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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. Francis Scott Key

    We are
    Born like this
    Into this
    Into these carefully mad wars
    Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
    Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
    Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
    Born into this
    Into hospitals which are so expensive that it's cheaper to die
    Into lawyers who charge so much it's cheaper to plead guilty
    Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
    Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
    Born into this
    Walking and living through this

    June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  2. educatedguess

    no one's surprised that 95% of the responses only prove that the menonites are right.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • eh

      Truth is truth. They don't have to do the anthem. It doesn't matter how many people understand the law. The law says they have freedom of speech. This isn't prewar Germany.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Them

      right about what? Why can't you spell it out?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  3. Drew

    Why do Christians carry a bible in one hand and a gun in the other? Christians r Christian when it suits them. SHEEP.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  4. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  5. Nick

    The fact that no God has chosen to remedy our arguing by showing any sign of his/her/its existence makes him/her/it at best negligent and at worst masochistic. Just a few thousand years ago, God was supposedly all over this piece, telling people to do this and do that, making laws and taking names. Not a word since Old Delirious stumbled off a mountain with stone tablets. So he/she/it either doesn't care anymore, or they kinda like us killing each other over theories about it. Either way, nothing I'm wasting my Sunday mornings on.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Russell Bantin

      So... are you in agreement with them?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Hokfusine

      Looks like you already wasted some time there, Nick. And you won't get it back! Bwahahahaha!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Joy

      There was no God. That God was an alien trying to put civility in a planet populated by half-alien, half-monkey hybrids. Haha!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  6. Katherine

    Just like may of those in the public eye such as poiticians, actors and musicians I belive this church and this man in particular are looking for the spot light and fame. If he had passion about what he does he would do it without all this public attention. I firmly believe there should be a law that anyone and I mean anyone that lives on US soil that refuses to practices those traditionions set by our forfathers (that worked to build a successful and peaceful nation) go back to where they came from and be banned forever. We never had any problems like this in the US until the "freaks" and yes I mean "freaks" started moving in - I agree with all the comments here – this is most likely a CULT – they are "freaks" with close reseblance to extremeist muslums and you also should be allowed your religious freedom as long as it does not infere with you absolute responsibility to this country - if you don't honor this county and its traditions "GET OUT" your not welcome

    June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Mike Ross

      Well said, he would even have the freedom to do what he does if it were not for this nation. The anthem doesn't say worship the United States. It is simly paying respect and honor in ones love of a country where we have the very freedoms this guy enjoys each and every day in AMERICA! Seriously????

      June 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  7. wayne carlson

    The pledge of alliance gives you the right to practice your religion freely, men and women have died to give you that right without it you would be practicing your religion in secret..... You idiot

    June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Mike Ross

      Well said, he would even have the freedom to do what he does if it were not for this nation. The anthem doesn't say worship the United States. It is simly paying respect and honor in ones love of a country where we have the very freedoms this guy enoys each and every day in AMERICA! Seriously????

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

      OOPS – you are confusing the pledge of allegiance with the national anthem – and you are still wrong regarding it's significance. The pledge does nothing more than declare our loyalty to the country we live in – using the flag as a symbol of that country

      June 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  8. Larry Moniz

    May I point out that your faith is no longer in the 16th Century. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights guarantees your freedom to practice your faith. The National Anthem and our flag are symbols of the country that provide Mennonites with their very freedom to practice their religion. As a former soldier in the U.S. Army, I served to protect the freedoms of all American citizens. There was no ambiguity, I never made a mental reservation that I would defend all but the Mennonites who won't honor our national flag. Being a resident of a nation should obligate that person to the nation's code of conduct, its laws and mores. Religious and secular tolerance is a two way street. If a religious group feels it isn't obligated to do so, then perhaps others might question whether that group should be afforded the same rights as other citizens. Essentially such a Mennonite position fosters a climate in which others feel justified in limited religious freedom. The college's latest actions could well rebound and breed widespread contempt for those who use religion as a shield to avoid their secular obligations.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • News Flash

      "Being a resident of a nation should obligate that person to the nation's code of conduct, its laws and mores."
      The National Code of Conduct ? Did I miss something, or where did you get that book ?
      Yeah right. If that were true, that would be a justification for slavery and abridgement of civil rights. There is no National Code of Conduct. There are laws, and they should apply to all, but one man's mores is another mans evil, and you have no right to shove your's down anyone else's throat.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  9. Bryan

    Dear Mark,

    If you're so lonely, and wish to be more included in the public forum, then why do you single out and "otherize" other groups, such as "fluffy-headed campus philosophers" and "lazy latte-sipping liberals"? That's basically the equivalent of hoping you can offer these other two groups as sacrificial lambs so as to better connect with the target audience of your piece. Who is your target audience? Apparently, a group of people you think are hyper judgmental, for they will pounce on philosophers and liberals and feast on their remains eagerly, then suture a glimmer of respect because they believe they are bound with you out of a mutual hate for the Others. Also, your audience must be very stupid, not to see through your hypocrisy.

    Of course, had you tailored this piece towards somebody like me, a compassionate egg-head liberal philosopher, I might've sympathized with your position that you should be able to express yourself without censure, and agreed that Americans should be more tolerant and accepting of diverse ideas within our population.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  10. PhillyMark

    Reciting the National Anthem has nothing to do with patriotism. Far too often in America we hear rants from those who claim to be patriotic, but their rants exclude segments of our population from civil rights, their rants blame innocent people in foreign lands and their votes condemn us all to the misery brought upon us by conservative politicians.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Joe

      Why do you like so many gravitate issues to liberal or conservative views. Does your opinion have a leg to stand on without it?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • johny

      Your comment does you no favors, and indicates an inability to differentiate between philosophy and political posturing. 'conservative politicians'? Really? You need to open a few books and take a look at the politics of the Presidents who have declared war on another nation. Do not continue to believe your own propaganda. If you do, you are simply another part of the problem.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  11. Ron Madson

    I completely endorse Goshen College. "Flagophilia" is a disease.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Joe

      Just like the authors article. You don't make sense.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  12. Robert

    As a long time devout Christian AND a recent citizen of the USA I proudly sing my new national anthem. The Bible clearly states allegiance to Jesus Christ AND respecting one's political/national governance. Jesus clearly stated we are to give to God what is God AND give to Ceasar (government) what is Caesar's. There nothing wrong with pledging allegiance to the 'flag' and singing the national anthem WHEN it is recognized in it's proper place. This guy is simply just wrong.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • JH

      Lies are dangerous

      June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Russell Bantin

      If you are indeed a Christian, Bought by the blood of Christ, then why would you pledge your allegiance to any other?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Uh, Russell? Did you miss the part where he paraphrased Jesus about "rendering unto Caesar?" I think this neatly explained his reasoning.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  13. Socks

    This seemed like a really stupid headline, and a really stupid article.

    Then I saw it was in the religious section. Bingo.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • educatedguess

      you rest the menonites' case. job well done, sonny.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  14. Matt

    I've never seen a passport issued by the Christian Nation. This is unpatriotic, religious extremism. They may not be flying planes into buildings or blowing up trains, but they are just as misguided.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Russell Bantin

      Get a grip... Unpatriotic??? If anything it speaks DEEPLY of patriotism and freedom... think about it..

      June 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Menno Mike

      If seeking to live what Jesus lived and taught is misguided, I'll continue to be misguided. These remarks accurately reflect what those who persecuted my Anabaptist forebears said.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Dp

    Did the Mennonites just pull a New Coke on us? Well, I'm in, as long as I can still eat meat.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  16. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Ah, sports game patriotism...
    Because what says you love America more than cursing at and hating people who just happen to root for the opposing, also American team.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  17. David Martines

    Blood soaked borders? I'm insulted by another religious fanatic. Jesus would be insulted that a report of such contempt for a secure and free country caters to a cult.

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

      here comes another to rest the menonites' case.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Dp

      Let's all stop remembering the consequences of wars so this guy won't be insulted.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Travis Russelll

      Yes, blood soaked borders. How do you think this country, or any other country continues to exist in the world? They exist by their willingness to protect their borders through self -defense, which is violence and requires the blood of its members. And how can you call this man a "fanatic"? How can one who peacefully, like Jesus, does nothing more than to seek peace with those around him, even to his own detriment?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Russell Bantin

      Define "free"

      June 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  18. jack

    The more small groups wish to distinguish themselves, the quicker we as Americans will forget what values and ideas bond us together in the first place. We should never focus on what makes us different or special. Instead, we should focus on what ties us together....because in hard times, you rally around what you have in common, not what sets you apart.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  19. pat suit

    Am I the only one who noticed that they do NOT believe in water baptism..it should be reserved for those whose faith is in Jesus...to "but I pledge my allegiance to Jesus..WHAT??

    June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Look a little closer

      The statement seems confusing at first glance, but he said that he doesn't believe in infant water baptism, as it should be reserved for those who confess their faith in Jesus. Infants can't confess to anything. They get baptized when they are older.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • David

      I'm mennonite. They don't believe in water baptism at birth. They believe the baptised should personally declare their faith in Jesus. It's a personal choice, not a something forced onto a baby.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  20. crispinv

    Stupid pacifists – just like Jesus. I worship Thor & Odin, gods who are truly appropriate for a warlike people.

    It's time we all admitted that Christianity is a religion for the weak, that none of us (except guys like this one) actually practice. I mean, c'mon: if we followed Jesus, we'd have no military, and would allow any invasions (turning the nation's entire other cheek, in other words). We'd have let the Nazis get away with it, because our faith in "God" was so strong that we'd actually have faith that heaven exists and we'd be rewarded there for doing something incredibly hard, like resisting fighting back.

    It's time to either get back to the old, primitive gods, or abandon the whole joke, and just admit we're vicious animals who can talk. It's time to dump Jesus.

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

      you will like talmud and torah.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
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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.