spade a spade: what Maddi did before was wrong, so she is being disciplined for it. What Maddi is doing now (keeping her baby), is right, and she should be celebrated for it.
But this isn’t just about Maddi Runkles anymore. When a controversy between Christians makes The Washington Post and The New York Times, you know that a power play is going on. Secular media aren’t interested in the plights of pregnant girls who choose abortion–it’s not news. It’s news when a girl courageously and publicly chooses life. But the real reason we’re seeing this in the news? It’s meant to make you think the Pro-Life movement is inconsistent with the Christian belief in chastity, and that this invalidates both beliefs.
Christians need to do a better job of blessing pregnant women who are alone and need our love and help. We can give them that in Christ. And we need to do a better job at helping people see sexual purity as more than an ideal; to see it as a reality millions of Christians are joyfully living out. We need to do both of these things, and we need to do them at the same time. There’s no contradiction here, but there is a question: will we be Pharisees, judging and shaming women, while arguing loudly with other Christians? Or will we follow our Savior and call sinful women to repentance, so that they can receive His scandalous grace?