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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. Jeebus

    Beliefs of religion > belief of country and everything else. Religion is sadly one sided.

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

    If he said I don't sing the song because he morally objects to war, the violent mob state, and their agents in government issued costumes then I'll say he's onto something.

    Instead of being a slave to politcians, nationalism and the State, he's a slave to dogma, some God and priests. I don't see any wisdom here, just another person who's shifted their need for a mommy/daddy figure to a 3rd party organization.

    www(dot)c4ss(dot)org

    June 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  3. John

    Anyone who firmly believes that God and/or Jesus stands behind the USA are MORONS.

    Frankly, Jesus would probably be appalled at the behavior of many of you "Christians" posting here.

    This country was not founded Christian. Please deal with it, and perhaps re-take a history class.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Sky

    I admire the conviction of your faith. While we disagree on some of the details of Christianity, I deeply respect your committment to do what you believe Christ would want you to do.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Mir

    This man has expressed his belief quite succinctly and I don't see anything wrong. As long as he or people from his church do not do something unpatriotic that may harm the nation then he/they have the right to do what their beliefs entail them to do.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  6. tallulah13

    What a hypocrite. This nation was built on the blood of people who thought freedom was worth dying for. The author's ability to live and worship in America as he chooses was bought with human lives, not given by god.

    I'm not a flag-waving, anthem-bellowing uber-patriot, but I do love my country very much. I don't care that mennonites don't sing the anthem or wave flags, I really don't. But to disrespect the very ent.ity that allows them that freedom and the people who sacrificed so much to bring it into existence is ungrateful and worthy of scorn.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Amen to that. (love it or leave it .. and don't come back)

      June 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Agora

      "This nation was built on the blood of people who thought freedom was worth dying for. The author's ability to live and worship in America as he chooses was bought with human lives, not given by god."

      Your hypernationalism is breath taking. The wars this country has fought has been for the benefit of politicians and corporate interests. You are a slave to the state and the state propaganda that has been fed to you all your life is being used to attack your fellow citizen slaves. The state loves this, they don't even have to pay you to do their propaganda work. Stop being an apologist to mass murderers and their agents in costumes.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Joy

      Thank you, well said tallulah!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  7. John

    SOOO much darn ignorance being posted in this comment section.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  8. rr

    I've noticed that there are some trolls on here. If you don't agree then post your response and leave but don't keep coming back and attacking everyone who doesn't agree with you. I am not going to say who is doing the trolling but I've noticed that there seems to be 2 people at lease who keep posting and I have to say I get it that you hate Christians and don't believe in God but that doesn't mean you have to sit a computer all day and bash us who do. Get a life and stop trolling and flaming!!

    June 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • snif

      You smell like a troll.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  9. Thomas Thorstensson

    Theres another important point to be made to face jibberish like this which is utter crap of the worst kind I know of.

    Your freedom of expression is based on the blood of those that fought and who believed in what you choose not to. Your'e very luxury unbelief is made possible by the fact that you can conveniently sit on your pale ass and say what you are saying thanks to the blood of believers.

    This is not a dogma nor a myth. It is exactly so.

    There is a saying that men only find god in the trenches. You need to find your god dude.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Torgud

      There are no gods. No "god". No GOD. There is only your internal pleading with the inside of your skull.
      I don't know who you were replying to, but you think your god exists but you can't get him to do anything. Well done.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  10. William Diaz

    To me, those who do not respect the national anthem, by standing, covering their heart, being quiet, or singing are traitors to their nation. You do not have to enjoy or like the current government, but you are REQUIRED as a citizen to uphold the values and symbolism that is carried in the national anthem – it was after all written during a time when our nation was founded and growing and those values were held at that time and continue to beheld highest now – government aside.

    You sir, are a traitor to your nation and its people, and I suggest that if you chose to show such disrespect toward the anthem of our great nation, maybe you should pack up and head to a country that either has no national anthem, or one that will allow you to defile their state.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Corbijn

      Have to disagree with you here; don't have me shot yet. I'm not a Mennonite nor would I refuse to stand at the National Anthem. I do not say the pledge because I choose not to based on where it originally came from and the fact that it's been re-worded from it's original form. That's my choice and like it or not Mennonite's have a choice too. That's part of our system and the way it works, people have freedom of choice and "choice" doesn't mean what kind of car you want. Going to the extent of forcing individuals to do something, you say this in your post, is about as un-American as one can get. No one here should be forced to do anything especially if someone else thinks it's patriotic. Saying people should be shot, that's just Fascist. Those who died fighting for America did so for every American regardless of what they believe in; there is a sense of irony in this but that's the way our system works.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  11. Mike

    The National Anthem isn't about religion...it's about being the frikkin' National Anthem. All Americans should sing it because we're Americans above all else, including religious affiliation.

    Sheesh...

    June 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  12. 6T9

    Interesting perspective.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  13. Dr. Gonzo

    If you have such a strict rule of separation of church and state then your religious organization should not get any tax breaks from the evil state and you can pay your way like everyone else or leave the country that you fail to acknowledge. Your country is real your religion is a fairy tale.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • William Diaz

      Churches should not have tax breaks from the government. Churches should not have say in things like Prop 8 California (Mormons did all that and then blamed African Americans in California, that was a laugh). Churches should not have a say in ANY state or federal laws at any point in time, even if it pertains to religion or spirituality. Churches should be treated as cults and any member seeking to recruit by spreading biblical fear speech via scripture in public should be imprisoned for terrorism, because that is EXACTLY what religion is, based on fear and terrorizing people.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Matt

    If you dont like it LEAVE!! just like not saying the pledge in the school, this is an outrage, what has america become

    June 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  15. Mensaman

    This is too dumb for words. What they don't understand or refuse to understand is the separation of church and state is meant to exist WITHIN our government, not outside the government. It is designed to protect the government from having one "true" religion or a theocracy. These Mennonites are creating a problem where one doesn't exist. I suggest that if they have a problem with American beliefs and standards and traditions that they leave for a more suitable country. Of course, they have a right to not post a flag or sing the anthem, but I for one, think much less of them for it.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Greg

      What you're failing to understand is that mennonites came up with the concept of separation of church and state long before America existed. They can't leave America to find a country they do agree with because they don't believe any such country can ever exist in a fallen world. They choose to live as strangers and aliens in whatever country they reside. I am not an anabaptist, but I have a lot of respect for their history and traditions. America's founders owe a lot to them.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. rick

    I respect this man.
    He is one of the few Christians who has made sense to me in some while.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Tim

      I agree- I thought this article would make him look silly, but it makes sense (or as much sense as anything about religion does).

      June 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Jamiah

      I totally agree with you Rick–I respect this man and appreciate the enlightenment he bestowed upon us in this article. And I don't think he loves our country any less but not singing the anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  17. Wendell

    I love my country and one of the reasons I love it is because it allows for individual rights when they don't conflict with those of others. While on one level I feel that not singing the National Anthem is a slap in th eface to those that have died defending our country, I must admit that I am glad we are free to have our own positions. I respect the author's position even though it is not my own. I am glad he has a basis for his opinion and is not taking this position for shock value. Like him, my ultimate allegiance is to God but when it comes to countries, the USA is my priority.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  18. whodathunk

    So, your entire religion is basically "fluffy-headed campus philosophers, Lazy latte-sipping liberals". It's great to have ideals, and admirable to try to live by them. Please forgive the rest of us who can and will continue to sin in order to keep people like you alive. And god bless the soldiers who have died doing exactly that.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • William Diaz

      Lets also not forget that he wouldnt have a religion based on fluffy headed philosophers and latte-sipping liberals if someone didnt die for it, if someone didnt write a declaration, if someone didnt do all the things they did to make this a proud nation, gee, we might have been in a worse off place under The Crown.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Tim

      He said he didn't like a song, not that he didn't like his country, poor guy. It seems to be very hard to be different in the US.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  19. whitefoot

    While I may not agree with Schloneger's views, I –and many of my countrymen would give our lives to save his freedom to express those views. When I sing or play the National Anthem-The Star Spangled Banner, I truly do think about the freedom that I have to sing this song. Thank God and all of the religions--Mennonites included, that we live in a country where we all have the freedom to express our individual points of view.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • klwr333

      I think you said it well. If our soldiers are dying to protect our _freedom_, that is the great sacrifice and possibly the only thing that makes their deaths worthy of our respect and gratefulness. The servicemen and women are not dying to make this a nation in which we are required to show beliefs in anything, even patriotism. They are dying to protect our freedom. Most of us do attach a great importance to the pledge, the national anthem, etc., and it makes me happy that we do. But, if a person truly believes that they must prioritize his or her life in such a way that every day their actions show that to them God is more important than country (and, ultimately, I'd have to come to the same conclusion), then their freedom is just as important as anyone else's. He didn't say he didn't respect our nation. On the contrary, he stated that he DID love our country, but that Christ tells him to love all people, and to him that is bigger than any nationality. Again, although I am proud to be an American, say the pledge, honor the flag, sing the anthem, etc., I have to agree that my faith is greater than any nation when it comes right down to it.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  20. Niimki

    Ok, so don't sing the song. But then also don't vote and support some right wing nut job who panders to your obsessive, mind controlling version of a religion. If you really believe in a separation of church and state, then why are they salivating over the next pro life, anti gay (or some other supposed Christian ideal) candidate? This mindset is dangerous. There is nothing in that song that defiles Christianity or any other religion. It is about pride in the country you live in and that gives you the freedom to celebrate your beliefs. But for some reason although they don't believe in that nation, they damn sure want to take a hard run at controlling it.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Greg

      You don't really understand the mennonites much. Those I have known were more likely to be democrats than republicans, although most are independents. They are staunchly pro-life (including opposition to the death penalty and war), but many support gay marriage. It's actually a very fascinating denomination. That's what you get when you manage to keep the state out of your church.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:03 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.