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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. Ian

    Aside from the author's religious motivations for not singing the SSB, honestly, why do we, as a society, still do it before every sporting event? WHY?!?!? It's a waste of time. But then, if a team, or in this case, university, decides not to do it, all of the religious right goes crazy about it.

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

      By "religious right", I also mean the falsely patriotic, barking dog conservative types.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Turok

      Are there any others?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  2. Jenny

    I have recently been researching my, "roots". I have found that I am related to Georg Weber, one of the first leaders in the Mennonite Church. My family went from Switzerland to Germany. They ended up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and eventually moved to Ohio. It is very important to note that the Mennonites came to the United States for the freedom to practice their religion. They are given that freedom by the many laws that govern our country. While I agree that religion has a very important place in our lives, we would not have that opportunity if it were not for our forefathers. We end The Star Spangled Banner by singing, for the land of the free and the home of the brave. Try and remember what that means. If it wasn't for some braves folks that came before us and fought to keep our freedom, we would not be a free country today. One that guarantees religious freedom to all. And for that, we owe our country to at least remember those sacrifices by belting out the Star Spangled Banner before athletic/sporting events.
    By the way, someone along the way in my family broke from the Mennonite Church. Maybe it was a Gr Grandfather that thought it was important to fight in one of our many wars that protected this country so we can be free......

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

    The article above, while thought provoking, did provide me with a chuckle or two as well. Now, please do not misunderstand, as I am not laughing at this man or his choice to adhere to any religious beliefs that he deems important in his life. The irony is that for this man and countless others in this country, freedom of religion and freedom of speech are ONLY possible BECAUSE of the sacrfices that so many have made in order to allow this country to be truly free.

    I am willing to bet that there are scores of people in this world who would love to be able to open practice religion openly; to be able to write about and speak about their choices without fear that their family could be killed if the authoritie knew what they believed. There are so many countries in this world where even speaking the name of God is risky and punishable by law..

    While one is free to express whatever opinion one wishes in this country, I urge the author to remember that this freedom came at a very high price. One that was paid for so many who gave up their lives for this dream. It is not only short sighted to forget that, but disrespectful to those who sacrificed their own lives and died for our freedom Obviously, war is brutal and awful, but please remember that unstable people more often than not oppress others (ie the Jews, Rwandans, Iraqi people etc etc etc) and many times war is the only language they understand.

    I am not a war monger, but man is indeed violent by nature, and it may serve this writer well to remember that "There by the grace of God go I" may very well apply in this situation. The writer may not agree with "bombs bursting in the air" or "the rockets red glare" but please remember that without this nations' peoples quest for freedom for EVERYONE we would all be living in a very different country, possible even speaking German and being known as the Fatherland.......

    June 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Rob

      Nicely said. the Bible says to honor and pray for those in authority. To pay to Caesar what is Caesars. They forget that thesy
      are blessed to live in this country. Let them all go live in India or any other country for that matter and see how they like
      the freedoms. They want their cake and eat it too.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  4. Roger H

    Praise God for a group of people who actually take seriously, among other things, Christ's command to "love your enemies." Although I'm sure they have plenty of faults, we must at least acknowledge the consistency behind this one teaching.
    How is it possiblle that the vast majority of those who claim to be part of the religion of Jesus Christ seem to be trying to do exactly the opposite of what He commanded, especially when it comes to their support of military activity.
    I suppose we all have the right, if we choose, to come up with our own religion in which the killing of our enemies is encouraged. Only let's please not call it the religion of Jesus.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  5. JoJo

    (sound of large toilet flushing)

    June 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • (__|__)

      (picture of big ass getting up from large toilet)

      June 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • OHNOES I FORGOT TO WIPE MY FAT ASS

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      June 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  6. KJ

    Separation of church and state??? You just said in your article, "That’s because we recognize only one Christian nation, the church, the holy nation". Sorry, sir you cannot have it both ways. This nation is a "land without a king; a church with out a pope" for a reason. While we try to enjoy freedom of religion, you quietly suggest freedom from religion while laying a charge that showing allegience to a belief system mixes church and state. You need to rethink your argument before posting it to a world-wide forum.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ted Linguini

      Well-spoken, sir or madam.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Alex in Florida

    I know, man! Doesn't it make you sick that we can freely practice what we believe? Hmmm.
    Hey Markey Mark: I feel bad you were born in such a horrible country and not in a place such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or China where you might feel more at home. Have you considered MOVING out of such a country with "blood-soaked borders" ?! How miserable you and your cult followers must be feeling!
    I bet there are several thousand people reading this who would drop everything and join me in helping you and your depraved cult pack up and leave the USA !!!!!!!!!

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

      This article was written by a true moron of faith. If these holier than thou bozo's were sincere they would be living somewhere else.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Tony in SoCal

      "Borders?" What borders? You live in Florida and I in Southern California. We both know that there are no borders in the U.S. Illegals come and stay as they please. Just be lucky they are only illegals and not terrorists.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • ohknowudont

      @Alex in Florida,
      Sign me up. Hypocritical ingrates like Mark Schloneger make me sick. When I think about all the lives that have been lost to provide these people with the ability to live in safety and practice their beliefs without worrying about being imprisoned or put to death, it makes my blood boil! He probably doesn't even bother to thank somebody when they do something nice for him.. INGRATE!

      June 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  8. Chris

    This article was freakin horrible. Would you just shut up already. Nobody cares.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Danny

      It's called the freedom of speech. If you want to shut people up, move to China.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  9. chuckmartel

    There is way too much religion in this country. "People of faith:"this, "my faith" that, etc. They should read some real books, study science or do something to improve their minds. Although I agree with the article on seperation of church and state, this crowd seems religous zealot creepy. They should lighten up or find their own island. To make matters worse, the US is now importing record numbers of rag headed dark age primitives that have to whip out rugs and pray 5 times a day, threaten cartoonists with death and are always tryng to blow someone up. Enough already with faith this, my faith that, people of faith, blah blah blah. Keep that crap to yourselves.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • David Winkle

      Chuckmartel,
      While I do not agree with this post, your comment seems a bit out of place. If you think that there is too much religion, I think that you might feel better if you stopped reading blogs on religion. Spend your time on science blog sites; but be cautious, there are people of faith there too.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Katherine

    Mark,

    From you comments I would imagine you drive a buggy and disrespect our nation and soldiers - try http://www.mapquest.com for a map of how to get to Pakistand, Afghanistan or Iraq - you don't get it - the majority in this democratic nation don't want the "freaks" people who are extremely different - they want a country to votes and abide by the vote of the majority – if you don't like it mapquest is your answer

    June 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Henry

      Facepalm.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • FDA Stamped and Approved True Christian

      Katy dear,
      FYI. This is not a democracy. This is a democratic republic. Your fifth grade civics book might explain that to you, if you got that far. The reason the Bill of Rights was written was to protect YOU from the "tyranny of the majority".

      June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the REPUBLIC for which it stands.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Roberto

    Your point is well taken in the article about your spiritual beliefs as Mennonites. Your faith calls to a higher level of conciousness and way of being. It really seems we are heading in a direction where our government is morphing into a Corptocracy – monetizing everyting including life itself being on a scale of perceived financial value so others may barter and profit from at the detriment of others who don't know what they don't know.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Chris

      Shut up Roberto

      June 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Ted Linguini

      Absolutely right, Roberto. The banks (Fed Reserve, World Bank and Council on Foreign Relations to name a few) have subverted what America was. Our military serves them, not us. They keep us entertained and try to swell us with patriotism so that we do not notice.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • apostate

      The US since its inception has always been a plutocracy. Nationalism and patriotism are simply useful tools to rally people for war, wars fought only to protect business interests.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  13. Limbaugh is a liberal

    It's great to be American! Home of the Brave!
    Let the game begin! Defense, defense!
    Hey, hand me that hot dog buddy! What??? You are a New England Patriots fan? Screw you! I am gonna beat you up and anyone who looks like you! My team wins! All you others are losers! I am the greatest fan!

    June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  14. amelia

    Seems like this church just wants some publicity.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Kellen

      I agree.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  15. Spidey-Man

    When I saw the headline I knew religion was involved. Poor deluded people. But then again it's your choice. Just like playing the National Anthem before sporting events. It's also the students' choice whether they want to stay in your school or take a look around and see they have other choices in schools and religion. Or maybe even wake up and realize the real truth.

    These guys are in line to getting an invite to the westboro baptist church picnic next summer.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rob

      How are they in any way like the Westboro Baptists? They wish to enforce the separation of church and state that this nation was founded upon... The Westboro Baptist's are hate mongers who want church law to rule the land.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  16. Cyberpueblo

    I am sure God will let you love your country and serve him as well. I don't understand why religions like to treat God as if he were an angry 5 year old who will stomp on you if your attention is not 100% on him. This is the main reason most reasonable people are turned off by religion. Imagine eternity with a being that needs 100% or you adoration and attention 24/7

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

      I always imagined it was because of the book of Leviticus, in which God describes himself as an angry 5 year old that must be constantly appeased or he will stomp you.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  17. Jim Price

    I believe that Mennonites have every right not to play the national anthem, and I don't doubt that their faith requires allegiance to Jesus over country. The Bible makes it pretty clear that Jesus is more important than any State, but most modern Christians have adjusted their beliefs to allow allegiance to country, so long as the country doesn't oppress them. We tolerate all kinds of beliefs. That is why America hasn't experienced the type of religious violence seen in Bosnia and Lebanon. This doesn't mean Mr. Schloneger should be proud of his parasitic relationship to the government. He should thank his lucky stars that the country he rejects still provides him with roads to travel on, protection from persecution, and a military to keep his family safe.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Scotty2010

      +1.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • lisakenn

      exactly

      June 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  18. hustlenflo

    Religious fundamentalism is responsible for most of the worst crimes against humanity. The crusades, the inquisition, the Pope supporting Adolph Hitler, crimes against minorities, assassinating doctors, muslim jihads, etc. etc. There is a point at which the followers of a religion become so fanatic that their actions become the exact opposite of the teachings of the religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in modern America where religious fundamentalists are blindly following demagogues like Pat Robertson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and the new political/religious toadies like George Bush and Sarah Palin, who are selling hate, fear, and greed disguised as some demented version of "family values" Christianity.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Praise Rationality!

      Well said sir.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • KnowHistory

      Can't let this one go since it is a lie that gets repeated so often. Certainly there were crimes against humanity under the guise of "religion" which is reprehensible. But the vast majority of human suffering and death occurs under regimes that are non-religious/atheist – ala Stalin, Mao, Pol-Pot.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • apostate

      @KnowHistory
      Not quite. That would only true if you leave out the conquest of the Americas and the enormous holocaust of the Natives which dwarfs the european holocaust. Catholic Conquistadors brought "gods will" to the Caribbean, south and central Americas while protestants brought it to North America.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Errata

      @dontknowhistory
      Those regimes were totalitarian regimes. They didn't kill because of some lack of religious belief. They killed because they wanted to kill everyone they saw as a threat to their regime. And it still happens today.
      They didn't kill in the name of atheism, but of their own greed for power. That's not atheism, that's totalitarianism.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  19. Pulsar

    When I sing the National Anthem, I can see the American flag and touch it because it is real. But yet people who won't sing the National Anthem pray to a god that has NEVER been seen and CAN'T be touched and therefore can be easily regarded as non-existent. I wonder if these religious followers ever bought a house or land without seeing it first – pretty much what they're doing when they go to church. If and when god descends from heaven and walks among us, then I'll be a follower – but until that time, I'll just live my life and treat others with respect.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Ralph

      From the Declaration of independence: " We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

      June 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • ohmy

      Pulsar, you don't actually sing to the flag and believe that the flag endows you with freedom and liberty, do you? Or that the flag is the USA? The flag is a symbol of those things and you respect the meaning behind the symbol. The cross, or fish, or any other religious symbol represents the same concept to the people who believe in them. The USA is not a flag and I mock you for believing so, just as I mock people who think that a piece of wood (or two) will get them closer to God. Both of these things come from the inside.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • apostate

      @Ralph
      It uses the term "creator" not "god" for a reason, leaving "nature" as an option for non-believers who didn't believe in supernatural sky fairies. All men were certainly not created equal, it leaves out women who had no rights. Natives and black people were not considered humans. And unless you owned a nice portion of land you had no rights, especially voting rights.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Pulsar

      Ralph – The Declaration of Independence was written by a bunch of humans who had no more knowledge of the "Creator's" existence than any other person, alive or dead. And, before you mention it, yes, it does say "In god we trust" on American currency. I get your point that the US was founded upon religious beliefs. But keep in mind that, in their great wisdom, the writers of the Bill of Rights gave citizens the right to worship AND not to worship: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Nice try though.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Pulsar

      ohmy – You know and I know the American flag represents something that is REAL – THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. That piece of wood or fish does not represent something that is real.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  20. Scott in NH

    An overly violent song about bombs, blood and graves sung to the tune of a drinking song is inappropriate for any great nation. It is a repulsive glorification of war and should be replaced with America the Beautiful, which would make a perfect national anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Joe in Colorado

      except... America is no longer beautiful.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Joe

      Without the battle the national anthem speaks of we would not have the freedoms this country provides.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
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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.