Monday, June 10, 2013

Two Grumpy Old Men and a Kid

Costner, Olasky, Smith

(And Two Susans)

Roy Costner IV

Marvin Olasky and Susan
Bill Smith and Susan
Years ago the saintly and long-suffering Susan Olasky suggested that Marvin and I might star in the movie Grumpy Old Men. My Susan would agree - at least about her husband. It is not for nothing that the name chosen by me for my blog is The Christian Curmudgeon. I am sure that readers will agree that at least the “curmudgeon” part fits.

According to the Christian Post’s report the Liberty, SC, high school valedictorian, Roy Costner IV, stepped to the podium, took his speech out of the folder that contained all the pre-approved speeches, ripped apart his, and said:
I first want to say that I turned in my speech to Ms. Gwinn [the principal] 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. Those that we look up to, they have helped carve and mold us into the young adults that we are today. I'm so glad that both of my parents led me to the Lord at a young age.  
And I think most of you will understand when I say, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen."
It should be noted that this part, which has got all the attention on the Internet, is not the whole. It is part of his nine minute speech.

Over at World my old and still friend Marvin has noted that the Blogosphere is filled debate about Costner’s decision to rip up his approved valedictorian speech and to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Marvin seems to approve of Costner’s decision as a Biblical case of a Christian’s choosing to obey God rather than men, as a Constitutional case of a Christian’s exercising First Amendment rights, and as a human rights case proving the difficulty of suppressing religion.

Before I go on, let me state with all sincerity my regard for Marvin Olasky. He is a fine scholar and a Christian man of character and courage. Marvin has slain his tens of thousands, while I have slain maybe ten (10), if that many.

However, I disagree with Marvin’s argument. After noting various takes on Costner’s act, some critical, he writes in support of Costner:
Those are worthwhile discussion points, and it seems to me that one Bible text from Acts 5 is particularly relevant: “The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” 
Costner would agree, for he felt he was doing God’s will in his speech, and that, since he was doing God’s will, he was justified in disobeying and deceiving the school authorities:
As I drafted my address, I felt led to include a prayer in it. I spoke to several pastors and different people in our community to seek their advice and counsel, because I wanted to be sure I was doing 100 percent of this for God and not for myself. After 2 or 3 days of praying, I felt that God was leading me to have prayer in the speech.
 The school board had told me prior to the speech that I was not allowed to have any type of religious references and that the text would have to be preapproved by the board before the ceremony. So I turned in the exact same speech I was planning to deliver, except that I included God in the one I actually gave. All the approved speeches were put in a binder on the podium, so I snuck my speech in the sleeve of my shirt under my robe and took it out when I got to the microphone. I told everyone that our principal had approved my speech and we wouldn't be able to use that one, so I ripped it out of the binder and brought out the other one.. 
...I wanted to make sure my heart was right before I delivered my speech at graduation, and I spent a long time praying about everything and seeking counsel from people I respect. I felt strongly led to acknowledge God in my speech, and I believe the prayer honored Him and He is using it for greater purposes now.   
How did Costner know God’s will? He knew it by praying, seeking counsel, and feeling strongly led. He cites no guidance or direction from Scripture. In fact Scripture does not teach by precept, practice, or principle that it is the duty of a Christian to give his testimony, refer to God, and offer a prayer in a graduation speech. It is a misuse of Scripture to cite Apostles’ defense of their preaching the Name of Jesus in Jerusalem. 

The text in Acts does teach the principle of obedience to God when there is a clash between the commands of God and the commands of authority. It shows us there there are exceptions to the teaching, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), and, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). 

The exceptions occur when man commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands. They do not occur when government is not promoting “the good” or when it is overstepping its bounds as we see these things. After all Paul and Peter were writing to Christians in Rome and Asia Minor living under first century Roman Empire. The exceptions occur only when governing authorities command what God explicitly forbids or forbid what God explicitly commands.

A child must disobey a parent who commands him to steal from the local grocery store. A wife must not submit to her husband when he directs that she sign a tax return she knows to be a lie. A doctor must refuse if the hospital or government requires him to perform an abortion. Christians must gather to worship God and proclaim the Biblical gospel even if the government forbids.

A certain level of deception is acceptable in these cases. For instance, Christians might gather in catacombs rather than houses in Rome. Perhaps a wife could buy some time to persuade her husband of the error of his ways by putting out of sight the tax return left for her to sign or by mailing it without her signature. A child might use his own money to buy and bring home the things his parents told him to steal. But no one can refuse the commands of authority because he thinks the commands unreasonable, unwise, or unfair.

Last week I said in response to Nancy Pearcy's calling attention to and commending Costner’s speech on Facebook that what Costner did trivialized the faith. Rick Pearcy asked me to explain what I meant by “trivializing the faith.” I responded:
(1) His task was to give a speech not offer a prayer. (2) He seems to have used the prayer to make a cultural statement. (3) Dragging prayers and other acts of worship into such a context neither Christianizes the setting nor advances the Christian faith. (4) This and similar acts seeking to make a cultural statement removes their Christian content and purpose. (5) If it was a prayer, it was a prayer which a number of those attending could not pray either vocally or silently.  
Generally acts of Christian worship and devotion are trivialized when they are dragged into the public square to make a point. Had he said in his speech something like, "I thank my parents, teachers and friends, and I thank God for the blessings that allow me to stand in this place today..." I would not object. That would be simple and natural statement which reflects his faith, while not seeking to score a victory in the culture war. In fact, since what he did trivializes our faith, I do not think it a victory but a defeat. The already convinced watching Fox News or U-Tube will say in their hearts, "Way to go kid," while the unconvinced are more likely offended and will think less, not more, of Christianity.
The only revision I would make is that I do not think he should have made the statement of thanksgiving I suggest as he had been explicitly told not to use religious language in his speech. While in my view that was an unreasonable imposition and an overreaction to the threat of lawsuits by unbelievers, there is nothing about a valedictory address that requires a Christian to include a reference to God. Had those threatening the lawsuit tried to intimidate Costner, but the school authorities issued no rule, I think he would have had every right not to buckle. But the school board did make a rule, and he acted in defiance of those in authority over him when he disobeyed the rule and did what was right accoring to his own heart.

Joe Carter writing at the Gospel Coalition's website has summed up the matter well, addressing Costner’s supporters:
We should consider our own motivations for supporting such prayers and ask ourselves some hard questions. What message does it send when we applaud a young man for defying legitimate authorities by citing our Lord's model prayer at a graduation ceremony? Does it show others that we want to honor God or is it just another way to show our disdain for our culture war adversaries? Perhaps it would be better to give up public prayers altogether if all they have become is a form of irreverent protest.
Costner deserves our understanding. Who of us has not done things, especially in our youth, out of zeal confident of our own rightness? But older Christians ought to have and exercise greater wisdom and restraint. We do Costner nor the cause of Christ any good when we commend his wrong-headed defiance and ill-advised effort to bear witness to his faith.

If Marvin and I live long enough, perhaps we will get the opportunity to play the Walter Mathau and Jack Lemon characters in the re-make of Grumpy Old Men. I'm ready for my closeup.

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