We trust that graduates learn one lesson: life has consequences
There’s an adage, often used in statecraft that actions have consequences. Or in a more practical and real-life way, one restatement goes that “some people create their own storms, then get upset when it rains.”
This is what happened to a pregnant 18-year-old girl, in Hagerstown, Md., who made an adult decision as she prepared to graduate from a non-denominational Christian school, at which her father was the board president.
It is a variation, to some degree, on the movie, “Footloose,” told and retold about youthful rebellion and choices made in growing up. As theologian Reinhold Niebuhr has remarked, “All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions.”
Undoubtedly, the intentions of Maddi Runkles and her boyfriend (who has not been identified nor are they likely to marry) were romantic and passionate. What has made this particular story of wide public interest is summed up in the headline in Breitbart News: “Christian School Punishes Pregnant Student Who Chooses Life.” Suddenly everyone is involved—her family, church, and school, anti-abortion advocates, and pro-life proponents.
To her credit, Maddi shared her plight with her classmates herself. She has taken responsibility for her actions, and in many ways appears to be a responsible and regretful young woman.
She is reported to have told Breithart News, “It was very stressful because I knew immediately that there were going to be issues at school. I’ve grown up in church and Christian school my whole life, so I knew that getting pregnant at 18 wasn’t going to be looked upon very highly.” The discipline that stung most was not being permitted to make the graduation “walk.” She will receive her diploma, and the family is having its own celebration of her matriculation the next day.
She was going to a school where Bible study is a part of everyday classwork. Heritage Academy administrator David R. Hobbs has written to the school’s parents and faculty, “Maddi is being disciplined. Not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.”
Still, others have said that Maddi is being punished more harshly than other students who have violated the school’s Student Pledge they sign each year ”that extends to my actions such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.”
The school finds itself in the difficult position of trying to be understanding of Maddi’s situation, while also upholding conduct that students and their parents have agreed on. After all, other families have enrolled their students at the school with some expectation of the school’s point of view it tries to maintain.
Administrator Hobbs does not appear to be the current-day preacher-father of the girl in “Footloose.” The school is dealing with the all too well-understood culture in which kids are trying to “break out” at that difficult age, and parents and teachers hold their breath in that space between high school and becoming an adult, before they can exhale safely.
This story has an extra dimension in which such words as immorality and sin are used, not easily, but using them as people of faith may use them. I’ve been reading lately about such questions as “Whatever happened to hell?” or “Whatever became of sin?” One could conclude, unlike maybe three generations ago, that we no longer fear God. The country has moved on to humanism and liberalism. What is moral or ethical are harder to define, or at least we’d like to think so.
The Maddi Runkles case affects many of us. We shouldn’t necessarily fault her church, school or family. Maddi promised she wouldn’t do what led to her pregnancy—and then did it. That thought might be on her mind every morning she awakens. The larger question for the community is what it looks like now to show compassion to Maddi and others like her, while not excusing the responsibility she invited on herself.
Maybe Maddi has given us all a lesson we might relearn. As the late editor Norman Cousins once said: “A human being fashions his [or her] consequences as surely as he fashions his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences.”
This article first appeared inPublic Opinion,Chambersburg, Pa.
Ronald Keener / Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa.