Last month, The New York Times ran a feature story about Maddi Runkles, a high school senior and straight A-student at a private Christian school in Boonsboro, Maryland, who became pregnant. After she came forward to share about her pregnancy, school officials disciplined Maddi for breaking the school’s code of conduct, first by suspending her for two days and removing her as student council president, but also by not allowing her to walk at graduation.
Both Maddi and her parents agreed with the first two disciplinary actions. However, they strongly disagreed with the school’s decision to bar her from participating in the graduation ceremony. Her father said, “Typically, when somebody breaks a rule, you punish them at the time they break the rule. That way, the punishment is behind them and they’re moving forward with a clean slate. With Maddi, her punishment was set four months out. It’s ruined her senior year.”
Maddi’s story has served to become part of a bigger conversation about how Christians can both encourage and uphold standards of chastity and purity, while still showing respect and care for unborn children and their moms, in a way that’s truly consistent with a prolife ethic.
In her interview with The New York Times, Maddi made this statement:
“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby. Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”
That Maddi came forward and also spoke to her classmates shows real integrity, and a willingness to take responsibility and accept the consequences of her decisions. Unfortunately, the school’s actions only serve to demonstrate to other teens who find themselves pregnant that there’s so much shame associated with pregnancy that abortion is the easy way out and “the only answer.” Sadly, the message it gives to others is: “Don’t tell, or look what will happen to you! If you get an abortion, no one will ever have to know.”
But isn’t there a way for us to show both grace and truth (like Jesus, see John 1:14), to be clear that promiscuity is against God’s revealed will and therefore our own happiness, but also to honor a girl’s courageous choice to give her child life? Isn’t there a way to uphold rules, but still value relationship?
To be sure, the school officials are in a difficult position. But how different would the outcome have been if the school would have sought to support both Maddi and her child, perhaps by saying: “Because the school code of conduct was broken (actually, God’s commandments), there needs to be consequences. We respect Maddi for coming forward as she has and accepting these consequences. Yet we also don’t want to overlook the fact that God has taken something done against His beautiful and perfect will, and created this unique and precious human being which we do want to celebrate.”
In an article for The Chicago Tribune, Maddi wrote:
When girls like me who go to pro-life schools make a brave pro-life decision, we shouldn't be hidden away in shame. The sin that got us into this situation is not worth celebrating, but after confession and forgiveness take place, we should be supported and treated like any other student. What we are going through is tough enough. Having to deal with the added shame of being treated like an outcast is nothing any girl should have to go through.
…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 it didn't. It is my hope that the next Christian school will make the right decision when the time comes.
Randy Alcorn writes in his book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments:
No matter what one’s view of sex outside of marriage, clearly pregnancy per se is not wrong. It is not a moral, but a biological reality. Society should not treat the mother as a “bad girl” or pressure her to “solve her problem” by aborting her child. Rather, society should love her and help her through the pregnancy and the post-birth options available to her.
Society should affirm a woman for not taking the “easy out” of abortion to preserve her image and avoid some inconvenience, but at the cost of someone’s life. Whenever I see an unmarried woman carrying a child, my first response is one of respect. I know she could have taken the quick fix without anyone knowing, but she chose instead to let an innocent child live.
Though Maddi says the father of her child does not attend the same school she does, part of what makes these kinds of situations so difficult is that typically it’s the girl who carries the consequences and shame (which shouldn’t be there in the first place, because the baby isn’t the shameful part!) and often the father has no repercussions.
It’s unfortunate this situation has made such national news, since it could have been kept in house among believers to wrestle through together (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The world is watching how we treat one another in the body of Christ.
Still, the sharing of Maddi’s story could serve to help Christian organizations evaluate their responses to unwed mothers, and make sure they align with their prolife convictions in a way that communicates both grace and truth.
May God’s people reach out in love and compassion to both unborn children and their moms. And may we demonstrate to teens that abortion really is never the answer:
Abortion may cover up a problem, but it never solves it. The poor choice of premarital sex can be learned from, reconsidered, and not repeated. The poor choice of killing an innocent human being by abortion is more serious, more permanent, and more unfair. It causes one person to pay for another’s mistake. Furthermore, it forces the young woman to live with the guilt of her decision and gives her an even worse mistake to cover up. Not only the young woman, but all society suffers from the attitudes fostered by the abortion alternative. —Randy Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments
Follow-Up Note, July 20, 2017:
Our ministry received a couple of responses to this blog, both expressing legitimate concerns. We would like to share some excerpts from one of those letters, which we feel are representative of both readers’ main concerns, followed with part of our response:
It grieves me that EPM chose to write at length on this matter, which has been picked up and referenced by other bloggers since then. While your article has been much more charitable than most, I appeal to you and other believers to reconsider the wisdom and Biblical basis for publicly criticizing other believers in the absence of sin or injustice on their part. I see the world finding great delight in accusing our brothers in Christ and having us join in the public condemnation.
…The only information publicly available is from the supposedly aggrieved party. The school has kept the matter confidential, stating only that it was “an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.” Thus, there are many things we don’t know, and what we do know reflects only one perspective.
We don’t know what the school’s code of conduct states, what deliberations its leaders held, what prayer and searching of scripture they undertook, what meetings took place with the girl and her parents, how they communicated their disciplinary decisions, whether the girl was contrite over her sin or simply its consequences, or whether and to what extent the school offered her and her family support.
Proverbs 18:13 & 17 tell us, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
In the absence of more complete information, the wisdom of Proverbs counsels fellow believers to remain silent, not to take up one side of the cause without knowing the full story. Yet we believers have joined the secular world in speaking without hearing and judging prematurely.
…The implication of the blog post (and clearly the tone and content of mainstream news reporting) has been condemnation of the school. It’s stated or implied that they are hypocrites, unmerciful, lacking grace, covering up other sin, embarrassing and shaming the girl, and so on.
…Perhaps what most concerns me is the uncritical acceptance of the world’s logic and methods in discussing this whole matter. …Rather than picking up the mainstream media’s diatribe against our own, would that we had reached out to the school directly, privately. Perhaps you have done that. It would have been good to know. It seems that would have been a prerequisite to sharing anything and the inability to do so a prohibition on repeating second-hand information.
…Please consider giving voice to a more fully informed Biblical perspective on this specific set of circumstances. Let us not join the world in vilifying our brothers and sisters in Christ. The world cares not for pro-life matters or Biblical faithfulness; it only wants to shame those following Jesus whose lives increasingly look unacceptable and dangerous for that very reason. Your ministry knows that quite well. Let’s not join the world, even if they appear to be on our side. Let’s give grace and truth to all involved.
We’re grateful for our readers and for those who take the time to share both concerns and thoughtful feedback. In doing so, they fulfill what Scripture says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
Our intent was certainly not to rationalize the sin of premarital sex or to vilify the school administration. Rather, our main focus was concern that teens who find themselves pregnant need to have the clear message that abortion is not the answer, never the answer. It would be so easy for an immature teen and her emotionally-invested parents to think first of how this will “ruin the senior year” and then opt for the “painless” and quiet way out—abortion.
Sadly, for whatever reasons, nearly one out of five women getting an abortion identifies herself as an evangelical Christian. This should not be, but it is reality, and in the case of unplanned pregnancy, a life is at stake. That simple fact—that another human life is inextricably involved in this dilemma—is part of the reasoning behind the blog. Our desire was and is to reinforce the message that abortion is never the answer; that newly created life must be protected; and that those who choose life should be encouraged and helped along that path. It’s our understanding that the school administration would certainly support this prolife message and are happy that Maddi chose life, but we had different opinions on how to balance the two perspectives: acknowledging the sin and administering consequences, and supporting the pregnancy.
May God give us wisdom as we seek to lovingly show both grace and truth in these difficult situations!
Kathy Norquist was Randy Alcorn’s Executive Assistant from 1997-2015, then worked in Ministry Development up until September 2018 when she retired. Kathy remains on the EPM Board of Directors.
Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.