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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. Agnostic

    Mennonite beliefs indeed are bizarre and offensive. We are citizens first, then you could be what you want to be. Only freedom we have in America allows groups like this to exit. It would be interesting to see what governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, or China would do to these nuts. America is the place where this (and countless other groups) found refuge from their religious persecutors in Europe. People like these (and all who claim to be citizens of the world) intentionally or not work to destroy our country. USA is not perfect by any means, but as of today, it's the best place in the world by far.

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

      @ Agnostic "USA is not perfect by any means, but as of today, it's the best place in the world by far."

      Prove it.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Uhhh

      Don't get me wrong, I love America and all, but let's not forget that America doesn't own a monopoly on religious freedom and protection from persecution for being who you are. What you just wrote might have sounded nice pre-WW2 or perhaps during the Cold War...but it just sounds silly today. Most of Europe is just as free as America (more free than us in many aspects, actually) and has a very high standard of living. And let's not forget America's northern twin, Canada, eh?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Menno knight

      actually, if you did some research, you would find that mennonites do live in all those places. Another food for thought... american mennonites are more accepted in all those places than other americans... wonder why that could be...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • tom

      blah blah, the usual crap..."we are the best country in the world", that statement comes usually from people who never even left the country or even their state. There are many countries out there, enjoying equal freedom, have better healthcare and less religious knuckle heads, and a true separation of state on religion. We always seem to think we are the greatest, wake up, those times are long over!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Pudinsky

      What an ignorant response. Have u ever been to Saudi Arabia or Iran or China or r u using what u are fed from the TV? also, granted people came to the us to flee religious persecution – but to be met here by bigots like u who call them 'nuts' and feel like it's u'r right to judge them and hide behInd the anonymity of the Internet.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Steve - patriot

    For this church to have to issue a thousand word explanation as to why they don't sing the national anthem is to beg the overall question. If you can't say it in twenty words or less, you're probably making excuses. If you don't want to sing it, fine. If you don't want to salute the flag, fine. You will still be protected under what the song and flag stand for, by the same goverment, no matter how imperfect, that grants you the opportunity to be belligerant and allows you to worship (or not) the way you want to. You see, my athiest and supposedly high thinking christian friends, before the usa, you worshiped the queen or some baron in a castle while you lived in animal dung and couldn't so much as do simple math. You don't like this country? Find somewhere else that's better. Mars and pluto are available. I'll even help you pack.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Filthy Peasant

      Yes, this is nice muck here. Much better muck than what we used to have. Yes, very nice.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • John Richardson

      Oh, so we are "free" to behave as Steve wants everyone to or leave. Not much freedom, that!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Good Grief!

      Steve's a PATRIOT! Obey Him NOW!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  3. Bill

    Can someone please explain how this is news? This is only CNN news!

    Unemployment above 9.0%, we are involved in three conflicts (wars), soldiers being brought home everyday in body bags, house pricing drop by 30-40%, people cannot pay their mortgages, national debt above $14.3 trillion and the president wants another $2.5 trillion to spend, no resolutionto the increased debt ceiling, no resolution to the next budget, increasing inflation and devalue of the dollar and all the president want sto do is golf and go on vacation!

    And this is the stuff CNN writes about! Frankly, who care?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  4. Horgh

    I don't sing the National Anthem because I'm a Mennonite. And also because I don't know the words

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Mustang Sallie

      If I were you I would be hanging my head in shame. This country was founded on religious freedom...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  5. tiredoffakenews

    Stop posting religious blog entries on the front page without stating what they are. CNN barely passes for news as is and this isn't helping.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  6. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  7. Martin Abero

    Our flag and anthem are not for us to follow a particular political belief but for us to remember the tens of thousands, no the hundreds of thousands of men and women who gave their lives to this Country so that folks like you do the things you feel you must do! Thank God for those who serve our Country to make sure that we will have the right to worship and believe the way we want. Freedom is never free. Just look at the middle east and all the folks that are willingly giving up their lives so that they and their families can have freedom! I know that standing for our National anthem and watching those stars and stripes are teaching our children what it took to have the freedoms we have and the sacrifices of those in the past who have served our country. Those at your college will graduate without the lessons of history in respecting those who came before them! God help them!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. Disagree

    This guy is so wrong. Anabaptists were burned in 16th century Europe so they came to the new world to practice freedom of religion. America enables freedom of religion as a basic human right around the world. He owes the ability to be who he is to America. If he doesn't want to sing the national anthem, fine, that's his right (also owed to America). But dont forget why he has that right.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  9. CINDY Kocks

    WHATEVER!! I'm soooooo sick of people scrambling for their "15 minutes of fame" at the cost of everyone else in this country. I'm moving to the Moon!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Jacky G

      You'd better change your name to Alice, then.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • izhar syed

      Cindy, Canada is closer.....

      June 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  10. P00P

    WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE HAVE AGAINST B00BS?!?!?!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Chris

      What?!? NOTHING! I love breasts!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  11. educatedguess

    95% of the people, christian or not, are incapable of following your simple but profound logic, Pastor, due to the siamese twins of stoopidity and arrogance.

    when the stoopid and arrogant have big guns, humanity is doomed. at least in this life.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • educatedguess

      look below, cdpf, for example of the marriage of stoopidity and arrogance.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  12. cdpf

    I stand, take my hat off and sing the National Anthem with respect and pride! Mennonites and atheists...DEAL WITH IT!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • reality check

      What does being an atheist have to do with singing or not singing the star spangled banner? The two aren't linked...

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

      Don't drag Atheists into this, you moron. We stand and respect the national anthem just like (some, apparently) of you religious fools. Now "God Bless America"? Yes, you can gripe about that all you want. Non-believers don't care for that beautiful, yet idiotic song.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • alcarcalimo2364

      Who says atheists don't sing the national anthem? I do. And I think the pastor gave a perfectly sound reason as to why he and that college don't sing it. He was not disrespectful and he is within his right.

      I think the responses here are very telling, however. I think most of you have are treating America, i.e. the idea of America, as a religion and blindly subscribe to patriotism without really understanding the intricacies and fallacies of the United States. I say leave this pastor alone. He didn't say no one else could sing the national anthem, he merely explained why he doesn't

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

      Atheists don't have a problem with the Star Spangled Banner. It's the fact that "Under God" was *added* to the Pledge of Allegiance. I say the pledge without those added words. I hope that you're just a poor troll.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  13. stickyd

    If you don't want to honor America with the singing our National Anthem, you don't deserve to live in this country. I just don't get the people that have a problem with America's traditions and history? If you despise them, move to another country that fit your beliefs and ideals better! I'm tired of bowing to the demands of minorities at the expense of the majority. God Bless America! We need it!

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

      Amen to that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I served 9 years in the Marine Corps and I don't have to sing anything I don't want to. I can also bad mouth this country all I want. I earned that right.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Mustang Sallie

      Amen!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Mustang Sallie

      My Amen! was replying to Strickyd...not the marine.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • kme

      Yes, America is a free country, and if you don't do everything we say you'll be ostracized....;)

      Free is free or else it's not.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  14. Richard Cheese

    American Conservative Christians – the DEFINITION of false dichotomy.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • manfer Ralper

      can you explain that in plain english cause I dont understand .

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  15. WB

    There is too much mixing of religion and politics today and in the past. Conflating the two, as we often do in the US, would be a disaster, as the founders clearly anticipated. It is with some vigor that the US government must state that the situation in the Middle East is not yet another Christian Crusade and we are often not believed. Strict separation of Church and State should most assuredly be followed, not only in the US but world-wide.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  16. BobFromLI

    This seems like a lot of effort to make to avoid singing a song about the history of the country he is sheltered by. Further, exactly what of this country? Is he only a Jesus person or what? Very highminded, very confused.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  17. TSgt

    I am a Airman sitting in a tent overseas waiting for the aircraft that is giong to take me to war. I am not here for a bloodlust nor to be a hero. I am here here because of my duty to my country! It is this country that gives them the freedom to worship however they want without the horible deaths given to them in the past. Singing the National Anthem does not require them to give up their faith nor prevent them from loving the enimens that want nothing more than to send all of us to our maker. Their colective choice to not allow the National Anthem is a slap to the face for all of us over here putting our lives on the line so they can sit safely in the U.S. The National Anthem is not a pledge nor an oath. It just acknowladges the history of our nation and celebrates the freedoms we enjoy.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Actually, you're there because large corporations have the government in their back pocket and their balance sheets do the best when we are killing people overseas. It has NOTHING to do with defending anything. You are there because rich people want you to be there. Nothing more. Duck.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Joy

      Thank you sir for your service! And thank you for enlightening these misguided people!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Yankee-Cajun

      Done my time as well and I agree 110%. Let us worry about this crap here, and you keep your head in the game. Be safe doin what you're doin.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Joy

      Shamrock6, just shut up and stop displaying your ignorance! Get off the couch and do some volunteer work/community service and be a productive member of this society, will you?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • craigsf5

      Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Yankee-Cajun

      @ Shamrock, we all join for different reasons. Some for college money, some because we weren't born w the same opportunities as others to survive, and some of us because we feel an obligation to our country. Regardless of why the govt wants us to do what we do, we ALL know the repercussions of being in, how the govt uses us as tools, and that some people like you wont respect our reasons for joining. You cannot taint the sense of patriotism and pride of serving with YOUR beliefs of why we fight wars. Trust me, Ive heard it ALL. Not bashing your comment at all, but dang man! Have some respect for what we do

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • izhar syed

      MAY GOD BLESS CORPORATE AMERICA FOR GIVING YOU THE JOB AND SOME FALSE PURPOSE.....RETURN HOME SAFELY

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Mustang Sallie

      Shamrock6, I want to tell you to leave Tsgt alone, but I won't. And the reason for that is because we take part in a country that provides freedom of speech. THAT is why Tsgt is waiting for that plane at this moment. You should be THANKING Tsgt so you can make the comment you just made.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Theendofdays

    I actually like the anthem and I am from Canada. These people are so far left, they will help with the collapse of the US if that day ever came. These would be the same people enemies of the US would line up and shoot first, if the US ever was beaten...Not.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Themoth

      Left? You really have no clue do you. Just throw left on anything that's not patriotic. If you know any Mennonites you would realize that they philosophically lean a lot more towards the extreme social conservatism (right). Of the Mennonites I have known they will blame all of your problems on your relationship with Jesus. They have no grasp on the real world and live in their exclusive little religious cult.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Theendofdays

      Go to the light moth.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  19. Mustang Sallie

    If you love your God (and your chosen religion) who takes care of you therefore to which you support and acknowledge through thick and thin, why would you not do the same for the country who fights for your freedom to choose that religion?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Theendofdays

      Exactly.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Puck

      Jesus said render to "Caesar what is Caesars"....does Caesar (Bush/Obama/etc) own your life? When they came to take Jesus away to kill him, the Apostles pulled out swords, and Jesus warned 'those who live by the sword die by the sword'. If protecting Jesus wasn't worth violence, what cause of man is worth fighting, killing and dying for?

      Read Daniel 2 – which clearly shows that all the nation's of man will be turned into dust...utterly destroyed. Then ask why should we fight for these nation's? The Lord's prayer tells us to pray for 'God's Kingdom to come', not die for the temporary ones here now.

      Oh, and every nation's claims divine right. The USA is 'under god' and so if all of the Middle East and every nation that murdered throughout history. Don't be confused by the marketing material....bloodshed is the same in any time or language.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  20. tlk110

    All religious arguements aside, there is no law or rule that states the anthem has to be performed before an event. It's a matter of choice but people are upset because of the break in tradition.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:20 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.