Maddi Runkles, Fornication, and Forgiveness

Hagerstown, Maryland is home to Heritage Academy, a Christian school. Its principal is David R. Hobbs. Students who attend Heritage the fifth through twelfth grades sign a pledge not to engage in sexual immorality, or use illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco. The school believes a well-rounded student should meet moral as well as academic standards.

Maddi Runkles a student at Heritage became pregnant. Maddi contemplated an abortion but decided to have her child. She told her parents and together they informed the school.

Initially, the school dismissed Maddi. Her parents, her father was president of the school’s board, appealed that decision. The school decided to let her remain enrolled, but she would not be allowed back on campus after the spring break. They appealed that decision and the school issued its final decision; she was removed from being president of the student council and would not be permitted to walk at the graduation ceremony.

When the school refused to budge any further Maddi’s father resigned from the board and the family took their argument public. They enlisted the help of the pro-life organization Students for Life of America. Its president Kristan Hawkins spoke with principal Hobbs about allowing Maddi to walk at the graduation and he refused.

Hawkins says the school is trying to shame Maddi for being pregnant, Hobbs says the school is holding Maddi accountable for her immorality. Both sides are trying to maintain their positions.

Some points need to be made. Maddi is claiming to be a “practicing born-again Christian,” but fornication is not a born-again Christian practice. She and her parents claim the school is shaming her (as if her condition would not become readily apparent in time), but they went public in an effort to shame the school into letting Maddi walk at graduation.

Maddi’s parents say she should be held accountable, but have not been forthcoming as to what that means exactly, they just don’t like the school’s idea of accountability. Maddi’s father says the school should be gracious since Maddi has repented, but I do not see the contrition in Maddi and her parents’ actions that characterize repentance.

I suppose the strangest thing I have heard in all of this is a journalist who said the school’s position does not seem to be practicing “Christian” forgiveness. He made that statement as if he understands the biblical doctrine of forgiveness.

God forgives us when we sin in response to genuine repentance and it restores the relationship between God and man that was broken by man’s sin. Christians forgive others to guard our hearts from the sin of revenge and the sins vengeance would lead us to commit. Forgiveness was never meant to be a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape the consequences of our actions.

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” Proverbs 13:34. To discipline is to love, and it seems the only ones willing to love Maddi are principal Hobbs and Heritage Academy.

The Conscientious Cooperator

I was introduced to Desmond T. Doss in a Netflix documentary of his service in 2010. He was a Seventh Day Adventist, an ordinary man whose extraordinary faith and courage left an indelible mark on the combat history of our nation.

     He never touched a gun or killed an enemy soldier, but the heroic exploits of Alvin York and Audie Murphy cannot compare to what he did. He was the first conscientious objector to win our nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

     Mel Gibson brought this remarkably true story to moviegoers in the film titled, “Hacksaw Ridge.” It is a must-see for the Christian patriot. This Memorial Day weekend I felt compelled to share his story again.

     Growing up in a Christian home Desmond was appalled to learn of the story of Cain and Abel. He could not understand why a man would kill his own brother. As a boy he vowed to never take another man’s life.

     When the attack on Pearl Harbor ushered the United States into World War II, Doss thought it was his patriotic duty to enlist. That first night in the barracks he was taunted for praying while his fellow recruits threw their boots at him. When he refused to train on the Sabbath or touch a firearm, he was ridiculed. Doss vowed while others would take lives he would be by their side to save lives.

     Despite the repeated humiliation heaped on him, he never took offense nor compromised his faith. When the 77th was deployed to the Pacific Theatre, in one engagement after another, this man his fellow soldiers called a coward distinguished himself repeatedly in providing lifesaving aid to those who fell in combat.

     Eventually the 77th was sent to Okinawa to reinforce the American troops attempting to take the island. The Japanese had retreated to the Shuri escarpment, a plateau three hundred feet above the island. The last fifty feet was a vertical climb made possible only by the use of ship cargo nets. The Americans called it Hacksaw Ridge.

     The Japanese were well entrenched. In nine successive assaults the Americans had reached the plateau only to be thrown back by withering fire. On April 29, 1945, A Company tried again. As the day closed, A Company was forced to retreat leaving seventy-five casualties behind.

     During the next twelve hours, under cover of darkness, Doss climbed to the top, alone and under constant fire from enemy snipers, he rescued every single man by dragging each one to the edge of the escarpment and letting them down by a rope. Doss prayed, as he let each man down to safety, “Lord, let me get one more.”

     Doss said of himself, “I was not a conscientious objector, I was a conscientious cooperator.” Doss exemplified the words of Christ, who said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13.

Irena Sendler

Thanks to the movie Schindler’s List, many of us know who Oscar Schindler is, and how at great cost he managed to save 1200 of his Jewish employees from the Holocaust. But most of you have never heard of Irena Sendler who saved 2500 Jewish children.

Born on February 15, 1910, in the town of Otwock, Poland, she would grow up and become a Catholic social worker. Sometime after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Sendler joined a Polish resistance group the Council to Aid Jews also known by its Polish name Zegota.

She was assigned to work with children and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto. Built by the Nazis in 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto was a 1.3 square mile walled off section of the city that served as a holding prison for 400,000 Jews. Those who were not hauled off to the death camps were slowly starved to death.

The Germans feared the spread of diseases like typhus and would allow Sendler and others in to try to promote good hygiene among the prisoners. While inside, they talked parents into surrendering their children to be smuggled out in suitcases and medical bags saving them from the ovens and gas chambers.

She and her colleagues kept meticulous records hoping to reunite children with their parents once the war was over, but sadly many of the parents died.

Eventually, she was reported to the Gestapo and arrested. Though she was tortured to the point of having her legs and feet broken, she never revealed the identities of any of her confederates in the Zegota, or the children they rescued.

Sentenced to be executed; she was aided in an escape. After she recovered from her injuries, she returned under a false name to work as a nurse in a public hospital where she managed to save five more Jews and survived the war.

For her life-saving work she was recognized by the nation of Israel as “Righteous among the Nations,” those non-Jews who labored to save Jews from the Holocaust. She was later awarded the Order of the White Eagle, her homeland’s highest honor for her humanitarian aid to the Jewish people.

Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter for her work, and in 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lost to Al Gore who was awarded the Nobel Prize for producing the documentary on global warming titled An Inconvenient Truth.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13. Irena Sendler’s many sacrifices, humanitarian aid and life-saving work rank among history’s noblest, and I think it is an inconvenient truth she was upstaged by a documentary on global warming.

Did President Trump truly Promote Religious Liberty

In a Rose Garden ceremony President Trump unveiled his executive order entitled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” From what I can tell, it says a lot about free speech, a right we already have, and does nothing to protect religious liberty.

Trump’s order seems to offer some relief to those evangelical universities locked in legal battles over the contraceptive mandate outlined in the Affordable Care Act, and claims to protect pastors from prosecution under the Johnson Amendment for endorsing political candidates from their pulpits.

I remember Trump saying when he was on the campaign trail that he would make it safe for believers to say “Merry Christmas” again. I thought then that was not a concern to me because I had never stopped saying “Merry Christmas.”

But it was those kind of statements that made me think he was out of touch with the real concerns of believers. Did he truly understand Christian values or was he just courting the evangelical vote? I am beginning to think it must be the latter.

Professor John Inazu at Washington University School of Law said, “When it comes to challenges to religious liberty, the Johnson Amendment is about the least important issue I can think of.” President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview John Stonestreet echoes that sentiment when he stated, “More important than whether pastors can speak politics is whether everyone can live their convictions in [the] public square.”

Their concerns come from the fact that Trump’s order did not include any language addressing the ongoing conflicts between the LGBT community and those who wish to simply practice their sincerely held beliefs. It contains no declared protection of religious liberty despite its titled claim. How can Trump claim to be promoting religious liberty without protecting it?

“Like a trampled spring and a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked,” Proverbs 25:26. Believers cannot retreat from being an influence for biblical justice and morality in society lest we too become polluted and swept up in our culture’s corruption.

At the same time Christians should not become overly entangled in the political process to the point that we become little more than a puppet to the political system. We have a separate mandate and would do well in this respect to remember what our Lord told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36.

The potential consequences to increased political speech in the pulpit both good and bad are many. But I believe politics should be about principles not personalities, issues not individuals, the character of our government and not the candidates running for office.

While the jury is still out on how Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will rule on matters of law that affect the unborn, marriage and religious liberty, his appointment seems to be a good start for Trump. But he stumbled with this executive order that was suppose to promote religious liberty.

Gay Conversion Therapy

California has a law that “prohibits state-licensed mental health counselors, including psychologists and social workers, from offering therapy to change sexual orientation in minors.”

David Welch is a licensed family therapist in the San Diego area, and an ordained minister and counselor at a local evangelical church. He believes marriage should be between one man and one woman.

David and some fellow plaintiffs believe the California law infringes on their free exercise of religion secured by the First Amendment, so they took the State of California to court, the United States Supreme Court to be exact.

The Supreme Court upheld the California ban on conversion therapy. David and his fellow litigants lost their case, and justly so for two reasons, they got the cart before the horse legally and biblically.

Under the law the State of California has the right to license therapists as they please and regulate them as they please. As a state-licensed therapist, state law binds David. But states do not ordain ministers, and while states recognize the ordinations conferred by churches and denominational entities they cannot regulate the free exercise of religion.

Had David counseled a minor in his capacity as a minister, that homosexuality was a sin and shared with him the need to repent and trust Christ as his Savior, he would have been exercising his right to freedom of religion and would have been on firm constitutional ground.

The reason Christians so often find themselves on the losing end in court is they argue for something they do not need rather than exercising the freedom they already have. That is what happened here.

I had not investigated “gay conversion therapy” until I researched it for this article. It seems conversion therapy consists of telling the minor homosexuality is bad and something one should not do while using electrical stimulation in some instances.

This is where conversion therapy gets the cart before the horse biblically. You cannot talk and torture someone into changing his or her behavior, before there has been a change of heart.

Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, not the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God,” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

This is where Christianity in America continues to miss the boat. We seem to think if people will merely change their sinful behavior there has been a spiritual transformation and everyone will live happily ever after. But the problem is much deeper than that. We have a moral problem here in America because we have a spiritual problem here in America.

We don’t need conversion therapy, because a genuine conversion is all the therapy anyone needs.

A Playground Fight

A playground squabble is shaping up to be the next court case further defining the separation of church and state, and a religious liberty issue. The case is titled Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.

The state of Missouri has a grant program that partial funds reimbursements to children playgrounds that decide to resurface their play area with repurposed rubber from old tires. The rubber surface has proven to drastically reduce playground injuries. The grant offered an incentive to playgrounds to resurface their play areas.

When Trinity Lutheran’s Child Learning Center applied for a grant it was denied. Although Trinity’s preschool provides child services to the local community, and has an “open gate” policy allowing neighborhood children to use its facilities on weekends, the state of Missouri denied the grant because it violated the state’s Blaine Amendment that requires public funds to be used for strictly secular purposes.

The Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the church question how providing a safe playing surface for children on a church playground advances a sectarian belief. Is it fair to deny a church preschool neutral public funds for what is clearly a non-religious purpose, making a children’s playground safer?

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court and oral arguments have been heard. When the Court hands down its decision it will be the first religious freedom case heard by Donald Trump’s newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch.

I am reminded of a story told in the Scriptures. Abram’s (his name is changed later to Abraham) nephew Lot is living in the town of Sodom when a rival king conquers it. This king kidnaps the town’s inhabitants and loots its property. When Abram learns of his nephew’s capture he arranges a rescue party and frees Lot and his fellow citizens and their property.

When Abraham returns the king of Sodom meets him. Grateful for the rescue of his people, the king of Sodom tells Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram tells him, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich,’” Genesis 14:21-23.

I am torn on this issue. On one hand, I do not see how this could be construed by the state of Missouri as an “establishment of religion” in the case at bar when the funds in question would be used for a clearly non-religious purpose. If the church caught fire would the local fire department refuse to respond because it is a church?

On the other hand, I am concerned when the church accepts a government handout to provide the services we should be empowered by God to provide. I feel like Abram; I don’t want the government to be able to say it helped us in doing God’s work. The hand of the benefactor can easily become the arm of the taskmaster.

The Suicide of Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell this past Wednesday, April 19, 2017, from an apparent suicide. Hernandez was serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder conviction. He had been acquitted of a double murder from 2012 just five days before, and was in the process of appealing his 2013 conviction.

He seemed to have much to be hopeful about, so some who knew him personally find it difficult to believe he died by his own hand. And while an investigation is being conducted, it is equally difficult to believe he was murdered and his suicide was staged. There appears to have been no suicide note, but law enforcement sources said the Bible verse John 3:16 was written across his forehead.

The notoriety that attended the former NFL star’s highly publicized trial places his reported suicide prominently in the public consciousness. What does the Bible say about suicide?

Just this past week my daily Scripture reading included the account of Ahithophel who was a counselor to Absalom when he tried to usurp the throne from his father King David. “Now when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and arose and went to his home, to his city, and set his house in order, and strangled himself,” 2 Samuel 17:23.

This is one of seven suicides recorded in the Bible. They run the spectrum from Judas who betrayed Christ to Samson whose name is included in the Bible’s Faith Hall of Fame, Hebrews 11:32. Oddly, the Scriptures do not directly condone or condemn suicide.

Some scholars claim suicide is self-murder, but that has always seemed to be a strained application of the Sixth Commandment to me. Yet to the degree one’s rationality is unimpaired and an act of the will, suicide can never be said to be an act of faith, and is in that respect a sin.

To me the greater question would be, is it forgivable? Some argue since one cannot ask forgiveness after killing oneself it is damnable. That position seems just as strained to me as the idea of self-murder, that is, that our forgiveness is more dependent on our request for it than on God’s mercy.

I think the grace of God extends to the one whose extreme circumstances may render him confused and irrational enough to do something in a thoughtless moment of desperation he would not normally consider.

Since the Scriptures do not condone the practice, neither should we, lest we encourage it, nor should we condemn what the Scriptures do not condemn lest we rob others of their hope in a merciful God.

“The Judge of all the earth” will “deal justly,” Genesis 18:25. Only God knows what is in the heart and mind at the moment of one who takes his own life, and He is an omniscient and benevolent God. It is the best that I can say in good conscience, but it is the best anyone could hope for.