This is a maddening conflict created by evangelicals’ own warped morality.
It won’t surprise you that private Christian schools have rules forbidding sex before marriage (and everything else they consider sinful). They also believe abortion is the Worst. Thing. Ever.
So what happens when a student gets pregnant and keeps the baby? Should they punish her for having sex or applaud her choice?
In the case of Maddi Runkles, an excellent student at Maryland’s (Christian) Heritage Academy who somehow — somehow! — became pregnant, the administrators decided she can’t graduate with the rest of her class. She’ll get her diploma… but not with her classmates.
The New York Times‘ Sheryl Gay Stolberg tells her story in a piece that really gets to the heart of Christian hypocrisy when it comes to sex: They don’t want kids to have it, they have no good ways of preventing kids from having it, and they have no clue how to handle it when the inevitable happens.
As Runkles herself notes, even though she feels like she made the right decision in keeping the baby, she recognizes the school gave her plenty of incentive to have an abortion:
“Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby,” she said. “Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”
Ironic, no? If she had quietly had an abortion, she’d be graduating with her classmates in a couple of weeks. But the visible pregnancy deserves punishment, the thinking goes, or else kids may get the wrong idea.
Though I’ve never known teenagers to see a pregnant classmate and think, “Ooh, that looks like fun!” Giving her a diploma at the same time as everyone else is hardly rewarding her “sin.”
Kristine Kruszelnicki, the Executive Director of Pro-Life Humanists, told me she feels this decision completely contradicts the school’s goals:
I’ll never understand Christians who punish young women for choosing to continue an unplanned pregnancy. They think they’re condoning premarital sex but, in reality, the loudest message they’re sending young women is, “If you get pregnant you have no choice but abortion, unless you want to be shamed and ruined!”
Messages like these should be condemned not just by opponents of abortion but by supporters of choice as well! This school paints a scarlet “A” on any sexually active girl who gets pregnant — an “A” that only abortion can wash away.
Coercion isn’t pro-choice and shaming someone into abortion isn’t pro-life. Neither is it “Christian” or “compassion” — even if does maintain the illusion of “chastity”!
This is one of the problems with Christian “morality.” Evangelicals are no more moral than everyone else. But they sure as hell want to act like it. So they only really get mad when people “sin” in ways that are obvious to other people.
That’s why being gay isn’t necessarily a problem, but being in a same-sex relationship, which people notice, is. That’s why televangelists can scam people out of money behind the scenes while acting pious in front of the camera. That’s why Ted Haggard had to resign almost immediately from the National Association of Evangelicals after his sex scandal but megachurch pastors who inflict abuse out of the spotlight stay in their positions for years — or forever — even when the victims say something early on.
That’s why evangelicals talk out loud about treating women as equals but get furious when female bloggers openly call them out on their bullshit. Sexual assaults are as much a problem on Christian campuses as everywhere else, but they try their best to keep it under the radar.
Hell, Bob Jones University, where Runkles will be going next year, banned interracial dating until 2000 in part, I assume, because they felt it was a slap in the face to God if the public saw a mixing of races.
And Runkles won’t be allowed to graduate with her classmates because her pregnancy is right there for all to see.
At any rate, she deserves credit for letting the Times publish this story about her. Maybe it’ll pressure some of these schools to do a little soul searching of their own, especially since they’re always so obsessed with everyone else’s.
(Image via Shutterstock)