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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. zlul

    So an entire article and not even a single paragraph detailing why they don't participate in it. I love people like this though who claim "freedom" as they disrespect the very government/nation that provides them that freedom to even be able to say/practice that. And yet again, you see that its all over religion, the bane of our existence.

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

      Very well put. Thank you! These one-concept ponies bore the everlasting stuffings out of me.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • @zlul

      I think they summed it up over 3 paragraphs:

      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.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Jean

      He did say why. Their first allegiance is to "Jesus." The national anthem glorifies war and thus goes against their principles. You don't have to agree with him. I don't, I'm an atheist. But I do respect his point of view.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • gsp1619

      That is no more explanation than an Athiest that does not want to say "Under God" or whatever else. The reason is: SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. It's the same explanation from each side and I think it is valid from each side. Whether it is good for patriotism is another question.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • BabbleOn

      Um, how about "I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone." This seems pretty clear to me.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • shamgar50

      Maybe you should have someone read it to you. Then have them explain it to you.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Katred

      How does not singing a song at a sporting event disrespect our country? If anything, I think the focus on singing the anthem at sporting events trivializes the true meaning of being a citizen. How well would those of you screaming about political correctness do on a history or citizenship test? I'm guessing the overall scores would be an embarrassment. Mennonites serve our country in many ways and actually take the time to THINK about their beliefs, rather than jumping on the Rush/Beck bandwagon.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • zlul

      True freedom is not given by god, it is given by the government...or does god pick and choose who gets to be free based on where they are born? I guess all of you guys who support this should stop using the American dollar since it clearly states on there "in god we trust". Again, religion ruins everything. Look at the world today, or in the past 20 years, and look at how many conflicts, atrocities, wars, genocides, etc have happened in part because of someones religion.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Joy

      If only every religion is erased from this planet, we could all get along and stop arguing! Remember the song "Imagine" by John Lennon? He was so right!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Joy

      Allegiance to Jesus? Where was Jesus during the Holocaust? Did he stand between a Jew & the gas chamber?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • PENNY

      As Mr Schloneger said, the whole point of their religion, much like the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), of which I am one, is that borders are artificial, and the only allegiance we have is to God and all His people. Borders, nationalities and individual countries do not exist in our definitions. And, this is the reason for not pledging allegiance or singing the anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  2. Limbaugh is a liberal

    So what's it gonna be neocons? God or country? Shall you admit that these people are correct that God is above country, or shall you expose your own hypocrisy by admitting that all throughout you've just been using 'God' to push your own selfish political agenda?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • mance lotter

      It's an easy one for you liberals. God or Country...neither.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      1. I am very much a Christian myself
      2. Thank you for admitting your hypocrisy

      June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • mance lotter

      hypocrisy? when did I say one thing and do another?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • mance lotter

      And i ask you, when was the last time you defended either God or your Country?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      Your response revealed quite explicitly that you chose the second option from my question as your answer: you are hypocrite who cares only about politics. You most certainly didn't pick option one.
      And I don't see your question as relevant, even though I could cite examples to answer.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  3. Debbie

    You are so right Dee Doodles. The wars in the Middle East have nothing to do with defending our freedom. Members of the Military Industrial Complex are delusional or are in it just to boost their own egos and for the paycheck.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • AthensGuy

      indeed! the last war that was about "defending" was WWII

      June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  4. T3chsupport

    This article sure did bring out all of the hate in typical Christians. If I were religious at all, I would hope the Mennonites would take me. Their beliefs may be a little bit crazy, but so are most any other Christian religions.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • mance lotter

      Yeah, and atheist beliefs are so much better. In the absense of a Creator or Supreme Being, the ruling body is government. Just like Mussolini and Stalin – such moral pillars.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  5. historianone

    Not everyone flys the American flag in their front yard, do we kick them out of the country? America is and was built on divirisity of religion and politics, if everyone who ever disagreed with the reigning party left the contry, who'd be left?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  6. Chris

    I respect the way they keep a strict seperation between church and state, I only wish our politicians would do the same. Leave religion out of every and any decision, all speeches, I don't want a policy created because someone thinks that's what Jesus would do.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  7. steve

    If you believe in peace, think about the words to the Star Spangled Banner. It's not really pro-America, it's just a poem about the defense of a fort during a war. "For Battle We Must When Our Cause is Just, Let this be our motto: 'in God is our trust'". The anthem just goes against a peace theology...no offense. (not that I even believe that way personally, but it makes sense)

    I would support America the Beautiful instead of the STB.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  8. Anotherdayjustbelieve

    I think this guy needs to be sent to Syria or Libya for a wake-up call...

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

      why don't you go? keyboard patriotism is easy

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

      Do you always refer to yourself as "this guy?"

      June 26, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  9. timothy

    i like progressive countries that are more egalitarian and less religious; canada, germany holland ect, we have far too many religious zealots who blindly follow the religion there parents forced on them.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  10. Jesus

    heretics. All I can say.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • God

      Son, you are disappoint.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  11. Justin

    So... What your saying is you don't recognize the authority of the american government? In that case it seems all the criticism is correct. Like it or not you are subject to rule under the government so long as you live within these man made borders. If you don't like it, I'm sure you can find some dirt packed hole to relocate your cult too. Lets see how long your religion survives without the united states to protect it.

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

      oh, the blind patriot...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  12. Scotty2010

    I don't care who you are, if you don't respect the country you live in enough to sing its anthem at a game, then maybe you should GTFO and go live somewhere else. Note that respect for a country and respect for that country's government are two different things!

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

      why do we HAVE to sing the anthem at games? are games a symbol of patriotism? are they a symbol of the country?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Qwerty1

      Pretty sad if your definition of "respect" requires people to sing.

      There are plenty of ways to show you respect your country, there's no need to make a show of it at sporting events.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Than G

      You will find that our freedoms make it okay to not sing or stand or even take off your hat. It's our freedom that does this.
      Do not fight against our freedoms. Only bad countries force their people to sing, force them to stand. Go live in those places and see what choice you have. Dictators will kill you or put you in prison for not standing and singing. They do not care about freedom either. Go live somewhere else and take your oppression with you. This is America!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Scotty2010

      Yes it is a choice, and everyone has the freedom to make it, however it is the wrong choice. Singing the anthem is paying homage to your homeland; if you won't even do that then what are you doing here?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Bob

      Exactly right. Religious freedom should be subject to the well known National Anthem limitation.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Scotty2010

      "religious freedom" – an oxymoron if I ever did hear one.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  13. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  14. alf564

    I am for 100% taxation of ALL churches....especially ones that proclaim they are POLITICAL by becoming sanctuary for
    ILLEGALS and like this one declaring their beliefs exempt them from the National Anthem .... funny how this belief just came to light while the sanctuary bit started as their congregations became larger and the amount in the collection plates grew...

    TAX EM !!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Scotty2010

      Absolutely; tax them just like any other business.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Gene

      Consider that the Church is the people and the people have already been taxed. Does double taxation sound fair?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  15. steveraytx

    I think about the children, wives, mothers and fathers of our fallen soldiers and feel tremendous angst for them. How incredibly selfish and self righteous of this group of people who are free because of our fallen patriots stood in the way of tyrants of the past who would have likely had these types of groups systematically exterminated. What a clever lie they weave. So many have lost our love of the truth that sets us free. We are in the great apostasy.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Scotty2010

      Someday this group is going to end up being just like that Phelps cult from Westboro or wherever. Just watch.

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

      so, they don't sing the anthem before football games and that is supposed to dishonor the fallen? get real...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  16. Defender of Freedom

    "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." Wow. Just wow. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some organization dedicated to defending freedom should anyone ever try to challenge it? Oh wait, God is going to magically appear and stop them. Because that's what has always happened. After all, that's what happened at Troy, right? I'm guessing Goshen College does not have a history program. Oh wait, it's probably "creation" history.

    So riddle me this. Let's say this guy moves to Iran. Would he say the same thing he's saying now in that country? Nobody cares if you profess your faith to a god, but at least honor the country that does not care how you pray or if you even want to. Can we please grow out of the Dark Ages and advance civilization???? I think it's quite obvious now that god is not going to appear and defend your rights. Didn't happen in Rwanda, didn't happen in Serbia, and it sure as hell didn't happen when the Nazis started massacring the Jews. But hey, what do the religious elite care? It makes them money and keeps them in power through fear.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • mance lotter

      oh, i get it. Unless God makes all the bad in the world disappear, He doesn't exist. Or is it that if God's plan for mankind is different than yours, then He doesn't exist? Either way, it shows how incredibly open-minded and thoughtful you are.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • AfghanVet17

      Amazingly accurate statement...Bravo Defender of Freedom, we need more Americans like you!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Defender of Freedom

      Mance, until your god stops ANYTHING bad in the world, I'm going to go with he doesn't exist. I have yet to see any bad thing stopped that can credited to a god. War, disease, hunger, orphans. Religious organizations do a lot of good things, but those are a direct result of mankind. Money doesn't come from god, it comes from people. I have yet to see or hear about any divine intervention that has stopped genocide, cured AIDS, or stopped maniacs from suppressing freedoms. As a member of the military, I hate to say this, but I'm waiting for the day our nation's soil gets invaded. I'm waiting to see if you're going to pray to make the invaders go away, pick up a cross and fight them with it, or put your trust into your country and the men and women who are willing to defend it. Physics 101: prayer doesn't stop bullets.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Scotty2010

      Just a question, but if God stops something bad from happening, then how would you know he stopped it since it won't happen?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • VietnamVet

      Singing the anthem has nothing to do with patriotism. It has nothing to do with much of anything. It's only a symbol, that's all. For what? I don't know.
      Go to a country where they shoot you if you don't stand or sing. Then you may well understand the freedoms you Now take for granted!! A symbol for not tolerating oppression is by Not standing or singing. I admire the Mennonites for standing up for what they believe in. It is the Rght thing to do!!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Name*GAP

    Your Church should never forget that you are all allowed to practice freely and openly because you are in this truly amazing country. While I respect your beliefs, your church SHOULD show some respect to this country! There are, and have been countless men and women who have given their lives to protect and defend your rights and beliefs.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA !

    June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  18. Vvs1Blue

    At some point we have to bring everyone together as "Americans". There are too many splinter groups pushing their own agendas and using religion as a tool of manipulation. If this Nation is attacked are we simply going to exclude these groups from defending us? (Metaphor)-Will they be lining the walkway praying for us as we are led to the gas chambers?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Mighty7

      Well, somebody has to make the sandwiches while we fight off the martian invasion.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  19. thewoolf

    I'm Mennonite. I pay taxes. I obey the law. I'm certainly glad to live here. I'm always surprised, however, that people seem to think that if you don't sing the anthem you are not a true American. People sometimes forget that one can show patriotism in quiet–often unnoticed–ways. My grandfather worked at an asylum for the mentally disturbed during WWII–were those people not Americans and in need of care? Many people from my largely Mennonite hometown went to Korea as medics, surgeons and nurses–isn't caring for the wounded patriotic? Sometimes Mennonites, most recently Glen Lapp, die while caring for the people of Afghanistan–isn't caring for the weak an American ideal?

    I don't sing the anthem, but I respect those who sing it. I often don't know their history–whether they've fought or had someone close to them fight or just out of habit–and I would like those who do sing to respect me and my past, my reasons.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Vvs1Blue

      Thank you for bringing up some positive examples of how your group does contribute to American/Democratic Principles. I do feel a bit annoyed at certain aspects of what can be described as "extremism".

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

      You dont have to sing the national anthem. But dont expect people to respect you for not doing do.

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

      Though I am an atheist, I find myself respecting your choices more than that of almost all other religious people. You seem to be able to state a clear, consistent reason for your actions, which is something that often cannot be said of people of faith.

      While I personally am quite moved by the Star Spangled Banner, I can understand your reasons for not joining with us in song. Blind obedience to your country is not patriotism; the true patriot reflects on his own beliefs and acts on them in the best way they know how. The goal is to make your country a better place, not simply following what has already been done.

      In conclusion, it is quite refreshing to hear about a religious group that is so firmly for the separation of Church and State. That is one of the things that has made our country so different (and I would argue better) than many other countries in the history of this planet. I wish you a good day, sir or madame, and applaud your attempt to stand up for what you believe in while not trying to force it on others.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Not a Martyr

      You can call yourself a mennonite, but you may not call yourself an American as long as you fail to recognize the national boundaries in which you are allowed to live. Your protests are a joke because no on recognizes your archaic cult anymore.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • davec

      How wiill you act if you have to face an American up close and personal that just took a bullet to save your life? It is somewhat discomforting to find out that the person in the foxhole with you is not going to shoot. Are you saying that you wouldn't pick up a gun to save your own or your family's lives, just not a fellow Americans? You want this nation and it's flag to protect you and yours, but you don't want to return in kind? With your religion's thought process, I suspect you wouldn't do too well in Iran. They have doctors there. It's freedom to worship how they choose is missing. A country that is loyal to you deserves that same loyalty back. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • davec

      Some of you will never get it. Paying taxes and following the laws and living here DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN AMERICAN! It's more than becoming a citizen, It's more than being born here – If you are a true American – IT'S IN YOUR HEART!

      After reading the posts from several of these blogs, it's easy to see the thought pattern of so many unAmerican citizens. The sad part is that part of the populace seems to be growing....

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Scotty2010

      davec gets it. Singing the anthem has nothing to do with law, or 'blind obedience' to the government or anybody else; it has nothing to do with God or religion; it's not oppressive or fascist. It's nothing more than the traditional way to pay homage to your country, and since 'country' is 'people', it is showing respect to your fellow countrymen. That's it; that's all it is, a simple oh-so-easy gesture that means "I love my country", and people who refuse to do it at games or wherever else it's sang at should not expect to be shown any respect in return.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • VietnamVet

      War is wrong. it is insane. anyone who supports war is insane. We were not attacked. There were no invaders threatening us. There won't be any invaders coming to our shores any time soon. The HIGH Drama of the military and their Brain washed outlook on life is NOT the way to go! There are insane people out there who support war. We can no longer be silent or passive in our resistance to insane people. There is no practical or ethical need or requirement to sing any natinal anthem. God's Kingdom is above that of Man. There are those who are sane and have committed to losing our lives to protect our freedoms. But violence is not the way. We give ourselves to the Kingdom of God who rules so that others may live and be free. As Jesus did, and I understand why he gave his life so that others may be free.
      Seperation of church and state are required by God. He is the supreme power.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • thewoolf

      I have a cousin who lost his leg in Iraq and another who has served two tours in Iraq. I've worked with men and women who were in the Marines and the National Guard. It is interesting that the ones who have been on the front lines are the ones who respect my beliefs the most.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  20. Aaron

    Why is this a lead story????? There are many religious idiots. Why give them publicity?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:34 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.