How do should a Christian school promote sexual purity? We do what the pro-life movement has always said: we love them both, the mother and the child alike.
Facebook was buzzing with opinions over the weekend over a story that came out in the New York Times about a pregnant girl who is not allowed to walk for graduation in her Christian high school. The senior girl was class president with good grades and no history of misconduct. Her father was an involved member of the school board. Upset by the school’s decision t not let her walk; he has since excused himself from the board.
Perhaps out of all the voices who chimed in over the weekend, nobody said it quite as well as Christian speaker and activist, Jason Jones. Jones is a producer known for Bella (2006) and Crescendo (2011). In a Facebook live video, he created over the weekend regarding school policy he said,
“This is ridiculous and is embarrassing to the whole pro-life movement and the church. Do you know a pregnant teenager who chooses life is not embarrassing to the church? It’s actually a beautiful thing. But a Christian school who doesn’t let her walk embarrasses the church.”
This story hit close to home. My own daughter is class president of her senior class in a small private Christian school and, after being part of the community for almost two decades, my husband joined the board. I understand the small-town feel of a small Christian community. There is no doubt this caused shockwaves and division. I started questioning if our school would treat an out-of-wedlock-pregnancy in the same fashion. I discovered our policy is actually stricter, not allowing the students to finish out the school year for the duration of pregnancy!
So, how do we help our schools?
Now, I have no doubt of the compassion, love, and mercy of the people in these schools. They are doing their best. A Christian school that seeks to fight an already hyper-sexualized culture has a good reason for wanting to encourage chastity. I imagine prohibiting unmarried expectant parents from walking at graduation or, in my school’s case, from finishing the schooling year during pregnancy, is a way to send a clear message that such actions are not void of consequences. I imagine the school feels that allowing otherwise could inadvertently send the opposing message, namely, that there are no consequences for students who engage in sex outside of marriage. Would this be perceived as permissiveness or encourage other couples to do the same? It’s definitely worthy of discussion. Still, the nagging question arises if this particular course of action, although well-intended, does more harm than good.
Here’s the problem: pregnancy is an obvious outward sign of sex. There is no way to hide that. But that’s no reason to wrongly focus on it. It creates the dynamic where the pregnancy itself becomes the scarlet letter. These pregnancies are the aftereffect or consequence of a sin and not the sin itself. Focusing on the pregnancy, by not allowing a student back for the duration of it, has the unintended effect of making pregnancy the punishment. And that is a dynamic that has been evoked since ancient times, right into the present, for abortion. The evidence of the sin- pregnancy- needs to be set aside.
If the intention is to make a statement about the importance of chastity, then we need to be consistent. To avoid scandal, let’s ban every couple engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage. Let’s face it; there are no secrets in a small school. While we are it, prevent any student who might be viewing internet pornography from finishing the school year, too. Or is pregnancy the only punishable offense?
Withholding pregnant students from participation as a deterrent may have made more sense when abortion was not the default solution in the 50’s and 60s. Things have changed, however. Nowadays it may just be a matter of life and death. Because we live in a cultural climate where abortion is the world’s remedy for teen pregnancy, Christians have to do everything in their power not to echo an unwelcoming message that might push an already vulnerable situation in the direction of abortion. For the pregnant student, this pressure might set up a choice between preserving the life of the baby within her and participating in her own commencement.
So how do Christian communities promote sexual purity without having to shun those who have fallen? We do what the pro-life movement has always said: we love them both, the mother and the child alike. We make it clear, in season and out of season, that sexual activity is reserved for marriage. We get real and talk about it beforehand. Sex education doesn’t have to be the mess the world has made it. We have the privilege in our private schools to keep it in its rightful context. And we make it equally clear that while we hate the sin, we love the sinner. Supporting with loving concern any brave young woman who chooses life and the child she conceived is never the wrong answer.