Pregnant on a Christian Campus

Last week I had a conversation with a colleague on campus about a female student in her class who is pregnant out of wedlock. Due to issues related to the pregnancy the student is going to miss more classes than had been anticipated. My colleague was working with the student to get something worked out. Hovering over the conversation was the student behavioral code and if the student could continue at ACU. My colleague was making inquiries about this with Student Life and our Legal Services, wondering about the relationship between our behavioral policies at a Christian school and compliance with Title IX, the Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Now, I don't want to say anything about that particular aspect of this story (the ability of a religious institution to make student conduct decisions based upon its religious values). I do, however, want to raise the question that my colleague and I were discussing:

What about the boy?

Sexual ethics and religious freedom issues aside, isn't it a bit unfair that the girl's life is affected in a way the father's life is not? And how to address that asymmetry?

I understand that my school might want to address the morality of the situation when a student is pregnant out of wedlock. But, as I see it, the moral issue is nine months in the rearview mirror. What we have right now is a biological and medical situation, not a moral situation. More, by only ever dealing with one person of the pair we are creating what I feel is a very unjust situation, with pregnant female students subject to discipline and their male counterparts never addressed. And why? Simply because pregnancy is visible, the modern equivalent of the Scarlet Letter on a Christian campus or in a church.

Moreover, if our institution is going to promote pro-Life values why create a culture that disincentivizes bringing the baby to term? That is, why create a world where the young woman, upon learning of the pregnancy, has to place being an ACU graduate in the balance? Shouldn't we want to take our thumb off that scale?

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30 thoughts on “Pregnant on a Christian Campus”

  1. By dealing only with the young lady in this situation, and deeming it to be about morality at the same time, ACU is acting similarly to a Shar'ia law Islamic society. This kind of selective enforcement in moral discipline is just one of the reasons I left the CoC. 

  2. Interesting post Dr. Beck. Just a side note I'm from Ft. Worth. I went to Hardin Simmons for a semester. We are not that far apart. Also

  3. My disorganized thoughts. Judgement upon the girl seems like a great way to use religious rules to avoid acting like a decent human being. The other issue that you briefly mentioned is the promotion of pro-life values. If the Christian community is going to fight against abortion than they also need to fight for the health of unwed mothers instead of making them feel condemned, and then embrace the orphan. I have a much bigger soap box but I'll leave it at that.

  4. If this is not a "moral situation", then there is no such thing as morality.  So this is just a cruel game.  May we please just admit that?  What's left is only hypocrisy, and the Powers must be made to acknowledge this.

    Not just discomfort and inconvenience on a Christian campus, this single issue has effected my own life possibly more than any other.  For at least the past 45 years our country has officially replaced fathers with the Nanny State.  Boys and men are allowed to father children and then abandon them to the care of their mothers and the taxpayer.  No other single factor in a child's life predicts so accurately their future status as a person of poverty, crime, ignorance, homelessness, hunger, drug addiction, disease, or sexual promiscuity.

    Girls want babies for all kinds of different reasons, but they have always been the gatekeepers due to their biology.  Women bear the brunt of this double standard.  And due to its longevity, it is now the rule rather than the exception in our society, as it has become multi-generational.  Why have mothers not been demanding equal responsibility and accountability for the fathers of their children?  How have they so completely lost their voices?

  5. If your students are typical evangelicals, 80% of them are having premarital sex anyway. All you'd be punishing her for is being the one who was unlucky enough to forget to take her pills.

  6. I think that's a part of the hypocrisy of focusing on pregnancy. Without a visible sign there can be a collective pretending. The pregnant girl pops that illusion. And is scapegoated as a result.

  7. Exactly. It's important for Christians to remember that pregnancy is never a sin. It's a taxing, exhausting process that brings a new life into the world, and any woman who continues her pregnancy—whether it was planned or unplanned—is to be commended for her bravery and sacrifice.

    Pregnancy should never, ever be treated as a mere proof of sexual activity.

  8. Oddly enough, the (private, Christian) high school where I teach has a reverse policy - the guy gets kicked out, while the pregnant girl is (theoretically) allowed to continue. It's not happened yet, to my knowledge, but I wonder if their reasoning was the same as yours. 

  9. IMHO, you're asking all the right questions, Dr. Beck.  The situation as you describe it, particularly referencing "Scarlet Letter" sinners, reminded me immediately of the lyrics to Casting Crowns' ballad, "Does Anybody Hear Her."  I'm also thinking of Mary and Joseph and the scandal of Mary's pregnancy...  Jesus healed and restored those scapegoated by society in His day, moved as He was with compassion for them.  I love that Jesus, merciful and full of grace and truth.

    I don't really understand how punishment is going to help or heal in the pregnant student's situation, given, as you say, that "the moral issue is nine months in the rearview mirror" (great line, by the way!)  I don't even see how punishing the father of the baby in equal proportion to the girl is going to help, actually.  I guess that approach could serve as a warning to other students who are sexually active, to either abstain or, don't get caught having sex, or, whatever you do, don't get caught PREGNANT!  Does it make you wonder, as it does me, how many abortions take place in order to avoid the shame and the stigma of that Scarlet Letter?

    In the case of your pregnant student, the deed is done, and there's a baby.  Now what?  It seems to me that the Christian thing to do would be to help these two kids deal with the consequences (the baby they made together) with integrity.  Break, or at least bend, the rules in order to make way for mercy.  As a parent, that's what I would do if it were my child.

  10. Excellent post. The girl gets punished because there is blatant evidence of her sin. Growing up as the daughter of a preacher/professor at another cofc university, I accepted the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality. It has taken me years to see this approach only promulgates secrecy of sin. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and I know this attitude incentivized me to keep quiet, even though the sin was not mine.

  11. What about the the boy...Doesn't sound like there is any real consequence other than the natural ones for her...Now she has the choice to keep the baby...put the baby up for adoption...or abort. The last sounds like it has not been considered, great.  If she keeps the baby, then the boy will be on the hook for that child for the next 18 years. He may or may not be allowed to be a father, but will be financially responsible. He may have to pay child support he can't afford, and thus have to quit school, and effectively pay for her to finish school. If she puts the baby up for adoption there are fewer than 10 states that require a search for the biological father when none is listed by the mother on the birth certificate. If he wanted the child, he faces a rather expensive process in the rest of the states to prove that he is the father, and if he does so, then he will have forfeited any right to go after the mother for child support, because she wanted to put the child up for adoption, a right he doesn't have if he wanted the child put up for  adoption and she doesn't want to.  So what about the boy...The boy made choices with the girl that got her in this situation...She has all the choices after that. She can choose to abort...she can choose to give up the baby...she can choose to keep the baby...she can choose to allow him access to the child...she can choose whether or not to make him her wage slave by court order.  The right question is what about the boy, but not how you said it, because in none months he faces the possibility of his life not being his own, and this girl having all the power should she choose to wield it.  So what, she gets a few raised eyebrows from judgmental Christian students and teachers who haven't bothered to know the story, and has to make arrangements to finish classes around her giving birth, which it sounds like the instructors will work with her.  What about the boy?

  12. I am a student affairs professional at a Christian University (possibly yours, Dr. B).  Student pregnancy has been one of those formerly scandalous topics that I have personally seen a changed response by the several faith-based institutions I have been at over the past decade...but for reasons unknown, rumors continue to exist in the stratosphere.  To say student pregnancy is "common" is probably a bit disingenuous but I would say that it does happen with some regularity.  In my time here, I have never seen a female student punished or reprimanded for their pregnancy.  In fact, I have seen the opposite.  Extreme sensitivity and care, education regarding prenatal issues, and assistance in telling parents and working through the various personal repercussions.  In the discussions we've had regarding this issue, it has been fully agreed that if indeed there is ever some time of institutional response to a student's behavior that preceded the pregnancy, if a student, the father would always be treated similarly in that response.  This really has nothing to do with Title IX and everything to do with the ethical response to our campus community.   

    As with many difficult student issues, the degree of privacy that is honored (or should be honored) at most institutions leaves the rest of campus wondering what happened to student X or why Student Z was allowed to do XYZ.  I work with several student affairs professionals who believe the confidentiality and personal care of a student trumps their own personal reputation.  What I mean here is that most folks who work with students in these life altering moments would rather have the campus community talk about them in negative ways than to possibly discuss a particular student issue that might reveal identity or bring additional attention.  Unfortunately, students sometimes leave these critical care moments and as the sole messenger of what actually took place, dictate what the campus community thinks about about particular person or institution.  That is a shame because there are some pretty good folks working with these students.                   

    John

  13. Sam, the men rarely have choices beyond the carnal act that got them there. I know many fathers who have not been allowed to be fathers. They are accused of being deadbeats, because they are in the arrears in child support that exceeds their income. They move away for work, and the child support goes up, and they are denied access to their children. Men have been replaced by the nanny state in these homes, but not because men don't want to be involved. I know many men in divorced situations, where the ex-wife has run a parental alienation campaign with the aid of the state, that allows the men so little time with their children it almost doesn't matter, and the children have been taught to treat their father with such contempt that these men give up. They figure all they are good for is paying the bills until the child is grown. That four days a month is not enough time to develop a relationship with a child who's mother is actively training them to dislike their father.  Yes fatherless homes are a problem in our society and carry all the consequences you mention, but I see very few fatherless homes that are the story of the man walked away from the responsibility of a child without a second thought. Most of these men were pushed out. The system rewards them being pushed out by collecting greater and greater portions of their pay checks to give to the mother. 

  14. I graduated from ACU in '04, so you'll have to refresh my memory. Is it against the student behavioral code for a female student to be pregnant and single? I remember that you can get kicked out/severely lectured for having sex (depends on if you're gay or straight), but surely it's OK to just be pregnant, right? What would it say if the school wanted to kick her out?

  15. Being pregnant isn't a violation of the code per se. But "sexual immorality, including pre-marital sex" is a Category 3 violation that can involve, as a punishment, dismissal from the university. A pregnancy is a visible sign that the code has been violated, and while I don't think this is acted on very often, my point is that it exists as a threat/possibility.

  16. Thanks John. You make a very important point.

    My sense is that ACU does treat pregnant students with great care and affection. For example, I delivered a whole lecture with a baby on my hip when I asked one of my students to bring her newborn to class. I wanted her, and the class to know, there was no embarrassment and we all could rejoice with her. I think that response is typical on our campus. Or at least I hope so.

  17. Zoiks. I can see (if not agree with) rules about students hooking up. But what if a girl gets pregnant but opts to keep the baby, turn her life around, get an education, and enroll at ACU? Would the student code apply retroactively to ban pregnant unwed females from enrolling? If not, then this girl's gotta be OK. 

    "What about the boy" totally applies. The girl's the only one made to carry a physical representation of what happened.

  18. Apparently, ACU isn't the only school grappling with this issue at the moment...

    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/former-coach-fired-christian-school-wedlock-pregnancy-145601399.html

  19. Thanks Jason. There are a variety of issues in the law, which vary from state to state, that are unfair to biological fathers who have children out of wedlock. It's important to remember those.

  20.  You make very good points, and I agree with them all. It's that old Eve-hatred again. Too bad there is no way to legislate against the guy not caring about the girl he impregnated (if that is the case).

    Oh Moses, why did you have to be so severe? Your influence clearly reverberates to this day...

  21. Richard,

    The modern world has commercialized, devalued and trivialized human sexual activity in its rush to eliminate sexual taboos (some of which are worthwhile and wise but many of which are downright superstitious).  It seems to me that there has been and still is far too much internalized, individualistic gnosticism involved in ACU regulations.  And far too little communal charity.  It seems to me that what needs to be seen is that it is not a matter of pregnancy and respectability or even asymmetry (though that is a step toward charity).  It is and ought to be a matter of a loving and wise and healing response to circumstances--for the young man, young woman, and the unborn child from their friends, their respective families, and from the institution so that no one becomes a pariah.  No one said that working that out is an easy matter.  The easy path is to condemn something as wrong, cast out the sinner, and go about one's business feeling as though one did the right thing.  Followers of Jesus have the ministry of healing and reconciliation, a way that is hard and narrow.

    Blessings!

  22. This attitude and double standard is why I left the non denominational Christian church (C of C+instrumental music) and almost left the faith entirely:  case in point:  several years after that a friend of mine was engaged around the time I was and got married.  She announced her due date a month or so after.  She was about six weeks pregnant when she got married, the wedding planned well in advance, etc. someone did the math and the "ladies" of the church refused to throw her a baby shower while spouting all this antiabortion rhetoric.  Bleh.  That was 12 years ago and I still get hot under the collar about it.  

  23. Richard, I would qualify one thing you said: many, many faculty at ACU are not, in fact, "Pro-Life" in the "anti-abortion" sense; many faculty espouse "pro-choice" values, which is yet another moral failing ACU does not address.  ACU does not require new faculty to sign any type of statement of faith, beyond a commitment to be "an active member of the church of Christ."  As such, there are many pro-abortion-rights voices on campus.  I would like to see our campus leaders push back against that travesty as well.  

  24. Richard, thank you for being open about caring for a student's pregnancy to begin with, this is at least a starting point. 
    There are so many complexities which swirl around this issue -- many times 'the boy' stays out of the picture because 'the girl' does not feel safe in naming him. One-sided shame is a heavy balance to bear. Vulnerability of youth, immaturity and coping skills still needing to be developed all come to mind -- these are things your post previous to this one brought up.  If ACU still, after all these years has not become a safe haven for female students going through this, then what other options outside a Christian community do they have? 

    Separate but still a part of the over-arching issue of pregnancy 'out of wedlock' (sorry, that phrase does seem somewhat Draconian to me), how has ACU dealt with the incidents of student date-rape through the decades? (That term was coined only in 1980, so until then female students were totally alone.) Has it improved, or does it still try to deal with this problem 'in house' to the extent that 'the boy' still gets off scott free? It can easily be swept under the carpet, legally and emotionally, until the consequence becomes physically noticeable through the pregnancy of the female student. I realise there is a big difference between that action and the compassion of being discreet yet fair and supportive. That you are having these questions, though, tells me that ACU still has not come to terms in dealing with any pregnancy 'out of wedlock'. 

    I really appreciate your questions and your attempts to handle student pregnancies with honesty and care. I bring up the problem of date-rape because it does and has existed in the past, but there has been little within ACU's Christian community to openly address this. Just because the university has 'Christian' in its name does not mean it can claim immunity. This is not an easy topic to wrestle with. 

    Prayers for both these new parents-to-be and for those of you in their corner, as you and your colleagues work to help them focus on their next life-long decisions with compassion and wisdom.

  25. Finally an article not pointing fingers but looking deeper into the situation!

  26. Richard,  Thank you for addressing this issue.  Long ago I was a student at ACU and I am still very proud of that fact and the school.  However, my daughter also attended and dealt with this issue directly.  This was a very difficult time for us as a family and extremely difficult for a young teenage girl.  I am proud to say that one of her advisors showed compasion and ministered to my daughter in a very special way.  That was not the norm though.  She was encouraged to keep it quite so she would not be sent home in the middle of the semester.  We sent my daughter to ACU largely because we believed it to be a place where she would be protected and loved.  She was loved and ministered to by an individual but maybe the institution missed an opportunity to really show Christ's unconditional love to a young girl who's world crashed around her.       

  27. Your piece seems to me focused on equal punishement and fairness which sounds alot like one of my kids screaming unfair. What is unfair is not that the boy/man is left out, but that ACU puts itself in the place of judge rather than restorer, compassionate and loving. Promoting holiness and Christian ethics is worthwhile but I want to stay out of the judging business. Thankfully, it's not up to me.

  28. ACU should be wondering about the relationship between the behavioral policies at a Christian school and compliance with the example of Jesus and the woman at the well.  

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