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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. Ray in Vegas

    I believe in the separation of church and state also. Very much. And I am agnostic. He actually had me until " .. we recognize only one Christian nation, the church, the holy nation" and "practicing an economy centered on sharing and mutual aid." I do believe in strong social services, but I also believe in capitalism. So he doesn't recognize the U.S. nation, and he wants total communism (except for the no religion thing). Nice.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  2. frank

    If this red commie bastard wants to exercise his freedom not to celebrate an artillery barrage, a freedom that red blooded Americans killed people in other artillery barrages for so he can exercise it, he can just leave and go exercise it in Cuba where he belongs, the son of a bitch!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • fred

      you sound gay

      June 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      You give good sarcasm.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Viuncent

      Shame on you Frank.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • DS

      Wait... so the USA should be MORE like Cuba and other oppresive countries by removing the unpatriotic from the populace? Those who do not bow to the almighty state should be removed from the citizenry? Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler would have loved you...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  3. sportswatch

    Thou shalt have no other god before me....includes country. this is one of the 10 suggestions. i mean commandments. i see their point.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • D1

      What does singing the national anthem have anything to do with having no other gods before me? Are you suggesting we're making the US a god by singing the national anthem?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  4. norma

    rigth now you guys are the ones being judgemental i am the proud mother of two air force service man and they serve this country proudly the mennonites are not our enemys look around us we have bigger fish to fry there are so many people that come to our beautiful country looking for freedom but you know what they hate us they will hurt us in a minute given the chance so please take your petty arguments elsewhere.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  5. Nick Dedham

    Everyone chiming in who is against this is purely and simply a rational thinking AMERICAN. People trying to change our ways hiding behind racism and religion and god knows what else. Need to go pick up a history book, READ IT, and then go and kiss the ground they live on. You will taste blood! of our forefathers dying for US! Not singing the national anthem and trying to JUSTIFY it is.......(I am speechless).

    June 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • DS

      How very Stalinist of you. Everything for the collective! The blood of our brothers fed the motherland!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Washingtonian

      Actually, if I were to kiss the ground outside, all I would taste would be the blood of Native Americans that our forefathers mercilessly displaced and murdered.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  6. DD

    I agree. Keep religion out of government. And vice versa.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  7. Matthew

    America has lost its religious roots. Righteous freedom has become secular freedom. The US motto "In God we trust" no longer resonates in the hearts of US citizens. Instead, people would now prefer "In human freedom we trust".

    America will no longer be the same. Human efforts yield nothing unless people depend on God.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • DS

      Spoken like a true jihadist.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  8. mark

    Sod off, pal. Tired of people like you.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  9. Hal Summers

    Thank you for a well reasoned and thoughtful article explaining your beliefs. As an American, I am proud that our country allows you to follow them without fear of persecution from the government. I don't hold those exact beliefs but respect your right to follow your conscience. Anyone who feels differently should move to a totalitarian state that requires allegiance.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Meg

      Hal- you rock!! It so refreshing to see a well thought out reply! Thank you for representing your country in all that is should be. I just think that people forget about toleration and moderation. We can tolerate others views without it affecting our own- Thanks Hal!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  10. V. I. Lenin

    All this rousing, patriotic talk about our beautiful and most righteous of anthems makes me want to set fire to the flag, after I've used it to wipe. Maybe I'll hum a few bars of that song as I cherish my (perceived) freedom from the real cowards in this country – and it sure as hell ain't the Mennonites.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  11. K

    The 4th verse of The Star Spangle Banner has God all over the place. Granted, no one performs past the 1st verse, but I think the author needs to acknowledge this fact just for the sake of completeness if anything. Regardless, I really don't care whether or not an individual or group wishes not to say the Pledge or sing the Anthem. It's a freedom or worship thing, and that takes priority over much else. The only pledge that counts is paying taxes helping your neighbor. The Mennonites do both better than many other sub-groups in our culture that come to mind, so we really should not doubt their "Americanness" at all.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  12. harry

    i agrre both with george and jake- assomeone who fought for these people to practice their religion in peace,without fear of being burned at the stake,or drowned. it disgusts me that they won't acknowledge that it is in this country that they live ,that is the reason they can practice their religion.ahh-just makes me sick..semper fi

    June 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • The Pope

      You're as much a jar-head as I am an atheist.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • DS

      Wow. You were a Marine during the Spanish inquisition?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  13. Eric

    wow! heady argument! –

    Unfortunate as it is... We live in a cruel, unfair and wicked world. Some have to fight and die. Some have to preach. Many types it takes. Thats what America is about. Thats what makes it great. Some raise the flag in honor. Some burn it. Thats what makes us great!

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

      Very well said! We can't be great without freedom of choices.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  14. Nick Dedham

    This is total you know what. on top of it people writing "I can't believe people criticize what they believe in....'. It has nothing to do with that. The fact that they believe in something is great, whatever it is. However don't come to this country or live in it and change what is OUR heritage, what WE stand for. Also try dressing in something that is at least 20th century fashion. Yes that was a jab but denouncing the national anthem is a bigger one. Just leave and go somewhere else.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Jules

      Don't WE believe in freedom of speech, religion?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • DS

      What exactly is "OUR heritage" and "our" way of life? Is it lving in log cabins and raping the land? What about the heritage of those settlers? They didn't always have leather shoes and boats. The heritage of the USA, it's laws and history, is one of change, adaptability, acceptance and forward progression. Since you exhibit none of "OUR" ways you would be a hypocrite to remain in the USA any longer...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  15. First thoughts

    If you truly believe in one church led by Christ, it would not be necessary to bring attention to yourself politically by promoting or discouraging the playing of the national anthem. Christ centered his ministry on salvation of the individual and lived in harmony with the government when it did not conflict with His teachings. Let us concentrate on delivering God’s message of salvation of our souls and not political or social justice issues. Those will take care of themselves. One thing you missed is that our rights come from God and not the Government as the liberal agenda wants us to believe. It seems that Goshen is the one divided on loyalties. Where is the Obama weather vane when we need it.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • John Richardson

      1. If rights come from god, why did it take more than a millennium and a half and the emergence of secular humanism for human rights in the modern sense to even begin to be recognized?

      2. One's legal rights come from citizens successfully demanding that the government officially recognize.

      3. Moral rights precede legal rights both temporally and logically. Where they supposedly come from matters a lot less than that they be recognized and people work to make their government recognize them as legal rights.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • DS

      "Rights come from God" – Practice Sharia law much?

      Jesus was absolutely a social reformer. Social reformation is the practical application of christian spirituality. Try to tell an Israeli, or Iranian, that religion and politics aren't one and the same. Both of their political systems are dependent upon their spiritual beliefs.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Ron

      Its incredible just how political Jesus' language is. It was completely revolutionary. It was not just about personal salvation

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  16. Jules

    I don't understand many of these comments. Many of you say these people should leave because they don't fight. That those who fight for this country shouldn't have to fight for those who won't. But those who fight– fight for those don't and for the rights given to everyone despite their beliefs. You say this is the greatest country but they you say these people should leave because they believe in separation of church and state which is partly established by the First Amendment and defined by the Supreme Court. What makes this a great country are the rights it gives everyone and those who pay taxes and lead productive lives. Some do this by fighting and some by not. You can't have a great country if it kicks people out for not doing/thinking as you do. Then it’s not special anymore.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Maddy

      Jules...very well said. Thank you for posting this.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ryan

      Well said Jules. There is hope for us yet.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  17. brian

    real freedom is rising above the ignorance of any church or religious faith. Science is the only thing i put my faith into because its the only thing that yields results and saves people

    the flying spaghetti monster is pretty cool too though.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  18. hello

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY4VZr8Ox94&w=560&h=349]

    June 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  19. george hague

    This idiot and his zealot friends need to be reminded that it is this COUNTRY and our system which allows him the freedom to openly practice his beliefs in safety and happiness. His disrespect or perhaps ignorance of that is appalling. Maybe he would like to try not pledging allegiance in a country like Syria, Lybia, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, North Korea, and many others. I disgusts me that he makes this statement with a tone of pride as if his ignorance were something to be proud of. Shame on him and all who fail to understand the gift of their freedom.

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

      So he should act against his beliefs because he lives in a country that allows him to freely practice his beliefs. you make no sense.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • DS

      So the USA is better than oppresive countries because we don't force people to sing the national anthem and that is why people should be forced to sing the national anthem? That's absurd to an extreme...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  20. Jake

    Having lived around Mennonites for some time, I can tell you a good majority of them are hypocrites. They can be some of the most arrogant and judgmental people I have ever come across. While I believe in God above country, I don't believe in being above my neighbors who may believe differently. And one more thing, Mennonites donate millions of dollars to help those in need overseas, but hardly do anything to help people in this country. That's because it would be helping an American, the very country that they gripe about. Good thing we have freedom of religion in this country, too bad Mennonites refuse to acknowledge it.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • cek

      I'm not sure of the dollars spent in US vs. international but Mennonites are active in serving disaster response in the US. They are still rebuilding in the gulf coast since Rita and Katrina. More into at this link.
      http://mds.mennonite.net/

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • D1

      I grew up as a Mennonite and then left when I started thinking for myself. Sadly, I agree with you. Many Mennonite churches are constantly infighting. I guess it's OK to fight in the church but not to protect our country borders. My experience is that their peace stance is their religion. The college professors and pastors will twist around or leave out certain parts of the Bible in order to justify their view on war – which results in other ideas that are not consistent with mainline Christianity. I think this is called a cult. Contrary to what many Mennonite think – Jesus did not call us to be Mennonites. Mennonite parents- beware what your children are being taught by these nutty professors. You're paying these professors money to have them brainwash your children.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 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.