I’ve read numerous articles and opinions in regards to Maddi Runkles and how the Heritage Academy handled her pregnancy, which included banning her from participating in the graduation ceremony. I’ve spent a great deal of time the past month thinking about not only how poorly this school handled the situation, but perhaps more time thinking about the messages we, as Christians, give to women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.
There are a number of reasons why Maddi’s pregnancy and the Heritage Academy caught my attention. First and foremost, I too have been a judger. Like the administration at the school I was a master at what people should and shouldn’t be doing. Ask my own family, in years past I did extremely well in pointing out the do’s and don’ts of God’s word, but often fell short in offering the grace and mercy that our Abba Father so freely gives.
Secondly, this situation brought back memories, both good and bad, of what our family experienced when our unwed daughter found herself pregnant. Like the school administration, our church didn’t know how to minister to our daughter and family. There were comments like, she’s going to get married, isn’t she? Also, there were conversations repeated back to us by well-meaning friends, about what some of those in our own church had said. Yet, no one in that small rural church directly came to talk to our daughter or us. Because of a series of misspoke words and mishandled actions during those months, we choose to leave our church family. It could have been a time when love drew our daughter back to God, but instead, it was a time where she saw how hypocritical and judgmental some in the church can be.
One of the final reasons this story caught my attention is because I have dedicated this time in my life to work with young women like our daughter and Maddi at a pregnancy care center. Both my daughter and Maddi made the difficult but brave decision to walk through an unplanned pregnancy. They didn’t make their decision in a vacuum. Other key people influenced their decision to choose life. Thankfully my daughter and Maddi were able to go their parents. However many young women will not. Pregnancy help organizations offer confidential, safe and loving places for young women to talk through their options. During those conversations, I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a young woman tell me she has been hurt by the church. I cringe a little each time I hear a story about how we as Christians have once again missed the opportunity to show the love of Jesus to a young woman in her moment of crisis.
In one of the interviews that I watched, Kristen Hawkins the President of Students for Life America stated, This has started a national conversation that needed to happen a long time ago about how Christians handle the sin of premarital sex and then if a woman gets pregnant how we show grace. I want to be a part of the conversation and the movement that extends grace and offers unconditional love to these young women.
I took the log out of my own eyes eight years ago when we walked through it with our daughter. I realized how wrong some of my words and actions had been. And even though I thought my heart intentions were pure, I realized they were steeped in legalism and judgment. Many of us in the church still have it wrong. Not only does the conversation need to start, but our actions and motives need to be in alignment with Jesus.
Care Net, a national organization that supports pregnancy care centers, released the findings from a survey. Their research showed that oftentimes women go from a church pew to an abortion clinic in order to avoid the judgment and gossip they would receive from the church. Only 7% of those surveyed felt like they could discuss their abortion decision with someone in the church. And 76% said the church had no influence on their decision to terminate a pregnancy. Additionally, out of the women surveyed only 3 out of 10 felt like the church gave accurate counsel in regards to pregnancy options. And fewer than half of the women surveyed observed churches who were prepared to advise them in regards to their pregnancy options. (To read the entire survey, click here).
How can we be better prepared to serve young women, like Maddie? What can we learn from Heritage Academy? Remember a few years back when all of us were wearing WWJD bracelets? Let’s start there.
What would Jesus do with a woman facing the crisis of an unintended pregnancy?
In an interview done with Maddie, she said that she understood the consequence of breaking the moral conduct code of her school. She accepted the punishment of being suspended from school and removed from leadership positions. In my humble opinion, this is where things went wrong with the school administration. That should have been where the punishment ended and grace began. By taking it to the extreme, I can’t help but wonder what the rippling effects will be. Can you imagine what the other students who are involved in sexual sin thought? Did it make them want to turn from immorality? Or did it drive them deeper into the secrets of their sin?
What about the next young woman at that school or one of the local churches that is faced with an unplanned pregnancy? Do you think she will go to someone at the school or one of the supporting churches for Godly counsel and support? Absolutely not! Chances are her pregnancy will remain a secret and possibly end in abortion.
I’ve searched the scriptures and ask individuals who are far more versed in the Bible than I, Where in scripture are we required to publicly confess our sin? Nowhere, do we see that Jesus made someone caught in sin publicly confess. Think back to the women caught in adultery. Did Jesus have her stand before her accusers and publicly confess her sin? Nope! Instead, he called out the hypocrites. I chose to believe that when he started writing in the sand it was the secret sins of those standing above him with rocks in their hands. After the rocks were dropped and the accusers were gone, what did Jesus do? He loving spoke to the women and said, Then neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin.
What if we as Christians approach single women facing an unintended pregnancy with the love of Jesus? How would that look? What will be the rippling effects?
Let’s consider what would have happened if after the initial discipline, the school would have shown love and mercy. What if their message to Maddie and the entire student body would have been one that showed how yes, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Yet, God still loves us and desires for us to turn away from sin and live an abundant joy filled life. Patricia Heaton says, A woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserves to experience unplanned joy!
What if Heritage Academy and the administration would have decided to help Maddie and her baby have an abundant life? What if they embraced her pregnancy, praised her for choosing life and helped her find joy during this hard season of life. They could have offered support and services that would help her press on towards receiving a college education and a better life for her and her child, even as a single mom. What if instead of shaming her, they helped her be brave? Joshua 1: 9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
That next young woman facing an unintended pregnancy, what would she have seen? A group of compassionate, loving individuals who want to show their support. She would have seen that choosing life for her baby wasn’t shameful or guilt ridden, but celebrated and embrace.
This conversation needs your input. Why not join in? That next young woman might be from your children’s school, your church or even within your own family. Some of you, like me and the school administration, need to start with your own heart and legalistic views. Don’t stop there! Check with your small group and church leaders. Ask the questions and talk through the hard answers. How will you as a church embrace a young woman facing an unplanned pregnancy?
Perhaps you have no clue where to begin. Below is a list that can help you and/or your church become prepared.
- If you have children, start an age-appropriate conversation about this very story. Research says that parents are still the biggest influence in a child’s life. They need to know what God, not man believes about life, whether it is planned or not.
- Check with your local pregnancy care center. Schedule a tour of the center or ask for a staff member to come out and share how they extend Jesus’ love to women and men making a pregnancy decision.
- Start an Embrace Grace group at your church. Embrace Grace equips the church to come alongside women to providing emotional, practical and spiritual support when faced with an unintended pregnancy. Check out Embrace Grace here.
- Offer Making Life Disciples curriculum to your church. This curriculum is designed to better equip the body of believers to offer hope, help, and love to women and men making pregnancy decisions. This curriculum was developed by Care Net and can be ordered here.