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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. Larry

    Goshen made its faith decision based on donor's money because so called alum who "give" money said they wouldnt give anymore? I feel bad for the GC students and especially for the student athletes that are actually going to suffer from this since most people don't understand their point of view. Maybe those who arnt on campus should stay out of this?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  2. John Dockum

    I don't sing it because I am Canadian.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • sean

      Nice

      June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  3. Reets

    The Bible is clear that we can serve both God and government unless there is a conflict in principle. I see no issue in singing or even paying taxes yet I agree with church/state separation.

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

      you cant be arrogant enough to believe when jesus comes back he'll say americans to the right iraqies to the left and so on.we are all one people, and for you to believe that you are better than the next man because you were born on this piece of land makes you an hypocrite whos worshiping the wrong bible sir, put your law books down and pick up my gods rules.youll be amazed how my gods words can free you while yours only enslaves! but i do not fault you. you only do as you know and been taught. god bless america

      and all those we have murdered in the name of him

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  4. Geneo

    Some of the people here need to go live with the taliban

    June 26, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  5. Dianne Cho

    I just wanna read my reply!
    but my dull computer doesnt let me read it!
    Suck!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  6. believer

    How good is the school's team.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  7. Philabias

    I have no problem with any school refusing to sing the natioanal anthum.
    SO LONG AS THEY RECIEVE $0.00 DOLLARS IN FEDERAL FUNDS OR AID
    IF YOU ACCEPT FEDERAL MONEY THEN YOU BEST BE SINGING.

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

      you cant be arrogant enough to believe when jesus comes back he'll say americans to the right iraqies to the left and so on.we are all one people, and for you to believe that you are better than the next man because you were born on this piece of land makes you an hypocrite whos worshiping the wrong bible sir, put your law books down and pick up my gods rules.youll be amazed how my gods words can free you while yours only enslaves! but i do not fault you. you only do as you know and been taught. god bless america

      June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  8. Jim Hirschman

    Misguided Mennonites.....
    Wonderful Christians, and they are...

    They can enjoy the privileges of living in the USA because the
    USA with it's flag and it's anthem protect them.

    It is true one cannot serve God and Mammon..... but
    Martin Luther, in his wisdom, gave excellent ideas about
    why civil government should be given , not worship, but respect.

    While I have great regard for the Christian valuses of the Mennonites,
    the statements about one worldwide Christian Nation sound very
    similar to the Muslim prayer for One Worldwide Muslim Nation.

    Is s there a difference here ?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  9. Harold Haggis

    Singing the national anthem is as meaningless as saying the Lord's prayer- when you get to the point where either becomes compulsory there's no point

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

    jAmerica is a place where we are free to believe as we wish and to a great extent to say what we want to say. I am grateful to God that I was born here, and I am grateful to all heroes past and present who have given their lives and talents so that we might remain free.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  11. A

    Technically he has a point, but can't help but wonder what would happen if a non-Christian American said the same thing. Can you imagine if a Muslim claimed the same beliefs?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  12. Roland

    All you people knocking it are stupid. When a catholic is on either side of a war their praying god kills our troops with the backing of the church in their country. Sometimes he answers. So why would you then stand up in support of troops who killed someone who is going to see you in the so called real life. Or if someone killed our troops would you consider that person like christ,especially if he pledges allegiance in support of a country trying to kill american

    June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  13. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]

    June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  14. Debbie

    Thanks JJ. You are so right. He explains it well and you have to respect their religious beliefs. That is what this nation was founded on.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  15. lisagmdhomes

    I feel singing the national anthem is a sign of respect....respect for those who have come before us in this country that give us the legal right to practice our individual beliefs without persecution. God ultimately allows our freedom, but there are many places in this world where government and politics restrict and persecute that freedom. I feel it's important to pay respect to those who have fought to allow us to practice our religious beliefs, whatever they may be. I can understand this authors viewpoint, but I disagree with him.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  16. Jackie Treehorn

    It's about time some Christians started calling out this nationalist fetishism we're prone to for what it is...worship of the state. When I was in school I refused to recite the pledge and everybody called me a communist. In reality, I just refuse to be coerced by the state into worshiping a flag.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Patriot and a Christian-Imagine THAT!

      "National fetishism" to recite the national anthem or sing the Star Spangled Banner, eh? Shaking my head. That flag represents the blood of people who fought so you could log on here and complain about state "coercion". Oh I'm sorry. I dno't want you to have to "worship the state". Clearly, you live in an awful place. Why don't you try living in Iraq, maybe, and see what it means to have to worship the state? Just a thought.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  17. jbc123

    I wonder how much time was used and money spent in making this decision. Probably could have taken care of a few less fortunate children with those resources. That would seem like a more "christian" thing to do than not sing the national anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  18. Nick

    Which is why I, as an atheist, refuse to to say the pledge until "Under God" is removed.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  19. skytag

    I'm an atheist myself, but I have immense respect for Christians like this who actually understand and embrace the principles of Christianity. Unfortunately they seem to be a small minority of Christians.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  20. RC Rodriguez

    Some folks go too far in rejecting an anthem to a country that allows them to express their beliefs. Welcome to America Mennonites, now get the hell out!!! We tried our DAMNEDEST to please the world, but yet get no support from proud Americans like you. Go blank yourselves, I'm sick of people like you!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • skytag

      What a jerk. The last place I'd want to live is a country full of nasty, "my way or the highway" people like you.

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

      singing an anthem is so facile, anyone can do that. a true patriot is one who adds in a positive way to the community in which he/she lives.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:34 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.