Should a pregnant student be allowed to walk with her class at graduation? That wouldn’t even be a question in any secular school, but it became a matter of nationwide debate when a private Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland – Heritage Academy – decided they wouldn’t allow 18-year-old, former head of the student council, and straight-A student Maddie Runkles to walk with the rest of her class because she had gotten pregnant outside of marriage, a violation of the student code of conduct.
In an interview on CBS This Morning Maddie admitted that she knew there would be consequences, but she felt like the punishment was too harsh – she had already publicly confessed her sin to the school body. In another interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) Maddie said she didn’t want the debate to become such a far-spread discussion. But she is ready to use this platform to help those going through the same struggles.
The pro-life group Students for Life, has defended Maddie Runkles, and challenged the school for shaming a girl who made a courageous decision, saying it sends the wrong message to other students in a similar situation. Their concern is that if students are made to feel like they will be shamed for being pregnant, then they might take the “easier” way out, and secretly abort their children instead.
Principal Hobbs responded to the media coverage with a letter stating: “Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.” He concluded: “The Board has listened to three appeals from the Runkles family and compromised all three times.” Of course, the board has maintained their decision that she is not allowed to walk at graduation, and this is the source for the fight.
In an article she wrote for the Washington Post, Maddie described the how attention from the national media caused the situation to escalate. People who used to be supportive then started telling her to shut-up. Both sides begin to dig in their heels.
Maddie seems oblivious to the fact that the journalists on the Washington Post don’t really care about her or the school. When the media gives this much attention to a fight like this, they are only doing what the world loves to do: fostering dissension and disharmony among Christians.
In this entire debate we see two major issues that need to get across. First, sexual immorality is serious. Second, we are all in need of grace. The school seems to be emphasizing the seriousness of sexual immorality at the expense of grace. Maddie Runkles seems to be emphasizing grace at the expense of the seriousness of sexual immorality. Maybe the school should rethink the way they respond to sexual immorality. They should think about how sin is cultivated among the students and challenge that culture. They could also be providing counseling and training on these issues. Maybe they should even rethink disciplinary methods, of course, without giving them up. Maddie should have accepted the discipline – not being allowed to walk is a big deal, but is it important enough to bring your school, and even your faith into disrepute on a national scale (1 Cor. 6:1-7)?