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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. George Washington

    I find it absolutely a waste of time to play the anthem before every sporting event.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  2. robert

    Freedom isn't free for anyone , including this congregation. The freedom to make such choices is protected by the soldiers and the country that they choose to ignore

    June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • V'ger

      Those goddam soldiers are dropping the ball then. We are losing freedoms and rights faster than before.
      They'd better arrest all those damn politicians who keep taking bribes to do what's wrong before we all start rioting.
      This music thing is BS. They don't have to play that song. We aren't commies marching in lockstep.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Salem Poor

      Apparently you didn't read far enough in the article.

      "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."

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

      Freedom belongs to Jesus Christ who shed His blood for our soul & in so doing broke the chains that we continue to wrap around our own necks

      June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • floyd

      I'm a Vietnam era vet. I'm not religious. One reason I didn't consider refusing military service is that I defended those who didn't necessarily believe in military service. The same was true with religious types (lots of them) whose beliefs I don't share.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • critical thinking

      please read the article again. just because they think about an issue, people group, ideology in a way deviant from popular belief does not they are disrespecting or ignoring anyone/anything

      June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  3. OP

    I'm not gonna go into the religious realm here.

    I will not sing the national anthem anymore. The entire political system is so corrupt, the country is no longer what it once was when the anthem originated. The majority who stand up and sing it at these big events are "sheeple" conformists who deep in their heart know full well it doesn't feel right.

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

      Ahhh... insight and courage. Two diminishing aspects of this country. Applause!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  4. Bill

    And this is CNN "Breaking News"? Wow, good thing CNN is there when the news breaks? We could have really missed out on this "must know" story! What a joke!

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

      That's why CNN calls this the "Belief Blog", instead of "Breaking News".

      June 27, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  5. lilpony

    Isn't wonderful to be in a country that allows religous freedom, hmm, I wonder how did that happen, Oh yes, my forefathers died to make this great country. I you don't like the way American's are, then leave, no one is stopping you. Why don't you try your little tantrum in China or Cuba, how far do you think you would get. I know all the way to prison. This song has been around for how long??? And just now you have a problem with it?

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

      Are you going to force them to listen to Lady Gaga too? Why can't you admit they are free to not listen or sing?
      This is a free country. Why don't you start up a death camp or something?

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

      I you don't like the way American's are, then leave, no one is stopping you. Why don't you try your little tantrum in China or Cuba, how far do you think you would get.

      You're not good at recognizing hypocrisy. You're complaining so by your logic, YOU can leave. Moreover, demanding someone conform to demands like you make is the hallmark of governments like Cuba and China. You want to see someone that doesn't appreciate America and its freedoms, look in the mirror.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  6. April

    Just because a person chooses not to sing the national anthem doesn't mean that person is anti-USA or not a patriot. The fact that so many Christians are opposed to what Goshen did with this decision just illustrates to me that many Christians don't read their Bibles. Jesus calls us to pay taxes because that is the law of the land we live in, and not because taxes are godly or Christian or whatever. I've never found it written as a law of the land that we sings songs of homage to our country. People are free to opt out of it, just as you all are free to opt out of things that are not within your set of values. When people in a church get more riled up about the presence of a flag in the sanctuary or the absence of the national anthem at a sporting event than they do about the way orphans, widows, and poor are being treated, there is a serious problem.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=390]
    =

    June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  8. mariepearle

    The National Anthem was written by Christians. Stop using your religion as an excuse to do as you like or don't like, please.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • af090391

      Indeed, they should just do what they like or don't like regardless, so long as it's ok with the law.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  9. religious freedom

    It's npt legally required to sing the "national anthem". A religious school which has strong ideas about separation of church and state not choosing to perform a highly ritualized performance of a pro-state musical number makes perfect sense. If anything the rest of the country should take this as an example. The "state" is just a tool which exists to serve our needs and protect our rights. Why sing nostalgic songs about the DMV, or municipal court, or water inspectors? These are all great and valuable things, but clearly have nothing to do with the anthem. Instead, the anthem is about fostering patriotism, state loyalty, and nationalism. All of which are poisons on the minds of free men. The state owes its loyalty to me, not the other way around. Good for Goshen!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  10. John in AZ

    So boring. There is NO good reason not to sing the National Anthem, BUT, because this is America, they can do whatever they want...so sing it, don't sing it, it doesn't matter. This is just like people flying the stars and bars, I personally find it offensive, but they have every right to.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  11. P00P

    at least satanism allows you to sing the national anthem

    June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  12. Jouster

    "I'm offended by the kind of smarmy religiosity that's all around us, perhaps more in America than in Europe, and not really that harmful because it's not really that intense or even that serious, but just... you know after a while you get tired of hearing clergymen giving the invocation at various public celebrations and you feel, haven't we outgrown all this? Do we have to listen to this?" – Steven Weinberg

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

      hmmm, weinberg's feeling uncomfortable with Jesus's message against the money changers? i'm shocked!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  13. Mighty7

    The fact you demand the national anthem be sung as a way to honor you is atrocious and extremely arrogant.

    Airman....

    June 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  14. edge44545

    why does religion make one do stupid things?

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

      Why does patriotism make one do stupid things?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Just Because

      You have to be stupid to believe in an invisible man in the sky who personally favors you but will eternally torture everyone you don't like.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • waj66

      Oh, I don't know... perhaps for the same reason that feigned patriotism does.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • educatedguess

      just because, obviously the menonite 's god doesn't do anything you suggest as done in the name of god. there! LOL

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  15. Ted

    It's nice to see that religious tolerance is alive and well in the US. I can see why so many wonderful Christians burned these people, rather than respecting their beliefs. I sing the National Anthem, but that's because of my beliefs, not because I am a sheep. If the Anthem went against my core beliefs, I wouldn't either. Sir, I commend you for standing up for yourself in the face of adversity.

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

      Baaaah

      June 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • educatedguess

      thank the menonites and others for tolerating, oh wait loving idiots like you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  16. Jacob

    According to this author, he "recognize(s) 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." If you don't even recognize our nation, what are you doing living in it? I don't care if you choose to not say the anthem, but if you are telling me you truly have no respect for the nation of America, then we don't want you here.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Just Because

      He's here for the money.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Kinoeye

      Please don't speak for me. I don't appreciate that.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  17. Mark

    I worked for a Mennonite organization is Goshen, I have been in meetings with college officials at Goshen College, and the one thing I found to be true is their convictions to their beliefs, and a spirit of acceptance; no matter the race, creed, or color,
    The rest of the country could learn valuable lessons from this religious group. I don't believe everything they believe, but I respect their rights as citizens and saints. Those servicement and women who have died for our religious, and political freedom did so with Mennonites in mind, too. They might not have ever heard of Menno Simons, but they fought for those who follow him. That is the beauty of this country.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Just Because

      You actually think that servicemen think of all the religions they are dying for as they die?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • livsmom

      I think you need to be very careful when you take stands against the American practices such as singing the star spangled banner etc. Am I to understand that no Mennonites enjoy the freedoms and conveniences and benefits that our great country has to offer? No Mennonites who "sing" this way of life receive monthly social security checks or any government assistance of any kind, never a food stamp or SSI or insurance? No one gets to have their cake and eat it too, so I think people need to be very careful which side of their mouth they speak or in this case "sing". Maybe these people need to really think about their stand.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • educatedguess

      well the menonites never asked anyone to fight for their freedom. don't expect the menonites to bow down to the soldiers who fought without the menonites asking.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  18. Brent

    It would not be my approach, but everyone who is scorning these people should think twice about the real meaning of freedom and America. It is great that they can make such a decision and implement it. That is the beauty of OUR country, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. You don't have to agree with the expression, but they have every right to follow their faith.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I am no scholar of the Bible but I do believe so-called Christians use christianity to fit their needs and when you disagree with them they call you UNAMERICAN or any other slanderous name they can think of.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • educatedguess

      your understanding of the relationship between the bible and the reality is right on the money. nothing more to be studied.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  20. Americanshark

    What a bunch of bologna. First to the one who "doesn't live in the US and is glad." We are too. Stay away, we don't need you or care for you, of course unless you need something. To these people who won't sing or stand for the National Anthem. It is ok. All the men and women who had guts and brains to fight for YOU look over the fact you are stupid. You won't fight for the country, but you sure like the benefits of living here. Sure OUR country has a lot of major problems but we have it so much better than most it is rediculous. Those veterans you chose not to honor, they died for something,you live for nothing. Yes I am a veteran, an American a patriot and a Christian, like it or not....WE are the majority in this country, not you losers.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • JIMSTER

      SOUNDS A LITTLE FASCIST AMIGO......FREEDOM TO CHOSE IS WHAT IT'S ABOUT.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • alsmeer1

      Amen Americanshark. I stand with you. None of us, Christian, non-Christian, like war, bloodshed. But how do some people think we got the National Anthem. through blood and sacrifice, so we today can have those freedoms. Singing the National Anthem does not have to take away your honor and aligence to the Lord Jesus.
      I am 100% behind America, and believe we are who we are because of men and women standing up and saying "no more" to tyranny. And I follow Christ.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Kinoeye

      Yes, you're right. The true meaning of America must be that our soldiers fight and die to FORCE everyone to sing a song. Does it not occur to you that many, many people who are not soldiers contribute many, many great things to this country as well?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Peter

      The whole idea that the national anthem honors veterans who fought for all of our rights and that anyone who is opposed to it is a loser, an idiot, a hater of America, is exactly why people all over the world hate us. It's why there will never be world peace. It's also why corrupt politicians have and will retain all the power in this country. No one questions dead soldiers and no one challenges patriotism and what it means. All of this can be said for religion and it's propaganda too. As soon as we stop worshiping false gods 9i.e. veterans, war, and invisible spirits) and start focusing on real, physical needs and people, things will start to get better. The national anthem and the flag are pointless. They are smoke and mirrors to keep people supporting America and all its corruption and control in the world. Her day of failure will come as it always does. Read some Howard Zinn for the American story you never learned. Learn why it is that "terrorists" hate us. Don't be blinded by the flag and national anthem. Did you know the tune of the national anthem is from an underground 19th century English drinking society? THE TUNE OF OUR OWN NATIONAL ANTHEM IS NOT EVEN AMERICAN!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • educatedguess

      i forbid you and anyone else from killing and looting in MY name!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:56 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.