Pregnant Graduate Won’t Grace Christian School’s Commencement Events

It’s high school graduation season, which means it’s time for private Christian schools to show the love of Jesus to their students by refusing to allow pregnant students (but very often, not their boyfriends) to walk at commencement.

This year’s big story is out of Boonsboro, Maryland, where class president and 4.0 student Maddi Runkles isn’t being permitted to join in the festivities because she’s pregnant.  She initially faced a short suspension from her conservative Protestant school (where her father led the school board at the time) for breaking the “no sex until (heterosexual) marriage,” but the school also elected to do what so many other school boards do in these situations: kicked her off school leadership positions and refuse to let her don her cap and gown.

The logic behind this decision is that graduation is a celebration, and if the school celebrates Maddi Runkles, it communicates to other girls in the school that if they get pregnant, they, too, will be celebrated. And the school thinks that would be bad because it would lead to more teen pregnancies.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because it doesn’t make sense.  It is, though, just about the only way that conservative Christians can address the inherent tension between their “sexual purity” and anti-abortion stances.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 10.41.05 AM

Above, a pledge card from True Love Waits, an abstinence-only movement. Similar pledges appear in public schools without the religious language, though the public school abstinence-only effort is still tightly tied to conservative churches. In public school, the language may focus on “freedom”–to be free from worry about STDs, STIs, and pregnancy. 

Teen girls do or do not get pregnant irrelevant of their desire to participate in graduation ceremonies. I can 100% guarantee you that the last moment before a teen has sex is not spent thinking about the school board. Also, the real risks of sex–STDs, STIs, and, pregnancy and its huge social costs, are far more meaningful “punishments” for sex than not being able to toss your mortar board in the air. If the fear of having a baby (or the fear of the chronic judgment of people like the good folks at Heritage Academy) doesn’t dissuade you from having sex, no school board’s decision is going to do it.

And no one decides to have unprotected sex because they saw a girl the year ahead of them in school wear a graduation gown while pregnant.

Teen girls get pregnant because they have sex without accurately using reliable contraception. And THAT happens because they are not provided with comprehensive, factual sex ed that makes the risks of sex clear and also explains how to lower them. It happens because their sex ed focuses on their promise not to have sex, not on how to negotiate not having sex when you might really really really want to, how to make the decision to have sex a mindful one, or how to have safe sex if you choose to have sex. It happens because they have no adults to ask honest questions of and no one to help them secure contraceptives if they want them. It happens because they lie to their parents because they know that being honest with them will mean they are shunned. It happens because girls’ value is reduced to an unbroken hymen (not a real thing!) and once they have sex, they told they are worthless, damaged, and broken. And it actually makes marital sex difficult for a lot of people who stick with their promises to be sexually abstinent. These messages are sometimes overt and sometimes signaled more quietly, but they are the core messages of Christian purity culture.

Above, conservative Christian sex educator Shelly Donahue talks to students about “God’s purposes for sex.” Her techniques include asking a student to tape a piece of Scotch tape on their arm, then pull it off and then stick it to another teen’s arm. As the tape gets passed along from teen to teen, it loses its stickiness. Her point is that sex bonds us together, and each time you have sex with a person who isn’t your spouse, you weaken your ability to have a permanent bond with your future husband or wife. Tape that isn’t sticky is useless–and no one wants it. 

The result isn’t impressive: teens who take purity pledges delay the onset of sexual intercourse by a bit compared to their peers, but not by much. More worryingly, they are less prepared for it, which means that they are less likely to use birth control or condoms. And the sex they have is often infused with guilt, shame, and loneliness as they are unable to speak to their parents about it. They are more likely to get pregnant.  And, on a longer timeline, these teachings are spiritually destructive. 

If shaming Maddi Runkles doesn’t prevent teens from having sex, why do it? Perhaps out of a concern for the Heritage Academy brand, which the school fears will be tainted by a pregnant girl wearing the school colors. Her pregnant body tells all the friends and family gathered that the tuition dollars didn’t do their job: Heritage wasn’t able to bring a chaste, straight girl to the Christian marriage market.

Heritage Academy writes it right into school policies that students’ failures are theirs, not the schools. In enrolling their children, parents are asked to sign a parental pledge that states, in part,

We pledge that, if, for any reason, our child does not respond favorably to the school, we will not try to change the school to fit their individual needs, but will quietly withdraw him/her.

In short, Heritage Academy imposes its standards on your child, and if your child is defective in meeting that standard (for example, gets pregnant), it cannot possibly be because the school’s purity culture is the problem. It must be because your child was not following the dictates of the student pledge, which demand that students associate “with people of high moral character” (that is, the high quality boys Christian private schools make available to them).

The shaming of Maddi Runkles is part of an effort to insure that conservative Christians came shame women for having sex, shame them for getting pregnant, and shame them for having an abortion while doing everything possible to also undermine their ability to choose abstinence (because abstinence is not a choice for these girls; it is part of a transactional relationship, a promise to their future husbands and they are getting a “pure” girl), their ability to have good sex, their ability to avoid unwanted pregnancy, and their ability to provide for their children as single mothers.

Shaming pregnant girls is a way that conservative Christians can discharge their duty to be outraged by abortion without having to do a single thing that would actually prevent it.  

Heritage Academy won’t let Maddi Runkles grace the stage at her own graduation. I am not even sure that the good Christian folks there could offer space for her or receive the grace she could extend to them. That’s a sin and a shame for them, not her.

The Nazi Punch

Hi Joel:

This week, a professor from George Washington University saw alt-right loudmouth Richard Spencer at her gym, where he is a member, and confronted him. After she asked if he was who she suspected he was and he (apparently wanting a little piece and quiet while working out) said he wasn’t, she called him a coward. She ranted until Spencer asked an employee of the gym to intervene. It did–revoking his membership, despite, he said, his behavior as a “model” member of the gym. Unsurprisingly, the fight spilled over into Twitter, where anti-Semitic insults were directed toward the woman. Spencer may yet sue over the terminated membership.

In light of that incident and in light of your own recent remarks on Spencer, I’m sharing a post I wrote back in January.


Okay, so SOME people (my spouse) have been a little worried that I’ve so much enjoyed watching Richard Spencer get punched in the face. Over and over again. Set to music. Especially to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Over and over again.
They’re worried because I’m not a  person who supports violence. And that position is because I’m… well, a naturally violent person. I say that as a confession. My fight-or-flight instinct is mostly just an instinct to fight. I have a way bigger sense of my own strength than is reasonable, which, as you might imagine, has caused some problems in my life. And because I know that this is a life-ruining trait, I’ve been committed now for over 20 years to pacifism and nonviolent resistance. This doesn’t mean I’m good at it, but I’m deliberate about cultivating the inner peacethat makes peaceful nonresistance a reflex. I practice it daily so it’s ready when needed. As a family, we organize our choices around peaceful nonresistance so that we won’t find ourselves tempted into violence. We invest our identity in a religious denomination that holds up the ideals of peaceful intervention to prevent and end violence in all its forms. So all of that helps.

But, c’mon! This is RICHARD SPENCER, getting socked in the kisser. One might even say it wasn’t a punch but an “alt-high five.”  He said that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he got hit because he’s the leader of the “intellectual” arm of the white supremacy movement. I have more mixed feelings about letting my kids watch Captain America, who is not real, punch comic book Nazis.

Cap punches Hitler color.jpg

Above, Captain American punches Hitler. 

But, Rebecca, you worry. Isn’t it always wrong to hit? Isn’t violence never the answer? Did Rosa Parks punch Nazis? Did Ghandi? Didn’t the heroes of your faith themselves refuse to punch Nazis during ACTUAL WORLD WAR II?


Above, conscientious objectors to WWII served to help war victims by undergoing experiments in starvation. The participants were starved, then provided with controlled diets so that researchers could learn how the human body could best be repaired after concentration camp-like diets. 

Okay, I get your point. We’re all devalued when the dignity of one is devalued, even if that one is Richard Spencer. God made Richard Spencer, too. If today I’m cheering for Richard Spencer’s attacker, tomorrow I’ll be cheering for someone who punches a Klansman. (It’s true. You can find some videos of an attack on the KKK here.)

Thankfully, the appeal to nonviolent resistance isn’t an appeal to my better nature, because that nature isn’t always very good. It’s an appeal to what works. And nonviolent resistance often works. In terms of hate groups, it works pretty well. When Derek White, whose father, Don, is the leader of Stormfront, the largest white supremacy website out there, left white supremacy, it wasn’t because he’d been violently attacked or because some screamed at him or even called him a racist. It was because a patient group of people chose to be friends with him despite his racismand to open doors through which he could exit. His story is beautiful and remarkable, but it is not entirely atypical (though Derek’s prominence in the white supremacy movement was). What brings people into–and out of–hate groups is their relationships to others. This is why the work of groups like Life After Hate, which supports those exiting organized hate groups, is so important.

But that doesn’t mean that I am arguing against smacking Richard Spencer; I’ve got better things to do than hang-wring over whether it’s okay to punch a Nazi. Every day, the very people Spencer would like to “peacefully ethnically cleanse” from the US–nonwhites–are subject to interpersonal violence and to aggression ranging from the micro to the environmental, from police harassment to actual war, and they need our collective support. Richard Spencer can fetch his own ice pack.

Know Who Likes Nazi-Punching? The Nazi.


There’s been a bit of talk the last few months about “Nazi-punching,” whether there are forms of politics so evil that the correct response is not debate but, rather, pre-emptive violence. I’ve not been comfortable with that line of thought — I think as liberals we should lean to the “talk” side of politics than the war, and as folks with Mennonite leanings and heritages, we should be more cautious yet.

But there’s one person, it turns out, who really likes Nazi-punching: Richard Spencer.

You know, the Nazi-punchee*.

He’s profiled in the latest Atlantic by a former high school classmate. Toward the end of the article, he reflects on the punching incident.

He sounded vulnerable, for the first time since he’d said the St. Mark’s campaign had wounded him. “I have a right as a citizen to walk the streets and not be attacked, and I have the right to be protected,” he complained.

Spencer was obviously right when he said he should not be assaulted. But we both could taste the irony in the situation. If he hadn’t caught himself, he might have started talking about his “human right” not to be brutalized with impunity. Instead he recovered, and used the irony to his advantage. “The fact that they are excusing violence against Richard Spencer inherently means that they believe that there’s a state of exception, where we can use violence,” he said. “I think they’re actually kind of right.”

“War is politics by other means and politics is war by other means,” he said. “We don’t all want the same thing. And that’s why I think there is a kind of state of war going on.”

Not to put too fine a point on it: The Nazi-puncher accepts Spencer’s idea that liberalism has failed, and our politics is now eat-or-be-eaten. He makes this idea clear elsewhere in the article:

The other German forerunner Spencer claims is Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), who was, for a time, the court political philosopher of the Third Reich. Schmitt’s work has enjoyed a renaissance recently, and even liberals have found it useful, in part as a worthy oppositional philosophy that has forced them to improve their own. Spencer is hardly Schmitt’s heir. But his reading of Schmitt is fair and reasonably nuanced.

“There’s this notion of parliament as an ‘endless debate,’ ” Spencer explained over lunch. Liberalism accepts that disagreement is part of the political process, and that people who disagree profoundly can live together. [Emphasis added: Joel] But eventually, Schmitt argued, the parliamentary debate does end, and someone gets his way while someone else does not. The state’s job is to provide not the coffeehouse for the debate, but the threat of a beating to compel the loser to accept the result. “Politics is inherently brutal,” Spencer told me. “It’s nonconsensual by its very nature. The state is crystallized violence.”

If he’s right, if the Nazi-punchers who have accepted that logic is right, then we’ve already lost a great deal of what we’re supposedly trying to preserve in this country.

And listen: He might be right. We seem to have lost our ability to disagree profoundly and live together. Maybe that ability was an illusion that served the power and control of the people in charge. Probably.

If so, I can’t help but think it was a slightly useful illusion. Not always, and not for everybody, but we’ve survived some cataclysmic politics over the centuries and have only one Civil War to show for it. Me? I’d rather keep testing ideas and debating them than see which side has the best set of punchers. The best ideas don’t win that fight, just the best punchers.

We can’t let the Spencers of the world take charge. The danger – the danger I keep railing against – is that in resisting that prospect, we become the thing we said we hate. In this case, it couldn’t be more true: When you punch Richard Spencer, you’re acting in accordance with his philosophy. Not the race part, certainly, but the rest of it.

That would give me pause.


* He doesn’t like to be called a Nazi, but as The Atlantic notes, his ideas are pretty Nazi-ish. And Jesus, that haircut.

DT: You’re supposed to stand WITH Israel, not ON it!


American political candidates don’t get very far if they don’t pay proper respect the “special relationship” between the US and Israel. The reasons are quite practical: we share common enemies in the Middle East (Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah), and a mutual relationship—we supply the tech support, Israel provides the eyes and ears—helps both countries achieve their priorities. (Note that I am not saying anything about the validity of those priorities or our total lack of moral imagination in resolving a land dispute about a piece of dusty land the size of New Jersey. That’s too big for this blog post.)

But in selling the American people on a project that requires working with a nation we know has spied on us, politicians have opportunistically connected our political interests in the region with a particular Biblical eschatology, a vision of how history works and what it is working toward. This vision, rooted in the dispensationalist theology of Thomas Darby, says that time is divided into epochs, during which God deals with humanity in a different way. The Biblical timeline focuses first on the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, who become Jews, the people who believe in the monotheistic God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, and who, under the guidance of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, took the land that would become the state of Israel. After just a few generations, that land was lost–first divided, then conquered–and the Jewish people dispersed. Most of what Christians call the Bible is set during some period when Israel was not yet (Genesis, Exodus) or was split (1 Kings), invaded (2 Kings, Daniel), occupied (1 Chronicles, 2 Kings), exiled (Nehemiah), or a colony of Rome (most of the New Testament).


Above, a dispensationalist timeline outlining the different epochs of Biblical history—and the future—as understood by premillennialist Christians.

So, for a nation selected by God for a special covenant, Israel doesn’t seem very beloved by God during most of this Biblical timeline.

In this dispensationalist view of time, which is at the center of the popular Scofield Reference Bible, Israel would emerge as a nation again—an event that, when it happened in 1948, gave conservative Protestants hope that God was moving us toward a new dispensation. The premillennialist view, which has taken hold in conservative American Protestantism, says we’re just on the brink of Jesus’ return. “The end is near” folks have been around for awhile now, but they really ramped it up in the 1970s with Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. (The first, in fact, was the bestselling nonfiction title of the decade in the US. Of all books—not just religious titles.) Since then, the theology has appeared in many other genres, including Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books.


Above, a bumper sticker expresses the popular premillennialist view that Jesus will take all believers to heaven when he returns. It says, “Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”

The central point of this theology is: Jesus is coming and though we don’t know when, exactly, it’s going to be soon. We can tell it will be soon because the world is falling farther and farther into sin. (You can measure how fast we’re speeding toward The End in one of my favorite spots on the internet, Rapture Ready Index. Trust me—you want to visit it. Today it’s at 181, with downward pressure due to declining Satanism but upward pressure from Gog (Russia) and liberalism (anti-Trump fervor).) Jesus will “rapture” true believers from wherever they are, and those who are left will face hell on Earth.

And Israel plays a key role in this.

Obviously, this theology resonates only with select group of Christians. Unfortunately, they include most of the folks on Donald Trump’s evangelical sounding board, Ted Cruz, and perhaps about 20 million Americans who subscribed to Christian Zionism, the belief that Biblical prophecy foretells that Israel will occupy all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, that the Jews of all nations will return to Israel, that Jews will again worship on the Temple Mount (now the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims worship), and that Jews will convert to Christianity. And they tend to vote at a high rate.

All of this pushes such believers, who run several organizations that funnel money into Israel, to oppose any efforts at peace (even though most Israelis want peace with their neighbors) and to deny the very existence of a Palestinian—something our own politicians have echoed.


Above, a pin from Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a Christian Zionist organization that rallies Christians to support US and Israeli policies that align with a Christian Zionist vision of the Apocalypse. Check your Senator and Congressional Representative’s official photos to see if this pin appears on his or her lapel. 

The mixing of theology and politics makes it hard for some Americans to distinguish between what is foreign policy and what is prophecy, and Trump supporters have embraced that. Many Americans Christians have a nearly superstitious relationship to Israel, quoting a passage from Genesis 12:3: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curses thee.” They call of this passage isn’t just to share material gifts (also, spies and weapons) with Israel; it’s also a warning that if you don’t do these things, you’ll be punished—that we, the US, will be punished. (And, interestingly, some far right Jewish leaders hold a similar position: that a Trump administration will usher in the Messianic age when he makes it possible for Jews to rebuild their temple and begin animal sacrifices again (which have already been happening on a small scale), all as part of a plan to practice pre-diasporic Judaism. And these aren’t folks on the fringe; some of them are members of the Knesset.)

And so, fealty to Israel must be paid—and that has made it much easier to push through US policy toward Israel that may or may not always serve the interests of the people in those nations.

And then came Trump, who, as much as any politician, promised loyalty to Israel at all costs. American Jews voted for him in about the same proportion as they are registered Republican—about 1/3. They were either unconvinced or unbothered by his anti-Semitism or felt that he was still a candidate preferable to Clinton.

This week might be changing that.

Within a few hours of Trump’s sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russia, a nation that has aligned with Iran and Syria, two nations that have threatened Israel, it became obvious that the source of that information was Israel. We don’t yet know the outcome for the asset, but it’s very possible that Donald Trump endangered the life of an Israeli intelligence officer. At minimum, he made it impossible for Israel to trust him with information. Indeed, Israel had, in a bizarre conversation, already been warned by US intelligence not to share information with our president or his administration because it was not clear he could be trusted.

Then, today, Trump reneged on plans to speak at an ancient fortress is Israel, Masada. It is an UNESCO heritage site, and Trump was not permitted to land his helicopter there because the dust damages the site. Trump was informed that his helicopter would need to land at the base of the site, not on top of the monument, and then he would take a cable car. It appears that, in a fit of pique, he just canceled the visit instead.


Above, Masada, an ancient fortress where Jewish rebels faced Roman soldiers and, according to Jewish history, committed suicide rather than surrender. It was later a monastery and is now a tourist site and museum. No, you can’t land your helicopter on it, you world-class ass.  

Trump will have other opportunities to insult our closest ally in the most volatile part of the world during his visit there.

These mistakes are potentially deadly. For American Christians who believe that we can’t survive unless we support Israel, they should be evidence that they may have voted for the anti-Christ.



Would Booting Donald Trump Be a Coup? No. Would It Contradict the Will of the People? Kind of. But Who Cares?

L’état, C’est Moi


Hearing a lot of this kind of stuff right now:

But the unceasing attempts to delegitimize and undermine him are as childish and petty as Trump himself. What is lost in the hyperventilation of journalists, pundits and politicians is the will of the people who elected him president.

Trump is a disrupter. That is his purpose and the reason he was elected. American elites stopped serving their constituencies long ago. For pundits and politicians to disregard the will of voters and float ideas for Trump’s removal flies in the face of the democratic society they are supposedly trying to save.

In this telling, removing Donald Trump from office before the end of his term would amount to a coup.


Why I don’t buy this line of thinking.

It defines the “will of the people” in odd fashion. Remember — Trump does — that he lost the popular vote. “The people” had something other than a Trump presidency in mind. (Unless you decide California doesn’t count, I guess.)

Live by the countermajoritarianism, die by the countermajoritarianism. We’re told it’s ok Trump won the Electoral College anyway, because the Constitution has countermajoritarian features. What almost never gets talked about is why it has such features.

Here’s what the Federalist Papers have to say about that:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the Constitution, by those who are able to estimate the share which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says: “For forms of government let fools contest That which is best administered is best,” yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

You know what? I’m going to say Electoral College was designed to keep people like Donald Trump out of office. It failed.

It’s not a coup if it’s lawful. Almost nobody’s suggesting Trump be deposed by force. Instead, the two avenues to removal — the 25th Amendment and impeachment — are both described in the Constitution.

In the case of the 25th Amendment, it would be Trump’s own vice president and cabinet that ruled him unfit to serve. These people, having been chosen for their positions by the president, are unlikely to take that route unless extraordinary circumstances required it. Impeachment would take the support of Republicans, who control both houses of Congress. If removal happens, it’ll because Trump’s closest political allies judged it should be so, and done through legal means.

Trump won the election through legal means. (As far as we currently know.) That deserves a fair amount of deference, even if we find it distasteful. But that deference is not to be unlimited, and the law pretty explicitly recognizes that the “will of the peoople” can sometimes be wrong.

In this case, it probably was.

— Joel

Politicians Who’ve Had it Worse


Poor Donald Trump! As he whined during a commencement speech to the Coast Guard Academy, he, no politician has ever been treated worse.

Since Donald Trump is no historian, let’s help him out by making a list of politicians who have, indeed, been treated worse.

I’ll get started with US presidents:

  • James Garfield
  • William McKinley
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • John F. Kennedy

President Abraham Lincoln's hearse, Springfield, Illinois.

Above, Lincoln’s hearse. Below, the White House decorated to honor the death of James Garfield. 





Above, the. body of William McKinley lies in state. Below, First Lady Jackie Kennedy weeps over the casket holding the body of her husband, John F. Kennedy. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Daughter Caroline at John F. Kennedy's Coffin

I think it’s also fair to add

  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Ronald Reagan

Andrew Jackson, Trump’s presidential model, was also the target of an assassination attempt. Our first president to face one, Jackson successfully defended himself against his attacker after the man’s guns—two of them–misfired.

And though we don’t have any news stories of bullets flying at Mr. Obama, the secret service somehow let a potential assassin sneak into the actual White House and get close to the president. Plus, Obama had to deal with years of racist hecklers showing up to his events. Unlike Donald Trump, he somehow coped with this without hijacking the graduation of the Coast Guard in an effort to garner pity.

We might even argue that the slobbering of Republicans during the unnecessary, expensive impeachment of Bill Clinton was a form of harassment to him. It was surely embarrassing to the rest of us, even if Newt Gingerich didn’t have the decency to sense his own hypocrisy.

To this list, we might add some international figures, including

  • Nelson Mandela
  • Vaclav Havel
  • Indira Gandhi
  • Benazir Bhutto

Of course, we should not expect a man who won’t read a briefing that doesn’t mention him a lot to read history. And we shouldn’t expect a known narcissist to be able to put his own experiences into a larger context.

Who would you add?