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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. James

    You can see that Satan is with us based on all the comments calling the Bible a work of fiction. May you open your hearts and welcome God in before it is to late to redeem your souls.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • skytag

      Unless, of course, it actually *is* a work of fiction. Look, if it's so important for people to believe in God and the Christian narrative, why has God's highest priority been to ensure there is not evidence of his existence or that the Christian narrative is the correct one?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Alex in NJ

      I think a lot of atheists are just uppity jerks. But come on man, do you truly believe the Bible is word for word true? The thing I never got about people who believe in the bible as the absolute truth is that you are so into the faults of man, yet the bible was written by man. Why would you for a second not realize the bible is filled with man's faults?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Chad

      May you open your eyes and live a life without fear – a life of being moral and happy without the boogeyman hiding in the sky threatening to send you to a fiery death because "he loves you". I have sorrow in my heart for everyone who is so brainwashed. Religion is evil.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  2. GoodWitchPA

    So you won't sing the national anthem and by your logic presented here you probably won't pledge allegiance to the flag either. Have you read the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner? They don't actually include a pledge of any kind.

    It's interesting to me that you take full advantage of this country's First Amendment of the Bill of Rights – by holding these opinion as well as publishing an article about it – but won't actually "commit" to the country that allows you to speak freely. But then, that's what the Amendment is all about, isn't it?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • DC

      Was the US founded on war? Was the purpose to be a warring nation? No. It was founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Well, that takes different forms and here these people decided their way. Because you are not as smart and choose violence is your own choice. Leave these people alone.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • skytag

      I notice you don't seem to have a counter argument for his beliefs, you just attack him. Hmm.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  3. The Senescent Man

    Christianity is a faith of action not pacifism. It took action to emancipate the slaves. It took action to defeat fascism and open up the gates of the forced labor camps of the holocaust. It takes action to defend and protect the virues of freedom. Christ would not want us sitting idly by as injustice is done and call it by His name. No. When I hear the Star Spangled Banner, no matter how often I hear it, a tear forms in my eye for those brave men and women who gave us their "last full measure of deep devotion" to us. Let us not disgrace their memory. "Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land; Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."

    June 26, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • DC

      Whose action? All the forcible action is supposed to be by your God. The followers merely preach the word. Early Christians pacifism got them martyred.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Robert

      For what it's worth, I thin there's a difference between pacifism and being passive. Indeed, you are correct about the amount of action it took to emancipate slaves and to fight fascism and uncover the holocaust. However, if you look at events such as the civil rights movement, that was pacifism. Dr. King was not passive – sitting idly by hoping for things to improve. He was active, as were all who followed him. However, he also advocated non-violence, also known as pacifism. Same with Ghandi in India. There are lots of theological arguments about whether Christianity is or is not a purely pacifist religion, but it is certainly not a "passive" religion; when practiced as Christ wished, it is very active.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • skytag

      One does not have to engage in shows of patriotism to be willing to fight that which is wrong.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Conrad

      On the other hand, you didn't see Christ picking up a sword to fight the Romans when they horribly mistreated the Jews. Only one time do we read of him using physical force but it wasn't in defense of people being mistreated.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  4. God's Man

    correction, Mennonite.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  5. Rick

    Its funny, no one seemed to mind when prayer was taken out of schools as a seperation of church and state. This is America, land of the free. That means that Goshen has the right to choose whether or not play the National Anthem or not. As a veteran, these are some of the very rights that I fought and lost friends for.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Conrad

      Good words!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  6. bruce

    final verse of the national anthem
    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave![12]

    June 26, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • believer

      This is the verse to sing at the next super bowl!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  7. God's Man

    While i'm not a Minnonite, I'm a believer or the same concept of the reading. Mark, awesome testimony of how freedoom is given "the cross". The Star Spangled Banner is so contrite, just as the Pledge of Allegence to the United States; but of how divided we really are. Excellent read.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  8. DDM

    I commend and support the "strict separation of church and state" part. As we keep importing muslim 'refugees' by the hundreds of thousands who then make demands for Sharia Law and hate our freedoms, any strengthening of separation of church and state will prove very valuable.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  9. believer

    Let's sing verse 4 at the next super bowl, instead of the first verse!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  10. Conrad

    I am amazed at all the conclusions you people are drawing about what this pastor has said. 90% of you are making knee-jerk reactions, saying that he is un-American, unpatriotic, hates his country, intolerant, etc., when, in fact, he said the exact opposite. Can no one think more deeply about issues than what you read on the page? Can you not at least make an attempt to understand what he is saying? CNN and all those who follow CNN think that they are the open-minded ones but most of you here are showing yourselves to be anything but. You can't stand to have someone come along and state a point of view and a firm belief in something and Someone different from what you believe in.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  11. Saxo Grammaticus

    It's a song, people. That's all it is. Playing and singing it before sporting events is a custom. That's all it is. Sing it; don't sing it. Whatever. But try to remember that the SSB is NOT our country; it is NOT our religion. If it makes you feel good, sing it. If it makes you feel bad, don't sing it.

    What we have in this little dispute is the collision of narrow minds.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  12. Rich

    Religion and nationalism: two great evils

    June 26, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  13. Geneo

    Jeez, and to think the NCAA doesn't like the Fighting Sioux.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  14. JJ

    This was a well written and well articulated piece. Thank you for taking the time to present your faith and to give us all some much needed context.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Nancy S.

      I agree with JJ- a well written explanation. There are many other religious groups in the US who do not take oaths or pledges or fly flags. Not from hatred of country but love of God. I don't happen to belong to one of their sects but I respect them and their right to practice the religion they believe in, in the way they feel called to do so!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  15. Scott Koss

    GOT A PROBLEM LIVING IN THIS COUNTRY – GET THE HELL OUT!!!!!!!!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • telloh

      If you have a problem with how other Americans act, shouldn't you get out?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Conrad

      Good to see you are so open minded. Does this guy threaten you some how? Are you that insecure?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • skytag

      Perhaps it is you who should leave. At least take a class in reading comprehension, as he didn't say anything about having a problem living in this country.

      And get some therapy. You have some real issues there.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  16. Karen

    What this says to me is that if you ever hire a Goshen College graduate, you will have to deal with a whiney, self-important employee who will not do his/her job. I would rather hire a graduate from a community college who lives in the real world and loves this country.

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

      pshaw

      June 26, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • skytag

      You comment tells me you're a judgmental idiot. I'd never hire you for anything.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  17. Open Minded, unlike this author.

    You wouldn't live in this country if our borders hadn't been soaked in blood a couple hundred years ago. Also I'm sure Francis Scott Key was a Muslim, as were several founding fathers (except those who were Jewish and Buddhist), so of course at least one sect of Christianity would oppose the anthem.

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

      LOL, the majority of the signers of the Declaration were not Christian!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Geneo

      LOL Telloh where do you get this kind of crap?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • telloh

      Geneo: recorded history!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • Geneo

      Show me

      June 26, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Keldoarama

      While I agree with your first sentence, you went off the rails with the rest of your post. ALL of the Founding Fathers were "Christians" by definition. Various denominations, but all Christians none the less.

      http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html

      June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • skytag

      Uh oh, did the author insult your obviously fragile nationalistic ego?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  18. Name*hahaney

    Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it.... – Thomas Paine

    June 26, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • bruce

      talk about way out of context.... this was in reference to the supposed approval of slavery in the Bible, not the Bible itself as the inspired Word of God. Though a brilliant man, Paine had the same misconception that many non-Christians today do. The Bible is not one big "how to" book. It is a collection of many types of literature. Don't confuse history of a sinful man with prophesy from God.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  19. Joe

    Your Mennonite martyrs did not win for you the right to practice your beliefs free from persecution. The men and women of our nations military bought that for you and your "strange tribe" with their blood and sweat.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Name*hahaney

      So you are supposed to worship them?

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

      What you don't understand Joe is that you don't stop these people from practicing their religion under "freedom" or not. I know this concept is too much for your mind. Further, if everyone were Mennonite the question is would there be war? And lastly, if you actually believe in a Christian God you naturally would need to believe this God can help you, save you and protect you.... But, you believe you and your state do. Well, that's your choice.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  20. allew

    When I am at a sporting event i do not put my hand over my Heart wnen the anthem is played,I do stand to respect others. Most of the time I would go to the cossesion until its over,

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Geneo

      Chicken chit

      June 26, 2011 at 8:19 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.