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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. Vitis01

    So much crazy going on here... "You are bad because you won't be a part of my club that sings the song." "I can't be in your club because my branch of the Guy-Nailed-To-The-Wood Club supersedes all other clubs." "My club is extra-special because previous members were killed by not one but TWO other clubs." "My club and I will say quiet words to our imaginary mascot hoping that someday your club will join our club."

    June 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  2. Sam

    As if Christianity or any other religion doesn't have blood on its hands. These borders were created in order to allow you to freely practice your religion, by men and women of all backgrounds. You don't sing the national anthem at your college because you HAVE that right. But to have reason otherwise is ignorant.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      The majority of signers to the Declaration of Independance were Christians. Christians created freedom for all others. You have it backwards. If it was not for Christians the rest would not have their freedom.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Chach

      Ha! If it weren't for Christians, there would be no Dark Ages, no Inquisition, no "witch" burnings, no decimation of native populations for simply being uncivilized, no slavery (condoned, sanctioned with detailed how-to instruction in the Bible), and the list of human suffering at the hands of "Christianity" goes on. In short, if it weren't for religion and especially Christianity,Humanity would be way better off by relying on science, education and intellect and COMMON SENSE to inform our laws and how to treat each other! If it weren't for religion, we'd have colonies on the Moon, Mars, cancer cured, poverty and starvation eradicated and so on. Religion is a sad relic of our barbaric past. It belongs the museum of "Remember When we Believed this CRAP!"

      June 26, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ugly truth

      Not so, Dee

      James Madison, author of the Consti-tution: "Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Consti-tution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history"

      Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, President: "The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man"

      June 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  3. James

    Land of the free, because of the brave.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Naga

      Land of the Idiots who still want slaves...

      June 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Chernobyl

      Land of the slaves, home of the cowards.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  4. Lucy ! You got some 'splainin ta do.

    This is NOT our National Anthem. So which one are you all talking about. ?
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WB61wXKROtw&w=640&h=360]

    June 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  5. taxpayer

    To David... Who claims that anyone that doesn't say the National Anthem is a freeloader. Most people that choose not to say the anthem do so because of religious beliefs. Those are the same people that pay taxes because Jesus says "pay Ceasers things to Ceaser and God's things to God" boy they sure do sound like freeloaders. These are the same people that obey laws, boy they sound like terrible citizens. Sure crucify those that exercise their freedom of choice, I hope you keep voting, maybe you can make it a law that all citizens say the National Anthem, then we can be criminals, as of yet this county protects my rights not to say the Anthem. I am an American, but not because I say the Anthem, but because I love my countryman, work hard, pay taxes, volunteer, all because these are what make a good citizen and what makes are country great (people who are involved), not mechanically saying the National Anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  6. ChrisnSanJose

    "Christians are free to practice their beliefs because God is able to raise them from the dead. Why do you think the Apostles were free to serve God while being persecuted? They knew that death would come but God will raise them from the dead. Christians have always been free to worship God. Cowards run and look to the military to protect their so called rights to worship. Christians who look to the military for religious freedom are cowards. They don't really believe in the life to come. They are afraid of persecution."

    June 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  7. JS

    The problem here is a lack of respect. U. S. Servicemembers have fought and died for you, Mr. Schloneger. Claim whatever "religious beliefs" you want, but it's that very fact and reality that allows you freedom on this planet, and in this country. Exactly HOW is your religion keeping you from being vaporized by terrorists, Mr. Schloneger??

    Why don't you take your ungrateful, un-American, oblivious a-s-s to Syria and see how far you get away with spewing such garbage.

    USMC, RETIRED

    June 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Jerry Senzee

      Might as well face it. About half of American's would have followed Hitler.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      50 years ago solders fought for freedom. The last 40 years the US paid mercenaries to fight for pay checks and benfits. Let's be truthful. You needed a paycheck. Did you really care about freedom? Rallying the sheeple for freedom is just the deception of the regime. What's your IQ? Is this Homer..... Home is that you? Homer Simpson. I thought so. Keep pledging to the regime. Yip. Financial slaves.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • David

      I believe the founders of this nation stated that our rights, our "freedoms", were God given and natural. Not granted to us by the powers on high...i.e. The Government. Nor are they simply the fruits of people with guns constantly at the ready. You've obviously been brainwashed into this cult that believes the military blesses us with all good things but that is patently false. And I speak as a former military man myself.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Dylboz

      You know who else is USMC retired? Major General Smedley Butler, two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor, and author of "War is a Racket." He referred to his 33 years of service as being "a gangster for capitalism," and the "hired muscle" for United Fruit and other big American businesses. I double-devil-dog dare you to Google "War is a Racket" and read it through. The whole text is available online for free. Actually, I'll even save you the trouble:

      http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html

      June 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • jheron

      Last time blood was spilled for this country to protect its borders was arguably WWII. Since then it has been spilt to enforce ideas, theories and policies, not because this country's freedoms were threatened.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  8. John

    Since this guy has HIS turn, I want to write my column on my favorite Jolly Rancher®. Or why I think Race Bannon was oppressed by Dr. Quest. Or why Thursday is better than Tuesday.

    Seriously, I believe the dude can sing or not. Whatever. And his opinion is fine. Whatever. But in-context, especially close to the Fourth of July, I wonder why this guy's opinion is worth sharing.

    Tuesday, however, is markedly better than Thursday. CNN – I am ready when you are.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  9. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Throb Lightfighter Saves The World!

      You're not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, are you Marie?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Barry Wom

      She's a taco short of a combination plate

      June 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Donde

      She must be a blond.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Tanner

      repeating the idiocy means she is very special. Like a butterfly made of sh!t.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Daniel

    An excellent and accurate explanation. One can not expect militaristic nationalistic persons to think much beyond themselves.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      True. The sad part is that they worship a country that will not last for all eternity. Only the Kingdom of Heaven will last for all eternity. Why worship a country or its military? Only a fool would do that.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  11. meh

    At public events, playing the national anthem is part of posting of the colors. It's not just played for the sake of being played. If they aren't posting colors, there's really no reason to play the anthem. Not singing along, or standing for the ceremony is really no different then when I don't bow my head when someone starts a invocation.

    But that's why it's played, it's part of a ceremony. Just playing or singing the anthem out of nowhere is kinda weird.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  12. Dee Doodles

    The US is no God fearing Republic. How can anyone that agrees with my statement pledge alligence? Yes, a pledge of your life alligence to support a Republic. The Republic is dead. We are now a criminal socialist / fascist empire supported by NATO and the industrial military complex of the US. An you are most likely a financial slave of the bankers, corpocracy, and the gov.. Anyone know why we are in Lybia killing people in their own sovereign nation? Yip, regime building. Spreading the empire.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      I guess nothing has changed about America. America started off by killing Indians and enslaving black people. After slavery came segregation. Racism is still prevalent in this country. There is no time in history when America did anything that looks like Christ.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  13. Sperm donor

    They should update it make a hip hop version and add some profanities.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Brilliant!

      An excellent suggestion, sir!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  14. GTFO

    GTFO

    June 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Confused Larry

      I think that everyone who tells someone else to GTFO should GTFO.

      Wait a minute . . .

      June 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • chortL

      ha ha ha ha!

      June 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Common Sense

    Too bad such a huge majority of those posting here sound like ramped-up patriotic nut-jobs. I swear this country's citizens have been patriotic-fever brainwashed. Yes, troops have died – remember them with honor and exercise the freedom to sing the anthem or not to – they died for our freedoms, right? No, actually for oil and mideast stability. Anyway,
    1. How is singing the anthem and lambasting those who don't different from heiling Hitler? EVERYONE DO IT!! NOW!!!
    2. What's more patriotic than voting? We have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the developed world. Do you beat those who don't vote, like Malawi? Shall all citizens be required to carry voter registration cards?
    3. If we're a Christian Nation (fear the Muslims, right?) isn't one of the major Christian tenets JUDGE NOT lest you be judged?

    P.S. I know Hitler killed millions of people, so don't waste your time responding. Just saying that forcing people to stand and say the pledge, sing the anthem, etc, seems a little creepy if you stand back and look at a side-by-side comparison bird's eye view of that and of the third-reich propaganda videos.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Jerry Senzee

      Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundral

      June 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  16. John-Paul Kennedy

    I'll bet the crowds at Golgotha sang the Roman Anthem before Jesus was crucified.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • bool

      What crowds? Three women and a goat? His gay "apostles"? The people who never quite got healed after three years who wanted to see the criminal fraud die?

      Who cares? It's all bullcrap.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      Well, the High Priests definitely did. They were the ones in bed with the Romans- since they got to keep all the money they collected from the temple. Another example of what happens when religion ties itself to government rule.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  17. Zach

    Why is this bull on the front page of a NEWS source? Nobody cares about you opinions, show me news. Jesus.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Greg

      Honestly, I have prayed to the Father in the Lord Jesus Christ's name for the past week that an article that CLEARLY demonstrates what Christians are called to be like in the U.S. would appear publicly. Prayer answered 🙂 .

      June 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • judith

      WELL SAID!!!!!!!!!!! THANKYOU..... I often wonder why the press in this country gives so much space to STUPIDITY...... and that gives it credence...... they make celebrities out of moron's, and "news" out of crap like this.....

      June 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Lucy ! You got some 'splainin ta do.

      Wake up. Why ? Because in the period of about 18 hours, CNN has gotten 2952, and counting, people to click at least once on this page. Sheesh.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • John

      Like.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  18. John-Paul Kennedy

    I thought the U.S. was the land of the free. Isn't that why Mennonites are free to not sing the national anthem?

    June 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • James

      and the home of the brave!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • dsvsd

      No, Canada is the land of the free and brave XD

      June 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  19. jeru0455

    And the award for the most self-absorbed, egotistical, and solipsistic article that I've ever read goes to....

    June 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • VietnamVet for Jesus

      GTFO. If you don't like it, go some place where they make everybody sing the National anthem. Then you will be in the kind of companty that you want. A totalitarian regime!!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Skip

      Agreed. Let me get this straight: A small religious school in the middle of nowhere is doing something (or rather NOT doing something) that no one notices. Why should we care? This seems a bit like "if a tree falls in the forrest..."
      This also strikes me as simply provocative for the sake of being provocative. "Hey, I just want to let everyone know that we're rebelling from the establishment!" Fine. You have the right to do that. But it would be interesting to see how this sort of thing would carry over in a Mennonite church in another country where the line between church and state is not so explicitly drawn.
      I don't sing the Star Spangled Banner either but I don't run around telling people about it. (FYI – because I can't carry a tune).

      June 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  20. Greg

    To everyone whom find it so "unkosher", unfortunately I must say that you are blinded by the things of this world. This nation, just like any other nation in the vast expanse of time that this "world" we live in, has a set date for it's founding, and a set date for it's fall. The Lord establishes all nations and controls all of them for the furthering of His all encompassing perfect will for humanity. However, UNLIKE what the Phelps say (notice they do not preach that Christ Jesus is Lord), God loves soldiers, and He loves every single person in this country. John 3:17 sums up why Christ came into the world. Therefore, God longs for those of you who are atheist/agnostic to come to know His Son, whom JUST LIKE A SOLDIER, died for His kingdom. His Kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven. As a follower of Christ, one is called to "live as a foreigner in the land" therefore, being in this world, but not of it. That is why as a Christian, I myself do not pledge allegience to a flag, or a statue, or money, or the American dream. My alligience is to Christ and to the Father. Thanks, and I will be praying for all of you.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Laughing

      lmao!
      What an idiot.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:56 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.