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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. Reality

    Mennonites- too much inbreeding

    http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00359580

    Next topic!!!

    ......................................................................................................................................

    June 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • bartleby

      you could say the same thing about the Jews too

      June 26, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  2. mennoj

    Why do we sing the national anthem before sporting events anyways? Why don't we say the national anthem before every meal we eat or before we go to bed? I didn't know there was a rule or law that says that every school had to sing the national anthem. If you say people aren't American cause they don't want to play the national anthem before sporting events, then you are not american for not singing the anthem before meals and before you go to bed. There, thats a rule now, so, follow it, or else you're not american.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • sarah

      I like this. And its true. We don't sing it during Church either. Wouldn't it be funny for the pastor to say he wants to replace the Lord's Prayer with the National Anthem?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  3. shawn

    I AM TIRED OF SMALL GROUPS OF PEOPLE, RELIGIONS, OR LIFESTYLES GETTING ALL OF THE SPOTLIGHT. OUR COUNTRY IS BASED ON EQUAL RIGHTS. AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE OVER THE YEARS HAVE DIED DEFENDING OUR WAY OF LIFE. THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER IS A PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE AND A SERIOUS TRADITION THAT SENDS GOOSE BUMPS UP PEOPLES ARMS AND TEARS IN THE EYES OF GROWM MEN. ITS UNFORTUNATE THAT PEOPLE THAT HAVE NEVER SERVED THEIR COUNTRY WANT TO CHANGE TRADITION. OF COURSE GOD GRANTS PEACE TO ALL MEN BUT IN THE REAL WORLD THE ROCKETS RED GLARE DID IN FACT SECURE OUR FREEDOM. IN OTHER COUNTRIES THE LOVE OF THE COUNTRY NOT THE LEADERS RUNS DEEP INTO THE FOUNDATION OF THE PEOPLE. SO AS A VETERAN I SAY STAND UP A BE PROUD OF OUR LINEAGE OR GO SMOEWHERE ELSE. THANK YOU

    June 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Prometheus

      Wow...I didn't read your post but caps makes me respectful.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Super Patriotic Vetern who died for your rights

      I am a super patriotic veteran who died to give you your rights and I think you are stupid. I died for his freedom to not sing the national anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • jmsramsey

      You have made your point with a nice point but why did you have to go and spoil it all by using all caps; that is considered shouting – shame on you!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Charge Nurse Betty

      Psycho gives me goose bumps and makes me cry.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Chae An

      For Mennonites throughout history, the "spotlight" you speak of came in the form of mob's pitchfork and torch. I'm sure they can do without that kind of spotlight. Mennonites aren't trying to change anything or force anything down anyone's throat. They simply want to live in accordance with their faith and do no harm to anyone else. Why is that offensive to you?

      It is a trivial thing to hoist the flag and mouth the words embedded into our shallow conscience. For all the significance one places on the flag and singing of the anthem, the actual act of doing raising the flag and singing the anthem requires none of the conviction and even a shred of patriotism. Simply put, patriots may hoist the flag, but not all flag flyers are patriots. The true conviction and singularity of purpose shine through when a person refuses to do the act, and articulates the reason for the refusal. Too bad that too often brings forth venom and hatred, unthinking, reflexive and unreasoned.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Super duper WAY more patriotic veteran who knows how to spell

      I type from beyond the grave. Boooohhhh.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Dave

    That will surely be the most boring and pointless thing I'll read all week.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Donde

      You mean you don't read your own posts? That's terrible.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  5. Shinea

    I'm assuming they don't pay taxes, but just use the benefits of living in a great country like the US for free. Why is it always the ones who do the least for their country and receive the most from it, that are always the ones to treat their great fortune for being able to live here, as if it were their God given right to take without giving? Is it really too much to ask, for a simple thing like pledging to the country that allows you to live as well as you do? Try living in China, or a middle eastern country, than you might not be so cavalier about your good fortune.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • mennoj

      I assure you Mennonites pay taxes and do just as much as you Shinea

      June 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • mario

      You are sooooo un-american...

      June 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • sarah

      Where did you get the silly idea they don't pay taxes? lol!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  6. Prometheus

    I find it sad that a 'supposed' [pacifistic] belief holds the Nation at large hostage. You have you believes yet you hostage America to fund yourself. If I were opposed to America, I would distance myself from any way than I could be tied to them...but I guess...not the Mennonites, eh?

    June 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Britney Spears Loses a Debate With A Chicken

      Hostage? Explain that one please. Just how are they holding America hostage?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Simon

      Can;'t you read? They aren't opposed to America. They are opposed to singing the national anthem at sporting events.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Prometheus

      The Mennonites speak as it they are outside of American society, actually they speak as if they are outside of ANY society.

      This is what I meant.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  7. Dr. Mantis

    Commie!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  8. heliocracy

    Probably said before, but not going to read 63 pages to find out. I wish all American religious nuts would stop trying to get government to enforce their fairy-tale beliefs on the rest of us. That's a heck of a lot more un-American than recognizing that church and state are two different, and largely incompatible, spheres.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Prometheus

      Bah, I am for proof. If you keep up adding to the furor, then obviously you are part of the problem.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • NomorespecialinterestBS

      Well said.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Jen

    So how is this news that should draw an attention gathering headling on the CNN home page. I feel duped into reading a religious short course... I want my 3 minutes back that I wasted reading and then writing this. GIVE US NEWS not propaganda.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Alex Lifeson

      It's not 'propaganda'. It's a human interest piece. It's reality, as one person sees it. Respect that.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  10. Alex Lifeson

    Europe is onto something rational and intelligent, if they are 50% agnostic or athiest, as a previous poster mentioned. I wish more brainwashed sheeple here in the U.S. would logically come to the same conclusion (and read more in general)!

    June 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep, and with Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece's economies totally crumbling and Germany, which is still pretty Religious being the strongest .... I wonder how this will play out after Greece defaults... and then the others.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Alex Lifeson

      You make no sense. Greece is very religious, as most citizens are practicing Greek Orthodox. So according to you, their economy should not be crumbling. Please, for your sake, stop thinking like a 6 year old and gain some reasoning abilities!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  11. Mo

    I hope to never be so lacking in determination that I express my beliefs by abstaining from singing an anthem before sporting events.

    Singing an anthem before a sporting event is a small measure of respect before a meaningless moment of leisure. How small is the mind that thinks that sporting events matter enough to debate? And the anthem before them? What next? Does anyone want to know why I don't by popcorn at minor league baseball games played after 6PM central time during a waxing moon?

    June 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Simon

      Who cares?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Theron Johnson

      The individual has the right to not sing the National Anthem, but that right has been paid for by our military who have and do serve to protect his rights.
      The people shown in the picture need to read up on proper display of ythe American Flag which states the Flag is never carried FLAT. Many do this in error at many sporting events

      June 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • David

      @Theron... No. That freedom was paid for by the widows, parents, orphans and everyone else left holding the bill after johnny was foolish enough to pick up his gun for someone who never dirty his own hands doing the deed. My freedom isn't dependent on any standing military paid for with blood sweat and tears through crippling taxes.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  12. K.M.Joseph

    Please leave your religion out of politics. You enjoy the freedoms afforded by America, you should sing the National Anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • David

      Ah!... So either you do as you're expected or you're not a good "Germ... uh, American!", eh? So if I haven't the so-called "freedom" to say no then I haven't any freedom at all. Time to stop licking the boots of this nation/god and think outside the box.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  13. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  14. LAxer

    Have some PRIDE in your country. No one is forced to sing the national anthem at a sporting event. People have a sense of HONOR in being an American.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • The Further Adventures of Melvin Skremp, Junior Assistant Accountant From Beyond The 24th Century

      Many Americans have much larger visions of what it means to be an American than just chanting the Anthem again then getting royally drunk as you eat hot dogs and howl at the umpire.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Prometheus

      Yes I personally agree. That is why I cannot understand this.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  15. John

    This is Freedom of Religion!
    These kind, welcoming, gentle people make a daily decision to avoid violence. They oppose war. By my religion, I am not constrained by any such restriction. As such, I have sung my national anthem, worn my country's uniform and shed the blood of enemies that would take that away.

    As a civilian, I have the privilege of friendship with several members of our local Mennonite assembly. I have been camping with them and whitewater rafting on one memorable occasion. We can easily see past our disagreement on the matter of violence and enjoy each other's company.

    They are patriotic. They do not infringe on anybody else's freedom of religion. Their opposition to war is not something that should be a wedge that separates the peoples of the world. They consider war to be the wedge. Who knows. They might have a point.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Steve

      Well said! There is intelligent life in the USA after all.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  16. Lever Wang

    I am a Mennonite. Yes, I do sing National Anthem in a sport event, in a public school event, etc. But I don't sing it in any church event, Mennonite or not. Goshen College is a private Mennonite college. There is nothing wrong with them not singing it. It is their freedom of religion as a private Christian community. Mennonites, and other Anabaptists, including Amish, strongly believe in the separation of state and church. Perhaps the author of this article should not use the term "Christian nation" because it implies this nation only allows Christians. Just like "Islamic nation", "Islamic republic" or "Sharia law" they all imply intolerance of other religions in a nation.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Tim Nichols

      He is not talking about American being a Christian nation, because it obviously is not one. He is talking about THE Christian nation...followers of Jesus of all races, nationalities and creeds joined together to serve the God of the Universe.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. Jim

    This pastor's church is no bigger than the nut job from Florida who burned the Koran! BUT, CNN likes is slightly anti-American stance – far more palatable to the Left than being anti-terrorist. He's a fringe pastor from a fringe denomination. And I don't believe for a minute that he is so aligned with God that he couldn't possibly sing the praises of anything else. Does he sing "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" to his family?

    June 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Jim,

      This pastor is not anti-American. He just loves God and will only worship him. He doesn't feel the need to worship a nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  18. Abdul

    This is translated into Arabic.

    O! يقولون يمكنك ان ترى النور قبل الفجر في وقت مبكر ،
    ماذا في ذلك اشاد بفخر ونحن في اللامعة الشفق الأخير ،
    الذين المشارب واسعة ونجوم ساطعة من خلال محاربة محفوفة بالمخاطر،
    O'er الأسوار شاهدنا، كان ذلك الدفق بشجاعة؟
    وصواريخ "الوهج الأحمر ، والقنابل تنفجر في الهواء ،
    أعطى دليلا من خلال الليلة التي علمنا لا يزال هناك ؛
    O! ويقول ان لا ستار بانر لماع بعد موجة،
    O'er أرض حرة ووطن الشجعان؟

    June 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • evoc

      Are you afraid to also translate that into English?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Britney Spears Loses a Debate With A Chicken

      Hilarious! I don't know if you meant that to be funny, but it really is!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>"Are you afraid to also translate that into English?"

      Why, have you never sang the Star Spangle Banner?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Baxter

      Kind of translates to this:

      O! They say you can see the light of early dawn before, so what proudly we hailed at the Twilight's last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the walls we have seen, the stream with courage? Rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that we still there; O! He says that no Star Spangled Banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and home of the brave?

      Thanks for another version. The rest of you can suck eggs. If you don't have the energy to look it up, shut it.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  19. Brian

    SO YOU'RE THE GUY WHO SITS DOWN AT THE BALL PARK WHILE THE NATION ANTHEM IS PLAYED... BRAVO !

    June 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  20. giantkaraoke

    For true definition of a strange tribe, the author should look into Jehovah's Witnesses.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Magic

      Right, giantkaraoke, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to salute the flag of any nation, recite the pledge of allegiance, stand for or sing the national anthem, run for public office, vote, or serve in the armed forces.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:27 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.