Christian School Bans Pregnant Senior From Graduation, Pro-Lifers Respond

Principal Dave Hobbs said the grace extended to Maddi Runkles will 'hold her accountable for her immorality.'

Ms. Runkles, 18, keeps a framed ultrasound photo of her baby — a boy — on the night stand at home in Boonsboro, Md.

By Nancy Flory Published on May 23, 2017

Maddi Runkles is an excellent student. She attends the small Christian school Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. She was the student council president and an officer in the Key Club at her school. But she won’t get the chance to walk across the stage at graduation next month. Maddi is pregnant.

Maddi found out that she was pregnant in January. She briefly considered an abortion but soon rejected that idea. Her parents supported her decision to choose life for her baby.

Maddi’s Unique Consequences

Maddi’s father and then-school board president, Scott Runkles, broke the news to Heritage Academy that his daughter was pregnant. Maddi was removed from her leadership positions in the student council and Key Club. Then she served a two-day suspension.

Maddi knew there would be other consequences, “because I did break the school code.” Students are required to sign a contract stating that they will not have sex outside of marriage. Heritage’s statement of faith requrires that “no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of the marriage commitment between a man and a woman.”

Maddi said she is being treated differently than other students. Other students have broken the contract, but only faced suspension. “I told on myself,” she said. “I asked for forgiveness. I asked for help.”

Principal Dave Hobbs was going to tell the school about Maddi’s pregnancy, but Maddi decided to do it herself. Her dad read half of her prepared statement while Maddi composed herself. She admitted her mistake but also said she chose life for her child. “It was embarrassing, but I wanted my peers and my friends to hear it from me.”

No Graduation

Scott said that some board members and staff thought Maddi should be allowed to participate in graduation. Others, including Hobbs, did not.

Hobbs did not respond to The Stream’s request for a statement prior to publication. However, Hobbs told The New York Times that Maddi’s pregnancy is “an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.”

Some are concerned about the message other students will get if the school allows Maddi to participate in the graduation ceremony. Rick Kempton, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Christian Schools International, addressed the issue. “She’s making the right choice. But you don’t want to create a celebration that makes other young ladies feel like, ‘Well, that seems like a pretty good option.’”

Christian Grace?

Others wonder where grace is in all of this. Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life, told The Stream in a statement that Maddi needs encouragement and support, not shaming. “Very often when a young woman is facing an unexpected pregnancy, shame is a factor in her decision to choose to carry her child to term, or not,” she said.

Shame can be the difference between a woman choosing life or death. I can certainly appreciate the code of conduct at the school, but what this young woman needs now is encouragement and real, tangible help and support. What will happen to another young woman at this school who gets pregnant? The precedent set forth in this situation is not life-affirming.”

Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins said, “She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed. Hawkins unsuccessfully petitioned the principal to let Maddi graduate. “There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

Scott resigned as school board president because of how his daughter was treated. “[I]n situations where you have a genuinely repentant student like Maddi,” he said, “grace and love should always have prominence over discipline.”

In a separate statement on Heritage Academy’s website, Hobbs said it concerned him that Heritage folks thought that he and the Board were “harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men.” Yet he said that the kind of grace he could offer Maddi was discipline in the “application of love.” He added, “The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”

Maddi’s Struggles

Maddi struggles with the seeming contradiction of a pro-life Christian school that shames a pregnant young woman. “Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”

But Students for Life stepped in and provided the support that Maddi needed. Last month Maddi spoke at Students for Life’s #Sockit2PP on Capitol Hill when pro-life leaders asked Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

Surrounded by a mountain of baby socks representing abortions Planned Parenthood performed, Maddi talked about her unexpected pregnancy. “I look at all these socks, and that could have been my baby,” she said. “But I choose to let my baby wear these socks. I know it’s going to be hard, I know it’s going to be really hard, to still accomplish all my goals and all my dreams. But I get to have a little guy following right next to me. And we get to do it together.”

Students for Life is asking supporters to send a message of support to Maddi. They are also throwing a graduation reception for Maddi, during which they will give a scholarship and baby gifts to her. They are collecting donations for that event.

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  • Autrey Windle

    Maddi is a precious child of God! These kind of puritans who think their sins aren’t as bad as hers are one reason so many youth have turned away from religion. Shame on these judgmental people and hide the rocks because I don’t see them caring what Jesus would say about stoning.

  • Irene Neuner

    Feeling ashamed over our sin is key part to overcoming sin in the future. I believe that Holy Spirit, who is always on our true side but against our flesh, teaches us to burn with shame towards any and all sins or we wouldn’t be conforming into the image of the son of God.

    Truly though it is Maddie’s father who should be ashamed for not creating a family culture which protected his vulnerable daughter to being in a situation to allow this to happen. The school should have the parents sign a statement not the child.

    So I think she should be allowed to be in the graduation ceremonies.

    All Christian fathers and mothers need to work harder to separate their children from the world and it’s culture through the sanctification of the Word and the Spirit and the refusal of what the world has to offer via cable tv, movies and magazines.

  • Nobody Specific

    It amazing that the leadership in a Christian School can’t see Christ’s greatest power in action. He makes all things new! She strayed from the path, we all do from time to time. She isn’t bargaining or making excuses and confessed her sins. She recognized her mistake, accepted the consequences, and is once again seeking to walk in his footsteps as part of the body of Christ. Her fellow Christians should welcome her in fellowship.

    I will agree it was right to suspend her and remove her from leadership and what not if that was the prescribed punishment for violating the schools codes, which she agreed to. Five/Six months on however its time to forgive and embrace.

  • Kevin Cordner

    I sat on a Christian school board, charged with upholding standards. This situation regarding Maddi is not as simple as this article makes it out to be (in my view).
    The board member is forced to look both at the welfare of the individual student and the impact the board’s decisions will have on the school’s students, going forward. In the above article is the quote, “grace and love should always have prominence over discipline.” (When there is genuine repentance)
    Maddi’s situation would be a very difficult one to handle, trying to balance care and grace for her with upholding biblical standards. Not allowing her to participate in graduation is not necessarily shaming her, would be my point. Rather, it is a consequence of her breaking a school policy.
    I think we need to be careful that we not confuse God’s immediate forgiveness and grace through Christ with there still being natural consequences of an action we take.
    Part of maturing as a Christian is taking reponsibility for our actions, honoring authority, and yes, rules…and trusting the Lord to take care of us.
    If this seems heartless, I certainly don’t intend it in that way. I’ve just lived a long time, and while I cast my soul on the mercy and grace of my Savior, I also am aware that some consequences of my actions carry forward even though my Lord forgives me at the point of my confessing. (1 John 1: 9)
    Maddi, thank you for choosing life. I hope you and your father will be able to reconcile the honest differences you have with the school, and that you will not have remaining bitterness. The Lord’s grace truly will keep you and your little one.

    • Nobody Specific

      At least based on what I see in the article here there is repentance. It also seems that she is accepting the consequences, she isn’t protesting being removed from her leadership positions. She isn’t upset she was suspended. I would agree neither of those things were wrong. Those are consequences, they were in the school code and she is living with them. She will also have to make a lot of sacrifices for her child she seems to know that too and accepts it.

      There is no reason to continue to deny her participation in schools activities five and six months after the fact here. Where is the father, is he a fellow student? Is he being allowed to walk? Why?

      It looks vindictive to me. She was disciplined already. She was rightly removed from leadership for failure to be a good exemplar. The other students have seen that! Graduation is a consequence (positive) of having completed your course work; assuming she does that I don’t see a strong case for denying her the ceremony.

    • Wayne Cook

      Your inability to see her repentance is an example of what’s wrong with the CHURCH.

    • Majoritysense

      I desire mercy not sacrifice.Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

      • Gary

        I get the impression that you think any penalty for breaking rules is unfair.

        • Majoritysense

          Would like to comment but I would be casting pearls.

  • Karen

    So what happened to the father?

  • Wayne Cook

    This is a great example of the problems in the Christian community. Kicking the wounded.

    • Gary

      They aren’t kicking the wounded. They are making actions have consequences. Which they should.

  • Gary

    The school is right. They can’t just pretend nothing is wrong. Having the baby is what should be expected of her. It is what she should expect of herself. Her decision to have the child does not negate the wrong she has done. Who is the father of the child? He is just as guilty as the girl.

  • Majoritysense

    Jesus said; let him who is without sin cast the first stone. .John 8:7.

    Only those who are faultless have the right to pass judgment upon others
    (implying that no one is faultless and that, therefore, no one has such a
    right to pass judgment)

    • Gary

      You mean the school should have no rules?

      • Majoritysense

        Did I write that? Maybe it would help if you understood compassion.

        • Gary

          Maybe you should understand justice and fairness.

          • Majoritysense

            So you being in right standing with God have evidently judged that the girl has not suffered enough shame.

          • Gary

            Whether she has “suffered enough shame” is for those to judge who made the rules. If you aren’t going to enforce rules, don’t make them.

          • Majoritysense

            Unjust judge, unjust rules. Rules in a fallen system are made to be broken. It’s what is right that counts. There is a difference between respect earned and selfishness.

          • Gary

            Unjust rules? You mean it is unjust to have a rule prohibiting students from fornicating? ?

  • Charles Burge

    I think probably the biggest lesson here is that having a “no sex” rule might not be the best idea in the first place. Not because pre-marital sex is OK (it isn’t), but because such a rule is practically unenforceable. Christians should extend mercy and grace, especially when true contrition is evident. The problem, however, is that this creates the expectation that punishment will never be dispensed in future violations. If that is the case, then why have the rule at all?

    The other big problem is that girls are the only gender who can show visible evidence of having been sexually active. So… how do you enforce the rule for boys? Or for girls who didn’t become pregnant? I don’t see any reasonable way of applying justice equally for everyone. I think the people who made the rule had good intentions, but they probably didn’t think through the real-life applications.

    One last point. Twice in the article, the phrase “unexpected pregnancy” occurs. Well excuse me, but if one chooses to have sex, how in the world can the resulting pregnancy be “unexpected”? I’m fairly certain that all of the students at this school know how babies are made. One may hope that a pregnancy won’t result, but any informed person should know that a pregnancy might result. I think that stretches the definition of “unexpected” far beyond reason.

    • Tom Rath

      But “abstinence-only” education is proven to be effective when compared to comprehensive instruction on human sexuality and reproduction.

      Bazinga.

    • Gary

      They should have the no sex rule. And they should enforce it. No use having it if it isn’t enforced. Everyone should know the rules going in, and what the consequences are for breaking the rules. Oh, and ALL those who participate in the rule breaking should be named. That means the girl should identify those she had sex with.

      • Charles Burge

        So what happens when students have sex and nobody gets pregnant? Administrators might never find out, but the student’s friends probably will. Should there be a culture of snitching on people? For me, that has troubling ramifications. If everyone stays quiet, and sexually active students face no consequences, then you create a culture of resentment. I just think a rule like this has far more potential bad outcomes than good ones.

        • Gary

          Humans can’t enforce rules they don’t know have been broken. Those who break the rules should turn themselves in. Of course most won’t. And many will break this rule. And you will support them.

  • Bryan

    This is a difficult situation and one that no one outside it can truly understand. It’s not appropriate to circumscribe a one size fits all solution to Maddi’s situation.
    I believe that Maddi has repented based on the contents of the article. As others have stated, that does not mean that she should be excused from the consequences of her actions. The most obvious one is that come September she’ll have a much different sleep schedule and be 100% responsible for a little one. However, the question posed is should she be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremonies? One side says yes because she repented and should not be shamed. Another side says no because her sin should not be celebrated. I believe the school is stuck regardless of which decision it makes. It’s not going to make everyone happy. My question though is this: Is she not being allow to participate in the ceremonies because she violated the contract or because her sin is visible? If it’s the first and it’s a continuation of the suspension and removal from leadership positions and was discussed as part of her consequences when this came to light, then no, she should not be allowed to participate. If it wasn’t discussed previously and it’s a last minute (figuratively speaking) decision to exclude her because of the visible consequences of her sin, then I believe the school is wrong to not allow her to participate.
    There are a few things that bother me about this story though. I absolutely applaud Maddi and her family for admitting that she broke her contract and humbly submitting to the consequences. That is certainly an example of a woman after God’s own heart. But the following quotes from the article bother me: “[I]n situations where you have a genuinely repentant student like Maddi,” [Mr. Runkles] said, “grace and love should always have prominence over discipline.” And “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”
    There’s several reasons these statements bother me. In the first, Grace and Love should be foremost regardless of the repentance of the person who has transgressed. But again these don’t mean that there are no consequences. David’s child that was conceived with Bathsheba in adultery died as one of the consequences of David’s actions. Obviously I do not wish that on Maddi or her little one! However in spite of David’s petitions to God and his penitent heart, God still chose to allow this consequence to befall the child and his parents.
    The second statement causes me to wonder at her penitence. I know that this statement is taken out of the total context and may simply be a frustrated statement made by a young women in the midst of a difficult situation. So I’m certainly willing to let it go, but it still bugs me. Maybe I should do my own research and write my own article on the subject.
    Finally, as others have stated previously, what about the father of the child? If he does not attend the same school, that’s one thing. If he’s an underclassmen and not graduating this year, will he not be allowed to participate when he does graduate? There seems to be much misplaced blame and victimization of some parties and not others and that does bother me about the Western church as well.

  • sheepdog writer

    Informative article. Let me guess. These heartless Christians gonna hold onto unforgiveness and bitterness forever, eh? what a disgrace! The young mother ends up looking much better than these heartless phony Christian elites/admins.

    • Gary

      She is the fornicator, and maybe the adulterer, but she is the one you like in this? You should edit your reply to include criticism of God for making sex outside of marriage immoral.

    • Az1seeit

      Okay….objectively speaking…I’m really not seeing the “unforgiveness and bitterness” you ascribe these “heartless Christians”. What I am seeing is you reacting as planned to an article that, beginning with the headline, sets you up to feel sorry for the subject and to outrage…even before you know the details….and you being just as judgemental as the people you are decrying. While it is a sad situation, and one feels for the girl, good people on both sides of the issue have valid arguments. It is not our place to throw mud from a distance in ignorance. With respect, your response is more indicative of bitterness than anything in that article. I feel for you.

  • Jennifer Hartline

    If the father of Maddi’s baby is also a student at the school, then I hope the very same consequences were leveled against him. It’s wrong to punish her without punishing him. She didn’t do this alone.
    In the meantime, I’m glad she chose life for her child, and I’ve told her as much. She does not need to be shamed. She needs forgiveness and grace, like the rest of us.

  • m-nj

    Based on the information given, the school is not stopping the young lady from graduating, but just from going through the graduation ceremony… BIG difference. The school can certainly decline to let her be part of the ceremony for the reasons the principal stated in the article. I assume they would also not allow a person who has committed a non-violent crime, but who otherwise had met the requirements for graduation, to go through the ceremony… just send them their diploma in the mail… no one later in life will be any the wiser.

  • Becky

    There are a lot of “holes” here. If she signed a contract, knowing the school’s policy, then maybe other students have also been prevented from graduating who have had sex outside of marriage. I wish that piece of this puzzle had been explored here. At the end of the article, Maddi is quoted as saying that maybe an abortion would have been better, but this really isn’t about abortion or continuing a pregnancy. This is about adultery. The school says adultery isn’t allowed. And the consequence is severe. It doesn’t mean this is without many uncomfortable and painful and questionable details. I personally believe the policy seems harsh. I also believe she needs a lot of love and support, but this article doesn’t really show that she isn’t being treated well by her community. The truth is- Love is not fuzzy feelings. Love sometimes says, “I see you have made the wrong choice, and even though the consequences will be painful, I will go through it with you.” The Lord walks WITH us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He saw King David’s sin of making Bathsheba commit adultery with him (I mean, did she really have a choice?) and then having her husband murdered. And as a result, God took the life of the son that had been conceived from that sexual union. Did God’s consequence for David’s horrific sin mean that God wasn’t pro-life? Absolutely not. This ordeal brought David to his knees in total brokenness and realization of his depravity and utter need for God. And God most certainly grieved WITH King David and Bathsheba. And, then what did God do? Solomon. Redemption. And then…fast forward, and you have our Lord and Savior down this family line: Jesus. Let’s be careful to judge not. Let’s be first to drop a stone. Let’s look “big picture” here. We don’t know all the facts. God does. So let’s do what we know beyond a doubt we are always called to do- PRAY! Pray for Maddi. Pray for her parents. Pray for Maddi’s baby’s daddy. Pray for this baby. Pray pray pray.

  • narniagirl55

    She already got 2 punishments: a suspension and loss if her duties as student body president which she willingly accepted. That was supposed to be the end of it until her belly began to show!

    How many boys who had sex are being banned from walking? (None)
    How many girls who got secret abortions are being banned from walking? (None)

    How many self-righteous school board members have porn addictions? (Paper or online) and how many board members went to see “50 shades of grey? (Or read the book?) I think we’d be surprised to know.

    Often the “Pharisees” accusing the loudest are the ones with secret sins that God sees.

    Prolife is prolife no matter what the cost. Maddi knows this. The school board doesn’t have a clue! (Except her dad who resigned over the hypocrisy.)

    More girls will get abortions and more boys will get away with premarital sex as long as this is the response.

    Maddi was a 4.0 student. She served her school well. She admitted her error and made the right choice. She deserves to graduate with dignity.

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