I recently had the joy of talking with Roy Costner (III and IV) — a father and son duo from Pickens County, South Carolina.
Roy (the son) made national headlines four years ago when he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) in his Valedictorian speech at Liberty High School—after tearing up the speech that had been approved by Administrators. You may remember seeing Costner talk about it on news programs (i.e., Megyn Kelly).
Well, Roy (the father) found inspiration in his son’s actions. After attending an American Renewal Project event hosted by former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Costner sensed a calling to enter public service by running for a seat on the Pickens County Council. He won, and the Council now has made him the Chairman.
Did I mention that he is an Associate Pastor?
Here is the video of the interview, followed by a transcript (lightly edited for clarity). Also, I embedded a clip of the younger Costner’s graduation speech into the video at the beginning.
Lamb: Throughout human history, for people to have heard the Lord’s Prayer by somebody standing in front of them, a pastor or somebody else, that’s not unusual. So, to get a rousing applause means that there’s a story there. I want you to tell me that story. Why would a Valedictorian get such applause by reciting the Lord’s Prayer? What’s the story?
Roy (son): Well the Freedom From Religion Foundation out of Wisconsin had sent a letter of intent to our school board the semester before I graduated at Liberty High School and they were basically saying that all allusions to the Bible, any reference to God was to be removed from all aspects of school life. That also meant that they were going to restrict the Valedictorian Speech as well. Whenever I sat down with our principal, she basically said to us no allusions to the Bible, no references to God can be made.
Lamb: What did you think immediately when you heard that? Were you like, “Oh rats. I had something good planned.” What was your immediate thought?
Roy (son): Well I didn’t understand. First of all, it was phenomenal. When the Freedom From Religion Foundation had sent the letter of intent, there was actually a school board meeting held where thousands of people from the local community came out and they were all praying. There was standing room only in that building when they were going to present before the school board saying, “We don’t agree with you guys doing this. We don’t understand why you’re doing this. God is such a powerful aspect of all life here, especially in the upstate.” There was no internal compliance within the school district. It was all external so nobody understood why this was happening at all.
There was no internal compliance within the school district. It was all external so nobody understood why this was happening at all.
Lamb: Okay, all right and remind me, what year was this? I didn’t catch the year on the YouTube. How old are you now?
Roy (son): This was in 2013. It was in June of 2013. I’m 22 years old now so it’s been about four years since then.
Lamb: Okay, so what makes an 18-year-old or thereabouts, what makes a young man decide to take this kind of stand? I mean what kind of thought process went through it? Did you just get some counsel from others? Take us through that process of your thinking.
Roy (son): Well they challenged me to speak on the past. That’s what they asked me to speak on as the Valedictorian. I really didn’t know how I could speak about the past without incorporating all the aspects of God and how He’s had His hand in my life ever since birth really until the day of graduation. So I felt like it was important to include Him and I felt like they were taking that away and especially with the already escalated tension within the school district. I wasn’t sure what to do to be honest.
It wasn’t until … I had a conviction about it. I did a lot of praying about it. I spoke to my Dad a little bit and some of the other pastors in our local community, but at the end of the day it was still my decision and I felt such a strong conviction to do so and to really share the Gospel in a way and just say thank you for the time that I’ve had on this earth and where God has brought me to. I mean I didn’t even think I was going to be Valedictorian, to be honest.
Lamb: If you’re a student of history, can you imagine what our Founders would have thought—that this would have even been such a contentious issue? I mean can you imagine the Founders right after the Revolutionary War saying, “Hey let me take you to the future and show you a man of courage—he’s reciting the Lord’s Prayer.” What a diminishment of our personal liberties.
Okay so Dad, let’s turn to you now for a moment. That was something that came about because of things you’d poured into his life, but our children also influence our thinking, seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in a young man’s life. How has that impacted you?
Roy (father): Well so when this happened, and I have a confession to make. When he first came to me to say I want to go do this, I said, “Just go graduate. Don’t worry about it.” I talked to my pastor about it as part of our accountability and he said, “You know are you going to stand in the way of God?” I said, “Well okay.” When I talked to my son I said, “If you’re going to do this because you believe it’s what God wants you to do then do it. If you’re doing it because you want to stick it to the man, don’t do it.” He said, “Okay I’ve got my answer.” We didn’t even know if he was going to do it or not, do the Lord’s Prayer, so it was a surprise to us and boy, how exciting is it to see all those people get excited.
But I talked to my pastor about it as part of our accountability and he asked, “Are you going to stand in the way of God?” I said, “Well okay.” When I talked to my son I said, “If you’re going to do this because you believe it’s what God wants you to do then do it. If you’re doing it because you want to stick it to the man, don’t do it.” He said, “Okay I’ve got my answer.” We didn’t even know if he was going to do it or not, so it was a surprise to us and boy, how exciting is it to see all those people get excited.
It stirred something in me. Fast forward a couple of years later I went to, I hear Governor Bobby Jindal speak. Governor Jindal was talking and to be honest with you I thought he was going to ask us for money for his presidential campaign.
Lamb: This was at one of the American Renewal Project meetings?
Roy (father): Yes, at the American Renewal Project, at a function that happened in Greenville, South Carolina. We got invited as pastors to come hear him speak and he gave his testimony. As a part of his testimony, he said, “I believe that the country needs to wake up. I believe that Christians need to have an awakening and as a part of that we’re asking all you pastors to consider serving in a public life. Run for office. Do what you can in your community.”
After seeing what happened with my son and the impact that he had not just in our community but across the country, and hearing Governor Jindal speak I said, “You know what? I’m going to run.” I ran for county council, ran against an incumbent who’d been there for 20 years and won hands down. Was thrilled to be able to do that and then at the very first organizational meeting they elected me as chairman. So I began January the 3rd. I was chairman, I am currently Chairman of Pickens County Council.
So I ran for County Council—ran against an incumbent who’d been there for 20 years and won hands down. Was thrilled to be able to do that and then at the very first organizational meeting they elected me as Chairman. So I began January the 3rd. I am currently Chairman of Pickens County Council.
Lamb: And what kind of things does the Council do there in Pickens County? What kind of responsibilities do you have?
Roy (father): Oh boy. I will say this, when I won the election I felt like I needed to go through a crash course in understanding local government. Of course, we’ve done a lot. We’re very fortunate that four of the six people on the council are brand new including myself, and with that what we’re accomplishing is … All we want to do is communicate, educate, work with the different municipalities, work with the different schools, work on economic development in the sense of how all that works together.
One of my personal goals being a pastor is I really want to try to see if our … Even though you’re not supposed to keep God in government, I want to see if there’s a way that our council can help work with the pastors in the community to really create that awakening that Governor Jindal talked about where we all come together, leave our catchphrases, our slogans, our denominations at the door and truly have an awakening. Maybe it’s an event once a quarter, once a year, but whatever that is to bring together people talking about Jesus Christ.
In our county—to me this is astounding—we’re in the Bible Belt and most people say we’re the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. There are over 170 churches in our county. There are 16,000 students in this county and of those 16,000 students, 14,000 don’t go to church.
Lamb: 16,000? You’re talking K-12?
Roy (father): K-12.
Roy (father): 16,000 total kids and of that 14,000 don’t go to church.
Lamb: Wow, that’s a generational difference from 50 years ago. I mean in terms of the Carolina’s and the Bible belt.
Roy (father): Absolutely. I really believe, I believe it has to do with all the churches worrying about their own little kingdoms and what I want to do is as a leader be able to pull the pastors together and say, “You know what? It’s all one Kingdom with one Jesus Christ. There’s one cross and there’s one way to Heaven. So, can we not all come together and really accomplish something incredible, not just for our county but for the upstate, and for our communities?”
Lamb: Okay, so you said you’re a minister, a pastor, and how has that gone with the people in the congregation you serve? Do they understand what you’re doing? Are there, is there any push back? I mean how’s that going for you?
Roy (father): Actually it’s been no different. They still talk to me, just goof on me as much as they did before I got elected.
It’s a great church. I’m Associate Pastor at Fellowship Community Church in Liberty, South Carolina. Pastor Chad Hope is our pastor and he has been very open, very forgiving of me and my time because as councilman—where I was helping out with youth on Wednesday nights, I now tend to get called to do a lot of meetings and other things that are going on.
We just as part of one of the things we just opened a new auditorium. It’s the Pickens County Performing Arts Center and we performed a play there called “Fried Apple Pies”. It’s a play that I wrote, but it’s a Christian play so we pulled in the churches. We did the donations for Meals on Wheels. This guy here ran sound and directed as far as everything that was going on. I mean we’re working towards pulling the community together.
Lamb: Well, let’s go back to son for a moment. What are you up to in the last four years? This is obviously a defining moment for you, but now the rest of your life goes on. What have you been up to the last four years and do you see yourself, how do you see yourself being involved in the public square or being very active in community life?
Roy (son): Well currently I’m still a student at Clemson University. I’ll be graduating this upcoming December.
Lamb: I think I’ve heard of that University. Is that the one with the football team?
Roy (son): Yeah, it’s a real small one.
Roy (son): No, we had a phenomenal year of football, but yeah I’m going to Clemson University studying communications. Like I said, I graduate in December. As far as what the future holds, I’d love to be able to serve. That’s my biggest thing and I think one of the ways that I can to that, I hope to eventually enter the public square, but right now on a discipleship basis, on a one-on-one basis. I think we can have maximum impact and really radically change our country and this world.So currently what I’m looking on doing is
So currently what I’m looking on doing is emphasis in videography as well as a minor in brand communication. I’m hoping to facilitate a way for small mom and pop type shops here in our local community to find a way to get websites done, to get video done, to get branding done all in one house for a reasonable cost because I really want to give back and be able to serve and be passionate about what I do and help others. I think I’ll be able to do things that way, but who knows what the future holds.
Roy (father): One of the things that he won’t … He doesn’t like to brag about. I’m really proud of him. He stayed humble through this whole process of being thrust onto the national stage and really staying core to his belief and his faith. He did write a book called, “It’s not a Coincidence.” I’m hoping that one day we can get somebody to publish this because it really tells the story of his life.
What he won’t tell you is he was born a preemie and at the time that he was born my wife and he were both in such a horrible situation, the doctor came and said expect neither one to make it. Before social media, before everything else, they started a prayer chain and we had folks calling from Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina all praying for my wife and my son. Three days later my wife got out of the woods and started doing better. Several weeks later this guy came home at four pounds. He’s fine now, but it was touch and go for a long time.
He talks in his book about how starting at such humble beginnings and believing that he really wasn’t even going to start and how God is—it’s not a coincidence that God put him in that path to be able to do that Valedictorian speech, to reach so many people.
And now, it’s not a coincidence that he did all that and now I’m Chairman of the county council.
Lamb: Obviously, you need a prayerful deliberate approach before you do something like jumping into an election, a campaign, that kind of thing. But given that somebody is prayerful and thoughtful about it, would you encourage pastors to consider being involved in local political offices and such—based on your experience?
Roy (father): Absolutely. I think everybody should experience this at some point. You know I think of something that I’ve taught the kids about for a long time which is 1 Timothy 4.7. Basically, to paraphrase it, it says it’s not how hard you try. It’s how well you train.
I don’t want to just try to be a Christian. I’m going to train at this every day. I’m going to read my Bible. I’m going to pray. I’m going to surround myself with people who have a love for Jesus Christ and I’m also going to reach out to those who don’t.
My son says, “You can’t take God out of me if I go the school. So they can tell me all day long not to bring God to school, but I’m taking him with me.”
The same thing is true with me whenever I serve in public office. Everywhere I go, I’ve got God right there with me.
I love that we still open in prayer. Everything that we do we keep Jesus Christ at the center of it. I believe that if more people would just jump in, and again, as Governor Jindal said—let’s wake up. Christians need to wake up. We don’t need to be the voices that are hiding in the closet. We need to be the guys that are sitting right out front telling the good news about Jesus Christ.