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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. Debbie

    Mennonites sound like a great bunch of people. I'm very impressed by this article. I do not sing the national anthem, nor do I stand for or recite the pledge of allegiance for my own reasons. I'd rather put up with the ridicule than compromise my beliefs. I admire anybody who stands, or sits, for what s/he believes in.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Braden

      You should be arrested and tried for treason really. 2 wars, thousands of our boys dying and you wont stand up for our National Anthem because of "your own reasons." How selfish...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Rhonda

      @Braden
      It's ironic that you want Debbie arrested for excercising her battlefield blood bought right to choose whether to stand or sing.

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

      You're living in the wrong country!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  2. Zelda

    Mennonites are great. Salt of the earth. Along with the Amish, they should to be protected. Personally, I won't join these denominations because though they may be able to protect the Jews, they won't be able to fight against Nazis. Serveing the same Jesus, different priorities and roles we have.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  3. Rhonda

    Those of you who continually insist on adherence to separation of church and state should be happy to hear that it is a priority in the Mennonite community. The convictions of some cause them to refrain from saying 'one nation under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. The convictions of some cause them to refrain from pledging allegiance to any but God. Neither of these convictions keep people from being good citizens. Mennonites recognize "one Christian nation, the Church". They are not peddleing the illusion that America is a Christian nation and should therefore legislate Christian virtues or suppress contrary points of view. Mennonites have a reputation, not just for passivism, but also for selfless service as medics on the battlefields. Plus, we can't have too many voices for peace.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  4. John Fries II

    This is what so many of our veterans died for? Sad how the years go by, people just forget how hard life was when you were imprisoned or killed for making statements like those made in the article. Just because you have the freedom of religion, speech and everything else, doesn't mean you should completely disregard the values and principles for which this country was forged. I would invite those who feel so strongly to try to voice their beliefs living in some other country which is less tolerant of all other views but their own.

    This is a complete lack of respect shown for everyone who served this nation and have given their lives in defense of it. If this trend continues, this country fill fall and we may not be able to keep our freedom and the next occupiers may not be so nice.

    While you stand behind your cross, I will be standing behind my trigger

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  5. Crady

    Note to CNN: How about allowing us to edit our posts for spelling errors ala foxnews.com ?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  6. Lauren in ATL

    Clearly, this guy takes for granted the FREEDOM he was given not to appreciate the sacrifices our COUNTRY has made for us. God forbid, one of these natural disasters takes out his home and community, his country and it's soliders will be there for him! Then again, he has the FREEDOM not to appreciate that either. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Del

      @Lauren....It is ironic that you mention natural disasters. For their small size, the Mennonites are a leading force in disaster cleanup after tornadoes, floods and hurricanes. Ask folks who have suffered from such a tragedy for their opinions. These people have their own ways of doing service. Let them in peace.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  7. Matthew Roman

    I agree with Mark Schloneger 100%, except instead of worshiping Jesus, I believe in the healing and moral power of the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Oh, and I sing the National Anthem, not because I wouldn't rather be singing Truckin' or Touch of Gray, which typically I would (though it is fun to join in with various semi-talented R&B artists in the blood soaked mangling of the Star Spangled Banner before the tip), but because it really is nice to honor the good 'ol US of A, the only country in the world where there is plenty of room for grand counter culture musical experiments like the Dead, and Bible soaked nutbags like Mark.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  8. V. I. Lenin

    I believe a Mr. T. Parker's lovely song; "Freedom Isn't Free" should replace the current paean to mayhem.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  9. Nick Dedham

    I am done. Thx for a good debate. However all the comments that support the "mennonites" (that's hard to spell) and that think boycotting this is OK either just don't get it OR want attention. All countries have national anthems, we have one, if you don't want to sing it then go to a different country.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Bert in UT

      When did singing the anthem or wearing a flag lapel pin become the measure of patriotism? What a shallow view.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  10. Crady

    What a HYPOCRITE!!! This anti-American filth tries to pass himself off as a "pacifist" and a "Christian" when in reality all he is is a leach. He dares to condemn this country and defile the memories of those who fought and died so that cowards like him can practice his so-called "faith" when by rights he should leave. Schloneger, if you really believed anything of what you say you would leave this country and never return, but you won't, because you know you have nowhere else to go. You're a coward, you're filth, and you are the worst kind of hypocrite. Burn.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • frank

      You spelled leech wrong.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Crady

      @frank: Curse these editable posts!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Crady

      Curse these editable un-editable posts!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Crady,

      your not making any sense here. He is not anti-American. Christians can't hate other people. We are commanded to love everyone, including our enemies. He is being loyal to God. Christians must avoid anthems and pledges of allegiance. Our loyalty is too the Kingdom of Heaven. We are to love everyone. American's don't love everyone. Huge difference.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  11. Marie Kidman

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

    `

    June 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • BOB

      WTH, that butterfly sure can play a piano !!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  12. JJ

    If you are khristian first and American second, you should leave the country.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Crady

      Uh, there are a lot of CMO recipients who were Christians first, and Americans second, and Springdale is no Christian. This dirtbag is just a sniveling little hypocrite vying for his pathetic 15 minutes. Barf.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  13. ghost2012

    No one gives a flying "F" if you sing the anthem or not. I would rather you leave this great country and try to live in some third world hell and see how long before you start belting out this great anthem. so pack your bags get on a bus, plane, train or ship and leave us. You pathetic piece of useless crap. You have the nerve to hide behind religion with your useless excuses.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      Hypocrite fascist.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Bert in UT

      Wow! Thanks so much for defending the principles on which this great country was founded—freedom of religion, tolerance and separation of church and state. You make us all so proud . . .

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • sfsadf

      This Ghost guy nutso. I don't salute, vote, go to war or pledge alegiance to any man-made nation either. I'm a different religion than mentioned in the article, but the millions of those of my faith also don't do this things either. It's only God's kingdom ruled by Christ that will eventually put an end to hunger, pain, death, etc. Don't put your hope in earthling man to which no salvation belongs. There is a truth out there for you looking for it. I promise that if you truly seek truth it will practically come knock on your door one of these days.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  14. Nick Dedham

    the game is a venue. A small group got together and said no more national anthem. That is stopping people who paid to go to that game and expect it. Don't get cute. it is what it is. Don't hide behind BS comments like that

    June 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  15. MATTHEW FERRARA

    Playing the National Anthem has nothing to do with religion. It is our National Song, just like Oh Canada is for them. This country needs to stick by its traditions and stop letting various groups change what has made this country what it was (not what it’s becoming).

    June 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      So they're free to do what they want, oh, unless it doesn't fit your ideal of what it is to be an American?

      What a hypocrite.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Bert in UT

      Wait! What tradition is being changed here? They didn't sing the national anthem for 116 years, and no one seemed to mind. Leave them alone.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  16. Argle Bargle

    No one is stopping them from singing. They can sing till their lungs fall out.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  17. Nick Dedham

    Two things: Ray in Vegas nailed it. Tom Tom.....you do not get it. Yes you are free to go and pee in your bushes. But don't go tell people who have been singing a really important song to them for 116 years they cannot or will not. GET IT? Seriously? That is the rationale that is = stupidity.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Del

      In fact, Tom Tom is the one who nailed it. We are blessed to have the freedom to each act in accordance to our conscience.

      In your opinion should the national anthem be forced on people? These people of faith believe in God and country, just like many of you. (note that God comes first). Thay dont hate our country, they just put God first. And by not choosing to sing our national anthem, how exactly does it impact you? Do you somehow believe that you are right and they are wrong, and therefore they should change to conform to your wishes?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  18. UncleSam

    Well Schloneger there is plenty of countries you can move to where you don't have to hear our beautiful national anthem. In fact I think you and everybody in that school that's anti-american should get the hell out of the U.S. Here are some places that may suit you better, Israel or Italy.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      I hear Canada's pretty tolerant. Closer, too.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      You totally missed the point. He didn't say you could sing it or that he was tired of hearing it. He was explaining why the school will not sing it or play it. They are loyal to God and cannot worship false gods like a nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      Dear Uncle Sam...when did you become a Fascist? If this is such a free country, then why can't they exercise their freedom whether you like it or not? You'd have that taken away because they don't fit YOUR definition of freedom? People like you worry real Americans.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Correction: He didn't say you couldn't sing the anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  19. C-Note

    Well, what makes me sad about this story is that these people just don't get it. Yes, I understand, they want to worship only one God or whatever, however, they are able to do that BECAUSE THEY LIVE IN A FREE COUNTRY!!!! If they don't recognise and appreciate that, then I have no hope for them. I really haven't met many mennonites that I cared for.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • FatSean

      It's a stupid song used to whip up nationalism so that useful idiots will die for the state. If this really bothers you, you need to sort your sad life out.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Argle Bargle

      But you see, that's just it...it's a free country. They are exercising their freedom and you should be glad they can.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Freedom, schmeedom – they've openly worshipped, in their history, in countries with repressive regimes and paid for it. They're as far from cowardly as it gets.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  20. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Isn't this a free country? Isn't THAT what our forefathers fought for? Anyone has a right to refuse to sing the national anthem. The day we force someone to do so is the day this country is no longer free.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:35 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.