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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. Tell it like it is

    "I choose to belong to a strange tribe." That's a fact.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  2. J. Deluca

    Your disrespect for all of our troops past and present makes me sick. THEY fought and fight for us to be free. You think that no matter where you are that god will make you free go live in a place like Iran or North Korea then get back to us. The national anthem IS a source of pride and doesn't promote violence but reminds us what it took to go our own way and MAKE our own country. In my opinion you belong in GITMO yourself.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Mighty7

      Yeah.....go to North Korea where the government makes you stand in front of the flag and sing the national anthem every morning to honor their glorious fallen soldiers.

      (These momos are so dumb they contradict themselves within their own comments)

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  3. egscharf

    Well then buddy, why don't you stop taking advantage of this country and it's "blood soaked borders". Get your happy ass to Libya or Yemen and let's see how much freedom Jesus gives you there. Don't confuse spiritual freedom with actual freedom. You only have it because men like me are willing to have blood on our hands and risk our lives so you can feel free to preach your erroneous beliefs on CNN.com without fear of being shot for it. You're welcome.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  4. From Missouri

    After reading this article.......I want to be a Mennonite! This values in this article are what every true Christian should strive for!!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  5. Ryan

    If they don't want to be apart of this country, then I suggest they move their college and church. Many people have died protecting their rights and freedom. The least they could do is sing the star spangled banner. He also mentioned they don't believe in "blood soaked boarders". I'm pretty sure that millions of people have died in the name of jesus.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • From Missouri

      That is correct...many HAVE died to protect their freedom...their freedom to sing the pledge or NOT sing the pledge......

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Bambi

      Amen!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      Our Country was founded on principles that allow groups like this to practice their religion without fear of persecution or retribution. It is because of this principle that the Mennonites are here. They do want to be here. They get to live out their faith the way they choose here. Those people that have died? They died for the principle of freedom. That freedom encompasses not having to be forced to to pledge your allegiance to anything. If you don't want that freedom to be enforced please don't disgrace the sacrifices of our soldiers that died to provide that freedom by moving your own home to a country where people are forced to be patriotic.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  6. Debbie

    I agree they are being hypocritical when America would not exist had there not been violence. But at the same time I totally agree with them in the sense that we should not be engaging in wars that are unnecessary such as Iraq and Afghanistan! As for the so called "war on terrorism" – it useless and just creates more hatred. Jesus said we should love our enemies, plain and simple.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  7. John

    I am an American Soldier who has served in Iraq. What I find offensive is the idea that it is offensive for a person or group of people to choose not to sing the National Anthem. I along with my brothers and sisters at arms have risked life and limb to ensure the right of the Americans people to worship, speak and sing however they please. The sentiment that a group of people "should" be required to sing the Nation Anthem before any event cheapens my small sacrifice and the sacrifices large and small made by others to ensure our nation's freedoms. To sing the National Anthem is to proclaim love and support to our country and its values – to try to bully someone else into singing it is a betrayal of both.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • scott501

      Thank you for the voice of reason. America is a free country and people should be able to do what THEIR conscience dictates and its nobody elses business. Why do people try to control others like there is only ONE way to live and their way is right? How many people that sing cheat on their income taxes etc?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • egscharf

      Obviously a POG.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Tim

      Wow, a rare and insightful statement on the CNN boards...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Mighty7

      Well said. I wished I had the temperance and skill to put my thoughts down so well.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Jude

      First, THANK YOU for your service. My heart is so grateful for yours and others' service to protect this country and its citizens. I agree with your comment about the freedom to express one's faith has been hard-won. That is the beauty of living in America where a person can express their opinions and beliefs. I am a person of strong faith in Jesus Christ and pledge my allegiance to Him also, BUT I know that in His grace and love for me, He does not condemn me for singing songs such as The Star Spangled Banner, or others in which we lift the praises of those who fought for freedom or songs which express our love for the country in which we live. For that GRACE I am truly thankful and He knows how thankful I am to Him for the country (and it's fighitng soldiers) in which I have been blessed to live.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • stp

      Wonderfully written, John. Thanks for sharing that. I agree with what you wrote and thought it was great to read the opinion of from one of the folks who serves this country.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  8. RoboBobo

    Look its going to become clear that apologists for "patriotism as religion" are going to claim that even though it would have been wrong for people born in Stalinists Russia to be patriots – for people born into Hitler's Germany to be patriots – that its going to be OK for americans to be patriots – because America is a really great country.

    So their logic goes – and since these people really put america above their religious values – they certainly do – they will never be in conflict – because their values change as Americas values change – the unchanging bible has proven to be amazingly flexible and subservient to the common culture.

    Christians once preached that men were the leaders of the household. Now they preach that men and women are equal in every respect.

    I'm not against that – absolutely not. I'm just observing the truth about religion. A lot of you are claiming something today that is completely false – that your religion comes first in your life.

    No it doesn't.

    Your faith won't cause you to object to a war – any war, you'll support whatever the government says – because you are patriots.

    Patriotism is your faith – your real one. Your bible flavorings – nothing more than choosing a jacket to wear for the evening. It's a luxury item that defines your look – but makes no real difference in your decisions.

    In your head, you'd die for your religion. In real life, you wouldn't even risk appearing unpatriotic.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Kevin

      Very well thought out post.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • CoffeeT

      I agree completely. The relationship between a person and God is very personal and there is no room for patriotism. On the same note, I believe we should be patriotic to our nation, and support our common needs, if that means war, so be it. We don't live in a perfect world. We should work for the betterment of our nation and carry God in our hearts and stop blurring the lines between the two.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  9. Joe

    Since when are you not allowed to love both your religion AND your country? When did honoring you country become a slap in God's face? People just want to argue and offend. Human nature I guess. Sad.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  10. Steve

    Anyone...anyone who thinks true freedoms are preserved through pacifism is kidding themselves. Read a book...and learn.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • ToddMo

      Try reading about Mahatma Gandhi.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Mighty7

      Ghandi liberated one of the most populated nations in the planet from one of the most powerful and well armed Empires that ever existed and did it all without firing a single bullet.

      Sounds to me like the one that needs to read a book is you.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Lily

      Ghandi's already been mentioned, but for closer-to-home examples look at the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, the lunch counter sit-ins and so on. The whole point of a nonviolent response is that it highlights how ridiculously out of proportion the government response is to a peaceful, generally law-abiding group and gives the authorities much less room to blame incidents where people are hurt or killed on the protesters.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  11. FRED SIMLOR

    Just one more example of how Christianity and insanity are deeply connected.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  12. Travis

    At least he's not picketing a soldier's funeral or burning a Koran like some "Christians" that have been in the news.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Ahem

      Yes, let us count our few "blessings" from the religious quarter. Ahem.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      No Christian who is not a blood relative of that family that calls themselves a church believes that there is anything Christ-like about picketing soldiers funerals. There are idiots in culture and walk of life, and that's all they are...idiots. They do not represent their cultures.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Ahem

      It's always good to hear of people who just want to keep to themselves, yet aren't these usually the same types that turn out later to have been embroiled in child se.x slavery or something to hide?
      But they were not bothering with the Anthem anyway. Why does it matter what music they play or sing along with?
      No, really. Who cares? This is a non-issue regarding the Anthem. They are free to plug their ears when people try to reason with them, also.
      And they do. They're religious. That's what many religious people do. They cannot see past their programming nor will they let any other opinion sway them from their madness. But the music? Who cares. This is America. We are Americans even without music or singing or a pledge or even a flag or borders.
      We could be invaded and conquered militarily and still be Americans trying to fight to get our country back.
      So we don't even need the land to be here. Just us. To hell with the music crap.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      Hyperbole much? They aren't walled in a compound like David Koresh or Warren Jeffs. They aren't closed off to society. They live their lives in full view and accountability of the public.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • ToddMo

      Well said, "Ahem." Remember all the "Mennonite child se.x slave scandals" that news reporters have broken over the last few years?? Makes one's head spin just counting them all.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  13. Jerome

    Free riders.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      Unless they aren't paying their taxes then this doesn't make sense. Since when was display of patriotism a cost for living here?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  14. Timothy

    Love this article. Keep the faith in Jesus!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  15. Gigi Aldred

    America is the Axis of all Evil and deserve whatever happens to you. You don't need a national anthem a few short words will do . America is, yes we are, yes we are, yes we are, hypocrites and the Axis of all Evil, we are proud of it, yes we are, yes we are, God forgive America ...........

    June 26, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      This is why public education makes me weep for our future.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • alicia

      Do you enjoy all the benefits of living in such an evil place?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Scott

      I see Westboro has internet access now.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • pennyforthoughts

      you sound really angry. no one nation is ALL evil or all good. There are positive and negative people in each nation. Boiling any "nation" down to one or the other isn't seeing the "people" of a nation, just the policies. And people criticize most what they understand the least. I have no idea what country you live in, whether USA or another, but good can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. Same thing with bad. Whatever your thoughts are, thoughts are things – matter in the universe – and that is what you will produce in your life. So I hope that you can concentrate on positive thoughts, not negative thoughts.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  16. Jim C.

    This is terrible. We need to force people and children to sing or otherwise outwardly express a tangible devotion to this country, be that twice a night at a baseball game, or coercing children to recite the pledge of allegiance, including the "under God" congress added during the Cold War in the 1950s. How else will people love this country? I would say a different patriotic song every inning in baseball–twice a night? Not enough, pal. Every quarter in football and basketball.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Steven

      Jim,
      What you are talking about is fascist in nature, and I for one take offense that you would want your dogmatic patriotism forced down the throats of other people! You can't force people to love something; it has to be genuine, it has to come from the inside, not from force and indoctrination. How dare you spew such rhetoric and call yourself an American!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Mighty7

      He is being sarcastic.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Bugmenot

      Up Yers

      June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  17. TonyB

    Who cares why. Make your own choices.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      You were not forced to click on that link. Neither were you forced to read the article. Articles like these, namely opinion articles, imply that a reader voluntarily reads it under the premise that they care about another person's opinion.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  18. MWMMinority

    Yeah, well, as soon as the Chinese take over what they own (America) be prepared to observe the Chinese observance(s) or die – burning at the stake, drowned, etc.

    I don't see the Star Spangled Banner as a religious song (I am a Christian and pledge allegiance to Jesus) and I sing the song with pride and respect.

    Abraham Lincoln said about 150 years ago that America wouldn't be crushed from outside, but from within. I'm sure people back then couldn't believe it. I believe it.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Jim C.

      I know, if NPR, Planned Parenthood and public employees hadn't crashed the sub prime market or forced us to spend trillions in Iraq and on CEO bonuses, we would be standing tall right now.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • JoeT

      @JimC, you forgot to mention about how the unions dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico....

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  19. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  20. Retired Infantry Vet

    "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
    John Stuart Mill
    English economist & philosopher (1806 – 1873)

    June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Dale

      Love that quote... Says it all.
      Amen, Bro

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • JoeT

      Fortunately for the Mennonites, they aren't eschewing jingoism for themselves, but for their faith.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:41 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.