The New York Times ran a profile over the weekend that is catching the attention of pro-lifers and Christian educators. The article highlights an 18 year-old young woman, Maddie Runkles, who is a senior at a small non-denominational Christian high school where she holds a 4.0 GPA. Runkles is also expecting an unborn son. Because of her pregnancy, the school’s administrators have removed Runkles from student council and banned her from partaking in their upcoming graduation ceremony.
Runkles’ story reveals a tension between the pro-life movement and Christian education that I’d like to explore a little more.
Many pro-life leaders applaud Runkles for upholding the sanctity of unborn life and encourage school officials to celebrate her decision, not impose punishment. The Times article notes Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins attempted to convince school officials to reverse their decision. “She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed,” Hawkins told the Times. “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”
On the other hand, some believe school officials made the right decision by demonstrating that there are consequences to engaging in sinful behavior. “When you made a commitment as this young woman did to abstain until marriage in the manner she did to this Christian school,” argued one Christian dad over social media, “then the school is totally within their rights AND on solid Biblical ground in saying she cannot participate in graduation ceremonies.”
Should Christian school administrators herald teen pregnancies as a good option for young women? Of course not. The school has a responsibility to teach traditional Christian sexual ethics. The school also has a right to punish students from breaking moral codes of conduct. But I don’t think that’s what is happening in Runkles’ situation.
Pregnancy is not premarital sex. That’s why it is possible for Christian schools to strike a balance between condemning premarital sex as sinful and celebrating pregnant young women who choose life.
If the school is going to prohibit Runkles from “walking” because she engaged in premarital sex, then they should probably cross off about half of their graduating seniors from participating in the graduation ceremony. Because according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a massive 80 percent of young unmarried Evangelicals have had premarital sex.
The cost of Christian schools punishing pregnancies — not so much premarital sex — only perpetuates the shame and secrecy that drives young girls into the alluring arms of abortionists in the first place.
In Runkles’ situation, she admitted her trespasses to school officials, asked for forgiveness, and is taking responsibility for her decisions by carrying her unborn child instead of seeking a quick “fix.” For these reasons Runkles should be applauded by school officials, as the father celebrated the humble, repentant return of his prodigal son saying, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)
Note: I anticipate not all readers will agree with the approach I offer. But that is exactly why I wanted to address this story. It is an issue of both speaking the truth and demonstrating love, a challenge for every Christian. This topic is not a black and white situation, which is why it will make for an interesting discussion. I welcome you to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.