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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. Bayousara

    I destest our "national anthem." It is all about war. It is not an old song but was adopted as our national anthem in the 1930's. I don't really care what others believe or don't believe, sing or don't sing, pray or don't pray. Go to the races, to the football game, etc. and keep religion and the government out of it!

    June 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Debra

      You're nuts.. get back to your own country or if you don't have an original country; start one and fight for it!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  2. non-cents

    i have to say that FAR too many of u r concerned w/ what it means to be an american, the definition of free speech, patriotism and the like. how about the right to individuality? as said by some, this country thrives on our ability to stand up for what we believe in, to speak out against our leaders if we so choose, because if we DON'T speak up as a population, how can the government possibly claim to represent the people? a minute group of people cannot accurately make decisions that encompass the beliefs of the people w/o knowledge of our intents and desires.
    and as for tax-payers and the rich vs. the poor, i'll say this. MANY people r born into poverty and kept in poverty. so many of us (i say us meaning the people of the world, ALL of us) r under-educated, ignorant and opressed. if u r raised to believe that the way ur life is is the way it should always be and ur instructed to not question anything, how the f*** r u expected to be and do better? some of u r so ignorant of the reality of this world, get down off ur high horse and open ur eyes BELOW the clouds. WE R ALL SLAVES. period
    i think all inhabitants (not just legal citizens) should have the right to celebrate their beliefs and their country in any PEACEFUL way they choose. i don't feel i need to fight so-called terrorists to prove my love for my country. i support our troops and their dedication but i don't necessarily support their orders. i support our soldiers COMING HOME in one piece.
    freedom is an individual and personal experience, why limit it by definitions and guidelines?

    June 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Debra

      Truely undeducated, truely.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  3. jdgnevada

    Bugs me when a group takes it upon itself to enlighten the rest of the sordid horde, slightly fascist in thinking, if you ask me.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Bob Z

    Why is this news? Sing it or not, but don't try to justify it to me and glorify yourself. You've had your 15 minutes of fame, please vanish into mediocrity and obscurity.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  5. Dr. Cream

    This bothers me not in the least.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  6. Stephanie

    I was born and raised in France and I have to admit that both the pledge of allegiance in schools and elsewhere and the national anthem before sporting events really make me uncomfortable. These do not take place in France. Only the national anthem is played for international events. It reminds me of the nazi and the soviet youths, 2 regimes that used similar tactics to brainwash entire populations. I don't see any difference except that we happen to be the good guys, although many nations don't think of us that way. I am a big fan of individual freedoms and critical thinking but saying the pledge of allegiance in schools and the national anthems at sporting events promote conformism and obedience.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • frogsucker

      then get the fck out!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Mr. Sperm – why do I get the feeling that much of what you "donate" winds up in a relative?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Nice ad hominem attack. Given you did not address what i said, i guess it means you agree with my statement, you just happen not to like it. Truth hurts as they say.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>"It reminds me of the nazi and the soviet youths, "

      Nazi.. You mean the ones that decided to walk around the Maginot Line and defeat and occupy France until the rest of us came to save yall'

      Some where Gemeral Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette .... whew ... is crying.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Actually, we are a regime We even have an empire. And, not unlike the former regimes of the Third Reich and Soviet Russia, we expect, demand even, total obedience to the state. And no, I'm not implying that we are a totalitarian nation – just thought I'd clarify.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Debra

      France is weak and always has been...take a stand stupid!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  7. Mr Rogers

    "Why I don't sing the 'Star Spangled Banner"
    Because you are a fool.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  8. Wee Wong

    Anthem is to sing America moon Armstrong walk like Michael Jackson.!!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Nice try, though

      English speak good not

      June 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  9. mennoj

    Also, I am mennonite, and I do stand up and even sing the national anthem when it is played, out of respect. But I do not believe it is unamerican or disrespectful for a school to choose to not play the anthem. Singing the national anthem should not be the basis of whether you are american or not. Do you think that half the high schoolers/college kids in america are thanking soldiers when they sing the national anthem or truly know why others sing? No, they just stand up and sing because that is what they have been taught to do. I thank those who gave there life for America, but do not agree that war is the answer. Rather, I choose to pray for the soldiers and their families. That is how I can love them.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Steve

    Can I please have the minute of my life I spent reading this garbage?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Why did you read it? You must be interested.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  11. J.D.

    Sad commentary on our nation when one innocent article stating one man's beliefs can bring out the worst in people. Are people so insecure and find this article so threatening that they feel they must resort to insults and hate?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Westy McFlibbertygibbert

      So you insult people who insult and hate people who hate?

      Nice irony. Again.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      There is no mention of hate in this article.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • J.D.

      There is plenty of malice and hate in the comments. None in the article. And please tell me, how did I display hate and insult anyone with my comment?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Yup....pretty much so, I'm afraid. And by the way Chris, the "hate" is in the comments.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Sam27

      You are right. Many who leave comments, especially articles related to faith or politics, do not know the meaning of courteous debate/dialogue, and seem to have a need to bully those that have different views.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Here read this comment. This is the comment I was responding to about no hate being in the article "Westy McFlibbertygibbert

      So you insult people who insult and hate people who hate?

      Nice irony. Again."

      June 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Rawiri55

    Any position based wholly or in part on religious beliefs is untenable an indefensible. All religion is a lie. To suspend logical thought and embrace the fantasy of supreme brings, immaculate conception, angels and demons compromises the past 5,000 years of human progress made in spite of religion.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Colin

      well said.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • BeckFastPaws

      All religion is a lie? Since you can't prove it, your statement is a belief.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      I guess you will find out in a few years.

      I you are right what have I lost?........ If I am right what have you lost?

      June 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • leonid7

      well beckfastpaws, prove there is no santa.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  13. BeckFastPaws

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Corporate States of America,
    And to the Republicans for which it stands,
    One Nation, Easily Divisible,
    With Liberty and Justice for sale.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Debra

      I don't know what generation you come from, but I'm in my 30's. If you feel like that, perhaps you should leave the good old U.S. and move and secluded island where someone gives a dame. Jerk?

      June 27, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  14. Sam27

    I actually respect this person and group because they are respectful enough to not change the words or leave words out to promote their agenda, unlike NBC who decided last weekend to leave the words "under God" and "indivisible" out of our Pledge of Allegiance. What NBC did was quite unpatriotic, what this group does is rather respectful.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • leonid7

      There are those that think adding 'under god' after the fact was unpatriotic. it does kinda contradict the first amendment.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Sheldon Borgelt

      Are you saying that the Pledge of Allegiance that carried us through two World Wars was less than patriotic? "Under God" was only added to the Pledge is the 1950's as a response to Red fears.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Sam27

      The Pledge of Allegiance has not been unpatriotic before the 1950's. What is unpatriotic though is to change it. From the time that I was born, The Pledge of Alliance has been the same. I have not heard that it has been officially changed.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • leonid7

      I think it was unpatriotic to change the pledge. in the 50's.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • BettyMama

      I grew up when "Under God" was NOT a part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Actually the pledge was written by a Baptist minister who was a "Christian Socialist." It originally said "I pledge allegiance to MY flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He wanted to say "equality" instead of "liberty" but since there was no equality for black people at the time. It wasn't until 1953 when the KNIGHTS of COLUMBUS pressed to have the words "under God" inserted into the pledge. The man who wrote the pledge would never have wanted these words in there.
      Now, if you are of another religion, i.e. Buddhist, Hindu, etc, how would you feel saying "Under God" in the pledge when this is not the God you worship?
      I have been a missionary in many countries where the church and the state are one, and people from those countries actually have fear of this relationship. In the past century, many people have come to the US to escape this kind of pressure. So, when they want to worship in a church and they see an American flag in there, it actually puts fear into their hearts that the US is the same as what they escaped.
      As a Christian and a minister, I understand exactly what the Mennonite tenet means. It means that as Christians, we follow one God, we recognize ALL people as God's children, even if they do not recognize Him, and while we use our Christian faith as the basis for our decisions, we do not tie that to the operations of the state.
      This is exactly what Hitler did, though he was not a man of faith. He USED Christianity to come up with a reason to wipe out anyone who did not believe in Christ, specifically The Jewish people. When a person brings loyalty to country together with loyalty to a certain faith (as in Muslim countries), eventually the people of that country want to profess their loyalty and it turns first into lack of tolerance and then into hatred. We need to look at how Hitler used this in a subtle (and wrong) way to turn the tide of the European countries into a place of national loyalists intent in having only their kind of person live there.

      June 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  15. JWH

    Hey Mennonite Christians......you hoot and holler for a sports team, which is spiritual frivoulsness, Yet you hide under the Red White and Blue? You are proving you are nad have always been cowards. Did not your Lord in the OT take care of defenses? Was not Saint Peter armed and defended Christ? Could not Christ have called 10000 angels?
    And worse of all, a man who cannot defend his family or nation from attack is no man.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Stephanie

      I don't get it. If God really exists, why do we need laws and why do we need to defend ourselves at all? Does that not mean we are against God's will by doing that. It seems to me that to impose laws and defending oneself implies a lack of faith.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Mmmmmm......................swallow that flagpole, "patriot".

      June 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Then Mennonites are brave Christians. Cowards hide behind a military but real Christians face death with a smile like Apostle Paul did.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  16. DoodleSheep

    I don't participate in singing it at sporting events because I choose not to honor the lying government. The flag does not stand for anything honorable any more. It's open for debate if it ever did, but now it surely doesn't. If I had any children I would encourage them to not participate in the pledge in school.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Brandon

      I pledge allegiance to the most evil nation on Earth...

      June 26, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • JWH

      Holy Cow......re-pro-bate hits a new level.
      If most think like this, we do not deserve to exist. You are a shame to the forefathers who died so that you could be so stiupid.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      @JWH
      Your "forefathers" were revolutionaries and yes they would be consider reprobate by many. Forefathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be loading the gun, saddling the horse, raising an army to ride on Washington and try a few "high hats" for treason.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • stinkerpinker

      Thank you, thank you very much. A voice of sanity in a culture that seems to only be able to think in terms of "yay, my team, Amurica, go!"

      June 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Whatever

      Uh, JWH, the vast majority of the forefathers died of old age. You don't die for anything when you die of old age.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  17. Brandon

    I have Mennonite heritage, but I abandoned religion altogether. One thing I like about Mennonites is their total adherence to pacifism. It's a worthy ideal. In order to have a peaceful world, someone has to put down their weapons.

    I'm not going to read the comments for this article because it's too obvious what they'll say. Certainly there will be a lot of patriots screeching about how Mennonites get the benefit of defense provided by American soldiers, aka indiscriminate psychopathic killers of the indigenous around the world.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Colin

      Brandon, congratulations on escaping religion. Their basic morality is admirable and if they only could adopt it without the supersti.tious nonsense of gods and life after death, I would agree with them – in theory at least although there are admitted practical limitations to 100% pacifism.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Rawiri55

      And to have a safe world, someone else has to pick them up.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Nah

      colin: "Their basic morality is admirable and if they only could adopt it without the supersti.tious nonsense of gods and life after death"

      Right. Their basic morality is admirable - e.g., doing right, avoiding wrong, and helping others. But if there is no god, what reason do you have to do right and not wrong? If doing wrong brings you pleasure or benefits you, why not do it if you can escape punishment?

      You may as well have as much s- ex as possible, take advantage of your lovers, never give to the poor, don't tip waiters and so on.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • civiloutside

      Nah, what exactly is the point of your argument?

      Is it that god must exist because otherwise we'd be free to do as we please without consequences? That's a reason to *want* a god to exist, not a reason that he *must.* There's no logical reason that a desire for something equates to the necessity of its existence.

      Or is it that atheists should convince themselves that god exists so that they have a reason to be good, *even if it's not true*? Aside from the inherent contradiction of teaching oneself morality through the medium of conscious intellectual dishonesty, I would think this argument could only possibly work on an atheist who already desires to "be a good person" badly enough to convince themselves of it. But in that case, they probably already desire to be a good person strongly enough to just be a good person without layering a self-inflicted delusion on top of that desire.

      Or are you trying to convince atheists that their only logical recourse is to become self-serving and amoral? Because I'd have to say it would be very foolish indeed to convince someone of that. At least, foolish if you have any desire to not be murdered and/or stolen from. I would think that anyone in your society who desires to behave decently toward you should be encouraged to continue doing so, rather than be convinced to abandon that behavior.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  18. Whatever

    Provide as much reasoning as you want for it. It's wrong and sad. Enjoy the liberties people died for you to have, thank you for spitting on their memory.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Brandon

      Speak of the devil, here's one of 'em now ^

      June 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      My liberties came at birth. The last fight for freedom was World War II. The rest is just regime building and confiscating world resources. We now have over 200 military bases throughout the world. What the heck are we doing in Lybia with NATO? Spreading the regime !!!!

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

    When Bin Laden died, almost all of america celebrated. They celebrated the death of another human being. Many, many, many celebratied by making jokes out of his death, which I would think would be a little hard to watch for those who lost family members at war trying to get Bin Laden. Anyways, my question for you all is, would it be unAmerican to not celebrate the death of Bin Laden? Also, was it hard for anyone else to see people joking about his death?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • JWH

      A monster was stopped.....yet the Gulf wars were unecessary.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Sam27

      As an American, I did not rejoice when Bin Laden died because, as you mention, thousands of people have lost their lives in the process. Not just Americans but also innocent people from Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the death of one person will not stop wars or hatred. It is up to each individual that to stop the hatred, intolerance, stereotyping, and violence.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      Wait till you get the bill for axing ole Binny....It's one million per year per solder. Yes, we are not bankrupt. Just wait till your dollar refects it's true value. Poverty for everyone. Savers will get killed. Borrow as much as you can right now with the hope of paying it back in worthless dollars in the next few years. Old Binny help bring down Amerika in the end.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Debra

      "I pledge of a legience to the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, "one nation under GOD" and to the republcic for which stands one NATION, UNDER GOD indivisible for justice and ALL." GET IT RIGHT AND DON'T FORGET IT!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  20. Fresno

    In the past, we have banded together for mutual protection from those who would have subjugated us all. Because of the size of some of these threats, it took something with the resources that are particular to nations to accomplish this. To say that preserving this structure, and respecting those who have sacrificed to preserve it is somehow outdated, is an opinion that requires freedom that came at a cost, which many do not seem to value, because they have not paid. Perhaps the lesson in this is that if freedom is not free, then the burdens that go with its maintenance should be more equitably distributed, even among those who exemption due to their religion. I have no idea if the Mennonites do any national service, other than pay their taxes, but I can say that I am glad that we are not all pacifist Christians, or none of us would be free. This statement may anger some, but let them refute its truth.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Rawiri55

      I don't believe in any religion, but I believe in the kindness of the Mennonite church. I just returned from Joplin, MO where I saw several groups of Mennonites helping to rebuild the community. I don't have to agree with someone to respect their commitment to a belief that harms no one and forces no one to accept it. In fact, I've spent a lifetime defending that proposition.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • waj66

      Fresno, "I have no idea if the Mennonites do any national service, other than pay their taxes... "

      Very few Americans perform "national service" anymore. Only those who enlist do. Universal "national service" ended with the draft. However, during the years that the draft was in effect, conscientious objectors did do alternate service. Some did their service here in the States. And some chose to do their service as noncombatant medics in an active duty role. I lost a close friend in Nam who served in such a role. It takes real courage to refuse to carry a gun on a battle field.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:39 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.