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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. Joy

    If it wasn't for the rockets & bombs, your people would have been annihilated by Hitler! How dare you live in this country and take advantage of the peace & freedom here, thanks to the blood of American soldiers!

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

      Well that's not ignorant at all...

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

      We should burn down this college and nail a few of its board of directors up on crosses.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Joanna

      I LOVE what you wrote very very well said !!!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Frank

      That has got to be one of the most asinine statements I've heard lately! The gentleman was addressing the separation of church and state. The men and women who gave their lives for this country would appreciate and understand that position. It has nothing to do with disrespect for the country or the people who shed their blood. Grow up.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Shamrock6

      You're an idiot. War is a racket. We went and killed a million muslims for american corporate interests nothing else. Not your freedom.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  2. Tiffany Lane

    Thank God for our ancestors who fought tooth and nail for the colonies!

    Does this religious cult understand that the anthem is about a fort in the U.S.A. being bombed for 25 hours by a group of terrorists called British Forces? And how the Americas endured that bombing and then raised a kick-ass new flag when the dust settled?

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

      Um, for perspective, today the British forces would have been called the government in power and the Americans the terrorists...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Goody

      Yes, thank god! Otherwise we'd be living under the rule of a bunch of elite overlords who tax us on everything little thing while they live like kings!

      Uh...oopsy.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • JoeT

      The attack on Ft. McHenry was carried out by the British Navy. As it was a military installation and the attack was performed by the conventional military forces of one nation against the conventional military forces of another, it does not qualify as a terrorist act. Please learn your history and vocabulary.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  3. EvolveAmerica

    The real news here is the number of people who, in the 21st century, still believe in gods, saviors, fairies, unicorns, etc. If you want god in the government, move to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or some other country in the Middle East where everyone is forced to live by the rules of the dominant/majority religion. When are the Christian cult and the other cognitively-impaired Conservatives going to form your own jihad anyway? Oh, wait. You have. I forgot how your jihad Jesus-worshippers already feel compelled to murder doctors who perform abortions and support torture of Qitmo detainees. Show me a "believer" and I'll show you a hypocrite who giddily murders and suppresses the rights of others in the name of "Jesus".

    June 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. scott501

    OMG Do these people think its a free country? Crazy! You must do what others do or else they will tell you how to live your life. This song issue will end the world

    June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  5. Brett

    America was built on Christian values! That is why the ten commandments is EVERYWHERE in federal buildings.

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

      America was founded on Enlightenment values, that's why courts have outlawed posting the 10 commandments in public buildings.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Goody

      Actually, it was built through genocide and slavery – but that doesn't sound as nice, does it?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. Dave

    pretty easy to take this view when generations of bad@$$ American soldiers have had your back. I sure hope you pray your thanks to Jesus everyday for those who do and die for what you are clearly unwilling to fight for. Maybe to gain a better appreciation you should go to N. Korea, Iran, Libya, China, etc. and publish your pithy wisdom.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • waj66

      Actually, long after b*****s American solders leave theaters of war ... volunteer Quakers and Mennonites do go to those counties. They go in as bada$$ mine and bomb defusers. Courage come in many different kinds of packages.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • JoeT

      Your blind jingoism suggests you'd be a better fit in a totalitarian regime than any Mennonite– how about you go instead?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • EvolveAmerica

      Spoken like someone who has never served in uniform himself. Soldiers fight for the right of the citizens to voice themselves without fear of retaliation. These Mennonites ARE using the rights that our soldiers fight for them to have. It's called freedom. Leave the John Wayne-caveman thinking at home where you sit under the Confederate flag on your porch, with your bible in your hands planning how you're going to hunt down "them there Arabs".

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  7. Tennessee Vol

    Good for us for allowing true freedom of speech and religion. Good for them to use it, and even more people to use it to disagree. Name-calling shouldn't be part of the dialogue of mature and intelligent people, but freedom of speech allows it (up to a point) as well.

    Solid evidencee that, in all 50 blue, red or rainbow states, this is the graetest democracy ever created.

    As this is the USA, feel free to tell me I'm wrong. That's okay!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  8. Josh

    Well put Ferg. I wonder what contributions to America have come from such thinking?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  9. Rachel Flanagan

    Is this really the top story for CNN's – News Pulse? You have got to be kidding me.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  10. Eddie Ledford

    If they refuse to do it, then take their Happy A** and leave the USA. To many of our family and friends are dying for this Country for them not to sing it. BS. Tell it to the good Lord up Stairs.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • JoeT

      The Mennonites do tell the the Lord Upstairs– every time they refuse to sing the national anthem, they tell the Lord that they love and pledge to him alone, rather than the state.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  11. brandon

    dictatorship america.... the citizens are finally putting the pieces together, america thinks it is god and try's to play god

    June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  12. NewJerseyan

    Quit it! Enough! Sing the National Anthem of the country that allows you to believe in what you wish without persecution. Sing the National Anthem of the country that allows you to whine like babies without fear of being stoned, burned at the stake, or drowned in rivers. Not too many countries will tolerate your disrespect, so be thankfull, and glad, that this one does. Sing it!

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

      ..and the land of the free. My understanding is that "free" includes not being forced to say or sing anything against your personal or religious convictions.... Is there some new definition I'm not aware of?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  13. Paul Willson

    ANY disrespect of Natioanal colors or anthem should lead to that schools accreditation being canceled

    June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • scott501

      la la la eat me

      June 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  14. AMERICAN

    religion is the cancer of earth.. i say end religion and sing more songs!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  15. toml

    Get over it. The good news is their peace message. The bad news is that this world is a tough place. Mennonites would be steamrolled anywhere else in the world by non-believers given the opportunity to do so, but not here. The national anthem does not glorify war. It reminds us that it takes sacrifice to sustain our freedom. Our freedom is what permits these goofs to worship as they wish. If they're uncomfortable with singing of our national anthem, I suggest they should think about how much more uncomfortable they would be in prison in fun places like Iran and China.

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

      just as comfortable

      June 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  16. mike

    they should be shot for treason

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

      Treason is betraying your country to the enemy. Get a dictionary

      June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  17. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  18. Patriot

    Stupid article: enjoy freedom of religion? Enjoy freedom of speech? Enjoy freedom from want? Why do you see if "Mennonite Land" has all these? This country is about a way of life, not religion; good news is that you have the freedom to leave.

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

      THere is no such place as "Mennonite Land" no more than there is Baptist land, or Methodist land. It's a religion not an ethnicity.

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

      Is there not a Jewish land?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  19. Carol

    Too many Christians confused American ideals with Christian ideals. They have turned Jesus into a 21st century right wing Republican. I felt encouraged to read this column about the Mennonite Church. They have resisted the temptation to take the easy route and conform to a culture in which the line between faith and patriotism has been blurred. We are human beings first and foremost and only incidentally citizens of the United States. We have deployed troops throughout the world and praised these actions as "defending" America when it is patently obvious that these are not defensive actions. The Mennonites should take comfort from the fact that they are in the minority for "narrow is the way and few there be that find it."

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

      Read up on your history. America was built upon Christian values.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • RealityChecker

      And you oppose Obama too... right? Otherwise you're a lying hypocrite.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Mehgann

      Very good! I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think you are right.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • David

      Great point Carol!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  20. Chris

    All religion is complete BS. I appreciate your conviction, but bad news ace, Jesus was just a guy and there is no God.

    You are wasting your life even giving this kind of thing a second thought.

    Wake up! Enjoy your life to the fullest and be nice. That should be your "religion".

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

      Hey Chris..sorry to say but you are going straight to hell. Lol. I wake up every day and live my life with Jesus in it. Its sad there are list souls like yours....get a life. And find Jesus.

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

      Well put.

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

      Everybody is religious, it's part of the human condition. Even atheism is a religion. A Christian can not prove God exists, you can't prove God doesn't, so you believe one way or the other and live your life according to that belief. Quite simply, religion is a collection of beliefs that you live your life by. You're just as religious as the next guy.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 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.