A favorite Gospel story is in John 8 about the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees drag her from the bedroom and throw her at Jesus, demanding permission to stone her as (they claim) the law commands. They do not produce the man, although there must be another party to adultery. They claim expert knowledge but do not know that the law they cite refers to engaged persons, not to a married couple. And they don’t account for seeming to have no more pressing business on a weekday than to peek into someone’s bedroom window looking for wrongdoing.
Jesus confronts none of these hypocrisies; he prefers addressing the ultimate hypocrisy by suggesting that someone without sin should cast the first stone – as the Jewish law actually does require. The Pharisees slink away one by one until only the woman is left, clinging to Jesus. That is the difference between one sinful woman and a crowd of self-righteous religious leaders: clinging to Jesus in the knowledge that there is no other righteousness.
Another favorite story of mine is found in Luke 18. Jesus takes His primary disciples into the Jerusalem temple, where they encounter two men at prayer. One is a publican, known by all to be the scum of the earth because he makes his living gouging his fellow Israelites and collaborating with the hated Romans. The other is a Pharisee, known by all to be the cream of the Jewish crop. The publican beats his breast and cries out that he is indeed worthless; he begs God to have mercy on him. The Pharisee raises his hands and congratulates himself on what a wonderful servant of God he is – in effect, how blessed God is to have such a man on His team. You guessed it: Jesus tells His friends the publican will leave in grace and the Pharisee in dis-grace.
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I won’t compare Maddie Runkles to a publican, but it is a fair bet Pharisees are administering the school she attends.
Maddie was once the ideal role model of a teenage Christian girl. President of the student council of Heritage Academy, a private Christian school in Hagerstown, Md., she maintained a 4.0 grade point average. Like every member of her student body she signed a pledge to remain chaste – no sexual relations with anyone – until marriage. Yet last January she confessed publicly to having broken her pledge and become pregnant. As a consequence she was suspended from school for two days, stripped of her leadership positions, and was recently informed – although she will receive her diploma – that she was forbidden to participate in the school graduation ceremony she earned with that 4.0. Her school’s principal says she remains part of the school family but there must be accountability – not for the pregnancy but for immorality and breaking her oath.
This is not accountability. It is abuse.
Runkles had every opportunity to have an abortion; she says she knows girls at her school who took this way of remaining in good standing at school by compounding their sin. She acknowledges the appropriate loss of her presidency and makes no bones about the suspension. She protests the de facto shunning of non-participation in graduation exercises when she ought to be commended for repenting her oath-breaking, instead of having punishment piled on punishment. The reality is that she earned a publicly-awarded diploma – whatever else she did – as much as she earned the loss of her status as a role model by her broken oath.
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When will we as Christians be a little less zealous to root out bad behavior in our midst and a little more dedicated to seeking and finding those who need the Gospel more than they need our correction? Granted, I am just as upset at Christians who condone wrongdoing – from aborting human babies to illegal immigration to terrorist acts – and that includes premarital sex after pledging abstention. But Maddie Runkles has acknowledged her wrongdoing, repented, and accepted the consequences of her behavior. She is – courageously – keeping her child and even naming him Grayson in order to give thanks for the grace she has received from the Lord. Is it not time that we who call ourselves faithful to Biblical norms go and discover what Jesus meant when He commanded mercy before sacrifice?
I love that publican because – while I don’t know myself to be better than he is – I am certainly no worse. If God accepts him – in his repentance – He will surely take me – in repentance. He accepts Maddie on the same grounds. Perhaps it is time to let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
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