A Listener Response to the Maddi Runkles Podcast
June 19, 2017
I've received a handful of emails regarding the latest MoS episode on Maddi Runkles, the pregnant teenager who could not walk with her fellow graduates at Heritage Christian Academy. They were pretty much divided in half between those who agreed with the school's decision and those who did not. This thoughtful reply by a listener got to the heart of a matter about whether a school administration, even a Christian school, has the same authority that church government does in handling personal sin. I am posting it with permission of the the sender, Lori Seaman:
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the conversation about the Christian school shaming the pregnant teen. One thing it got me thinking about was the unique role of the church, and what happens when other institutions try to take on that role. Christian schools can and do play a very good, important role in the formation of Christian children, but they are not churches. I'm not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin.
There are things that are not sin that schools can reasonably prohibit and punish. It is not inherently sinful for a boyfriend and girlfriend to kiss, but a school can have a policy against PDAs, and give a detention to students seen kissing in the hallway. A pastor, on the other hand, would be (as least as far as I can tell!) wildly out of line if he were to discipline a serious boyfriend and girlfriend for not waiting until their wedding day to have their first kiss. Failing a class is not a sin, but a school can deny graduation to a student who fails. Whereas, I'd say, a church can discipline a member for sex outside of marriage, but a school should not.
A school, even a Christian school, has no real mechanism for dealing with sin, nor is it their role to do so. If they have a code of conduct with that includes both not having premarital sex and not plagiarizing, then they are in a bind. If a student plagiarizes or cheats, are they now bound to allow that student to walk at graduation if they repent? But if they won't allow that, then they are also in a position where extending grace to the pregnant teen but not the plagiarizer would seem unfair. A church can embrace and forgive and be again in full communion with both the repentant pregnant teen and the repentant plagiarizer, because dealing with sin is the job of the church. Dealing with sin is not the job of the school, and they cannot do it well.
Anyway, great show, and I think the school really could not have come up with a good answer once they decided that they should have student's private sexual behavior (behavior that did not take place on school grounds or at school events) in the code of conduct. It doesn't belong there, because even Christian schools are not there to discipline and forgive sinners. That's the church's job. I'm not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin, they could have responded well.