Unplanned Blessings

Last week we learned Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, is refusing to allow graduating senior Maddi Runkles to walk in their commencement ceremony because she is pregnant and unwed.

Washington Post (May 24, 2017) reports, “…Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.’”

The referenced article reports that when the school was first informed of her pregnancy, in February, “Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.” On appeal, they decided she could remain in school, but could not walk with her class in commencement ceremonies.  I expect they see themselves as being very gracious and understanding in having made this concession.

The school’s position is wrong in so many ways, I find it difficult knowing where to start. It’s not just a wrong course of action, it is an action chosen based on a very unchristlike paradigm…a legalistic paradigm all too common among Christian churches.

Let’s start with the principal’s statement that Maddi is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral.” What a load of malarkey!  If principal Hobbs believes his own statement, he is the only person blind enough to be fooled by it.  Hobbs’ statement is both dishonest and disingenuous.

If Maddi were not pregnant the school would never have even learned of her sexual activity and there would have been no disciplinary action.

Let’s imagine for a moment a completely different scenario. Let’s imagine a boy from Maddi’s graduating class had privately approached the principal and confessed in confidence that he had sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old girl who was out of high school and had never attended Heritage Academy.  No pregnancy, STD or other consequence had occurred as a result of the unwed sexual intercourse, but he was very sorry for his misconduct, begged forgiveness, and prayed he would have the strength to resist future temptations.

What action might we expect the principal to take in such a scenario? Would he have threatened to kick the young man out of school?  Would he have forbidden him to walk in commencement ceremonies?  Not likely!

I expect in such a scenario, no official school disciplinary action would have been taken against the penitent young man. In fact, I expect the principal would have had some very encouraging words for the young man.  He likely would have used the boy as an anonymous example of godly behavior at the next school assembly…an example to be followed by any other students with unconfessed sin.

So, yes, make no mistake about it, Maddi Runkles was singled out for ostracizing punishment, not because of her sexual activity, but because of her pregnancy.

Moreover, the nature of the punishment chosen clearly indicates the school was much more concerned about their own embarrassment than about what was best for Maddi. The ostracization was not inspired by a need to ensure Maddi understood the gravity of her mistake…I don’t believe anyone doubts Maddi’s pregnancy more than suffices to ensure she understands sexual intercourse is serious business that should not be approached casually.  Nor was Maddi’s punishment inspired by a perceived need to ensure other students understand the gravity of sexual intercourse…in fact Maddi’s pregnancy in itself provides a compelling example of the serious nature of sexual intercourse.

To the objective observer, it is very clear Principal Hobbs’ decision to keep Maddi out of the school commencement program is motivated by a sense of embarrassment in regard to the school’s reputation. This decision is not about what’s best for Maddi nor what is best for the rest of the student body.  It is about the school’s reputation…about the potential embarrassment of having an unwed pregnant student participating in the graduation ceremony.

And Hobbs’ sense of embarrassment is, itself, based on a false paradigm…a belief that an unwed pregnancy is cause for shame…an undesirable consequence of sinful behavior.

The Bible provides a drastically different perspective:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-50)

Children are a gift of the Lord…a blessing…a reward…not a source of shame.

Pregnancy is not a sin nor should it be a source of shame. Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Therefore, pregnancy is a blessing from the Lord.

If unwed pregnancy were a sin, Jesus would have been conceived in sin. Let’s be very clear on this point.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, our Redeemer and Deliverer, was conceived and born of an unwed mother.

Obviously, God considers unwed pregnancy to be neither a cause of shame nor a state of uncleanness, since he chose it as the means of bringing Christ into our world.

We all understand the science of fertility. We understand that in most cases there is a cause and effect relationship between sexual intercourse and pregnancy.  Certainly, not every occurrence of sexual intercourse results in a pregnancy.  Nor is every pregnancy the result of sexual intercourse…the Christian faith celebrates at least one notable exception.  But, yes, in the vast majority of cases pregnancy is preceded by sexual intercourse.  So, it is understandable for people to view an unwed pregnancy as substantive evidence of unwed sexual intercourse.  Fine…in most cases the pregnant woman is unlikely to deny sexual intercourse took place.  That intercourse may or may not have involved sin on her part…date rape is all too common in our society.  So, in many cases a woman may be shamed for something beyond her control that did not involve any sinful behavior on her part.

But…even more important…even in the instances where the unborn child was conceived through unwed consensual sexual intercourse…it would be wrong to view the pregnancy as an undesirable consequence of sin.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Children are always a gift of the Lord…always a blessing. In the biblical context, it is not at all unusual for God to bring great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.  In fact, the biblical narrative is filled with examples of God bringing great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.

A pregnancy in which the mother wants the child and plans to carry the child full term should always be treated as cause for celebration! That child is a gift of the Lord!  No exceptions.

If any readers of this post are pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged in knowing your child is a gift of the Lord. Any readers who are parents or grandparents of a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was also conceived out of wedlock.  The single greatest blessing of the Christian faith was a child conceived out of wedlock…and God says all children are a gift from Him…a reward…a cause to not be ashamed.

Maddi Runkles, I don’t expect you’re likely to read this post. But if you do, I want you to know I’m proud of you and rejoice with you in this wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on you!

Blessings to you and your family!

12 thoughts on “Unplanned Blessings

  1. Exactly, A child’s birth is intended as a blessing, a gift from God. The principal’s decision to punish Maddi Runkles is born of patriarchy and misogyny whether he knows it or not. It is certainly not based on the model Jesus gave us for how to care for young women like Ms. Runkles, nor on how the Bible tells us to celebrate babies.
    Tim recently posted…Why a Nerd like Me Gets the Royal TreatmentMy Profile

    • Yes, Jesus’ approach to a woman caught in the act of adultery was quite different wasn’t it?

      The school’s response does not seem to carry any of the grace displayed in His words, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “Neither do I condemn thee.”

      Thank you, Tim!
      joe recently posted…Unplanned BlessingsMy Profile

  2. I have heard of a young pregnant unwed woman being banned from taking communion. It only takes one second to confess and say “hmm I think I fell short and sinned”, but it takes nine months to have a child, so its incredibly unfair to ban someone from communion for being pregnant. Plus like Joe pointed out there could be other factors such as date rape.

    • That’s nuts! How do churches arrive at such unchristlike conclusions?

      Sorry, you’ll have to wait nine months before you can be forgiven??? Assuming any sin has even taken place???

      “I have shown thee, oh man, what is good.
      And what doth the Lord desire of thee?
      But to do justly and to love mercy;
      and to walk humbly with thy God.”

      Thank you, Hannah!
      joe recently posted…Unplanned BlessingsMy Profile

  3. Sigh. The things we do in the name of God. 🙁 This story hurts my heart. Thanks for sharing it, Joe. I see therapy in Maddie’s future to overcome this pain of rejection from those who were supposed to guide her and nurture her in the ways of Christ and love. May the Lord have grace on the school’s administrators who hopefully will one day realize this was poor judgment on their part. These type of decisions don’t advance the Kingdom but suppress it.
    Lisa notes recently posted…6 Books I Recommend – May 2017My Profile

  4. You are right. This is punishing a girl for getting pregnant. It has nothing to do with her “immorality.” It has everything to do with the fact that you can’t hide a pregnancy. It’s about shaming women when they fail to measure up to the expectation that they should maintain a “pure and perfect Christian” image. It’s also about instilling fear in others who might be tempted to indulge in a little “immorality.” And everyone (except, apparently, the decision-makers at the school) can see quite clearly that this is exactly what is being done.

    It is, in fact, just another example of Christians shooting their wounded. Of Christians placing the Law above the grace and forgiveness that we are ordered to extend to those who fail.

    Remember in I Corinthians, where Paul listed all those things that the Corinthian believers had been saved from (“for such were some of you”)?

    That list was NOT to remind them how vile those things were, but to remind them that God washed them clean, to remind them of where they came from and that what had made the difference for them was God’s grace and forgiveness. It was to remind them to demonstrate compassion because they knew firsthand the pain, fear, and frustration of failing, and they could testify that God could take that failure and redeem it, transforming it into something glorifying to him. It was a reminder to tell the world that God can take the rubble of a broken person and rebuild them into someone beautiful and perfect.

    Jesus said “They will know you are my follower by your love.” Not “by your reputation for purity and your willingness to crucify anyone who falls short of perfection.”

    “BY YOUR LOVE.”

    This is not love. This is a bid for control and domination. And in my opinion this kind of thing does more to turn people away from the love of God than any sin ever remotely did. But, hey. I’m “only” a woman, so what do I know, anyway?

    • “Jesus said “They will know you are my follower by your love.” Not “by your reputation for purity and your willingness to crucify anyone who falls short of perfection.””

      Exactly!

      Thank you, Wendy!
      joe recently posted…Unplanned BlessingsMy Profile

  5. I’m not sure I agree on all the points you’ve made here, Joe, though I do on some. And I certainly appreciate your compassion and call for others to respond in a Christlike and compassionate way in these kinds of situations. Thanks for bringing it to our attention and for stirring a deep and needed consideration of what Christ’s love and mercy looks like in these kinds of situations.

    • Complete agreement is absolutely NOT required! 😉

      One of the great beauties of a healthy friendship is the ability to respectfully disagree…while learning from each other’s perspective.

      Thank you, Beth! 🙂
      joe recently posted…Unplanned BlessingsMy Profile

  6. Thank you for this most Christlike response to the pharisees’ victim of their abuse.
    “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” — Jesus

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