Maddi Runkles is an 18-year-old senior at Heritage Academy, which is a private Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland. In January, she found out she was pregnant. The school requires all students to sign a pledge saying that they will adhere to a religious code of conduct, which includes “abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.” In response to her pregnancy, the school removed Maddi from all student leadership roles, suspended her from school for two days, and informed her that she would not be allowed to walk in her graduation on June 2.
In a letter that was posted on the school website, Principal David Hobbs said the following: “We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”
Reading Maddi’s story reminded me of one of my favorite stories from the Bible. Here is what happened:
At dawn, he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:2-11).
A lot of Christians make the same mistake David Hobbs did. They think that the way to love people is to call them out on their behavior and hammer them with consequences. This is how they “show their love.”
But this isn’t how Jesus worked. In the passage, Jesus does encourage the woman about changing her behavior (i.e., “Go now and leave your life of sin.”), but this only happened after Jesus showed her grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
The Pharisees led with the Law (i.e., “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women”), and grace was nowhere to be found.
Jesus led with grace (i.e., “Neither do I condemn you”), and then encouraged her with truth.
David Hobbs is acting more like a Pharisee than Jesus. I hope he repents and lets Maddi attend her graduation.