What Christians Can Learn From School’s Mishandling of Pregnant Teen

It’s one of those stories that makes you want to cry and scream at the same time. A Christian school in a small town in Maryland is punishing one of its seniors by refusing to allow her to participate in graduation ceremonies next month. Her crime? She got pregnant – and unlike many in similar situations, Maddie Runkles is continuing her pregnancy, rather than trying to hide her sin by aborting her child.

The story, which was published over the weekend in The New York Times, has infuriated scores of Americans. It also sadly has reinforced negative stereotypes of Christians as legalistic and hypocritical jerks, who simultaneously rail against abortion, while shaming those who choose life.

Unfortunately, the damage this incident has done to the reputation of the church, not to mention the soul of this poor girl, cannot easily be undone. But I hope the Christian community will learn from this situation, so we can avoid repeating these regrettable mistakes.

Christians often fall into one of two ditches when dealing with sin in their own communities. Either we completely overlook it and err on the side of compromising holiness – or we fail to forgive, punish harshly, and miss the heart of the gospel. What’s needed is a proper view of biblical discipline – a practice that seeks to restore and heal, not wound and punish.

Discipline is Designed to Lead to Repentance

There’s no doubt Scripture suggests severe consequences for professing Christians who sin, especially those who sin sexually. In First Corinthians 5, for example, the apostle Paul instructs the church not to associate “with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”

The purpose of administering consequences is to lead a wayward person to repentance.

Today, many churches and Christian communities completely neglect this command. They not only ignore sexual sin, some churches even celebrate it. This is wrong and unbiblical, and by criticizing the actions of Maddie’s school, I do not mean to condone those who treat God’s commands with contempt.

However, the purpose of administering consequences is to lead a wayward person to repentance. In First Corinthians Paul says, “hand (the sexually immoral) over to Satan . . . so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”

What the administrators at Maddie’s school seemed to miss is that in Maddie’s case, the goal of discipline has already been achieved: she is repentant. Maddie reportedly confessed her sin during an “emotional session in the school auditorium.” In her words, “I told on myself. I asked for forgiveness. I asked for help.”

Certainly, Maddie will have to face the natural consequences of her sin, which she seems prepared to do. But adding a punishment to what Maddie has already endured serves no redemptive purpose. It is simply punitive and cruel, and reminds me of the actions of the religious leaders against whom Jesus railed. “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders,” Jesus said, “but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

God Always Welcomes Repentant Sinners

To see the actions of Maddie Runkles’ school, one would think the story of the Prodigal Son ended with the father whipping his son and relegating him to a shed on the edge of his property. Certainly, if anyone deserved harsh treatment, it would be a son who squandered his father’s inheritance on “wild living.”

Yet the father in this story does the exact opposite. Scripture says, “while (the son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and with filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Then, the father put a robe on his son, indicating that he was restoring his son to his original place in the family. The father puts a ring on his son’s hand, displaying his great affection for him. And then in an almost scandalous display of grace, the father throws a great celebration for his son who has returned.

This is how God responds to sinners who repent. In fact, Jesus said there is “more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

My father once told me a story about how his church growing up responded to a young woman in Maddie’s position. Like Maddie, the pregnant woman confessed her sin before the church. But unlike Maddie’s school, the church then immediately gathered around the weeping girl – hugged her, prayed for her, and then committed their love and support to her as she moved into motherhood. This is how Christians who understand the gospel act. They love the repentant sinner; they don’t punish her.

Our Response to Sinners Serves as Either a Warning or a Welcome

Commenting on Maddie’s situation, Rick Kempton, chairman of the board of the Association of Christian Schools International said, “(Maddie) is making the right choice. But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, ‘Well, that seems like a pretty good option.’”  

This comment stunned me. I’m glad Mr. Kempton believes Maddie is making the right choice by choosing life. But do leaders of Christian schools really think they have to punish girls who get pregnant or other girls will want to follow in their footsteps?

Christian leaders should be less concerned about warning other young girls and more concerned about welcoming repentant sinners.

The truth is the shame these girls experience is overwhelming, not to mention the fear they feel about raising a child without a husband, and the sadness they feel about relinquishing their career and education plans. Though children are always a blessing, getting pregnant outside of wedlock violates God’s design and therefore has serious and unavoidable natural consequences. Believe me, this fact is not lost on the other girls in the school.

Christian leaders in this circumstance should be less concerned about warning other young girls (and why is no one speaking about the boys?) – and more concerned about welcoming repentant sinners. Unfortunately, the message these administrators are sending is that if you get pregnant, you’ll be branded with a scarlet letter.

Is it any wonder, then, that more than four in 10 women who get abortions are churchgoers at the time of their abortions? A 2015 Lifeway Research study also found that only seven percent of women who got abortions discussed their decision with anyone at church, and two-thirds said church members judge single women who are pregnant.

This absolutely must change. Yes, Christian schools and churches need to warn people about sin. And they need to administer discipline when professing Christians remain unrepentant. But they need to shout from the rooftops that God is not only willing, but eager, to shower His grace on those who repent. Jesus took the punishment for our sin so we don’t have to. And He welcomes the broken and the shamed into His family – not as illegitimate children relegated to places of dishonor, but as legitimate sons and daughters clothed in His righteousness and forgiveness.

Julie discussed this issue with Chris Fabry and Maddie Runkles on Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live! Follow the link to hear the full discussion.

 

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5 thoughts on “What Christians Can Learn From School’s Mishandling of Pregnant Teen

  1. Bob Boulger

    Let those without sin attend the graduation – that should clear the auditorium.

    • Mark

      Except the headmaster of the school – he’s the perfect sinless man of God who never committed an immorality in his life. Must ben ice to be an audience of one.

  2. Jeanna

    I listened today to you and Maddie on Chris Fabry. I also had read Maddie’s story through a pro life news site and had written the principal of her school. Unfortunately, I had to be in and out of my car for a few minutes so might have missed some things that were covered. I’m really hoping someone can let me know if my question was covered or any thoughts about it. I had an abortion 32 years ago and have never stopped regretting it, so I couldn’t be happier that Maddie has chosen life for her child she will never regret it, even though what she is going through is hard. I am also beyond blessed to be forgiven through Jesus Christ and the work He did for me on the cross. Though I am forgiven I still face the consequences of my sins.

    What I haven’t heard covered was what the Bible says about consequences, Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Saphira, etc., faced the consequences of their sin.
    Also whether or not there were consequences clearly laid out for the students who signed the pledge?

  3. Churches need to remember how Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders wanted to shame her (not the man) and Jesus wrote something in the sand. One by one they began to leave after hearing “let the one who has not sinned throw the first stone.” Did Jesus write in the sand some of the sins of the religious leaders? It doesn’t tell us what He wrote. It does tell us how He showed love and compassion to the woman caught in adultery. He did not accuse her. He just told her to go and not to continue in that sin. Why do some churches “shame” the woman when she is unmarried and becomes pregnant? They need to learn how Jesus handled these types of situations.

    This causes me to think about some of the posterboard signs I see and some of the words yelled out at young women going into an abortion clinic. Yes, we need to show and speak out about what happens to the babies. We should do that in the newspapers, in videos, and in letters to the government etc., but at the abortion clinics we should be showing our love for the women who are also victims whether they realize it or not. Only God knows why they are there. Only God knows who they spoke to or where they tried to get information and help to deal with being pregnant and being able to support a baby, perhaps having their family disown them, their boyfriend abandon them, losing friends, and church shaming them. Jesus is weeping for them and for the way they are treated.

    Christians should go to the abortion clinics and have signs and pamphlets that tell these young women that there is another way to be able to keep their precious babies and having support in doing so. They are loved by Jesus and He weeps at the situation they are in and for the lack of love and support they do not receive. He loves them and He loves their babies and has a plan for their lives if they will but trust Him. Religious leaders are fallible, but Jesus Christ is not. He is God and nothing is impossible with Him, but we must fully trust in who Jesus Christ is, and what He accomplished for us by going to that cross.

    We must pray for these women and we must pray for all the abortionists and others who run Planned Parenthood. It is a spiritual warfare won through love of Christ, prayer in the Holy Spirit, with the Word of God.

    God reminded me of a time when my anger was great as a result of a nurse hastening my husband’s death. I cried out to God…all my anger and hatred of this nurse and how I felt robbed of precious time by her. God brought this my thoughts. When I cried out,”Why?” I heard Him say in my mind, “It is because she does not know Me. I want you to pray for her to come to know Me.” Afterward, when I begun praying for her and her family to come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the anger and hatred begin dissolving over time. I think this is the way God changes people…when we start praying that the Holy Spirit convict them of their sin and convince them of their need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. Then they will no longer desire to continue in that particular sin. We need also to pray for church leaders and all people in the church that they will emulate Jesus Christ in all things, especially in how they treat, or mistreat, young women or older, who have had an abortion or who are pregnant and pressured to have an abortion by family, boyfriend, or any other reason. Jesus knew how to treat women and left examples for all to learn to do as He did. Therefore there is no reason that anyone who is a Christian, especially an elder, or other leader such as a pastor, should treat women any different than Jesus did. They need to be shown love, and if pregnant and in need, they should be taken care of until they have the resources to take care of themselves and their baby.

    We were saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus and we are to walk in faith in Christ Jesus in grace filled love for everyone no matter how sinful or even how evil their acts and attitudes are… Jesus died to save them too, but first they must be convicted that what they are doing is very wrong and be convinced by the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus that He wants to save them and change their hearts so they will not desire to continue in those sins.

    These young women going to the abortion clinics will be touched much more by your love and praying for them than they will by hatred of them. Yes we hate what they are doing, but our love for the women must overwhelm them by the power of Jesus Christ and His shed blood to defeat the enemy who delights in the deaths of their children. Most pro lifers stick to what happens to the babies but there are some who attack the women. It is the ones who attack the women who go there for an abortion who have forgotten the love of Christ for every single one of us, no matter how great our sin. None of us is without sin so we should not be throwing stones at the young women going for an abortion. We need to show love and pray, pray, pray for these young women, and not them alone, but for their families, the father of the baby, and for abortionists and providers to all come to know Jesus Christ and why He went to the cross for them. This battle belongs to the LORD and we by prayerfully, faithfully, and lovingly go in His love and His strength and His wisdom and defeat the enemy (Satan) through the Word of God by the Spirit of God and through the precious blood of Christ Jesus our prayers will be empowered to save many babies from perishing.

  4. Gloria Dibbern

    What is disturbing is how the family chose to handle this situation. The Bible sets out how we are to handle conflict in the church, and nowhere does it say to go to the press and make a big deal out of it. The family has chosen to sow the seeds of divisiveness and contentiousness, rather than accepting discipline with a quiet spirit. God is our advocate and our defender, not just in heaven, but here on earth. It takes faith to humble ourselves and let God deal with those who we believe have wronged us.

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