He is an internet sensation thanks to YouTube. His high school graduation speech in the small community of Liberty, South Carolina, has made national news. For an eighteen year-old, he seems uncommonly poised and unperturbed by all the hoopla.
Roy Costner IV in his valedictory address at Liberty High School’s graduation ceremony this past June 1 tore up his preapproved speech and delivered a nine minute address that has thrust him into the media spotlight, and made him the focal point in the debate on public prayer. Actually, it was the fifty-two second clip during which he recited the Lord’s Prayer that has generated all the attention.
The Pickens County School Board was being pressured by outside groups, and had recently adopted a policy banning public prayer in the school district. The school board required speeches to be preapproved according to the new guidelines which required no religious references.
Roy at the beginning of his speech said, “I first want to say that I turned in my speech to Ms. Gwinn [Principal Lori Gwinn] which she somehow seemed to approve, so obviously I didn’t do my job well enough. So we’re going to get rid of that and use a different one.” The response then and since has been overwhelmingly positive, but he has had his detractors.
Some say Roy was being deceptive by his switcheroo. Maybe he was. But maybe he was just weary of others trying to dictate what we say, or what we should believe. Maybe he felt the need to take a stand against the growing bigotry and intolerance of those opposed to the Christian faith. Others say he was being openly defiant of authority, but maybe he was submitting to a higher authority.
I do know Roy is in good company. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den for praying when prayer had been legally banned. His accusers were successful in having Daniel condemned, but he was delivered from the mouths of the lions because, as he told King Darius, “toward you, O king, I have committed no crime” (Daniel 6:22). It is not a crime to pray, no matter who may say different. Someone will always find reason for offense, but no one is genuinely harmed by another’s prayer.
In the early days of the church the apostles were forbidden to preach the Gospel. Peter was a repeat offender. When he was confronted by the Sanhedrin, the same council that had accused Jesus and lobbied Pilate for His crucifixion, they told Peter he had been ordered to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, yet he had refused. Peter’s response was simple, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Christians here in America live in an increasingly anti-Christian culture. Ignoring the dangers our nation seems intent on pursuing its spiritual and moral decline, and this will inevitably be reflected in the practices of our culture and the laws passed by our representatives. Some of these practices and laws will probably be contrary to the Christian worldview.
Christians have a desire and an obligation (Romans 13:1) to obey governmental authority and its laws, as long as those laws do not require us to disobey God’s revealed will in the Scriptures. Unlike other religions, we are taught to love our enemies and not to hate them. Christians will not be commandeering aircraft and flying them into office buildings, but we may find ourselves in the future in disagreement with some laws and we may choose to follow the Scriptures instead.
We may become the target of ridicule and abuse. We may have many bad things said about us, and be jailed and imprisoned for our stand. After all, it has happened before. But civil disobedience will only happen if we are given no other recourse.
Christians are constrained by a higher Power. We willingly give our allegiance to the One who sent His Son to die for our sins that we might be redeemed. That redemption came at a price we cannot ignore. Society may try to press us into conformity with its values, but we will of necessity rebel if they are opposed to God’s Word.
That is what Daniel, Peter, and Roy did given their respective circumstances. Because as Christians when it comes down to a matter of allegiance, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).