This is the season of pride, hope and ambition. Thousands of young men and women will walk across a stage in stadiums, arenas and auditoriums to get a coveted reward for 12 years of pain, strain and hard work. The graduates, with their parents and teachers, can rightly take a bow for genuine accomplishment.
But perhaps not at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Md., where one young woman will be denied her moment in the sun because she is pregnant without benefit of clergy. The principal of the school, an independent Christian academy, thinks it his duty to deny Maddi Runkles her walk across the stage.
Dave Hobb, the principal, cites the Bible — specifically Romans 12:21 — as the authority for his decision. In that verse, the Apostle Paul tells Christian believers to “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” That strikes us as good advice, but we can’t see that Maddi Runkles, by all accounts a thoughtful young woman who has worked hard (she graduates with a 4.0 grade average) and lived a Christian life, has done anything remotely evil.
“Maddi is a great kid,” says her father, Scott Runkles, a member of the school’s board. “She just happens to have had a lapse in judgment.”
That sounds right to us, too. If Principal Hobb wants to look to the Scriptures for guidance, he might look for it in the seventh verse of the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John. A woman was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees, who said she had been caught in adultery, “in the very act.” The Law of Moses, they reminded him, prescribed stoning, so “what sayest thou?” He gave them an answer that could apply even today, even in Hagerstown: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Maddi, despite her lapse of judgment, as her father kindly put it, bears no kinship with the woman brought to Jesus, except that she, like Principal Hobb and all the rest of us, is not without sin. But we hope that Principal Hobb and the elders of Heritage Academy can find the mercy and compassion in their hearts to enable Maddi to receive what she has earned though diligence, application and hard work.
The principal learned of Maddi’s predicament when her father told him of it. Maddi could have resolved such a dilemma with an abortion, as many women have done. Surely this should weigh in the calculations of those who sit in judgment at Heritage Academy.
“The decision to choose life is not always easy,” the national pro-life advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List says in support of Maddi. Such a choice is “certainly not always popular with a culture that promotes convenience over personal responsibility. Maddi made a personal choice to love and protect her unborn son, and she deserves compassion and support, especially from fellow Christians.”
To that we offer a secular heartfelt amen. Maddi will get her diploma, but will be denied the honor she earned, to walk in the procession with her 14 senior classmates at Heritage Academy. We urge Principal Hobbs, who no doubt wants to do the Christian thing, to give Maddi her due.