A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Monday, June 10, 2013
Valedictorian Speeches: It's Not About Courage, It's About Integrity
Honesty is critical for integrity. Deception destroys it. When we hide our intentions to break the rules even though we agree to them, at least implicitly, we lack integrity.
Meet Roy Costner IV, the Valedictorian for 2013 at Liberty High School in Liberty, SC. He was told by the school board that he was not permitted to mention religion in his speech and that his words had to be approved ahead of time. He agreed to the ground rules and never revealed his intentions to scrap the speech in favor of reciting the Lord's Prayer. Costner said, "'I decided God is such an important part of my life. I feel like if we take Him out of school, it's going to hurt the school more than help. But I've noticed this past year more types of arguments, more types of fights going on that I think could be prevented with bringing God back into school,' he explained."
Now, I am not going to get into the issue of what it means to bring God back to school, which I find to be a real strange perspective. Rather, I want to suggest that young Roy Costner IV, who I am sure is a fine young man, demonstrated a serious lack of integrity in doing what he did without informing those who were laying down the ground rules of his speech that he was intending to recite the Lord's Prayer, something that was against the rules. This is not an issue of whether or not one agrees with the rules; rather it is a matter of honesty. To hide one's intentions, even though one knows the rules, and then break those rules lacks integrity in a way that detracts from the gospel instead of representing it.
If young Mr. Costner wanted to reflect the image of Jesus, he should have made it clear to the school board that if he could not mention his faith, then he could not in good conscience speak. Thus, he would reflect honesty and he would be true to his convictions, while letting the school board know those convictions and then allowing them to decide whether or not he could speak. Instead, he went ahead and submitted something that would be approved and then dishonestly did something else that he knew was against the rules. Can one imagine Jesus being this deceptively dishonest?
Can we also imagine someone sitting in that graduation ceremony, who is perhaps on the edge of their faith, not sure if they believe or not, and then to have to endure a follower of Jesus willfully and dishonestly doing something other than expected, something that he ahead of time agreed to do? What would persuade that person to follow Jesus, who supposedly is the truth, when his followers cannot be honest with the truth? Jesus himself said that Christians should be the kind of people whose words reflect their character... so much so that they should not need to take oaths that they are indeed being honest-- let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37).
Many years ago, I received a phone call from the fire chief in the town where I lived wondering if I would offer a prayer of dedication for the new firehouse. In the midst of the conversation he said to me that my prayer would have to be generic and vague since there would be people there of differing religious convictions. In other words, I could not mention Jesus in my prayer. Since I am opposed to vague prayers offered to a non-specific deity, I respectfully declined to offer the prayer saying that as a Christian I had to pray in the name of Jesus, so in respect to the ground rules of the public prayer, I would pass on the invitation. It would have been a lack of integrity on my part to agree to the ground rules and then break them to make some point about the gospel in a crass and dishonest. way. Integrity demanded that I graciously decline the offer.
To my fellow followers of Jesus, I say get over your desire to be in charge and in control. Our salvation is possible only because our Lord and Savior gave up his control and submitted himself to death on a cross. And you undermine the truth of the gospel when it is more important for you to one-up the non-believers, than to bear witness to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we cannot do that without integrity.
And without honesty, there can be no integrity; and no one will take Jesus seriously until we act in ways that we must be taken seriously.