If there’s one problem facing Christians it is an increasingly hostile culture inimical and, indeed, often toxic to their best efforts to raise their children with the values they regard as most important. Another problem can sometimes be the misinformed and not very deeply formed other Christians whose limited or doggedly doctrinaire beliefs can make Christianity in general look ridiculous.
Such is the case surrounding Maddi Runkles, an 18-year-old senior at Heritage Assembly, a small private Christian school in the US state of Maryland, whose experience with her soon-to-be alma mater has made it into the page of The New York Times and gone more or less viral on social media around the world. In Australian terms, Heritage has an enrolment of around 200 students from K -12.
Miss Runkles was due to graduate together with the rest of her class in June. Instead, her school banned her from the graduation ceremony which, like any young graduating student, she was looking forward to being part of together with her friends and classmates and removed her from her position as President of the Student Council after she approached Heritage’s administration to inform them she was pregnant. Her decision to announce her pregnancy first to the school’s administration and then to her fellow students undoubtedly took enormous courage on Maddi’s behalf but, coming from a pro-life background and family it’s what she chose to do.
Maddi’s story rapidly gained huge national traction. After the school Board’s decision her dismayed family approached Students for Life, a national coalition of pro-life American school and university students for support. Now Maddi finds herself in the unusual position of being banned by a Christian school from her own graduation for her decision to keep her child and hailed as a hero by pro-life groups across the US.
Interestingly, it is well-meaning but ultimately short-sighted decisions such as that by the Heritage Board which so often help to give Christians such a bad name and which serve as such useful fodder for journalists and commentators who believe that Christianity is Puritanism.
This particular problem is actually significant because so much of the public indifference and hostility to contemporary Christianity comes from the popular and common misrepresentation of it as some kind of perverted obstinate continuation of a dour humourless Scots Presbyterian puritanical mentality more redolent of the 18th century. Seen in this light Christianity has no association with joy, happiness or personal fulfilment; instead it is seen as narrow, repressive, harsh and judgemental. Decisions such as that by the Heritage Board undoubtedly help cement that.
If anything, one lesson that seems starkly clear is that of all the participants in this affair it is the young Maddi Runkles who has displayed the most admirable courage and principles of all. To be punished for her honesty and her witness to life is the last thing a supposedly Christian institution should be doing. Meanwhile, her decision to keep her child, knowing that this would have serious consequences for her own life, is exactly the sort of decision and courage all Christians should support, laud – and admire. It’s young women like Maddi Runkles who will change the world for the better. And another thing. All the signs are that she will be a fantastic mother – a real game changer.