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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. Kevin

    Ooohhhh everyone's so mad over thier precious symbols. What the menonites forget (although this article makes me want to check them out for being some semblance of sane) is the Americans LOVE idolitry. Love it. They will sing the Star Spangled Banner and then argue over wether its proper to put your hand over your heard (its not a pledge). They will sing God Bless America and then try to tell you its not a prayer set to music. While I'm not too worried about either of these songs taking away the seperation of church and state, I do think we sing them so often they have no meaning and no effect. Its not a fricking fight song....its an anthem. And people who are more than willing to beat you about the head and shoulders with all the Jesus crud will be the first ones to idolize and worry about the respect a FLAG is getting. Three fricking cheers for any religeon who sees this for what it is and calls it out.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Gabby Hayes

      You meant – "hand over your hard...", right?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Mehgann

      Hahaha! This was an awesome comment. And too true!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Walkerboh571

      Well, you'll be hard pressed to find a country that DOESN'T take pride in their flags or anthems. Just as a HS fight song is sung to display pride in your school, the anthem is sung to celebrate pride in your country. Now there are differences in when these anthems are played. Many reserve this for international matches and events. Others like USA and Canada play their anthems before most sporting events. In fact, go to an NHL game that features a Canadian team along with an American team, and you'll hear BOTH anthems. (Baseball too if a team plays the Blue Jays.)

      Usually it's a choice though, not a mandate. "God Save the Queen" is usually played when the Queen or royal heirs are present, or in international play, but not necessarily for every football game in England. So this college shouldn't feel pressured to play it if it chooses not to. It's their choice, and that's one reason the US is such a great country.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  2. Jonathan

    Quote: "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"

    Also another thing that should be recognized is that Christianity is a primitive man created myth that has nothing to do with God. Most of the "Jesus story" never in fact happened. We as a people need to grow up and educate ourselves as to what is realtiy and what actually happened and what is a manufactured stone aged belief system. The bible is one of the most corrupted and forged books in history. I'm not an athiest, but the christian version of God is a childish creation of man.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • collegeworm

      I agree 100%. Right on!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      Plus its also ignoring how christianity also spread by using conquest and its own blood soaked battlefields.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Mike from ct

      For making such a claim that the historical doc ument did not occur you provided no historical doc ument to back up your claim. It is strange that for a doc ument that never occurred to be so specific in times and places and other things occurring during these "fictional" events.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  3. collegeworm

    Even if you don't believe in the stuff the anthem says, you can still sing along and recite it. You don't necessarily have to believe in every word.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Matt

      true, but the man has a good point on at what point the anthem becomes a mark of idolatry to the people. Patriotism is good, mind you. However, when we all start doing it "because everyone else is" then where do we draw the line?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  4. Michael

    I have no problem with someone deciding to take a strict separation of church and state. On the other hand, there is a central irony to choosing that separation in a country that gives its citizens perhaps the most perks of any other nation in the world. He wants separation of church and state, yet he needs this government to give him the rights that he deserves. Tempers his argument.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Matt

      If it's really the case in what he's saying, then really he needs no approval from the government. If you think about what he's saying, it boils down to where he gets his approval from. It's a man vs. God issue.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • John Richardson

      Aaarrrggghhhh!!! When will you people hold a bake sale to raise the funds to buy a few functioning brain cells? It's precisely the separation of church and state that does the most work in guaranteeing freedom of religion. While there have been some instances like the communists of religion being suppressed by antireligious ideologies, but throughout most of history and around the world today, most suppressed religions are suppressed by other religions when those other religions hold a lot of political power. It's not accident that one of the worst places to be a Christian, Bahai, Zoroastrian, Jew or even Sunni Muslim is Iran after this once religious but fairly secular state became a theocracy.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  5. American

    Sing the song, or GTFO.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Fantod

      That is perhaps the most un-American statement you could possible post. It's actually fascist in nature. I say this to you, knowing that it is probably too complex for you to grasp.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  6. Casey

    Patriotism is not inconsistent with one's religious beliefs....the author (and his school) shows a lack of appreciation for and understanding of the ways in which a strong sense of patriotism can enrich one's religious beliefs.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  7. BC

    If you dont respect America and youre not proud to sing our national anthem then go live somewere were you can act like a tool!! PS- The Taliban is looking for people like you.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  8. Meyer

    Why would they sing the anthem? This country is only the most immoral one in history.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • tardicus

      says you

      June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • BC

      Youre a bigger tool!! Ya Libtard

      June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Meyer

      “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government.” - MLK

      June 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • howard

      You're an Idiot, so somewhere else see how good this country really is.

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

    Well I guess Mennonites cannot be faithful or devoted to their husbands, wives, children or anything else. That is what Allegiance is, a loyalty and or devotion. And as far as freedom not being granted by rockets red glare, maybe he can ask the Jews who defended their freedom in WWII. It wasn't Jesus that liberated Europe. Fairytales don't provide REAL freedoms, only the sacrifice and blood of true heroes.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  10. God hates America

    Do not sing

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • John S

      Christians believe that God is love. The god of hatred is Satan.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  11. MIKEY

    GOOD. now can we put the pledge of allegiance back the way it's supposed to be? Keep government and religion SEPARATE!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  12. dean

    a good way to achieve world peace is to rid it of religion, you bunch of retards that have little faith in yourselves and need to believe in something more need t be lined up and shot.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Hamen

      Yeah... Fascism isn't exactly the "good way to achieve world peace."

      June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  13. John Doe

    These people are right. I will not sing the National Anthem nor say the pledge of allegiance anymore. American has become something no one recognizes or has respect for. Washington, DC is a snake pit who's only motive is to make the rich, richer and starve the working class and cheat them out of their Social Security and Medicare after they paid into the system for years. The nation is broken and falling apart at the seems..........

    June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  14. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Mike

      this writter and this news station is on an attack on Christianity. I am getting sick and tired of this news outlet. Everyday there is another story on how christianity is bad.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  15. ME

    Fools ,... and that includes the author and his biased opinions of intelligent people ! Separation of Church and State does not mean you can't be Religious and Patriotic. It means the State does not interfere with nor sponsor any one Religion and Religious practices and beliefs do not interfere with nor force their beliefs on Governmental laws and policies. THIS is what our Nation was founded on,...not the so called "Christian" State that Dominionists and other groups claim or want to create.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  16. Sybaris

    They can do that, that's fine. A lot of people gave their lives so that they can do (on not do) whatever they please. There is however a certain amount of courtesy that, although not required, is expected to be extended to those that enabled this church to enjoy its freedoms.

    Tax them!

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

      While we're at it, TAX

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Fnordian

      While we're at it, TAX ALL CHURCHES

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  17. Tandamonium

    As an agnostic, a wife of an Active Duty Marine for over 20 years and mother of two Active Duty Marines, I thought the author did a great job getting to the nuance of the reason behind the decision and also on giving some insight into Anabaptists. It is a faith-based decision stemmed in beliefs older than the US. I don't feel the author is any less patriotic than I am or the Mennonite Church is any less or more Christian than any other Christ-based denomination, they are just offering a different perspective on some things. That’s why I like to read articles on the Belief Blog, to learn and appreciate.

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

      Well said!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Larry Trickel

      Would it also be appropriate for the other schools that have athletic events with this school to decline participating futher with them? What about their rights? I found the article self-serving and very shallow in value.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Rosa

      I have to agree. I'm as patriotic as anyone, and I love the National Anthem (as much for its aesthetic qualities as my own national pride), but I thought this explained their perspective well and I completely understand. Generally, I have little patience for some of the crazier branches of Christianity, but this doesn't seem crazy at all. Patriotism has to be given, not demanded, and it sure sounds like they're patriotic people even if they choose to demonstrate it differently. Good for them for sticking with their beliefs. They're not hurting anyone, and they're not being obnoxious and telling people they ought to do the same thing (God, I hate proselytizing).

      June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  18. Sal

    Religion is a destructive force and is the root of all evil in the world today.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Christian Patriot

      I'm sorry you feel that way, but Jesus Christ is NOT a root of evil. Our own hearts are the seed that grows into the forest of hatred, greed, laziness, etc.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • jeff gerhard

      Wow, you need mental help!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • wjmknight

      Hey "Christian Patriot" try actually taking the time and bother to READ what the guy wrote rather than projecting you're own political agenda on it. The man said nothing about Jesus Christ. He wrote about religon being the root of evil. And it is possible to follow Jesus and not follow a religon.

      If you spend so little time reading and understanding what few words that man wrote, you should have strong doubts what you're taking away from your bible studies.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  19. Joy

    If it wasn't for the rockets & bombs, you people would have been annihilated by Hitler. How dare you ingrates live in this country!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • are you kidding?

      Joy, what imaginary history are you yammering about? Hitler kill Mennonites? And: which war?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • wjmknight

      Mennonites are Christians who left Germany about 100 years before World War II. Well, no one will ever accuse you of being literate, though claims that you're an ignorant racist may stick.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • jedaddy

      The irony is that your beliefs are much more un-American than the Mennonites. You and your ilk are traitors to the ideals of America, but I will not suggest that you leave, or even apologize. The danger of this wonderful country we have created is that we are free enough to tolerate the misguided, un-American dogma of people to the point that they start to believe that they are the true Americans, and everyone else should leave. And I wouldn't change that, or we all lose.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Bruce

      Joy,

      You are an idiot, and living proof as to why all religious zealots are the cause of so much of the hate in the world. You should be ashamed of yourself, invoking Hitler. Idiot

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  20. ray

    Don't skip the anthem, skip the country.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:47 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.