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
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.