by John Ellis
Christians need to stop apologizing for the Biblical doctrine of sin. Of course, and sadly, many professing followers of King Jesus don’t really hold to a doctrine of sin as defined by God in the Bible. For them, instead of a violation of God’s holy and unchanging law, sin is a moving target that shifts and becomes redefined based on the opinions and/or feelings of those around them. Many professing Christians appear to be more concerned about appeasing unbelievers than they are in having any sort of consistency in reference to sin. This problem frequently raises its ugly head, but a current situation involving a pregnant teenager who was punished by her Christian school is the most current example causing professing Christians to apologize for other Christians faithfully adhering to the Biblical doctrine of sin (the most current example at the time of this writing, at least).
The New York Times begins their piece about the pregnant teen with the statement, “Maddi Runkle has never been a disciplinary problem.” The article goes on to relate how the eighteen-year old is a straight A student and was a member of the student council. “Was a member,” because the Christian school she attends removed her from her position as a disciplinary action for her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Furthermore, while being allowed to graduate, which she earned, Runkle will not be allowed to walk with her classmates during the graduation ceremony. Thankfully, Maddi Runkle has decided to keep the baby growing inside her. And this is the point where the NTY deftly bears out the false dichotomy that has caused many professing Christians to apologize for the actions of Maddi Runkle’s Christian school.
The title of the NYT article is “Pregnant at 18. Hailed by Abortion Foes. Punished by Christian School.” To be fair, the NYT didn’t generate the false dichotomy, the pro-life organization Students for Life did it for them. Lifting a paragraph from the NYT’s article speaking about Maddi Runkle, “‘She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed,’ said Kristan Hawkins, the Students for Life president, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the administrator of Heritage Academy to reverse the decision. ‘There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.’”
While I don’t have a problem with anyone lobbying the school to allow Runkle to walk, and I wouldn’t have a problem with the school reversing their decision, allow her to walk, and retain her seat on the student council. That’s an internal decision, and the school authorities are free to make decisions in full faith before God that they believe are in the best interest of all parties involved. They don’t answer to me, and neither do they answer to Kristan Hawkins; they answer to God. What I do take issue with is Kristan Hawkins (and anyone else) creating the false dichotomy between punishment and grace by implying that the school is unfairly and unlovingly shaming Maddi Runkle.
Sin has consequences; sin always has consequences. That should be a no-brainer statement for every single person that claims to be a Christian. The entire story of the Bible is predicated on the fact that sin has consequences.
After God created everything, the pinnacle of His creation sinned; Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Since God is holy and just, He must punish sin, and the just punishment for all sin is death. In the moment of our first parent’s sin, an ethical divide was created between God and His creation, leaving humans to suffer the consequence of eternal death for their sin. In His love and grace, though, God promised to take care of the problem, to bridge the ethical divide and restore His people to right relationship with Him and eternal life. He did so by sending the Second Person of the Trinity into the world to live the life of perfect obedience that we can’t, die on the cross as the punishment for the sins of God’s people, and then be raised from the dead, conquering sin and death. When people repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus, they are adopted into God’s family and given new life.
Being adopted into God’s family doesn’t mean, however, that Christians have a “get out of jail free” card that allows us to sin with impunity. Frankly, I don’t know of any actual Christian that would argue otherwise. Likewise, Christians shouldn’t deny the truth taught in Hebrews chapter twelve that God disciplines His children, and that while “painful rather than pleasant,” His discipline, “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).”
God’s discipline of His children is loving and gracious.
Earthly authority figures, parents, teachers, Elders, etc., are called by God to reflect who He is as they exercise the authority He has given them. When our children are disobedient (sin), my wife and I discipline them. Likewise, when a member of a church refuses to repent and turn from gross, open, and consistent sin, cheating on a spouse, for example, the Elders of that church are called to lead the church family in disciplining their sinning brother or sister in Christ.
Granted, earthly authority figures are sinners, too, and often administer discipline in unloving and ungracious ways. That’s not an indictment on disciplining sin; that’s an indictment on those authority figures who fail to discipline in a manner that reflects the nature of God the Father. As best I can tell, the administration of Heritage Academy has not disciplined Maddi Runkle excessively nor out of a spirit of anger.
If you believe that Runkle’s actions that lead to her pregnancy weren’t sinful, you and I need to have a different conversation than this current one. If, however, like the entire history of orthodox Christianity, you believe that sex outside of the marriage bed is a sin against God, then you also have to admit that Runkle’s actions deserve discipline. For her own good, for her sanctification and instruction in righteousness, as well as communicating truths about God.
Once again, I wouldn’t fault the school for reversing their decision by allowing Runkle to walk, but to accuse the school of being ungracious and unloving is a misunderstanding of the role of punishment. Furthermore, to claim that punishment impedes restoration is to deny one of the purposes of punishment.
Recently, one of our kids lost the privilege to enjoy technology. To the best of our knowledge, this child has and is exhibiting appropriate contrition and repentance. But, since sin has consequences, my wife and I have not reversed the punishment. In the past, there have been times when we have reversed the punishment. However, this time, restoration of relationship (trust) is partly wrapped up in how this child continues to respond to the punishment. The ongoing act of discipline doesn’t mean that my wife and I love our child less, nor does it mean that the act of the full restoration of trust isn’t ongoing and the goal.
By God’s grace, we make our disciplining decisions based on the intimate knowledge that we have of our child, family dynamic, and other variables. It would be an act of arrogance for someone to come along in this current situation and tell us that we are being ungracious and unloving because we’re not giving technology back to our repentant child. Likewise, unless an individual has insider information about the inner workings of the school and how the administration is handling Runkle’s pregnancy, it’s arrogance to accuse them of being ungracious and unloving. Worse, it communicates to non-Christians that Christians do not take seriously the Bible’s teaching about sin.
Maddi Runkle signed a pledge promising among other things to abstain from premarital sex. She violated that pledge, and is now being asked to accept the punishment for her sin. That punishment does not mean that her authority figures at Heritage Academy do not love her or are not planning on supporting her throughout her pregnancy and beyond. Sin has consequences. Maddi Runkle is being taught that by her school.
There is another specter about all of this that worries me. Maddie Runkle is not being punished for choosing life. Allow me to repeat that, Maddie Runkle is not being punished for choosing life. To claim otherwise is sinfully dangerous, and undermines how horrific the sin of abortion actually is.
First, and quickly, Maddie Runkle is being punished for sinning before God and humans; she failed to abstain from pre-marital sex. That should be the end of it for Christians. Sadly, it’s not.
Look, I praise God that Maddie Runkle is choosing to not murder her baby. And I pray that her church family and school family is prepared and eager to support her during and after her pregnancy. But to claim that the school shouldn’t discipline her because she’s choosing to not murder her baby undermines the awfulness of abortion. She’s being disciplined for her sin, her decision to not abort is a separate issue from that.
Secondly, few things in the current life of the American church are more insidious and evil than professing Christians removing any of the guilt of abortion by pointing fingers at fellow Christians and saying, “Unless you’re willing to care for the mothers and babies, you don’t have a right to say that abortion is a sin.” Furthermore, many of the professing Christians who seek to undermine the awfulness of abortion by putting it on others never utter a single negative word about abortion. Quoting the opening paragraph of this article, many professing Christians appear to be more concerned about appeasing unbelievers than they are in having any sort of consistency in reference to sin. When they do that, they are communicating that abortion is excusable on some level or another because others fail to be obedient. Nowhere does the Bible allow Christians to even think that it’s not as bad to sin if another person sins, too. In fact, that’s exactly the tact that Adam tried to take with God after God confronted him for eating the fruit. How’d that turn out?
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I’m thankful and praise God that Maddie Runkle is not having an abortion. And since two things can be true at once, I’m also thankful that her school is apparently doing their best to faithfully and obediently fulfill their calling from God to reflect Him in and through the appropriate and loving discipline of their students who sin. Their courage in the face of mocking press and the slanderous slings and arrows coming from professing brothers and sisters in Christ is to be commended. Likewise, Maddie Runkle should be encouraged and supported by those around her during and after her pregnancy. It’s not an either/or.
Soli Deo Gloria
(After writing this, I discovered this piece that says a lot of what I’ve tried to say in mine, but has some additional, good points, too.)
 She earned her diploma. She completed the work, and her pregnancy doesn’t remove that objective truth. Walking with her class, however, is a privilege and not a right. Oh, what a tangled web of misery and confusion our post-enlightenment rights’ theories have spun.
 For the record, because I’m sure that this will come up, if the father of the baby is a student at Heritage Academy, I trust and hope that he has been disciplined, too. If he’s a senior, I trust that he’s not allowed to walk either. If he’s on the student council, I trust that he’s been removed from that position. Two people sinned, and two people deserve discipline. If, however, the father isn’t a student at Heritage Academy, the school administrators are not responsible for his discipline, nor should they base their decision, necessarily, on how much or how little the father’s authority figures are handling it. Heritage Academy has a responsibility before God for how they shepherd the students entrusted to them.