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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. kormallain

    It is thier opinion, thier choice. It might be wierd, but still thier choice. But also i think, if Jesus were to be alive and reside in this country, he would be proud to sing the anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Russell Pyle

      Jesus never sang or pledged allegiance to Rome and either did the first Christians. In fact, the first Christians faced persecution similar to that of the Mennonites and for simliar reasons. So I completely disagree that Jesus would have sang the national anthem, let alone one that buoys "bombs bursting in air". Many people forget that Jesus was completely nonviolent and our country most certainly is not.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • CdnJim

      Jesus siad, :Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and give to God, what is God's." Mennonites pay taxes, I bet a lower percentage of them cheat on their taxes than do the Anthem singing crowd. Who's actually hurting the country, a Mennonite who won't sing the National Anthem or a CEO who does, and then raids the pension fund of thousnads of Americans?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  2. Bobalooa

    ATTENTION, ATTENTION! IF YOU DON'T LIKE THIS COUNTRY, DON'T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE A$$ ON THE WAY OUT! THANK YOU

    June 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • TYRANNASAURUS

      Good for you Bobalooa..........some of these people don't remember who butters their bread...do they?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Like it's that easy to leave. What country would take us? No one. Everyone outside of america sees us for what we are. Fat, dumb, lazy warmongers that do our governments bidding under the guise of preserving freedom. Who would want people like that? Nope. I'm going to sit and watch front row as this country dies from the inside. Ha ha ha ha!!!!! yay. amurica. Yeehaw. Wal-mart! Guns!!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Jay

      America, fix it or leave it. If you love the USA, you also love it basic tenets, such as freedom of expression, and support those who exercise that freedom -even when the ideas they express are uncomfortable or challenging. Unfortunately, many of these freedoms are being trampled by individuals who find certain ideas or practices to be somehow un-American (although the US was founded on the principles of liberty, plurality and freedom of speech). If you are not interested in identifying and improving upon the weaknesses in a thing, do not pretend that you love it. When you love something you are willing to work to make it better. In the end it is those who condemn any ideas or practices that are different, and are unwilling to accept criticisms of our government, who are by definition un-American.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  3. Miamimike66

    Yes, you're right, it is a "silly tribe."

    June 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Erm

      Why? Because they believe in separation of church and state and don't believe in violence? Doesn't sound silly at all, to me.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • RD

      America could use more mennonites, and less of what we have – blind followers.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  4. NorCalMojo

    I can understand how these guys would inspire persecution. That's a pretty childish and arrogant philosophy. But, it's America, if they choose to fool themselves into thinking they are superior, it's their right.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Erm

      Really? You think it's ok to persecute someone for not believing as you do?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • RocketJL

      This explanation appears to be the closest thing to radical Islamic fundamentalism as we might find anywhere. I guess it is alright, but it makes me think that we really have to watch our backs around these kinds of people. Live without TV and radios if you wish, however, if you do not wish to show appreciation and love of country, that is something that may cause us great concern.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • RocketJL

      I was referring to Mark Schloneger's explanation.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      "childish and arrogant" describes your comment to a 'T'.

      Thanks for being minimally expressive in an otherwise dull existence to have such an intellect as yours.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  5. TYRANNASAURUS

    their core convictions about what it means to follow Jesus,...........

    There in is lies problem......following a religious fictional character is more important to them than the free country they live in, protects them, gives them a good chance to make a living, live in peace and ENSURES THEM THE RIGHT TO BELIEVE AS THE WISH....HOW MUCH ARE THEY SACRIFICING TO SAY THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE WHICH TAKES ONE MINUTE TO SAY?

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

      On the one hand, you say that they aren't allowed to believe how they wish to believe and on the other hand, you "yell" at them for biting the hand that feeds them. If America is as "free" as you say, you shouldn't even be commenting on this. Let them live how they wish to live. The pledge of allegiance is over-rated and it's no-one's business who says it and who doesn't (I don't). This is NOT a fascist state.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Drew

      Actually, they are refusing to play the national anthem prior to sporting events. Good for them. Stupid tradition.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  6. cathy

    I know, start the draft again, and then all the menonites will head to Canada like they did during Vietnam. My military son has been on horrific deployments so that people like the anabaptists or westboro church can enjoy having breakfast every day without gunfire in the background.

    Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hail ....

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

      Your son is fighting for people to have freedom, right? Then you should allow people the freedom to be non-violent. That is their RIGHT.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  7. jatrayu

    Atheists are just scared cause they know there lives are meaningless and want to drag as many down with them as they can.

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

      As a an atheist i wish you nothing but success and happiness. And I truly wish you find a true connection with the one you call God.
      I'm just an Atheist here taking the HIGH GROUND while a Christian BASHES AND TRASHES everything that is not like him/her. As per usual

      June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Erm

      What do atheists have to do with this article? Some of the nicest, happiest, most intelligent people I know are Atheists. Your theory is incorrect. Personally, I'm Agnostic, but I feel like people can believe as they wish as long as they aren't hurting anyone.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Drew

      Atheists have nothing to do with the Mennonites. Doosch.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      He's just a crusading troll. Nothing to see here. Nothing to say here. Move along.......

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • All Religion Is Evil

      Believers are "just scared" into wasting large amounts of their time and $ on a fantasy that any child can tell you just doesn't make any sense. Religious belief takes advantage of the fact that all of us are hard-wired by our developmental history to absorb whatever the authorities in our lives at a young age tell us, and accept that as reality. Religious belief is the product of fear and ignorance. Every person, however; intense believer or fervent atheist, and everyone inbetween, lives their lives using logic and rationality based on observation, in all the activities they engage in, because that's what we all know works. If I want to cross the freeway, I'm going to find an overpass, not stand there hoping some fantasy will transport me to the other side, and so would everyone else. Why don't we see believers commit suicide immediately upon reaching the point of "true" belief, "knowing" that their fantasy, which is always better than what they have now will save them? Because, regardless of what they say, they know how the world really works and they can't take the chance that they've been lied to. Religious belief is in essential conflict with the observational reality we all live in. Why so many people are willing to live in such conflict is beyond me. After our "three score and ten", or maybe four score and a bit more in these modern times, or a lot less if one isn't lucky, none of us will exist. There is no "afterlife"; the term itself is an obvious oxymoron. Live your life now – there's nothing more than that. Ask yourself – how can you be afraid of non-existence? Isn't that the same state you were "in" before you became aware of yourself? Was it so frightening? Of course not – you weren't there.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  8. Scott

    I am a nine year veteran of the US Army and still serving and just wanted to tell you (Goshen's students, professors, alumni, supporters, and donors) that you are welcome! Also just remember that only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and a Soldier(this includes Marines, Sailors, and Airmen). One died for your soul; the other for your freedom.

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

      Thank you Scott for your service to this Great Country of ours, Because of the many brave souls these people are free to worship in a free land and believe in their own way.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • terry Moore

      I would go along with that last sentence if, unfortunately, dying for freedom is a bit overrated lately and has been for a while.. After all, since WWII, American soldiers have not died for the freedom of America or its citizens. They have died for political reasons, for specious reasons, for economic reasons, for reasons that had nothing to do with any need, but the freedom of the country was never in any jeopardy. So maybe the US soldier is dying for the freedom of foreigners in far away countries, and I, for one, cannot find that there is anything to be so proud about. We have not been, as a Nation, appointed ny anyone to be the Guardian of Freedom all over the world. Nobody has really asked us to intervene in Vietnam, nor Iraq, the second time around. No one has seriously asked us to spend billions and lives in the 70s and 80s to prop up puppet regimes in South America or destroy valid one (remember Allende ??? we did a very bad thing then).... We went into Afghanistan to avenge an atrocious deed, but our Freedom was never the key issue.
      And wherever we go, we are responsible for many deaths, often those of pretty innocent people. So let's drop the pretense that we fight for Freedom.. It is just too easy a sentence to use.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Jay

      As a 17 yr vet -with multiple deployments under my belt, I realize that no one asked me to do what I do. I volunteered to do what I do because I value freedom and democracy and am willing to contribute and work to protect everyone's freedom of expression and belief, not because I am looking for thanks -and definitely not so I can try to enforce my views on others. As a defender of freedom, it would go against everything I say I fight for to suggest that someone should not believe or practice what they wish in freedom. I am here to defend (to the death) the right of Mennonites to freely choose to not play a piece of music -that was created to accompany Francis Scott Key's famous poem- which was adopted as our national song.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  9. Enver Hoxha

    This is front-page "news"? I think it is a bit arrogant and holier-than-thou of these Mennonites but it's a free country, they have a right to act this way and its their own business.

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

      How is it arrogant? They disagree with violence and that is their right! You probably claim vegetarians are "holier-than-thou", too, right? Because they don't toe the line?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  10. Christian Patriot

    What I find amazing is that so many atheists are reading a story with a religious overtone. Maybe it will help open their hearts to the Good News that we could all use!

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

      Doubtful. Why assume that Atheists and agnostics (like myself) don't ever read anything religious in nature? We all like to keep ourselves informed....that doesn't mean we're suddenly going to have a spiritual revelation. Been there, done that. No thanks!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Whenever I see a message begin with "what I find amazing" I know that what follows is not.

      Non-religious people have a vested interest in knowing what religious people are up to. Simple as that. You have this uncanny habit of trying to force primitive religion-based policy on everyone, so yes, we pay attention to your ramblings.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  11. Joanna

    Go ahead and take that cross of yours to Iraq with no guns or any other protection and see if that helps you over there!

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

      This doesn't even make sense....

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • terry Moore

      hey Joanna...why would you want to go to Iraq in the first place ? What was our business there...? How did Iraq impact our Freedom or our Religions... We happily massacred thousands of innocent Iraqis in the name of..... ??? Greed, stupidity, ignorance all come to mind..Nothing much of a higher order.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Jay

      if you don't illegally invade other countries, you will have no need of guns. Just sayin'.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      Anyone who actually believes what that "cross" stands for wouldn't be in Iraq shooting a fellow Human Being no matter which side they're 'on'.

      I see you found your "OFF" switch shortly after birth.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  12. Sean

    Singing the National Anthem is not pledging your allegiance to anything. You're just rationalizing your decision to be an a**hole.

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

      Or maybe they just disapprove of violence? That's called being a thoughtful person instead of just going along with everyone else to go along with them.

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

      I suspect no thought went into your "rationalization" to be one.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  13. deuce bollards

    Their right to not sing a song, to live protected within the body of America, where no religion can demand their lives if they fail to bend their knees to the state, where they are free to profess whatever beliefs they have without fear of state retaliation and where they enjoy those freedoms on an hourly basis, have been bought and paid for in human sacrifice of blood, lives and treasure by those who chose to sing out loud and clear their praises of a land where freedom rings from sea to shining sea. We shall continue to send our sons and daughters into rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air to protect the right these bearers of the cross claim for themselves without sharing the expense.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  14. Unknown

    So...Amish and Jehovah Witnesses don't pledge to the American flag either. That doesn't mean I doubt their patriotism.

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

      I do. I can't think of any other reason they'd refuse. I would believe they like to live here, but that's not patriotism.

      It's their right to say or not say what they like, but we don't have to pretend they're patriots.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  15. Jake

    Our men and women in uniform (and the rocket's red glare) are what allow the Mennonites to live in a utopian bubble of peace and tranquility. Give Glory to God for what he does, but also give glory to our military for allowing you to safely practice your beliefs.

    The Mennonites of the USA remind me of the ultra-orthodox Jews of Israel who feel that should be exempt from the three years of mandatory military service the rest of their countrymen must commit to because they dedicate their lives to serving God.

    The common human moral code, shared by all human cultures and religions around the world is to practice reciprocity. When a society (country) makes real human sacrifices through the young lives of its soldiers to protect your own life, the LEAST you can do is acknowledge those sacrifices and partake in a social custom giving thanks and recognition to those sacrifices.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • deuce bollards

      Amen. God Bless the U.S. of A. and those who stand with Both.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • terry Moore

      Reciprocity has little to do with singing the National Anthem at a sport's event, or at the drop of a hat. There are actually very few cultures where the National Anthem is so religiously sung for just about any occasion..Maybe other cultures feel that a National Anthem is something that has so much importance that executing it for a football game among beer guzzlers and hot dogs munchers may feel like debasing it a little ? After all, things of importance are only important when done rarely..

      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Erm

      Not quite sure why it's making everyone so ANGRY that these people choose to be nonviolent.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Jay

      As a man in uniform, for some 17years, I do not server as I do for thanks, but fight to preserve freedoms, and expect Americans to exercise those freedoms I secure, otherwise what I do is a waste of time. I don't need anyone to sing a song. I fight for their right to not sing it if they so choose. If someone feels inclined to say thanks, a simple thank you will do... especially if they don't happen to have a very pleasant singing voice.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      May your own "bubble" be intact a little while longer.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  16. SoCerebral

    What I don't understand is that the national anthem has absolutely nothing to do with religion or professing allegiance to anything. It is a song based on a poem about a battle scene in the War of Independence, fighting the British. It is merely a poetic reflection, a memory of how this country became independent from England through war. That's it. Singing it or not singing it really has no bearing on religious practices. Now saying the pledge of allegiance is a completely different matter, and I would understand not saying that on religious grounds. But objecting to the national anthem simply makes no sense in the context presented here.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Sarah

      Agreed. I kept reading, trying to understand the point the author was attempting to make and the reasoning was not sound.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • RC

      I was with you up until the part about getting independance from England. The Star Spangled Banner was written during the war of 1812, the US was already independant although England was still being rather unfair in trading practices and bitter against the US.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Erm

      It glorifies violence.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Jay

      its a song that in practice expresses strong support for the US government. It follows logically that any group that does not recognize any state other than the nation of followers of Jesus, is essentially anti-statist for religious reasons, and will reject playing the state-supporting song on religious grounds. Get it now?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  17. NCFlagman

    Mr. Schloneger – to me it is intellectually dishonest for you to claim that your religion is so important to you that you must strictly adhere to a philosophy of separation of church and state yet still seem to consider yourself to be an America citizen. If you claim citizenship to a nation then you tie yourself to that nation and therefore, should not feel compelled to refrain from singing that nations anthem or be in the presence of it's flag. However, it you feel allegiance to your church and not to your country, then perhaps it would be more intellectually honest for you to renounce your citizenship to any particular nation.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • RD

      The best advice for america I have is to have no flag and have no anthem, and certainly abolish the pledge.

      Your advice is ignorant – simply put, ignorant. It *is* most certainly a defensible position to say look America should not be a totalitarian state – and therefore should not adopt the habits of totalitarian states.

      Blind patriotism is certainly a bad idea. The U.S. should be fostering a nation of individuals – not patriots.

      And as an american citizen, I will advice my fellow americans about the best course of action.

      You don't agree – go cry yourself a river. The fact is, you should be turning in your citizenship.
      I can't think of a bigger waste of that privilege then to grant it to patriots.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Erm

      I don't sing the anthem or pledge allegiance to the flag...that doesn't mean I don't like living here. YOU do not get to decide who is "patriot" and who is not. Sounds like some Tea Bagger bs to me. We are SUPPOSED to have separation of church and state...to have the two intertwined is completely creepy, imo. What does one have to do w. the other? What does true spirituality have to do w. killing people? Not a thing.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Jay

      Maybe he is more recognizing our perception of his legal status as a US citizen, and paying lip service to our categorization of him a an American, than calling himself such. That would seem the only position consistent with the rest of his article.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  18. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Bob O.

      Funny that the Mennonites do not believe that freedom is defended by the rockets red glare. I wonder how long they would last against Islamic fundamentalists without the protection of being deep inside the United States? My guess is there would be no more Mennonites.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  19. Barbara

    This is a confounding of church and state in the reverse direction. It is akin to the movement for a Caliphate. Go ahead and set yourself apart from the people of a country that was founded on religious freedom – slap it in the face. You and the Haredi in Israel that don't believe the country should exist unless established by G-d – find someplace else to live where you can exercise your religion that way – I dare you. You won't find one.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Joe Canada

      Except in Canada, Mexico, UK, Europe, Central and South America, Australia, and practically 99% of all the countries in the world.

      It's funny how americans see themselves as "special".

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Reality Check

      Are your statements a true christian stance you are voicing? Are they respecting what our country was founded on?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Erm

      They have the freedom to believe as they wish. It's none of your business if they want to be peaceful and it totally flies in the face of what this country stands for for you to say they should go live somewhere else!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  20. Dean

    I always thought the Mennonites were the only ones doing the whole christianity thing closer to the way it was meant to be.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      Since the Cathars are no longer around to show us because the church of Rome feared their piety, I believe you're absolutely correct.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
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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.