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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. Marie Kidman

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

    ,

    June 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  2. chris

    I'm amazed how people are judging and persecuting these people for practicing their freedom and right to choose.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      Just move the college out of the United States.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      I'm not. We're widely perceived as being among the worlds biggest hypocrites. Nothing new under the sun, really.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      @armyofone Soldiers die to protect the rights of citizens. Good. Citizens actually practice those rights in a way that bothers you personally. Bad. I get it, you're a giant hypocrite.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • frank

      I'm amazed that you're amazed.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      Kutulhu-Actually what bothers me is you receive government money and yet want to make stipulations. If you wanna be an exclusive college for only a certain religion that is fine. If you choose not to play the anthem, that is fine also. However, do not take our federal dollars for your religious college who does not want to play the anthem of the country that gives you the dollars while you chose not to allow atheists and muslims to attend your school.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @ArmyofOne Why do you say Kutulhu receives money from the government? Did I miss something? Regardless, ultimately the government receives money from the taxpayers.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      John Richardson-I was talking about the college. Sorry. I just get tired of all the colleges who do not allow certain students or even the national anthem, but yet they are quick to have their hand open for the free Government dollar.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      Its a small, private religious college. I doubt it gets any money from the government.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • KlausVos

      @ARMYofONE
      it is a religious school
      that means it can't receive federal, local, or state money
      even if it did, so what?
      it's just a song and honestly, there are better songs out there, patriotic or otherwise
      so what if they don't sing it? it doesn't make them hate freedom or anything like that, it simply means that they are exercising their intrinsic rights, something you fail to recognize
      the whole reason we have freedoms is to protect minorities (religious, racial, or otherwise) from being victimized by majorities
      by suggesting that they move an entire college just because you want them to sing a song and they wont sing it, you are being far more unamerican than they are

      June 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  3. Oliver Greensborough

    Living in Europe, I have never seen any church that would display a national flag inside, or a congregation singing the national anthem prior to any church activity. This would be considered most awkward, weird....

    June 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      But they have a competing sports team. And other teams want the anthem played that they play against.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  4. Landau

    You are a coward. You should be ashamed.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  5. richard

    If you do not want to sing the national anthem thats is fine.All you have to do is stand up, take off your damn hat, and shut your mouth. Nobody wants to hear your opinion so keep it to yourself. and if you do not like the way we do things hear if the good ol' US of A then do yourself and us a favor LEAVE.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • ARMYofONE

      If you do not want the national anthem played before sporting events than just move your college ot of the US. We do not want you here if you are seriously that un-patriotic. Since thousands of soldiers die for this country, the flag, and it's people, maybe you should just play the anthem in respect to those who gave their life.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Sydney

      The college voted not to have it. This guy didn't make a unilateral decision. If you want to hear the national anthem at games? Then don't go to their's. No law states that you have to play it before every game.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • KlausVos

      you mad bro?
      seriously, it's a private school so they can do however they please
      which is far more American than the celebration of brutal bloodshed that we call our anthem
      America is about freedom, and that includes the freedom to not worship a piece of cloth at every opportunity
      it's like flag burning (though less extreme), as soon as we prohibit not singing it, it loses any shred of value it had because any values it ever stood for are washed away in the name of nationalistic propaganda

      June 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • KlausVos

      @ARMYofONE
      the soldiers died in an attempt to protect our freedoms not a piece of cloth and a pattern of tonal variations
      ooh, so scary, some people don't want to sing the national anthem because it encroaches on their religious beliefs
      oh wait, they're allowed to do that because all those soldiers protected the right to not sing the anthem

      June 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  6. Mike

    Your religious freedoms here were bought on the blood of Americans who fought in wars. When there was a draft, did any of you go to help fight so that you could have the freedom to practice your religion? I hope so, if not sir, then you have no honor. You then would let others die so you can have things for free....thats stealing in the worst way.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Ron

      Real freedom is the freedom from the bondage to sin and death. Jesus paid the price.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      Most U.S. wars & dictatorships that we support abroad not only are not necessary for domestic freedom, they are motivated by material greed & generate the anti-Americanism that is understandably so rampant in this world. People in many other countries, Costa Rica to name one, have religious freedom w/o supporting dictators & maintaining occupations abroad.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      Real freedom is not being yoked to a god or a government. You are both wrong.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • BOLOGNA BOLOGNA BOLOGNA

      @kuthulu: spot on.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  7. Kutulhu

    The vast majority of the people who would bash someone for not singing the National Anthem probably cannot tell you when it was written, why is was written, what its actually about or who wrote it.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • BOLOGNA BOLOGNA BOLOGNA

      The vast majority of people who spout off "vast majority of people" statements could not find their ass with both hands and a map.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Jonathan

      The vast majority of people who do know the national anthem most likely dont know those details either...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • Kutulhu

      That's kinda my point, Jon. It's sad.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  8. Ron

    After reading these responses I see that the Anabaptist are STILL persecuted for their faith. Keep speaking truthfully Mark! Maybe eventually people will be Christians before Americans. I'll read some Yoder in your honor tonight Mark. And may the peace of Christ be with you!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Oliver Greensborough

      Amen!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  9. Food For Thought

    Your church wouldn't exist if it weren't for the freedom this country provided to found it. Don't think of the national anthem as "worshiping a state" but rather as thanking God for inspiring our forefathers to dedicate their lives and work their butts off creating a nation where anyone could freely practice their religion – or practice no religion at all!

    Think you could practice your religion in Saudi Arabia?

    God bless America!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      and who is the leading arms supplier (billions every year) to the government there?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      actually, yes, there are christians in saudi arabia.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      They were worshipping god in this country before it was even a country.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  10. wikiIeaks

    Actually, I'd rather nobody fight. Violence is never justified.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • A-man

      What a pile of garbage! Such a shallow, short-sighted, ignorant and arrogant pansy! Arguing that because his cult was violently persecuted 'back in the day', he feels it's best NOT to honor the country who shed it's blood so people like him have the ability to pray freely. Such a sad excuse for an American...pathetic!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • A-man

      That wasn't directed to you wikileaks...hit wrong 'reply' button. 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      you are the one who is ignorant if you think most of the rest of the world believes that our foreign policy is motivated by altruism.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • BK

      @ A-man – Our ancestors shed their blood so that people like him would have the RIGHT to not pledge allegiance if he wanted to. If we really want to respect them, we have to let people who don't want to do things like that not do them. Otherwise we are no better than the people we fight.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  11. Gene Busbey

    If a true following of the teaching of Christ was the point, Jesus himselp said that all rulers are placed by God and that we are bound to obey all laws where we live as long as they do not contradict God's laws. He also said render unto Caeser that which is Caesars in regard to taxes as an illustration of this point. Pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States in no way contradicts God's laws or Christ's teachings. In fact it follows them.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      disagree. the national anthem is supportive of a man-made government. All christians should be neutral in political affairs. we neither side with nor against any government. We do obey all laws and pay taxes and love our neighbor and try to do good to others. as long as man's law doesn't contradict God's, we try to follow them as closely as possible.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      So sending arms & death squads to torture & kill political opponents as well as massacre civilians in Central America so that (often Christian) children could be in sweatshops & on plantations for our leisure doesn't contradict the teachings of Christ? good luck explianing that one on the day of judgement.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Ron

      That was Paul... not Jesus. And always read Romans 11 and 12 together.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  12. David

    I think I remember reading somewhere that we should, "give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and give unto the lord what belongs to the lord."

    Just a thought =)

    June 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  13. Chuck Steak

    But you don't mind, do you, if others salute the flag, sing the anthem and fight/die defending the values about this country (vs. any other in the world) that you love, right?! Good, didn't think so.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      Using an example, are you aware that Chile has democracy, free speech, women's rights, an indpendent judiciary, etc., & they did it w/o killing millions & send billions every year to dictators aborad? Of course, they didn't have a democracy for about 20 years not too long ago, bc we helped overthrow it & support a dictatorship, like many other places around the world.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  14. Lynn3765

    Uh...there is no mention of anything related to religion in the Star Spangled Banner.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Gene Busbey

      This isn't about the Star Spangled Banner. It's about the pledge of allegiance. And God is referenced in it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • WornOutShoe

      Actually yes there is... last verse of the song has a line: And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." No one sings the entire song, but it is there.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • action jackson

      Actually , yes there is , Here is the entire lyrics
      Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
      What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
      Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
      O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
      And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
      Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
      O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
      O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

      On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
      Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
      What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
      As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
      Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
      In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
      Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
      O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

      And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
      That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
      A home and a country should leave us no more?
      Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
      No refuge could save the hireling and slave
      From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
      And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
      O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

      O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
      Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
      Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
      Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
      Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
      And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
      And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
      O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Gene Busbey

      Disregard my comment. Brain spasm. That's what I get for trying to do two things at once.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  15. wikiIeaks

    some religions actually try to do what's right. for example Jehovah's Witnesses have been pioneers for freedoms in this and many countries. Just look up wikipedia or any other about supreme court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses. They also suffered in this and many other countries, such as the Holocaust. Anyway, some people try to live right and should be commended for it.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  16. Finally a Real Christian

    The International Christian Concern recently released a report on the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted, & at least 5 of them receive collectively well into the billions in U.S. military aid every year (I think into the tens of billlions, actually, when counting the sales that politically-connected war profiteers make fortunes off of.)

    Like so many other issues...fair trade that could eradicate the majority of extreme poverty on this planet almost overnight, propping up oppressive gvernments whether they persecute Christians or not so that less than 5% of the world's pop can consume 20-25% of its resources, getting women & children in sweatshops & on plantations in return for this "aid," starting wars & then flipping coins to the millions of victims while well-connected & powerful corporations make a killing off our military racket, the "War on Drugs" which is actually a war on the poor & espcially on non-white communities, continuing to fund perhaps the world's most infamous terrorist training camp at Fort Benning, Georgia whose students have butchered hundreds of thousands of Christians in Latin America... one can choose the cross & the path of Jesus, or they can choose the stars & stripes tp pursue the extreme material greed (& all that goes into it around the globe) that Jesus himself explicitly condemned.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  17. r4bbit

    If our country is ever attacked you pray.I`ll protect the country with the rest who choose...

    June 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Finally a Real Christian

      Yes, & if we insist on continuing to support dictatorships & opression & start wars in that region, we probably will be attacked again, in which case warmongers (& espcially war profiteers) can then have an excuse to do more of the same that got us attacked in the first place... all to pursue a policy of mateiral greed incompatable with how Jesus instructed his followers to live.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  18. gonzo

    I'm an atheist, but I like the Mennonites. They live a good, moral, simple life. I wouldn't particularly WANT to be a Mennonite, particularly a Mennonite teenager, but I like their whole seperation of Church and State thing. They believe what they believe and they don't shove it down other's throats. And that's all I ask.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Gonzo, I am not an atheist but I agree with you. If I have to be around Christians the Mennonites would be my choice.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  19. Mikey13

    As a strongly loyal Christian myself, I had a lot of fun reading this. Here's a guy who lives on our nation, which our forefathers had to fight tooth and nail for, and he has the audacity to NOT sing a simple song in remembrence of this great nation's trials. HOW DARE YOU, SIR!?

    Oh, except, this "great" nation was founded on the killing of its natives to make room for a more "civilized" society. Let's just call it a ethnic/social cleansing. Oh, and being a Christian means being removed from the world, yet somehow American patriotism and exceptionalism isn't the world. I guess Jesus was an American, too. Or maybe he would have been if he could have. Who wouldn't? Oh, and yes there is that little pesky commandment to love your enemies, and to bear the cross of persecution in all faith believing that God is the one true judge, and not ourselves. There is that pesky meaning of "Christian", which is "Christ-like" and in order to be Christ-like, we must do what he did, and speak like he did. And that would of course mean putting self-sacrifice in front of self-defense. And yes, Jesus did tell his apostle Peter that "those who live by the sword, die by the sword", but he wouldn't mean not fighting for our country, would he?

    Well, believe what you want, but I'm beyond positive that Jesus wouldn't pick up a gun and kill the "enemy" for a patch of dirt we refer to as an exceptional country. He wouldn't do it in self defense either. That's because there's more to life and to Him than simply living. And if you must choose between death and killing to survive, maybe think to yourself WWJD. Because I'm pretty sure the answer is death, but by that death, you obstain a greater life.

    Call me a liberal, unpatriotic, psycho for all I care. If you're a Christian, I'll just call you a blind hypocrite. Your "love" of your nation if greater than your love of God when what it means to be American exceeds that of what it means to be Christian. When those two paths intersect, doing and believing and voicing what is Christian should defeat what it means to be American. God didn't come to save the Americans. He isn't coming back to give the Americans a special place in Heaven. He is coming back for his servants, no matter the nationality, for he is not a resector of persons. In my eyes, you can either be a Christian or an American, and I for one choose Christian. Being an American to me just has to do with what patch of dirt I was born on.

    And blah blah to all the "you ungrateful ingrate" comments. I am grateful for everything in my life, what this nation has provided, and what it hasn't. Should I be less or more grateful if I were born outside of it? No. Material things are nothing, and the "freedoms" that this nation provides are nice, but they do not allow me to be a Christian. That comes from a greater freedom to which a nation cannot control. Choice. Democracy makes life as a Christian easier for me, which is nice I suppose. But I owe it nothing, besides what it demands that do not conflict with Biblical beliefs. Basically taxes.. I did nothing to obtain democracy, it was given to me from birth.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • John Richardson

      So freedom for you means free to be told what to sing and when to sing it?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      What?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  20. Tallahassee

    The late American humorist and writer, Lewis Grizzard (1946 – 1994), told the following story: “My late father was one of the handful of Americans who could sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ without bruising the ears of those around him. A long time ago, I went to a baseball game with him when they played the national anthem. He stood, placed his hand over his heart, and sang a spirited rendition that rose above the relative quiet of the rest of the crowd. When he sat down, I said, ‘Daddy, it embarrasses me when you sing the national anthem that loud.’ ‘Son,’ he replied, ‘it embarrasses me when you don’t.’”
    Lewis Grizzard (1946-1994)

    June 26, 2011 at 7:26 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.