An Open Letter to Dave Hobbs
I read the recent New York Times article and your follow-up interview with Herald-Mail Media regarding the Maddi Runkles issue. I am sure you have received quite a bit of mail already, most of which I can imagine is less than helpful, and far too many examples of harassment. I have no desire to add to the noise, become one more letter to suffer through, or to be lost in the pile of other letters you have received. Yet I also wondered if it might be helpful for you to hear from someone who is neither a mere supporter or mere critic, but a former student who has always shown support and respect towards you and wanted you to succeed as a Christian educator, whether that required encouragement, critique, or a combination of both, the last of which I believe is needed in this instance.
As I read the reports, I filtered them through the lens of being someone who personally knows you and I have no doubt of your love for Maddi Runkles. Your willingness to take a stand for what is right in the midst of a culture which has blurred those lines is admirable. Your determination as a leader to abide by your decision is to be respected. I am not writing to change your mind. I do not know Maddie, nor the Runkles family, nor the details of the situation. I do not have enough information to articulate how I think this situation should have been handled and I will not waste either of our time in trying to convince you to handle it “my way.”
What concerned me as I listened to your interview was a concern I have had since my time as one of your students, and which I voiced to you nearly two and a half years ago, sitting in your Cumberland Christian School office as an alumnus. There, I told you, “Dave, during the four years I was a student under you, despite all the chapel messages and a year of Christian living classes with you, I never once heard the Gospel from you.” I would be curious to know how, in this situation, you are showing the radical love and mercy of Jesus Christ to Maddi Runkles. Her interviews certainly suggest she has found it, but I wonder how you are reflecting it to her. In your interview, the love of Jesus did not find its way in, and that is where my concern lies. While I am certain that the mercy of Jesus can be reflected through this discipline, that is not the language I have heard you use, nor did you such language when I was one of your students.
It reminded me of the story in John 8 in which Jesus tells a woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” The sinner was not the one unable to endure the judgment of Jesus, but the religious leaders who failed to understand His love and mercy. I understand that while in a position of authority in Christian education, discipline is far more complicated than a mere, “Neither do I condemn you,” but the danger of dealing in an economy of rules and retribution is not providing space for the love and mercy of Jesus to breathe, to grow, and to work in the lives of people who need it. That was certainly the case during my years as a student at Cumberland Christian. I remember writing on my exit survey, “CCS students do not know what it means to be a Christian other than following school rules and agreeing with the Bible teacher.” While rules are a necessity for order and discipline is necessary to hold people accountable to those rules, the Gospel of Jesus is not a mere formula of “rules - poor behavior = discipline.” Jesus inserts Himself into the formula, taking on our poor behavior, our lapses in judgment, and the sin and death which keeps us from Him in order to give us life abundant. The religious leaders kept coming to Jesus with the formula of “rules - poor behavior = discipline” and he consistently shocked them by the scandal of His love and mercy. While discipline is certainly a possible outcome, even in the economy of grace, it is never the end goal. The goal of discipline is not to merely respond to rule-breaking, but is to remove from our lives those things which keep us from experiencing the abundant life found in the love of Christ. While you very-well could have made the right decision, my concern is that even in making the right decision, it is possible for it to still be the wrong one if it does not serve the goal of bringing Ms. Runkles more deeply into the love of Jesus. My concern, based on the language of your interviews, is that you came to this decision thinking in the economy of rules rather than the economy of grace. While I am not asking you to change your decision, I am encouraging you to rethink it in order to see how it can operate in the economy of grace and help reflect the love and mercy of Jesus which subverts all of our expectations. I would love to talk more with you in the future if you wish. I pray God’s blessing on you, your family, and your ministry.
With love in Christ,
Scott Carr, Jr.