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My Faith: Why I don't sing the 'Star Spangled Banner'
June 26th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Faith: Why I don't sing the 'Star Spangled Banner'

Editor's Note: Mark Schloneger is pastor of Springdale Mennonite Church in Waynesboro, Virginia.

By Mark Schloneger, Special to CNN

I choose to belong to a strange tribe. Goshen College, my alma mater, made national news this month when its board of directors decided that the “Star Spangled Banner” would not be played before athletic events.

As could be expected, the decision was met with confusion and contempt. Wasn’t this just another example of our traditional values being trampled by the unrelenting march of political correctness? What sort of ingrates object to our nation’s anthem, anyway? Fluffy-headed campus philosophers? Lazy latte-sipping liberals?

The decision not to play the national anthem reversed last year’s decision to play it for the first time in Goshen College’s 116-year history. That, too, caught the media’s attention.

It also caused widespread concern and confusion among the college’s students, professors, alumni, supporters and, yes, donors - many of whom felt like playing the anthem compromised the college’s Christian values.

Goshen is a small school in northern Indiana that's owned and operated as a ministry of Mennonite Church USA. I am a Goshen graduate, a longtime member of the Mennonite Church and the pastor of a Mennonite congregation.

Mennonites live in countries all over the world. Though we speak many languages, have different ethnic origins, and express our faith in diverse ways, we all claim the Anabaptists in 16th century Europe as our spiritual ancestors.

The Anabaptists agreed with most of the ideas of the Protestant Reformation but felt that reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin didn't go far enough. Anabaptists rejected the practice of infant baptism, for instance, believing that water baptism should be reserved for believers who confess a faith in Jesus.

Because they understood the exercise of state power to be inconsistent with the church’s identity and mission, Anabaptists also advocated for the strict separation of church and state. This then-radical stance was prompted by both theology and necessity: Anabaptists had the distinct notoriety of being tortured and killed by both Catholics and Protestants wielding the power of the state against them.

Instead of compromising their core convictions about what it means to follow Jesus, thousands of Anabaptist men and women adhered to their freedom of conscience even as they were mocked by neighbors, burned at stakes and drowned in rivers.

Although there certainly are diverse viewpoints among individual Mennonites today, we continue to advocate for the strict separation of church and state. Most Mennonite churches do not have flags inside them, and many Mennonites are uncomfortable with the ritual embedded in the singing of the national anthem.

That’s because we recognize only one Christian nation, the church, the holy nation that is bound together by a living faith in Jesus rather than by man-made, blood-soaked borders.

To Mennonites, a living faith in Jesus means faithfully living the way of Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies and he loved his enemies all the way to the cross and beyond. Following Jesus and the martyrs before us, we testify with our lives that freedom is not a right that is granted or defended with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air. True freedom is given by God, and it is indeed not free. It comes with a cost, and it looks like a cross.

It’s a strange tribe to which I belong, and sometimes it’s hard to be strange. We struggle to be inclusive in our welcome yet passionate in our identity. Our desire for acceptance, for approval, is strong, and we don’t always live up to the convictions that we set before us.

We must repent of that, for the world cannot know of its brokenness and hopelessness without a people who show a holistic way of life. The world cannot know that there is an alternative to violence and war without a people of peace making peace. The world cannot know that the weak and the vulnerable are cared for by God without a people practicing an economy centered on sharing and mutual aid.

The world cannot know the unsurpassable worth of human life without a people who consistently work to protect it - in the fetus, in the convict, in the immigrant, in the soldier, and in the enemy.

These convictions do not reflect ingratitude or hatred for our country. Rather, they reflect a deep love for the church and a passionate desire for the church to be the church.

Mennonite beliefs and practices seem bizarre to some and offensive to others. But it’s life in this strange tribe that keeps me faithful to what I believe. I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Schloneger.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Church and state • Mennonite

soundoff (4,381 Responses)
  1. Vince

    Singing the national anthem is not required. Nobody has to do it. The real issue is what do you do when your religion and your state come into conflict. Do you pay your taxes? Do you obey zoning laws for your church? Would you serve in the military if the government declares martial law and demands everybody to serve? Would you obey police orders if they conflict with your religious beliefs as in polygamy laws and mormons? Those are the critical questions you need to answer.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Fred Goepfert

      Good questions, the ones i would ask.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Jenine Marnocha

      Look to scripture: it's there. Peter followed Jesus before the authorities during the time of Jewish Law... though Paul exhorts us to obey the government you are in and look to your Jesus... If you are a slave... remain a slave and look to Jesus for your freedoms... because that's where freedom is: it's not in taxes, zoning laws, it's in your relationship. There are laws and Christians should obey the law of the land and live spiritual freedom from anything; even death. May His Force Be With You.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Matthew

      The answer to that question is that many Mennonites have not only refused required military service, but have died for doing so. Although many Mennonites also eschew participation in politics, the author might not look unfavorably on this line from St. Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, "I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos."

      June 26, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • skytag

      "The real issue is what do you do when your religion and your state come into conflict. Do you pay your taxes? Do you obey zoning laws for your church?"

      These are not in conflict.

      "Would you serve in the military if the government declares martial law and demands everybody to serve?"

      Questions about extreme hypothetical situations are pointless.

      "Would you obey police orders if they conflict with your religious beliefs as in polygamy laws and mormons?"

      We call those "laws," not "police orders." A better question is why we allow laws like these that clearly violate the 1st Amendment.

      "Those are the critical questions you need to answer."

      Who made you the arbiter of what questions anyone needs to answer? You?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  2. ty

    that's fine. sports programs there are on par with a typical jv high school sports. no one cares....so if a national anthem is not sung in the forest and no one is there to not hear it, then it is an irrelevant piece of news.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  3. Franny

    I also agree stricker seperation between Church, and State should be practiced. However, I see absolutley nothing wrong with singing it, or not. Maybe flag worship does get out of hand at times, but those flags mean a great deal to our Military. Just goes to show you anything can, and will be abused if folks go overboard over this issue. It should not be mandatory!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  4. heyhey

    The comments make me so sad. Why did you all even bother coming to religions.blogs.cnn.com if you're going to post such hateful, ignorant or cynical things? There's no need for you to try to spread your misery.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  5. Lisa

    I agree with almost everything he is saying, including and especially his last line – "I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone." . But I differ in that I don't attend church. It isn't because my general beliefs are any different. They aren't. But, my church isn't a 4 walled set of buildings. It is my own belief system. I believe that the church itself is as corrupted as any government. It has been since the beginning of time. There is no church in this world that isn't corrupted by the greedy and power hungry. I'm not saying that everyone that attends church is corrupted, but the curdled cream does tend to rise to the top and it will affect everything and everyone around it. Have your own belief system, be proud of it, and treat people as you would want to be treated yourself regardless of the country they are from, and this would be a much better world.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • heyhey

      You are right about "church", but according to the Bible, the Church is not a building, it is the Body of Christ, which is just all the believers with Christ as the head. Can you call this Church corrupt as any government? I think not...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • enlightenment

      Investigate the group Jehovah's witnesses lisa. no apparent greed at any level. no paid ministers....not even at the "top"....very interesting people......

      June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  6. Henry

    I like this man. He and his church have their convictions and I accept that. What I like best is that, in their quest to be loyal to their god, they are staying out of my way and they don't spew this supposed and unloving Christianity that is practiced by our religious zealots.

    Leave these people alone; they are leaving us alone.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  7. Two Witnesses

    Hey whatever floats your boat! That's what's all about these days. Do what feels good, not what feels right. Wouldn't want to make you do something you don't want to, like sing a song or at least stand and honor those that came and went before you who never said "no" or "I won't do it" and gave everything so that you can put out poop like this on the Internet. WHATEVER!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  8. Oxymoron

    Awesome!!! Another article for the atheists to "congregate" at and cram their "gospel" down people's throats.. trying to "convert" people into their own "beliefs."

    And for those that don't agree with them, they are classified as "bad people", i.e. "unpatriotic"... kinda like, cast off into something bad that resembles "hell."

    June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  9. Aner

    It would have helped to show the scriptural references that support this position. I too, as a Jehovah's Witness have been ridiculed and abused because of standing for this scriptural stance on political Neutrality. Can we imagine Jesus Christ on earth today, and pledging alliegance to the State of Israel, Egypt, America or China, and standing at attention to sing their national anthems?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Franny

      Aner, I'm not a Witness, but I so agree with your idealogy on this issue. God tells us all very clearly in the Bible "that man will never be able to rule man, and religion should stay out of politics!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • a.l.n.

      aner...i am a brother of urs...(i need to finish studying my wt instead of being on this lol) i didn't expect any scriptural references from this guy. he several times hinted at the fact that there are different believes for many of the different sects of the mennonite religion. they aren't united....i wonder if all members of that religion believe the way he does on this stance? i seriously doubt it. that being said, i thought it was a decent article. the easiest reference i guess he could have used was jesus saying that he was no part of the world and that his followers are no part of the world. but whatever lol enjoy the meeting today...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  10. tim

    Is this all I have to do to get my 5 minutes of fame?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  11. Deb D

    Lord Jesus, please save us from your followers.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  12. Name*Tank

    @Oing, I MIGHT agree with SOME of what you said. But regardless of what war or skirmish is being fought, todays military personnel signed up to sacrifice whatever they have in defense of this nation. They dont make the decision on WHAT a war is and what it ain't. Some of Those "fake" soldiers that you're referring to died REAL deaths at the hands of REAL enemies regardless of how you feel bout it. Im in the military and I dont think that everyone should tell me thank you when I'm in uniform in the airport on my way home from a deployment. I dont think that everyone should stand for the national anthem if they dont wanna. But what I do think is ridiculous is you calling us fake. I do what I do knowing damn well that when I leave and say "see you when I get back", that I'm going to a place where certain factions intend to make a liar outta that statement. You chose not to serve the country via military. Fine. Doesn't make me more patriotic or you any less. Bottom line, your fake soldier statement is false, and one of the most ignorant things I've heard in my life. With all due respect of course.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  13. Alex

    Nice piece Mark - thanks for sharing your church's viewpoints, it certainly educated me.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  14. Rick

    P.S. to all of the respondents who can only resort to naming calling, well, we see what level of intelligence you are on. Or are you not educated enough to explain your position without calling names. That's children do. Grow up.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • Rick

      That should be, that's what children do.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  15. jaxkyle

    If the decision not to sing has been a question of a belief in strict separation of church and state, great, we could use more people of faith who don’t want to change laws to match their beliefs. For those who are unable to view the world without the distorting lens of religion, please go back to the dark-ages

    June 26, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  16. Oxymoron

    some people see, and others don't realize their judgment has been forced into their brains.. Personally, I have cast off my pledge of allegiance to the flag of this country... because I was FORCED to do it as a child. And now? All of a sudden I'm "unpatriotic". Oooh nooooo, "Unpatriotic!" Ohh noooo. I'm labeled as such now. such fear society likes to use! pfft. What a joke. Does this mean I don't pray for nor stand behind our troops? I love our boys and girls and greatly respect them for serving. Just because I don't "bow down" to man's ways and agree with the "congregation's gospel" and how they try to run the world in the name of "democracy" ... this doesn't make me unpatriotic. I'm not unpatriotic because you say so.. lol. Nice try tho! lol. I laugh at your games I use to play as an 8yr old.

    God is my God.. If you want a flag, a country, and the ways of wicked men to be ur god.. and you want to bow down to it.. then all the power to you. But don't use this childish and ignorant "unpatriotic" card because I choose to not bow and serve things that are unjust... If you want to, go ahead.. serve your god, just don't "cram it down my throat" and "force your religion upon me." Oooooh, you see how that works?

    People can/'t just let people be people without casting out negative opinions. "You're bad because you don't do this thing." Ok, well.. you're bad because you agree with gay marriage and pro-choice. That's ok for me to say, right? Oh, it isn't? It's only ok if I agree with your stance? Sooo.. lemme get this right. You can stand on the sidelines and toss stones at the beliefs of people if they don't agree with you.. and if they do, you welcome them into your 'congregation'. huh. This all seems familiar... kinda like the same thing atheists say church goers do. It's just another realm.... the wicked one... and they are doing the same thing.

    Nothing but a bunch of self glorifying atheists who bow down to each other and need each other to validate themselves. They are as self-centered/self-glorifying as anyone can be. Just agree with them and they will be "nice" to you.. have a diff. opinion than them, they'll call you names and "try" to shame you and "try" to make you look as the bad person. Kinda like.. they place you into a "bad place" in life because you don't agree with them. Kinda like... they make you out to be bad.. like... um... kinda like you're going to hell? A bad person. Hmmmmmmmm... He who has eyes to see, let them see...

    June 26, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  17. jessica

    wow

    June 26, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  18. Gigi Aldred

    Whats up CNN none like to hear the real truth but prefer to believe the propaganda and lies you feed them. You would do well to learn from RT NEWS and tell the truth as it is. Maybe if you did this you could educate the morons in your country

    June 26, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • Rick

      There you go again Gigi with that name calling.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Deb D

      Please tell me you're posting from some type of secure facility.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • TruePatriot

      What's that about 'freedom of the press?' Go away and get your news elsewhere if you don't like it (presumably at "conservativevalues".com??)

      June 26, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  19. ridiculous people

    I will find now my news elsewhere CNN! How could you allow this article to be submitted? This is an insult to the American People! You think we're going to read this artcle and fall for it! What a joke. CNN.com is unworthy and not reliable.

    On another note, you leave up old news online-that mean laziness to me. Update your site every minute like other news sites. Get a grip!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • Rick

      Why is there a problem with other's having an opposing view point than your favorite news outlet? I guess everybody should only eat Vanilla ice cream, too.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  20. Weezer1107

    Excuse me. . that is the STAR SPANGLED BANNER.
    Long may it wave!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:05 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.