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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. RightturnClyde

    (Apparently I am on a censorship list) .. this is ONE MORE REASON why I remain an unaffiliated Christian. .. if that's Mennonite then it is a looney bin...

    June 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • hmmmmmm

      Apparently the "censorship list" is not working...

      June 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Again, you probably have an offensive cluster of letters that the automatic "moderator" didn't like. I often have to repost things because I include words like "consti-tution" or "ent-itiy". There is not a single individual here so important as to be on a censorship list. You just have to watch your spelling.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  2. Phoenix~

    I don't care if you believe in the devil, when the US calls for arms to defend her liberty and your ridiculous "right" to believe in cow patty, make sure you volunteer. If you think God gave you the right to be king while true Americans send their sons/daughters to die for your religious right, think twice because serving your country is different from serving your "god". The problem with America today is we use religion as an excuse for everything. Too often we protest the people who die to protect our religion and our country. Everyone need to take a real good look at reality, look in the mirror. You're not in Heaven, you're on Earth. If you don't like America, go live in North Korea.

    -coming from an immigrant of a war-torn country.
    Who served in the greatest Air Force in the world today; Aim High, USAF.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Johnny

      Amen fellow Airman !

      June 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  3. Johnny

    The song is about defending our great nation countless men and women died defending it and serving their country (like myself).
    Truly a sad day when people who live here reap the benefits (like your college education) and don't support your country. I love our nation and would stand by it over and over again. If you don't believe in our national anthem, at least show some respect for the men and women who kept your family safe for generations.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Thomas Thorstensson

      Yes!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  4. Jerimie

    Many people gave up a great deal in order for you to live in a country that provides the freedon you have. That is a reallity, your relegion is only one of many.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  5. COLKurtz

    I wonder how many Mennonite customs he chooses NOT to follow? My guess is a lot.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Lisa and Don

      We know him personally and are unaware of ANY Mennonite traditions he does not follow.
      In reference to Mennonites being a cult, they are very mainstream and don't differ a whole lot from Presbyterian or Baptist. Our focus is on PEACE above all, is that so wrong? The remarks and opinions of our pastor, a highly tech saavy and intelligent person who has traveled the world in the mission field are justified. He goes to work, takes care of his family, pays his taxes, obeys the law, and drives an Accord not a buggy. And just as he is our pastor, and it is our church, we can disagree anytime we want and still feel right at home. For the church is not God, just a family of believers, and like any family, can have a diverse mix.He may not sing the National Anthem, but we do. He does not use his freedom of speech to burn the flag either. Many of you don't ask him anything, you just degrade him without knowing him- because he denounces violence, another major Mennonite tradition. If you are patriotic, you would be celebrating freedom of speech never saying "shut up". Religious zealots? Why are you not reading science blogs instead?

      Peace.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  6. FDA Stamped and Approved True Christian

    I bet Mennonites call 911 when they have severe chest pain, (and then expect Medicare to pay for their care at the hospitals they chose to go to). The point is, there is NO WAY, no, I mean NO WAY, anyone can live in this society and attempt to say they are somehow "holier than thou", and their "hands are clean". How about go find a desert island. We are all in this together, whether we say we are or not. The problem with Mr. Schloneger's "we recognize only one Christian nation", is that tomorrow another kook is going to come along who is "more" Christian than you, and there is no end to that. It's the same reason the Islamist State will never work out. It's ALL headed over the cliff.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dave

      That's a good point. If they are not citizens of the US but only of a greater Christian Nation, then I hope they don't accept federal benefits. Or a tax refund. Or anything.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • mark_s

      As the author of this article, I would like to respond to this comment (although I doubt people are reading these comments anymore!). When I wrote "we recognize only one Christian nation", I did not mean to imply that I recognize no other nations - just one CHRISTIAN one, meaning the church. Judging from some of the comments, I didn't make that clear enough. I certainly respect the laws of the U.S. and try to live as a good citizen of this country.

      June 30, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  7. Ripper

    Sounds reasonable to me. The beauty of our nation is that one has the freedom to NOT play the national anthem. Nothing wrong with adhering to higher principals and placing God before country. This nation was founded by those seeking freedom from religious persecution. Mennonites as fundamentalists - sure, I think that shoe fits.

    Nothing wrong with Fundamentalists. It is radical fundamentalism we should fear. Fundamentalists that push their brand of religion on others by force and through callous and careless means are the problem. Westbrook Baptist Church members - I'm sure they song the National Anthem. I'll take a Mennonite any day over a radical whack-job nationalist.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  8. Nodack

    While I think this guys religion is a little creapy and out there, I don't think it is any creepier than any other religion. They are ALL man made cults. You guys telling them that they need to go to some other country to practice their religion or conform to the norms of the country they live in are too much. They have just as much right to be weird here as everybody else.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  9. BroNate

    I don't sing any songs in public, as a courtesy to the people around me. Terrible singing voice here.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  10. Jemway

    I only wonder what the true motivation is behind this article. Separation of church and state apparently does not include separation from publicity. If you want to stay consumed with your religious conviction and separate from all else, stay out of the news. What purpose is there in giving this slop of a story? If you don't care about your country we don't want to hear from you, and that includes tax payer benefits and services. Get lost, as you desire and stop blowing your horn for attention.

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

      They get thousands of submissions each day. Not always from the writers themselves. CNN loves us more than Jeebus.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  11. meep

    I dont like the ritual either... i'd rather die than act like some "patriotic" doushebag

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

      Uneducated morons, cowards and religious fanatics often share one thing in common; they can't spell very well.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jarrod

      Then get out of our country.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  12. WhatWhatWhat?

    Blah, blah...blah, blah...blah...These dorks at least seem to actually believe their delusion, unlike many delusionists who just go through the motions, but can't be bothered with the serious stuff. I mean, if you people want to be with your god so bad, what the he|| are you all waiting for? Go now, please, so we can get on with our lives. Thank you.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  13. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  14. andrew

    Countless patriotic men and women have died since 1776 to allow un-American namby-pambys like this the right to air this kind of nonsense.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Mike Ross

      Well put!

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

      F__K the anthem and the military machine!

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

      Then give those deaths meaning by letting them exercise their damn freedoms already! Geeez!

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

      They already have their freedom, that's why they get to make the choice not to play it. They just have to ram their disbelief in our face now, being the ultimate hypocrisy. Not only should the state stay out of church, the church should stay out of state affairs.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  15. SB

    This article reads like an informational pamphlet on the inanities of religion. Well done, Mark.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  16. Mike Ross

    You are the reason your "RELIGION" doesn't have a bigger following of quacks. I don't remember the anthem saying worship the United States. You wouldn't even have the freedom to write and believe what you posted if it were not for this nation. Singing the anthem is simply a way of paying respect and honor of one's love of the country where we have the very freedoms you enjoy each and every day in AMERICA! Seriously???? Otherwise you would be worshipping in hiding and silence, which I would just prefer you do. Can you tell me where the anthem says worship only the United States of America and nothing else? I don't remember it reading to ignore God and abstain from one's religious beliefs...and that America is the center of all things- are you related to Donald Duck?

    June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  17. Dave

    Mr. Schloneger, if you and your church were in Nazi Germany, Communist USSR, or any of several Moslem countries, I think you would better understand the folly of your stance: "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." You then would indeed understand the necessity and true cost of defending your right of "freedom of religion." And the cross that it looks like might look rather twisted! IMHO, your religion, as you practice it, has a rather parasitic relationship with those who defend your right/freedom to practice your rather myoptic views.

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

      The Mennonite church was in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Communists persecuted Mennonites (and others) horribly. So what's your point? Those experiences only highlight the dangers of nationalism run amok.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  18. william peterson

    OK, don't sing. Much ado about nothing.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  19. ron

    This god/religion above country is what's the islamic terrorists have been advocating and have been pretty successful. In pluralistic societies with religious freedom, its given that everyone is free to practice any religion one wants but our primary allegiance is to our country. And thats what binds us all fellow citizens together not religion or sect otherwise our country will become like any other country where you see all the religious unrest due to allegiance to religion viz islamic countries barring turkey.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  20. JR

    Keep it simple. The Star Spangled Banner is in tribute to the great country that you enjoy living in. PERIOD.
    You don't agree with 100% of the lyrics? Deal with it! If it's so disturbing you can't honor it, then please go live somewhere else. Seriously. It's that simple. Make it any more than that, then you have too few problems and too much spare time on your hands. That's the result of living in a great country.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • meep

      dont enjoy it myself..

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

      The US is supposed to be a society where everyone can live and do as as they please, as long as doing so doesn't hurt others, or interfere with their right to do the same. Therefor, Mr. Schloneger is completely within his rights, and is following the principals of the people who first colonized the US. Political and religious freedom. It seems to me that it should be YOU that leaves, as you obviously cant deal with someone who thinks differently than you do.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:27 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.