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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. MrMajestik

    You beer drinking, hard talking fu*ks make me sick...how is that for PC
    I live in north Idaho and we have a huge population of Mennonites here ... they are freaks
    The argument that tradition should be scared is absurd...if that were truly the case we'd still be doing animal sacrifices

    June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Good Grief!

      I'm not supposed to be doing animal sacrifices?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • cmc

      Good thing this is a country where people are allowed to be freaks.....even the Santaria ones that sacrifice animals.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • James

      i sacrifice animals every day – to the God of my belly.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  2. Panda207

    Many of you should start your own country where you can force people to recite a pledge of allegiance to a symbolic flag and sing a patriotic war song before arbitrary events such as sports games.
    The rest of us should be allowed to live in a FREE country.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • RightturnClyde

      We did start our own country and then unfortunately they let a bunch of Johnny-come-latelys in from elsewhere who want all the comforts and privileges and then insult us. Back when we were not infiltrated by outsiders we ALL served in the military .. every MAN server at least 4 years. We ALL took responsibility for our own kids (and raised them in a decent home) .. now MOST of you walk off on your wife and kids when it comes time to pay. (you make up lame excuses - like this author - for being lazy and out of step). Most of you are in financial trouble because your are too lazy to study, to work and to herd-like to read the mortgage papers before you sign them. You will not get an easy life like that in any other country .. but you expect us to give it to you. My response is .. get off your back end and work for a living.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  3. Salem Poor

    Like too many on the right you engage your anger before your mind, otherwise you wouldn't have missed this;

    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 11:49 am |
  4. Proud Hoosier?

    Goshen College.... LOL.....

    June 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  5. Botfly

    This is America baby. Freedom of religion. As long as you don't break the law, you can believe in and practice – or not practice – whatever you want.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Chris

      Remember is from and of

      June 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  6. Adam

    This guy should form his own country an d get the hell out off mine....Let him call it Jesusvilee otr w

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Aztrazolo

      I think most of us would be happier with an idiot like you gone.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Panda207

      Why do you hate freedom?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Chris

      If anything he loves freedom...religious people have been restricting what you can do for along time. The blue laws in Texas are enough to make me hate most religious people. They are ruining this country believe you me. Thats why republicans are no longer respected...as soon as you let religion take control of a country your going to have problems.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Panda207

      "Get the hell out of my country" if you won't sing a song at a sporting event? That does not sound like it comes from a freedom embracing paradigm.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Monica

      Yes, Adam, why don't you take your own advice and get out cause this nation would be far better off without you and those like you in it.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  7. gary

    if you dont like it, look elsewere

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  8. Bill

    I've haven't sung the national anthem for decades, nor recited the pledge of allegiance since before I left high school. I don't appreciate the 'programming' nor believe in the words. I'm a born and raised here, third generation European but I don't buy much of the corporate/military/industrial/government story coming from the US government and the media. As a people, our complicity with the propaganda will be our downfall. We have willingly given up our independence, freedom, privacy and connection to the earth. My kids will pay the price of others' greed and be stronger for it.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Gandalf1369

      Then move to another country . . . . . See if you have more freedom there.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  9. Joe

    The pledge of allegiance and the National Anthem are two different things. I could understand your faith prohibits the pledge to be sung. The national anthem is completely different.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  10. John Home-Douglas

    To think that one of these religious nuts is running to become the President of the United States of America is enough to make you want to throw up.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Gandalf1369

      Wrong religion idiot. The Presidential contenders are MORMON not Mennonite.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • GenomicsGuy

      What do you mean? Every single one of the political candidates are religious nuts!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  11. Mike

    What a poorly writen article. Strays off topic and hardly even addresses the point of the article. The only brief mention of why they dont play the national anthem is that they believe in church and state. This just was one long rant about his religion.

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

      IITA – A badly written article
      A grabbing headline and then you have to read forever to get to why they don't play the anthem –
      I wouldn't play it because The Star Spangle Banner is a bad song,
      God Bless America and America The Beautiful would be much better as our national anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Monica

      The article is quite clear and the whole thing explains how they arrive at a conclusion that the national anthem or pledge to allegiance do not belong in their religious experience. Perhaps you just have problems with reading and comprehension.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  12. Wow

    The ignorance and intolerance to anything people disagree with is astounding. People not singing the national anthem in a country where it is their right not to, is not your business.

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

      But in this same country, you're allowed to sate your opinion in a public forum, even if it's in a disagreement with some issue.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  13. slm

    This opinion piece should not have the top spot on your NEWS page website – in my opinion.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  14. carlos

    EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY THERE'S A FREAKING RELIGIOUS TOP HEADLINE. CANT CNN FIND SOMETHING NOT RELIGIOUS TO SHOW ON SUNDAYS? LIKE ANYONE CARES IF THEY LIKE THE ANTHEM OR NOT.

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

      This problem is on your end. Good day.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • elsie

      To Carlos: If you don't like articles about religion then QUIT CLICKING ON CNN'S RELIGION BLOG. It's that simple. Really. It is put there for those who are interested, not to annoy your precious little self. I know this is shocking, but not everything on the Internet is about you. Move on and find the NASCAR results or whatever you're looking for.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  15. gary

    i live close to this city....20 years in the air force........this sucks.......

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

      Why?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • dogs rule

      Whoop-ee-doo for you. Who cares?

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

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

    .

    June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  17. FITZ

    Well the author is free do do as he wants, after all this is america. So enjoy your silence sir. As for myself, my catholic tradition has a long history of violence that does not oppose me to this fine and proud song.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  18. Patriot

    I would like to point out that the singing of national anthem started during WWII because Congress wanted to instill patriotism in the American people. Before WWII, sports events and other events did not start with the national anthem nor flag salutes. Before you respond, you should check your facts. As an atheist, I agree with a strong separation of church and state. In fact, I know that the stronger the separation between the two, the stronger will be the patriotism because people will not feel forced into patriotic behavior. Isn't that what American freedoms are all about?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  19. Ric_30309

    I too am from a denomination that believes in strict separation of church and state. I can understand to a large degree the pastor's stance. I would wonder though how the school teaches an appreciation of the fact that that they have the right to not sing the star spangled banner in the United States. I also wonder if the pastor urges his congregation not to pay their taxes as well? I"m not saying that he does. The article doesn't point out how far out the pastor goes toward not obeying Jesus's admonition to render unto Caesar...
    I served in the Armed Forces because I believe that I owed it to this country to give service for value. I would have preferred to have served in the Peace Corps however at the time I served the Peace Corps was inactive.
    @B2Tall respectfully I think you are mixing apples and oranges if you think God cares whose alma mater sports team wins or not.

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

      Not paying taxes is a good idea as taxes are used to fund war and war is needed because this is a war economy and empire. Not paying taxes makes sense as the IRS is illegal.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  20. Fantod

    Someone please tell me: what the hell does a game in which grown men run around on a field playing with a ball have to do with patriotism and religion. That is, at the core, the real issue here. Who got it in their mind that these sports games are events weighty enough to warrant the singing of our national anthem and evoking the name and power of God. Football and baseball are fun to play and watch, sure. But, I've got news for you folks: they are games, nothing more. Not a war. Not the altering of history or a threat to our freedom or our religious believe system. It's a bunch of grown men and women running around on a field. Getting bent out of shape over this stuff, is a bunch of puffed up nonsense. These things have, in the end, nothing to do with each other. Silly people. Move on. Get a life. Grow up.

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

      it's called tradition you dumb@$$! Obviously you've never served in uniform have you? you are probably one of those idiots who protest and soldiers funerals! If you don't like our national anthem and are not proud of it then pack your crap and move to afghanistan or north korea! i'm sure you could do wonders there with your great sense of wisdom you possess! do us all a favor and go hang yourself!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
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About this blog

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.