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From "A's" to "Affluenza"

From "A's" to "Affluenza"

Two stories caught my attention this past week.

A middle school in Maryland held an “Academic Achievement Celebration” for those students who ended the year with straight A’s.  The party featured a dance with a DJ, a decked out “game room,” and pizza.  Students who made B’s and C’s were invited to attend the party once classes were over and the pizza was no longer served. 

Students who made D’s and F’s missed out.  It was, after all, a celebration of academic achievement.

The parents of those who missed out were none too pleased. 

“The students that don’t get to go end up feeling bad,” one parent lamented.  One college educator offering their learned opinion went so far as to say that the party “creates a caste system that could easily result in bullying and victimization.”

Then there was the Texas teenager who was sentenced to probation and a “rich-parents-will-pay-for” rehab facility instead of jail in a drunken-driving crash that killed four people.


The successful defense strategy cited “affluenza,” meaning the idea that the boy’s wealthy parents had so coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility that he shouldn’t be held responsible.


“A’s” and “affluenza.” 


I don’t think so.

Both stories reflect our culture’s trend away from two very important words:  “personal responsibility.” 

Phrase it any way you want:

          Personal culpability. 

          Personal accountability. 


…well, anything that would make you, as a person, actually reflective of what you do.  We can’t have any assessments that might justify actual consequences for individual choices, can we?  Heaven forbid that we are what we do, or that we become what we choose.

So let’s not make the students who blow off classes and homework and earn D’s and F’s feel bad about it.  Let’s make sure they get just as much pizza as anyone else.  Otherwise, they might just realize they need to study more to get better grades in order to get ahead in life. 

Wouldn’t want that now, would we? 

Let’s not blame a sixteen-year-old student for having three times the legal blood alcohol level in his system (not to mention the Valium) that led to the killing of four people.  That might affect his future, which should be just as bright as those who do not drink and drive and drug-up. 

Let’s just find a way for him to be considered a victim as much as those he killed.  And then, while we’re at it, let’s make sure that we tell all those sober-driving students that their character-driven choices don’t matter.

After all, the goal is simple: 

We don’t want to make this personal responsibility thing…

…a personal responsibility thing.

James Emery White



“School’s exclusive pizza, dance party for straight-A students garners mixed feelings,” Fox News, February 4, 2014, read online.

“Judge orders no jail for teen in fatal car wreck,” Gary Strauss, USA Today, February 6, 2014, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His recently released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.