Should a Pregnant Teen “Walk” at her Christian School Graduation?
When regular people slip up privately, they typically don’t post about it on social media. Achievements? Yes. Failures? No. So can you imagine reading this national news headline in this Washington Post article knowing it’s about your child?
“Christian school: Teen banned from graduation ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral’”
I don’t know all the details, so I will only weigh in on what has been reported. Did they ban her for ‘sinning?’ No. Not exactly. The school administrators at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown claim that “senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity.”
We’re Banning You Because We Love You
And now, since she knowingly signed the honor code, as she’s done every year since 2009, administrators are hoping to “love her” by banning her from “walking,” saying “the best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”
Students Are Banned For Sinning?
Does this mean all the sins students commit get them banned? No. Most don’t. As expected, the teen points out what she sees as glaring inconsistencies, saying in a phone interview:
“It’s because I’m pregnant and you can see the results of my mistake … There have been kids who have broken the student code and they could have hurt people or even gone to jail and they only received an in-school suspension and they’re allowed to walk this year.”
Runkles’ father, Scott, “a former president of the school’s board, quit the board to protest the school officials’ treatment of his daughter,” and he has also pointed out the consistency issue regarding student punishment.
This leads me to consider the difficult task of applying the Gospel to our everyday lives.
(Gospel: as a response to our selfish sin, Jesus replaces us by living the perfect life we were required to live and dying the death we owed to God. So upon our faith alone, and through his grace alone, he no longer counts our sins against us.)
1. Be alert to all the deadly sins, not just a few select ones.
When only select sins are elevated and treated more harshly, helpful discipline is almost impossible. If students are banned for violating the conduct code because it understandably prohibits sexual immorality, what do code violations mandate for the students (and teachers!) everyone knows are secretly or subtly committing different sins? Are life-altering sins like idolatry, materialism, pornography, gossip, cheating, etc., ignored or minimized? What about lustful pleasures, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, and envy? Can these sins be arbitrarily tolerated because they never “show” like pregnancy does? If they are ignored, this can create lifelong confusion about which sins are “bad” and which are “more acceptable.”
Let’s hold each other accountable for all of our sins. Never leave out the ones brewing in our hearts and destroying our lives. All sin must be honestly confessed and humbly repented of. And when our children confess and repent of their sin, what should the school administrators do next?
2. Help people who are overtaken by sin to get back on track using gentleness and humility, not public shame and punishment.
The Scripture repeatedly shows that a believer’s sin, though fully forgiven and no longer punishable with condemnation, has painful consequences. There’s also little doubt that some sins cause more damage than others. If you’re a leader in the church, there are sins that will disqualify you from leadership, no matter how humble and repentant you are. But our children are not church leaders, so why would violating a moral standard disqualify them from their Christian school celebration? Is the assumption that everyone else who walks for graduation is sinless? What if we resolved to correct their conduct AND celebrated their humble confession? Why not gently help them face the natural consequences their failure has inevitably caused (gossip, backbiting, life-altering upheaval of Maddi’s teen pregnancy) and guide them back into a restored relationship with God? For true and helpful discipline, we shouldn’t remove natural consequences, but we must also avoid heaping on more shameful ones.
3. Trust the power of abundant grace to change your teenager for a lifetime.
If this was your child, can you imagine how overwhelming, undeserved grace might impact them and you? Imagine what could happen if the school seniors forfeited their senior trip to throw a baby shower for Maddi, or if there was a scholarship fund created to supply students like her with baby supplies and parenting classes? Some fear we’d run the risk of teaching that sin pays. But most likely, we’d teach students that in the Christian faith, sinners who confess their failure are embraced with a life-changing forgiveness and grace — the kind we don’t deserve. Or we show them that the main Christian message of Good News is grace. God rewards humble confession and repentance with His limitless grace and forgiveness. They will feel and experience that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.
Administrators, imagine shining so brightly with love and unmerited support that both believers and nonbelievers line-up to enroll in your Christian school? Instead, it seems “the school is worried about its reputation, but I think they’re missing out on an incredible opportunity to set an example for the community and Christian schools about how to treat guys and girls like me,” Maddi said.
I agree with you, Maddi. Seems to be a missed opportunity, for sure.
For More On The Topic, Read:
12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child from Desiring God
What Should Grace and Discipline Look Like in a Christian Family? by Grant Medford of Lifeway
Coping With Teen Pregnancy by Heather Riggleman at a Thriving Family
Thoughts on When Our Leaders Fail from the hGospel Coalition
Parenting a Pregnant Teen from Focus on the Family
Bible verses that further speak to this controversy:
Galatians 5:19–21. 19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 15:19. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.
Ephesians 5:3. Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people.
Colossians 3:5. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
Galatians 6:1. Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.