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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. nomad

    Anyone who does not sing the anthem is a communist...period.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Cindy

      A communist?... I think you meant to say a republican

      June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Daniel

      one of the dumber comments I've seen on CNN...and that's quite the accomplishment.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Worldwalker

      I've known a number of Communists. They never had a problem singing the national anthem. For that matter, the USSR had quite a fine one of its own, as does China today.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • jordan

      really now !!!
      i am not a communist at all yet i have not sang the anthem in decades.as a matter of fact right after WW2 my father's side of the family lost their land and their home to the Russians.They "liberated" Carpathia and then screwed all the natives over.

      your comment is the comment of an unintelligent troll !!!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • William

      It's ironic that is so easy for people like you with low IQs to get through life without any perceived difficulties.

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

      or mute

      June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  2. gary davis

    hey Mark I don't care what you and your group does . its good seeing seperation of church and state . but I take offense , when you compare it to late drinking liberals , liberals are the ones that have been protecting your dumb a$$ for way to many years . so wipe the smirk off your little dipstick face . and keep you late drinking opinion to yourself . most religions are a kooky, from christian to mormon, to well most of them . to many nut jobs wanting to tell people to do what they believe in , the issue has gone way off course . everyone can believe and do what everythey wnt . you are a perfiect example of being brain washed .

    June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  3. Trashcup

    So do Mennonites serve in the USA military or do they just enjoy the freedoms of our society without honoring their obligation to help keep it free?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • gary davis

      good question much like Mitt Romney mormons most don't sign up to serve, they just like ridding bycles and bothering people with their crap

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • John Richardson

      Any group upholding the separation of church and state as vehemently as Mennonites do is doing more than its fair share in protecting everyone's freedoms.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  4. RF

    Then the tax exempt status of this church should be stripped. Any federal funding for the school should be stripped.The parishioners should be sent to Iran where they will get a new perspective on what it means to live in a free country!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Mighty7

      How.....Iranian. The Republican Guard's Morality Police would be proud of you.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  5. Jaybird

    Baldwin and that guy in the picture look like lovers.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  6. j j

    God knows, the World is sure in need of more peaceful and peace loving peoples. Warmongering sucks.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  7. DrewP

    Have you ever beeen to a ball game lately (baseball or football) Never have I seen a ball player sing the national anthem.
    I am a naturalized American who has lived all my life in US – 61 years and I do sing the national anthem as it is interesting as i look aroung and very few do. Only in America !!!!!!! Everywhere else there in other countries people sing their national anthem at the top of their lungs and are proud of their country. Maybe we should take lessons from other countries. Whether this college decides to play the national anthem is their choice because most Americans are not singing. Maybe now they will.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Mighty7

      That's, for the most, all one gigantic lie. For one thing, very few national anthems actually have words. And for another, most western democracies, having gone through years of fascism where "patriotism" was mandatory, have dispensed with the theatrics. You would be hard pressed to find one single western nation where the national anthem is played except in military or government events.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • John Richardson

      Playing the national anthem before every silly ball game only serves to cheapen it.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  8. Len Grady

    Another reason religion is evil.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • gary davis

      its al;l about controling the sheep . like the republican tea party does . lie enough times and it becomes the truth . most religions are about how much money can they gather up and how much can they keep from paying any taxes on . . remember its all about control and threats and fear. never did believe I needed to be in a fancy building , to pray to a GOD . but I do believe in supporting our nation . so to those who don't be lucky you live in a country that allows your biblical crap . many have fought and died to keep freedom alive . the least you nuts could do is thank us by singing the star spangled banner. so stick it Mark i HAD A DOG NAMED MARK he had a cleft pallet so when he barked it sounded like mark mark

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  9. MikeW

    When describing the virtues of the past, it is best to be as accurate as possible. Otherwise one can easily fall into the trap of believing that all things past are glorious, pure, and righteous. And when claiming and extolling the virtues of Anabaptists it is wise to remember that while hardworking and frugal, they also had a history of violence, polygamy, and elitism with the example of Muenster 1534-35 being a prime example. No community has a monopoly on virtue. I am wary of any group claiming moral superiority. It usually leads to violence and oppression.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  10. jshelley

    Small-minded CNN moderators, let me through. I will slip through your fingers eventually.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  11. james

    While I certainly applaud your right to express your own beliefs and follow whatever religion you wish, I am also grateful for the nation that allows this to be without fear of persecution or reprisal. And I will continue to work in its defense to make sure that you always have that right...which includes affirming MY allegiance to this country and following my faith.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  12. Amy

    It's an honest gesture. But this worries me. No matter it be religion, race, culture, country whatever. Once you associate yourself with a group you start distance yourself from everyone else. The more we start dividing ourselves into more and more specific sects, we risk self-imploding. Did he miss the "One nation under God" part?

    At least when we sing the star spangle banner we become ONE as a country, not as some specific religion race etc. This is why we sing our anthem because we are the UNITED States. Christianity is divided with everyone going to their different churchs etc., but at least we all become one at least in country. At the end of the day we need to band together as one and that is why we should sing together. I say this as a humanist and patriotic American.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • John Richardson

      And perhaps the most violent and egregious way people have separated themselves from one another is through nationalism.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  13. Judy

    Just another reason why the Anabaptists are wrong.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  14. peg

    Spiritual freedom is godly , physical freedom is fought for to be obtained here on this earth. That is the what the national anthem represents. If it is against your beliefs , you might keep looking for a country to live in .

    June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • John Richardson

      Hey look! Another religious person who doesn't believe in freedom of religion!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  15. msaprilr

    Again, I think this is an over-generalization of the phrase "separation of Church and State" that seems to have arisen over the last 30 years. The "Church" refers to religious organizations, not to religion in general or to God. The "State" refers to a governing body, not to politics in general or to a specific political or economic idea. I'm convinced that our country's founders and the early religious pilgrims coming to this continent had no intention of trying to drive God out of public life, or, to drive patriotism out of religious life. People are both religious and patriotic. There is no way you can make yourself half a person depending on whether your standing in Church or City Hall. it's ridiculous. Congressmen have faith. And religious people die for their country. Separating religious organizations from governing agencies is important. These two powers should not be able to control each other. But trying to force people to either have faith OR be a patriot is impossible. People aren't made of compartments.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  16. Saul Bejarano

    We should decide better who is going to represent our moral values in this country.
    II pledge alligiance to the flag of the United States of America and I sing the Anthem with pride.
    He should step off his position and leave the place for somebody who respects this great country.

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

      These people should go "not sing the National Anthem" in a different country then if its so against their way of life. The way of life they only are able to enjoy because of what the flag that we sing about represents...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  17. John Sarradet

    Tell me. If your house was on fire, would you pray to Jesus or call the fire department?

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

      I would not sing the National Anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Linda C - AZ

      Both.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  18. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=390]
    "

    June 26, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  19. Lorabelll

    "Fluffy-headed campus philosophers? Lazy latte-sipping liberals?" Glad to know you are a good, non-judgmental Christian who embraces intellectualism and tolerance. No stereotyping and contempt or others – that would be un-Christian. I'm a professor of religion and occasionally enjoy a latte. I'm neither lazy or fluffy headed, but you are a jerk who had done nothing to further your argument amongst those who might defend it on intellectual grounds.

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

      Actually, I believe he was trying to characterize what other people would say.

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

      I don't know what to think. I am in my second year of getting my MA in Counseling. The kicker is I live not 15 minutes away from this college, and to top it off am a former Mennonite. I was appalled as well. It sounds like (now reading the article), that they think that God is the only authority. I disagree now that I am talking about it. He is the ultimate authority, but unless it goes against (in my case) the Bible we should follow our country. "I am one Mennonite singing "O say can you see..."

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  20. Ferg

    I love it !! Seperation of church and state!!! I'll bet everyone that is affiliated with this belief that is down on their luck will take state run welfare instead of relying on the church to support them.. If you truely believe in seperation of church and state please return all of your federal and state assistance that you so graciously took , and live off funds from your churches...You would surely starve to death....Just sayin.....

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • John Richardson

      So no one who endorses the consti-tution on matters of church and state should accept social security? Even if they pay taxes? You have renounce the consti-tution to be a citizen in full standing?

      Posts like this are why I wish we'd all spend a lot more time explaining SECULARISM to people.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 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.