Sanctity of Life

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May 24, 2017

How Should Christian Schools Respond to Teen Pregnancies?

[Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on Patheos.com. Click here to read it.]

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. 


9 Responses to How Should Christian Schools Respond to Teen Pregnancies?

  1. Derek Ramsey says:

    First, the school is condemning her for *pregnancy*, which is not a sin.

    Second, a child is *never* a mistake, even if conceived in sin. Her tiny baby boy is a beautiful miracle.

    Third, it is not clear how it is the job of a school to selectively punish sin, taking the role of God and the church body. This is reminiscent of John 8:1-11, where Jesus called for repentance, not condemnation.

  2. Mike Ward says:

    I’m fine with your proposal as long as students who have sex and do not get pregnant are treated the same way. The problem here is that many people seem to agree that students at this school should be punished for having sex except when there’s a pregnancy.

  3. Nancy says:

    What about the father? Will he be allowed to walk in the graduation? Where is his punishment? I believe that she should be allowed to participate in her graduation ceremony because she has earned the diploma. Christian schools should maintain a high standard of morality but should also balance that standard with grace and forgiveness just as our God does when we sin, because He is the God of grace and forgiveness.

  4. Bates Estabrooks says:

    The sin is fornication. The pregnancy a consequence. The sin should be sanctioned (result in some negative consequences) wherever school officials are aware of it; resultant pregnancy or not. The problem is the lack of evidences to reveal its practice in all (most cases). Usually, all you have is hearsay. This is a very tough sin for school administrators to act upon and they should be shown much grace in trying to deal with it.

  5. Bates Estabrooks says:

    Edit: “reveal its practice in most cases.”

  6. Banks says:

    I believe the arguments presented miss the mark. They try to focus on a sin/ consequences logic rather than a status/ consequences logic. It is the latter for which most parents viscerally understand but poorly articulate their objection to having pregnant girls in their schools. Teenagers are busting at the seams to express their independence and emerging adulthood. That’s great and normal. However, older adults know that there is still a bit of time before they are truly adults, truly independent. Thus, adulthood / emancipation is postponed. Parents retain the obligation to feed/ clothe/ educate them. Still, teens press for markers of adulthood, finding it cool or elevating to try on and sport adult behaviors. (For example, getting a car, trying smoking or drugs, having sex.) As long as there is a human race, youths will strive for this. Historically, we had tacit rules that if you wade too far into adulthood, then you forfeit childhood. That’s the deal. Since those understandings have been eroded by well-intentioned but wrong-headed public policies, the rate of teen pregnancy has exploded. The deal is supposed to be that you can’t have it both ways. Either you are a parent and you forfeit the trappings of a comparatively carefree high school kid, or you remain in school on the gradual path to adulthood. This is not about choosing life over abortion. The impact of letting those without restraint have their cake and eat it too just makes the other kids see that you can have it both ways. This makes the decisions about abortion more likely. It has ruined many public schools. The present story has happened at a private school and their enforcement of the rules is their way of preventing a further slide in school discipline to match the public arena. From what I have read of the matter, their main mistake was relaxing the rule about leaving the school and letting the girl finish her classes rather than pushing her out to get a GED. This was in part because the girl’s father was on the school board.

  7. Banks says:

    I have one more remark and that is the bible’s admonition to avoid scandal, the appearance of scandal and to endeavor to a good reputation (2 Corinthians 8). Even the Virgin Mary was sent to her cousin’s during her developing pregnancy to limit the spectacle of scandal and the Lord saw fit for he and Joseph to deliver Jesus away from their exiting community and then make the flight to Egypt. The desire of the pregnant girl and her family to march in the graduation ceremony signals that they do not find her pregnancy scandalous and are defiant that her reputation is tarnished. It may not be for an ordinary public school kid, but it sure is for a person from a Christian academy. They are flouting with no shame. All the more reason to stand firm in the discipline.

  8. CM says:

    I think we can all logically agree that since she signed a code of conduct, that a disciplinary action for breaking that code is fair and just. However, from what I’ve gathered, the school handles discipline on a “case by case” basis. In that case, the consequences at hand were not part of the agreement. They were subjectively assigned by the school administration upon learning of the offense and subsequent pregnancy. That’s where, and why, I feel this situation got messy. Its good procedure to have policies written in a handbook for families as to what course of action follows an offense. In this case, they should have had an objective policy written explaining the consequences for sexual immorality (which realistically will be hard to prove in order to enforce) and policies describing the school’s course of action if a pregnancy results from a sexual relationship. If that clarity wasn’t part of the agreement, then the family certainly has ground to push for their daughter to walk in the ceremony. Even legally they would have a case against the school for lack of policy. My reason for pointing this out is two-fold. For one, this concept that they are trying to get out of consequences isn’t really accurate. They are dealing with arbitrary consequences that do not seem consistent with how other scenarios where handled. And as a parent, I think they are right to fight for their daughter to walk. And also, because parents, board members, teachers, and administrators at Christian schools need to take note of what happened here, and do policy reviews to ensure that they are prepared in case this would happen at their own schools. Personally, I do feel that prohibiting her from walking is quite severe. Its a life passage where one enters into adulthood, and acknowledges the accomplishment of 12 years worth of learning. In my opinion, it would be a great opening into this new life stage in the few short months before she becomes a mother, and would be beneficial for her long term character. I hope in the next few days they change their hearts toward her on this issue. But with this specific story aside, in Christian education, we really do need to make sure we are still upholding standards of professionalism in school policy, even if the conduct code looks different than the world. And yes, Maddi sinned and broke school rules, but likewise, I think the school missed the mark here.

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