Evangelical Christian School Punishes High School Senior For Getting Pregnant

maddi runkles

Heritage Academy, an Evangelical institution located in Hagerstown, Maryland finds itself the center of attention due to its punishment of a high school senior who had sex outside of marriage and got pregnant.  CJ Lovelace, a writer for The Herald-Mail, reports:

As children played outside just before noon Tuesday, two police vehicles were parked in front of Heritage Academy.

Inside, officers took reports from school officials about harassing emails and phone calls coming in to the small Christian school west of Hagerstown.

“Some of them are calling me names, but when somebody is in a leadership position like I am in, it’s going to happen,” Heritage Principal Dave Hobbs said. “The other issue that we’re having is we’re getting a lot of encouragement. We’ve gotten lots of emails, thanking us for taking a stand in regards to what is right and what is wrong.”

The independent, nondenominational school has been the target of criticism since news broke that one of its students, 18-year-old Maddi Runkles, had been barred from “walking” in her upcoming graduation because she is pregnant.

But, according to Hobbs, the punishment had little to do with Runkles’ pregnancy and everything to do with her conduct that violated school code.

“Certainly, we are a pro-life institution, and certainly we are pleased that Maddi has chosen to keep her baby,” Hobbs told Herald-Mail Media. “Her choice broke that standard of abstinence. It is a clear standard in the Bible. It is a clear standard in our handbook.”

Hobbs first learned of Runkles’ pregnancy in early February when her father, the former president of the school’s board of directors, Scott Runkles, came to him with the news.
An emergency meeting followed and administrators began formulating disciplinary action, which was finalized Feb. 20 in a binding decision after appeals made by the Runkles family, Hobbs said.

….

“We have to look at every individual situation on a case-by-case basis,” Hobbs said.

When the pregnancy first came to light, Runkles, a 4.0 student who will still receive her diploma, was suspended from school for a couple days and removed from her position on the student council while the board decided what to do.

Since then, she’s been permitted to continue attending classes and school functions at the institution of about 175 students — including 15 in this year’s senior class.
Scott Runkles, who resigned from his position on the school’s board in a result of the punishment, has said that he agrees his daughter deserved to be disciplined, but not by banning her from graduation.

“Maddi is a great kid,” her father said Monday. “She just happened to have a lapse in judgment.”
….

Heritage Academy has removed everything from their website (typical of Fundamentalist schools and churches who find themselves in the public spotlight) except for a statement by Principal Dave Hobbs. Hobbs wrote:

Dearest Heritage Family:

As I begin, please understand that my wife and I have fallen in love with the people of Heritage Academy.  Therefore, it is for Heritage’s protection that I write this.

The main reason I have been silent to this point is because in disciplinary situations, each Heritage family deserves confidentiality. The conduct of your children is not everyone’s business. This perspective would have been the best way to deal with Maddi Runkles’ disciplinary situation. However, her family has chosen to make her behavior a public matter. Before sending this letter, I contacted Scott Runkles who gave me permission to discuss this publicly. In my thinking, these were the two to protect: first Maddi, then Heritage, in that order. Unfortunately, both are now being hurt by those who do not know or understand the situation. For this sole reason, I am now willing to comment publicly.

Let me clarify some facts. Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral. The Student Pledge which every student from 5th grade through 12th grade signs states that this application of Philippians 4:8 “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs”.  Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son. However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation. Secondly, she will receive her diploma that she has earned.

Much has been said about grace. I believe that there are two kinds of grace: saving grace and living grace. One is concerning spiritual birth “once and for all” (Hebrews 9:12, 10:10) which demanded no effort on my part, because my Savior Jesus, finished this on His cross and from His empty tomb. The other kind of grace is spiritual growth that does demand my effort (2 Peter 3:18). It also includes discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11). A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love. We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.

As I conclude, I have two concerns. First, I am concerned that my Heritage family feels that the Board and I are harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men. Nothing can be further from the truth. We have spent countless hours in prayer and discussion. The Board has listened to three appeals from the Runkles family and compromised all three times. Secondly, I am concerned about our graduation ceremony on the evening of June 2nd . That night, I want God to be glorified in a dignified manner. Please enable us to do this.

With deepest sincerity,

David R. Hobbs, Administrator

You can view a Wayback Machine cached version of Heritage’s website here. You can view the school’s 2016-17 student handbook here.

When stories such as this one make the national news, non-Evangelicals are often outraged over such Puritanical, backward thinking and behavior, thinking that schools such as Heritage Academy are few and far between. However, there are scores of Heritage Academies scattered across the United States, each with harsh rules and discipline meant to keep students from drinking, cussing, smoking, fornicating, and listening to rock music. These schools not only regulate what students can and can’t due while at school, they also regulate what they can and can’t do at home and with their friends. One Fundamentalist school I am very familiar with expelled several high school students because they were caught drinking alcohol at a private party. These types of schools tend to legislate behavior both on and off campus, and that is certainly the case with Maddi Runkles.

There’s no greater sin for a Christian school girl to commit than to get pregnant. Boys can whore around and schools are none the wiser. But, when a girl has unprotected sex (and my money is on the school’s sex education class being abstinence only) and finds herself pregnant, well her S-I-N is exposed for all to see. This, of course, is a public embarrassment for Evangelical schools, leading to jokes and gossip about their morality codes and the inability of students to keep them.

Heritage Academy, choosing to not do as Jesus did with the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11, decided to publicly punish and humiliate Maddi Runkles. Perhaps someone needs to do as Jesus did in John 8 and do some writing in the sand detailing the sins of Principal Hobbs, the school board, teachers, and everyone else associated with the school.  Believe me, everyone has behaviors they wouldn’t want anyone to know about it. In Runkles’ case, her “sin” grew inside of her, exposing for all to see her “immoral” behavior. I am sure more than a few other high school students at Heritage were glad that their secret sexual “sins” were not exposed. Does anyone doubt for a moment that there are other fornicating students — doing what is healthy and normal for sexually aware teenagers and young adults to do?

Maddi Runkles is eighteen years old. She is most certainly old enough to decide whether to have sexual intercourse. That she had unprotected sex is unfortunate, but there is nothing in this story that merits anything more from the school than, Maddi, what can we do to help?

Other Heritage students and parents are paying attention to how Principal Hobbs and the school board dealt with Runkles’ pregnancy. Perhaps in the future, an unintended consequence of the school’s actions in this case might lead another pregnant girl to get an abortion instead of making known her pregnancy. School officials said they prayed long and hard over this matter, but since there is no God to hear their prayers, what we are left with is the moral beliefs of the nine men (no women) who decided Maddi Runkles’ fate. I wonder if all of these men were virgins when they walked the aisle on their wedding day. If not, and I highly doubt all of them were, perhaps they should heed Jesus’ words — he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.

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14 Comments

  1. Melody

    “It is a clear standard in the Bible. It is a clear standard in our handbook.”

    Like having slaves is, or having several wives, or impregnating your wife’s slave (on her urging no less): yes, that’s all Biblical standard too! It just depends where you look.

    Christian ‘tough love’ and cruelty are often one and the same thing. So, yes, they are in fact “harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men.”

    Harsh cruel men who think that they are not because the Bible tells them to behave like this. To love is to hurt (people) in their book.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Maddi Runkles would be protected from this kind of vicious harm in a world that looked after youngsters, in a world that had a need to love its progeny. Instead, it allows hateful religious men to publicly scorn young people and harm them for life. This is done to follow the Word of God (with capitals) and they are correct in doing it to openly admit/display the barbarity that rules their lives.
    Christian men, you hate your daughters and proudly stand beside a sky fantasy while your children are socially tortured, terribly damaged.

    As Melody (above) states so well: “Christian ‘tough love’ and cruelty are often one and the same thing.”

    Maddie Runkles’ boyfriend might consider if he wants to truly care for his lover now or if he wants to punish her like her own parents, her school, her classmates; like all ‘good’ Christians. Perhaps both he and she should be buried to their necks and stoned. That is real obedience to the hateful God who gets off tax-free. Fundy evangelical belief is a human virus.
    Maddi, run for your life! Run like your house was on fire! You do not deserve the harm being done to you now. Run somewhere where you know somebody will respect and love you, where there is at least a chance of survival. Do not be shamed for being a normal young person who happened to get pregnant. Damn the blamers and shamers. To Hell with them! Save yourself. Run for your life.

    Reply
  3. Troy

    I don’t endorse fundamentalist Christianity or its methods, when you go to this kind of school it is a bit absurd to expect to break the rules and not face any consequences. The school is actually being quite generous, in fact I’m certain she got off much easier than an unpopular or problem student would get. Her and her father’s complaining seems a bit to me like someone picking up a venomous snake and then complaining when it bites you.
    While I don’t endorse the method and madness of the school, as a thought experiment if they were to give the student a free ride, it would in fact destroy the school’s reason for existence and reputation.

    Reply
    1. Becky Wiren

      And yet, my understanding is the boyfriend got off scot-free. Which means this is punitive to this young woman BEING A WOMAN. Because guys can cat around and never show the results.

      Also, giving the young woman a pass because she is having the baby, instead of secretly getting an abortion, would be the kind, loving thing to do! Oh wait, they don’t believe in loving kindness to sinners. I guess they would have the woman caught in adultery stoned.

      Reply
      1. Brian

        greetings becky, just listened to a CBC interview with the kid and it appears that the boy involved was not from the school and is standing by her as she goes to term. She also claims her father and mother are supportive. The school wishes to shame and blame her because they ‘love’ her, biblically I guess, as the hatred they are showing is very very fundy Christian. Thank-you Jeeezus for your deep mercy!

        Reply
        1. Becky Wiren

          I’m so glad she has the support from her family! As for the school board…they can drop dead for all I care.

          Reply
    2. Brian

      Troy, when we are brought up in an abusive bubble, we adapt and live our lives while being constantly ‘bitten’ as you put it. We learn to live with it and Maddi was not doing anything that was unusual. The rules are broken because they must be and it is part of the abusive structure we grow up inside. Young people are sensuous and gloriously alive. They get pregnant sometimes and that is a special opportunity for the haters to pile-on the shame/blame syndrome and to perpetuate misogyny: Women are the weaker vessel etc.
      Giving the kid a ‘free ride’ as you say, would make the school seem week and womanly, right? You have to punish, hurt, remind, bully young people just as God has commanded.
      It saddens me that Maddi cannot see straight through the bullshit at her age and will still seek to ‘improve’ the way Christians act, encouraging them look after pregnant young women so as to prevent the evil of abortion, more sick thinking perpetuated by the perverse evangelicals.
      I went through the process myself as a young man, going from one denominatino to another, trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Eventually I learned to say no to the abuse.
      I don’t think it is quite fair of you to speak as if Maddi chooses…. She is a kid brought up in delusional thinking. She did not willingly pick up a venomous snake but was reared among them. I wonder if you are being a bit harsh.

      Reply
      1. Troy

        This is a fair criticism of my snake analogy. Yes she indeed is raised in a bubble with limited access to the full perspective, a problem all people share. My defense of my position is she is in fact a young adult and at some point we are responsible for our own actions, and I think she has met that standard. (I was about that age when I got out of religion, though I did have an influence.) (Since no one knows her exact situation it is difficult to say if I’m being harsh or not, in fact the real situation might be that the pregnancy was the result of being raped.)
        I never said that the school would appear “weak and womanly” if she was given no punishment. The punishment wasn’t for the student, rather it is to save the public perception of their school. The school fulfills a certain mandate (albeit one I don’t agree with) as such if they appear to be lax on the issues parents want addressed, then the school itself has no reason to exist.

        Reply
        1. Brian

          Isn’t it just peachy that Christianity and Heritage (ha….sick patriarchal heritage) Academy choose to think they are charged with maintaining some ‘standard’. Essentially, they do not give a shit about the human being but about the role required to serve the slave master in heaven.
          My comment about being weak and womanly was not directed as if you were the author but to point out how hateful this bunch really is, how they routinely demean people. It is quite dangerous to see yourself on the royal high ground looking down as evangelicals do. They serve the master and say whatever they like as if Christ gave them a free pass to offend.
          Listening to the young woman on the CBC, it was clear that the sex was consensual and also that the lad involved was somewhat willing to face the ‘consequences’ of their lovemaking. He doesn’t attend the same cult farm school she does and sounds supportive of her.
          Lastly, what the fuck happened to forgiveness in Christianity, to longsuffering and loving those in hardship. Was it ever really a part of the faith or was it just stories, allusions ?

          Reply
          1. Troy

            Ok I didn’t see the CBC interview, but it does sound interesting. One relevant thing I haven’t expressed is why I tolerate what is essentially a loose network of cults with indoctrination centers. It is because I value my own freedom of (from) religion and I accept that parents are the best arbiters of their children’s interest, even though in cases such as this they obviously fail their children. Children can be resilient, if you look at the brood of our host Bruce Gerencser none of them signed up for the IFB (perhaps they feel as my brother so eloquently put it that he felt he had “graduated from church”) The magnitude of the story hides just what a niche product this school is, but 15 graduating seniors isn’t a very big footprint.

  4. Lambchopsuey

    Love = punishment. Got it. Glad to see nothing’s changed in Christianity since I left at age 11 over 40 years ago.

    Reply
  5. Chris

    The kicker is that she’s going to Bob Jones University in the fall.

    Reply
    1. Troy

      I was wondering about that… I attended a fundy graduation once that must have been very similar (in fact the class was similarly only about 15 students) The ONLY scholarships granted were to Bob Jones U.
      I figured that’s where she was going, and also am aware of Bob Jones U’s legendary strictness.

      Reply
  6. Matilda

    Another blogger has published the address of the school and suggested people send baby shower gifts there for Maddi – extra large packs of diapers being a good idea volume-wise as it were! Great idea

    Reply

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