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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. Philip L

    The rogues march should have been the national Anthem since 1865.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Actually it should be the theme from the Three Stooges.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Martin

      You think the South should have won? Why? Don't have enough black slaves to flip through your cable channels for you?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  2. Mike

    I have a question, and it is an honest question: Do Mennonites participate in other state activities like elections and paying taxes? If so, where do you draw the line between what is a state activity that you will participate in and one that you won't?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • jimmy the freak

      That IS a good question. Events such as football games are school-sponsored events. Therefore, as a religious school, Goshen College has every right to distance itself from state-sponsored imagery, such as flag-raising, and is perfectly free to play Jesus songs instead. The separation of church and state is a good idea, even if some people find Goshen's behavior a little far-fetched. As a born-again Pagan, I support their position even though I disagree with their religion. As far as individual students and faculty exercising their rights as citizens, I see no contradiction here.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Youreright

      Right. Do they pay taxes, and therefore participate in war and killing?

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

      As usual, pagans becoming the biggest apologists.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  3. Danielle

    Maybe I am naive or just plain dumb, but I don't understand what the Star Spangled Banner has to do with the church. I thought the standing for the Star Spangled Banner was in support of being an American citizen, not church. I do remember that when 9-11-01 happened I had a student who was a Jehovah's Witness who refused to sing the national anthem due to religious beliefs and I raised the same questions then. At that time no one could give me a valid explanation and here we are again 10 years later. Apparently, no one remembers that they live in the USA where religion is a choice.

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

      Because the Star Spangled Banner promotes violence and war. Even if it was in defense of life and country, it is still war. A lot of religions still believe in the way of non-violence even if it means they might die. Others feel that it is a form of worship to a country and that worshipping anything other than God is wrong. And yet more people think that vowing allegiance to a country is wrong. They believe that although we are lucky to be in a great country, God does not favor a person for where they live in the world because we are all equal. Hopefully this cleared up some confusion for you.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  4. Scott Piercy

    Paul,

    I'd love to entertain a flexing of my history muscles, but this isn't the place for it. But, to summarize, it is precisely because we are a secular nation that you, and Mennonites, and Buddhists, and everyone else ad nauseum can choose to adhere to whatever philosophy they want to. People really need to grasp their history and realize that being a secular nation is a GOOD THING for ones freedom to have their faith.

    Why did those pilgrims come here and land on Plymouth Rock? To escape the control of a Christian nation! That's the point. 🙂

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

      Protestant nation, not catholic.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  5. John B

    I, too, find Pastor Schloneger's (and the Mennonites' apparently) veiws a bit naive. However, I am glad I live in a country where he and his congregation can hold and express those views. As long as the Mennonites don't shirk their civic responsibility (pay taxes, etc.), I am ok with them having their religious beliefs.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  6. soccerta01

    I respect the values of the Mennonite faith, but The Star Spangled Banner was written to honor the fallen soldiers. I dont think that have anything to do with our Lord and Savior.

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

      Uh, no, it's not about fallen soldiers, it's about the survival of the nation. The Star Spangled Banner expresses relief that the out-gunned fort guarding the new nation's 3rd largest city was able to withstand a tremendous 24 hour assault, and that the sight of the battle flag still flying over the ramparts in the dawn's early light meant that we would live to fight another day.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  7. suzique

    There is only one reason CNN made this a huge headline – they are part of the progressive movement toward one world, one government, one religion (not Judaism or Christianity), and one currency. That stated, I thought Mark Scholneger made a polite, clear statement about his beliefs.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • John B

      Oh brother. Really? Really??

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

      Uhhhhh...

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

      If that's really the case, they have a VERY bad strategy. Most of North Africa is charging off the cliff of fundamentalism.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  8. Stephanie Palmer

    This isn't going to affect the lives of other Americans. I don't think anyone with a brain should even give this a second thought. Who cares? Only the sunshine patriots will make objections. It's not like this school forces anyone to attend. Get to the big issues affecting all of us.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  9. bill davis

    Religion has always been something to hide behind, and make a buck..
    Unions do it ll the time, it a good gig. it's a business, and a non profit tax exempt...

    Screw who you want just say you are sorry and the lord will forgive...

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

      You're right. It has. And people have discovered it time and time again, but they always replace it with another religion.

      Why would people all over the world from every culture, with the same sized brain pans we have, make that decision so many times?

      A logical person would have to conclude there is a critical good that outweighs the bad.

      Maybe you and the other atheists are right, maybe your brains are wired differently than the rest of humanity. You could be some evolutionary leap that has shed their need to attach meaning to things we don't understand...........but it's much more likely it's just hubris and you're lying to yourself.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  10. abelincoln

    Whatever happened to "not to the right, not to the left...?
    Its not good to be a fanatical of anything, even of religion.
    The most free country in the world, the USA, will suffer the nuissances that these fringe, fanatical groups will bring by their mere existance.
    These groups and ideas are not new, present from time immemorial. The funny thing is that we are human beings, are not perfect, and we still tolerate these deviants, in the name of tolerance.
    I think the article clearly shows the supremacy of the very system the menonites and others, are critizicing.
    Go figure.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  11. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  12. G.Miller

    The thing that seems an absurdity to me, is not so much their stance on war or the singing of the National Anthem. They will defend their "right" to not go to war by being pacifist. At the same time, many of their students, and professors, when questioned about abortion, will support abortion and a woman's "right" to an abortion, as well as vote for pro-death candidates.....and somehow they don't see the hypocrisy of that "non-violent" stance? They are proud that they wouldn't consider going to war, but fully support a woman's right to "choose," or to murder.

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

      The very essence of why they become blind to their fanaticism.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • John B

      Concientious Objectors are still required to serve in the military if called up. They, however, serve in non-combat roles such as administrative and medical positions. In fact, there were at least two concientious objectors (Desmond Doss and Thomas W. Bennett) who served as a combat medics and each won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • bob

      funny how people will find any reason possible to change the topic into a debate on something they are butthurt about and as for abortion i was taught as a child to keep my nose out of other peoples business when people make decisions i don't like i have learned to grow up and deal with it this is america the land of the free and never will i support anything that takes any rights away from the people no matter how good the intentions remember when albert einstein found that e=mc squared he though he had solved the worlds power issues not till later did he realize that he had created the most destructive force known to man

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  13. CdnJim

    Since when is singing the National Anthem a "core value" of the United States. Give it up. Mennonites follow all the laws of the land, except where it conflicts with their faith and then they are open about it and are willing to suffer whatever penalties are decided by the courts. They won't enlist if there's a draft, but they will go to jail or perform alternative service whichever is deemed right by the courts. They don't ask for the protection of the military, their history is one of martyrdom and being violently attacked but responding with pacifism and love, because that's what Jesus did. All they are doing is living out their faith, where's the crime?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  14. McGuffin

    Well... this makes much, much more sense than Christians supporting gun ownership and wars as part of the Republican party.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  15. Freedomsinger

    Hey Mark, it's this type of thinking that divides nations and creates civil unrest.
    And can't we believe in god without all the drama religions create in society?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  16. Tyrell

    I dont think singing the national anthem before sporting events or in school should be forced on the public. U cant force people who did have a choice where they were born to just up and leave the country. No one fully agrees with their country's laws and in my "opinion" as long as u dont disrespect the soldiers and civilians who gave their lives or are risking their lives for this country u can exercise your freedom of speech. Im a soldier currently in Iraq and i dont ask for thank yous. All i ask is for you not to forget me when im gone.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  17. Russell Pyle

    What's truly ironic is the way some Americans cry freedom of speech and talk about the blood that paid the price for this freedom, then these same Americans judge and persecute others for their individual beliefs when they exercise this right.

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

      could not have said it better myself

      June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • NorCalMojo

      Judging is not persecution. They have a right to their philosophy and other people have a right to judge that philosophy.

      That's how it works.

      By trying to censor or silence critics, it's you that is trying to infringe on the rights of others.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  18. James

    Wait... no national anthem at the Eagles game? How dare them

    June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  19. Dave

    The unfortunate problem is that Mark Schloneger never bothered to read the words of the national anthem before he started saying negative things about it.

    It's a question. The entire song is simply a question: Does the flag still wave? That's it!

    How does asking that question, does a flag still wave (o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave)...

    How does that violate anybody's faith?

    How silly!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  20. TYRANNASAURUS

    their core convictions about what it means to follow Jesus,........... why do you always keep saying it looks like I've already said that when I haven't posted anything here in a week?

    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 10:13 am |
    • TYRANNASAURUS

      And P.S.......same goes for the STAR SPANGLE BANNER.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Russell Pyle

      What if you were forced to decry the pledge or the national anthem? How would being forced to abandon your convictions feel to you? It feels unfair, doesn't it? What if the tables were turned and YOU were in the minority? Be mindful of your inconsistencies, because they are glaring at everyone else.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 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.