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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. jude

    the wonderful thing about this country is that they dont have to sing a song or say a pledge. these people are practicing their 1st amendment right, coo dos to them.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • AthensGuy

      finally someone with sense!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • davec

      You are correct. And a LOT of brave Americans died to protect your right to that single-minded selfishness. It's called working the system. It's like eating in a restaraunt and being able to walk out without paying. Honor, rules & courtesy are for stupid people, right? A concience is for suckers, right? All it takes is a total lack of morals and concern for those who gave so much.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • jude

      yes a lot of brave men and women sacrificed their lives and lively hood protecting mine and everyone of this countries freedoms. these people are practicing those very freedoms. does it matter if you perceive it as disrespectful or immoral? to them its immoral to sing it. some may thing its immoral, i personal dont care about it. its simply their right and i think its pretty cool that we have the right to practice such believes

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  2. kyle

    Without the state there is no religion in todays society, as the state wields the power that creates a situation in which indiviiduals may choose what faith to follow, I feel as if playing the national anthem is the least one can do pay homage to this nation (more importantley the individuals who have died to give us this right, as they are not the ones who have chosen to make the various questionable decisions "we" (the state itself) have made over the years). Then again it is their right not to...

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  3. Cheeseskreist

    Dogs are like religion. Lots of people have one; all are a pain in the ass.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  4. Sonia

    The Mennonites have been quietly re-building homes for people in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. I respect their point of view. Singing the National Anthem isn't a requirement to being a patriot. nor a valued member of our society.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  5. Bill

    An informative piece of writing. I learned something I did not know and it helped be gain a better understanding of a different belief system. Thanks.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  6. shamgar50

    Good for them. I get so sick of this fake patriotism crap. In my book, you pay your taxes, you vote, you behave like a human being. That makes you a patriot. Wrapping yourself in the flag just makes you look like a charlatan, or a poseur.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • alpg49

      Is there any ambiguity in "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's..."? Apparently, to some.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • TJ Newman

      alpg49
      What on earth does render unto Caesar, which is about paying taxes, have to do with singing a song about bombs busting in air?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  7. abelincoln

    I would think this guy is being disrespectful to his fellow americans, and needs to mature a little.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • shamgar50

      abelincoln, How is he being disrespectful? I don’t see it.

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

      His faith group wouldn't get in the news if they DID sing it. Now he's got some free publicity for them. Pretty clever on his part.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • mattmchugh

      Interesting take. I tend to agree. You show basic courtesy to the beliefs and traditions of the culture in which you reside, regardless of whether or not you fully ascribe to them.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  8. gerc

    As a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, I belong to a tribe that to many people may be just as strange as the Mennonites. While I commend the author for his convictions, I see nothing in the US national anthem anything that compromises Bible principles. We also have brothers and sisters from every tribe, tongue, and nation on this planet, therefore my American nationalism can never supersede the bond that I have with those for whom Christ died. Governments are established by God (Rom 13). I am not convinced that obeying and being loyal to Caezar violates any Bible principles as long as it does not conflict with what God requires.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  9. Alert Citizen

    Let me say a few seperate statements:
    1. United States is not founded as a Christian Country, "We trust in god" not Jesus Only.
    2. It is perfectly okay to say "Christianity is great or even greatest" But it is wrong on every level to say that "it is better than your religion" or "you religion is bad". This is not liberal thinking .....this is respectful conservative thinking.
    3. Everyone has rights to do whatever they want as far as singing or not singing the national anthem.
    4. There are various ways to get publicity either by actually helping people regardless of theie differences or run naked on the street..............Choice is yours!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • John

      I agree!

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

      The U.S. was founded on Christian principles. The erosion of those principles is destroying the country. Christianity is not a religion even though many people like the Mennonites try to make it into one. Christians worship the only true God. Therefore, our beliefs are superior to any religious beliefs or practices that try to achieve righteousness (something that cannot be achieved). If you don't like living in a nation founded on Christian principles, I hear Darfur is nice this time of year. They don't tolerate all us intolerant Christians 'round there!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  10. Charles

    If we all thought like that we would probably be under the Nazi or Communist Regimes rights now. But at least some men and women were willing to fight for their freedom (which includes the freedom of religion) so now the Mennonites can proclaim their strict adherence to peace without fear of oppression.

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

      Amen.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Georgia Joe

      I respectfully disagree. If we "all" felt like that there would be no Nazi or Communist regimes. That is the point of resisting nationalism. I understand your comment to be that if there were too many people like Mark Schloneger in the U.S. and not a corresponding amount in those other countries, then we would be under Nazi or Commmunist control and on that I agree. Nevertheless, I appreciate and respect the position that Mark Schloneger takes and I recognize the courage required for such a position.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  11. A Nuffer

    The only thing this country has died for is OIL...the politicians send the children...not their's of course...to fight and die for OIL...that is the way it has been for fifty years....We have no reason to be in Iraq or Afghanistain....fighting for our freedom is an oxymoron....thousands of men...women and innocent children are dead...thousands of children will never see either one or both of their parents ever again....our flag stand for absolutely nothing that is good....false patriots wrap themselves in old glory and put themselves above anyone who doesn't agree with their stupidity! I do not fly the flag and I do not recite the pledge of allegiance...to do so is to be a liar!!! I served in the Air Force...served my country but am ashamed of the cesspool that we have become...

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

      A Nuffer writes "...put themselves above anyone who doesn't agree with their stupidity!" You mean, precisely like what you're doing? Hypocrisy, it's a fascinating thing.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  12. rangerD

    first of all let me say i am a christian and a american.i also stand and sing along with the national anthem,the apostle paul said in romans 13:7"render therefore to all their dues:tribute to whom tribute is due;custom to whom custom;fear to whom fear;honour to whom honour."be thankful you live in this great nation.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  13. Dee Doodles

    I respect this graduate. The Republic is dead. We are a socialist nation. Why pledge alligence to a lie. The fiat currency is a lie. The Republic is a lie. Freedom is a lie. You are a financial slave to the bankers for cars, houses, and education. You are a financial slave to the gov. for taxes. The Republic is a dying empire. The last 15 years we have starved many in the world with inflated fiat currency. We have stolen the sweat of the poor for our trinkets. The wars are not for freedom but for the empire and energy. Soldier are mercenaries not freedom fighters. They fight for a pay check. They don't really care about freedom. If they did why do they disrespect the borders of nations and kill millions in places like Iraq many innocent decent poor in their own homes living their own lives in their own countries. Why do we label people as "suspected terrorists" and then drone them in their own nation? You are a slave. This is not a Republic. Greed has taken over. We serve the gov. and the bankers. Your wealth is a illusion of fiat. There is little to be proud of the last 50 years as evil has taken over.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Mighty7

      Ok Neo. You are the one.

      Now put down the keyboard and run. Agent Smith is coming to get you.

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

      The issues are simple, but large. We need accountability. Without that we are just victims for criminals everywhere.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Trinity

      Neo...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Neo

      Trinity....

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

      911.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • sonshine4

      I agree, especially about our being slaves to capital. However, I think that's the gov't / business relationship is facist (sic) not socialism. The distinction is critical in that socialists use their minds to direct matters instead of relying on the myth of the "market"

      June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  14. Dolores

    He thinks on a higher level than most of the commentors here. He does not abdicate breaking the law and he does loves his country. He pays taxes and lives by the laws of this land, probably more adherently than most of the posters on the site. He simply offers his allegiance and gives his praise to a higher authority.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • QED

      I'm pretty sure you mean advocate.

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

      "Abdicate" breaking the law? Are you sure that you don't mean "advocate"? They mean two entirely different things.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  15. 21k

    mennonite beliefs and practices are no more bizarre that those of any other religion. the strangest aspect being that well-educated people ignore reality to believe in a supreme being that would not stop the Holocaust. oh, i know, "god works in strange ways, don't question the actions of providence.....", bla-bla-bla. go ahead, keep believing that god's hand keeps planes in the air!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • gerc

      How would you have liked it if your parents whacked you EVERY time you did something bad? Would you like God to zap you EVERY time you did something wrong?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  16. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  17. IRS

    Tax all churches NOW, this would reduce our deficit to nil. It says nothing in the Bible that churches should be tax exempt.
    Religious belief will keep us in the dark ages.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • TJ Newman

      It won't reduce the deficit by much at all. Show me the numbers. Try slashing defense instead. Oh, and then you must tax ALL non-profits and charities. Yeah, that's it tax the services the poor receive, jerk. And expect churches to demand moor voice in government. No taxation without representation after all.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Bill

      You're right. It's not in the Bible. It's in the tax code created by Congress. For good reason.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  18. Incindia

    Did anyone actually read what he wrote? I mean really. It's his religious belief to not sing the national anthem.

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

      Don't be naive. There's more to this beneath the surface.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • brian

      I read about 4 words before I'd had enough. What an idiot, he should move to russia or china.

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

      Yes, I read it. I respect his belief, but I'm not convinced that singing the national anthem violates any ONE of the 10 commandments.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  19. Sandy

    You live in a country that allows you to practice that religion openly and freely but will not show allegiance to it by even singing it's anthem? Wow!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Mighty7

      Yeah...WOW a bunch of hysterical yokels want to equate singing a song that only became an anthem less than 100 year ago with "honoring the nation". Unreal, huh?

      Hey, maybe next we can require all people to wear flag pins.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • shamgar50

      Anyone can sing a song. It proves allegiance to nothing, and it’s pretty silly to think it does.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  20. daffgirl

    This is Christianity I can respect, morally consistent and heartfelt. Not like the so-called Christians who venerate guns while claiming to value life, and who venerate Republican politicans and pundits over Christ.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:28 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.