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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. Drew

    Riveting tale, chap.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  2. Peter Wilson

    While I am certainly on the side of anyone who would choose to not recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing our National Anthem given the freedoms we enjoy, I find the argument made by the Mennonite writer to be extreme and misguided when claiming that all believers of his faith should refrain from such recitation and singing. Aside from the classic arguments of the Biblical god and Jesus encouraging disciples to obey laws and government, etc. (which I know are different from allegiances), it seems to me that there is a misinterpretation of what faith is when one claims that allegiance to a country or showing national pride would somehow diminish one's primary faith in their God or religion. From a practical, PR perspective, a people of such convictions unnecessarily risk alienation from others – clearly not what their god would have intended. In point of fact, the Christian Right have used "Patriotism" to their advantage politically for years. Furthermore, one appears dangerously naive and an ignorance of history when claiming that "God" is the only being who can grant freedom and that governments fall short in this regard. You can feel "free" in your heart all you want by your allegiance to your god; however, if you don't live in a country that recognizes your freedom to choose that religion or god in which to believe, pledging and singing will be the least of your worries.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • MikeJon

      I Find it funny that he mentioned They are all over the world and speak different languages. However we are all grouped as Americans so seems to me that country is more united then Religion. And think for a second about the traditions of that Religion he is part of. He is just like everyone else with a narrow mind. It is okay not to sing the anthem since it is less important then saying amen. These people are all the same and try and say that what we dis respect god or that we love god less cause we choose to honor and praise the fallen by singing a song that was made to honor our country and the people who paid the dearest cost for it. Wile it is a right according to our way of life to think and say what you like, however to Religion it not okay to think and say what we like. So when you mix State and Religion this is what happens every time.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  3. MikeJon

    So you do not sing the anthem before sports.. And this is news or I needed to know why? And none the less a week before the 4th of July. A time where we should reflect more on why we are here and not so much Why people like to disrespect everything about this country on a day to day basis. I am all for Freedom and if you do not sing the anthem cause you want to prove you could care less about the values our fore fathers put before us, that is your right. However I do not need to read it nor should this be posted a week before we celebrate our nations Independence. Since you took this in a religious direction, It does not make it more acceptable nor does it give you more cause. Getting tired of people using Religion and Politics as an excuse to spit on history and values. You have the right to do so But I find it in bad taste is all.. My 2 cents.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • tim

      well said, very very well said

      June 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  4. andy mahad

    what if a muslim imam said the same thing..everyone will be all over that person.. Lets get rid of the bigotry in this world..

    June 26, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  5. Jeeper5413

    If you sat down and really read the words of our National Anthem, you would understand why it is a defining part of our history. Of all the trials and tribulations OUR Nation has been through, and what we had to do to come be the Great Nation that we are. The people who complain about having to stand up, Salute, and be proud of a song during a sporting event have had never sacrificed themselves for the greater good of OUR Nation, as OUR Men and Women who served OUR Country past, present and future. Until they get up off their lazy butt and contribute to the defense of OUR country, it is then they will understand the real message of the National Anthem. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” -George Santayana

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Creeper

      Jeeper, you're wrong. The National Anthem is about the War of 1812, a war that was completely unnecessary. Congress declared war over a British naval practice that the agreed to stop, but the news did not arrive until after the declaration had occurred. EVERY death that occurred was not given for freedom, did not buy freedom. It was meaningless. That's what the National Anthem stands for.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  6. V. I. Lenin

    Pay your taxes, obey the laws, be industrious and self-sufficient and you too can be subject to the verbal diarrhea of countless armchair warriors and couch patriots.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  7. Jimbo

    As a U.S. Marine who has left my family in the states so I can serve my country in Afghanistan, I simply do not understand why some people cannot appreciate our national anthem. That song still gives me chills when I hear it. As a country we have fought for our freedom and the freedom of others. If this guy says we don't have to fight to get freedom, maybe he should tell that to the Holocaust survivors of WWII. Or maybe he should try going to Afghanistan and practice his freedom of religion that didn't have to be fought for. That ought to work out real well for him. The fact is, we DO have to fight to be free. You all in the states that have never served in the military might not believe it, but your freedom started when our military fought to make this a free country. They were very much believers of God. It was only with the blessings of God that this country gained her independance. How else can you explain a bunch of farmers and business men winning a war with, at that time, one of the worlds best fighting forces? God had his hand of blessing upon us and our founding fathers knew this. Go back and read some of Washington's speaches. Mr. Schloneger, you don't have to sing OUR national anthem, but you also don't need to let everyone in the world know about it. Just keep it to yourself.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Peter Wilson

      Ooh Rah, Marine. As our 33rd CMC used to say, "Keep attacking!"
      Semper fidelis!
      PW

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • frank

      So, you fought for the freedoms he enjoys, like freedom of speech, so he should enjoy his freedom of speech by keeping his mouth shut?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Jimbo

      @FRANK
      Really Frank. Did i say I am fighting for his right to free speech? I don't believe I did. His freedoms have been fought for and paid for with the blood of people he doesn't have enough respect for to even sing a song about their fight for our freedoms. He can say whatever he wants about his rights. But I don't think they need to be put on display for the whole world to read about. Let him preach his thought and feelings to those in his congregation. He should appreciate his freedom of speech by appreciating those who gave it to him. If our country didn't have the men and women who write a blank check to their country for the price of up to and including their own lives, he probably wouldn't have the rights he has now. Many families are back home right now suffering and praying for the safe return of their loved ones so ALL Americans can continue to enjoy their rights.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • frank

      Ok, thank you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  8. Mike Dywat

    Just another way religion is the root of all evil.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • TTT164

      So true.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Andacar

      You're right, especially those zealous atheists, who are constantly making wild overgeneralizations all the time. Not like me, who never ever makes overgeneralizations ever.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Downstrike

      Not at all. It's yet another opportunity to reinvent the Ku Klux Klan, the Swastika, and the Kremlin:

      "Just keep it to yourself."

      "religion is the root of all evil."

      "if you don't like the US, then you can leave"

      "Religious morons crapping out babies"

      If you or any of your friends or family ever sacrificied your life, or even a couple years of it, to preserve the freedoms minorities enjoy in America, these bigoted slurs dishonor each one of those sacrifices, by inciting hatred of one American toward another and fomenting deprivation of the civil liberties that the soldiers fought for.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  9. Rogerrr

    Just another religious group claiming ideological independence from a country that provides all freedoms it enjoys. Can't play the national anthem before your sports games because it insults your delicate sensitivities? Why is it socially acceptable to show no allegiance to a nation that provides your religious freedom? Even if you vehemently object state involvment in religious affairs, you cannot deny that playing the national anthem before events is a public way to show respect to past, current and future generations that have made the United States what it is. And if you don't like the US, then you can leave, there are plenty of people waiting to get in...

    June 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  10. JW

    I never thought of the Star Spangled banner as glorifying war. I'm sure that Francis Scott Key thought quite the opposite watching his comrades get shelled by the British. It's a song about holding to your values and standing strong in the name of freedom. As a matter of fact, it reminds me quite a bit of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  11. piercer2

    I enjoyed the article/blog, but in the book of Romans, Paul says Christians should obey the laws of the world and respect governments. You have every right not to sing and I certainly understand your reasoning. Probably the best reason out there.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Rudy Talon

      Have none of you studied the word of Christ?? Let him who is without sin , cast the first stone. God will judge all hearts of men, not man.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  12. Joe

    I wonder how many people who claim they are "good" Americans because they sing the anthem or salute the flag, actually obey all the laws of their country including not cheating on their taxes? Or just even strive to be good citizens each day in their conduct? Reality is many people who claim to be "real Americans" actually undermine the country they say they love, oh and some of the worst offenders are the "good Christians too"

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  13. Hotdog11

    I appreciate everyone sounding off on this issue. It seems many are fairly discussing the topic. Do they have the right to not sign the National Anthem? Yes. for those of us who do not understand their reasoning, It is a right in our Country. Do we have to like it? No. Again, it is your right. After 20 years of military service, after seeing fallen comrades, it is disappointing to hear some cry their freedoms and not acknowledging those who gave them that right. Thank a Service Member for keeping you safe. Since 9-11, we have not had a terrorist attack on our Country, although many out there wish, hope and paln for the destruction of our Country. I ask the person who is perfect to lead us... I see no human stood up. Now let us get on with being the best we can, use or moral compass and repect everyone, even though we may not agree with everything they say or do. God bless America, God bless our enemies, God bless this world.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  14. Willard

    I celebrate your religious freedom though I am an atheist. I take pride in your right, as a religion, a university, a city, a town, a state, all the way to the individual person, to practice or not practice the religion of your choice. I put my life on the line to guarantee those freedoms for you, as have many others from the fight for independence to the current actions across the globe. You say God is the only one who can grant freedom, but if it were not for the men and women of our armed forces who are willing to sacrifice all they have for the freedom you enjoy, you might not be able to practice your religion, as you had been condemned, tortured and killed for it in the past. I don't think standing, putting your hand on your chest and listening to our national anthem is too high a price to pay for that freedom. In my humble opinion of course.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Hotdog11

      Thanks Willard. When ever you served, where ever you served, I sleep better knowing American Soldiers, Sailors, Airman and Marines (civialians, contractors and all others) are protecting our families from harm. Amen. For all you non-religious people, however you want us to thank you, I respectfully do that too. A humbled Retired Military Soldier.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Michael

      Willard–though I admire your service, I wonder why you claim to take "pride" in the right of a citizen to subscribe to the religious beliefs of their choice, but seem to take a less positive approach to one thoughtful citizen's discomfort with certain displays of nationalism. I'd argue that the author's respectful, philosophical reasoning (when it comes to the anthem) isn't unlike the thoughtful, personal reasoning associated with selecting one's spiritual alignment. When brave Americans like you fight, Willard, you're fighting for thinkers.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Tyler

      As a practicing evangelical Christian, I respectfully disagree with the article and agree with Willard's comment. The author refuses to sing a national anthem claiming to only believe in Christ's Kingdom, and yet he benefits from the government in countless ways and the sacrifice of people who bought his freedom to practice his beliefs. I believe its just not right to say "I won't sing a national anthem" when you live in a country that benefits you and the religion you practice. As a Christian, I fully believe that my worship is only for Jesus Christ; however, I am extremely thankful for the benefits of living in this country and I know that comes at a cost. So I tip my hat to the men and women of our armed forces, to the freedoms allowed by their sacrifice, and to you Willard for your comment. I will sing my nation anthem proudly, thank you very much!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  15. Heather

    Kudos for having the guts to write about such a sensitive topic! My husband and I came to the same beliefs after...get this...actually reading our Bibles and thinking for ourselves! Separation of church and state all the way! It is 's a tough teaching, but my LORD taught me to lose my life and turn the other cheek...not fight and kill for freedom! This life is a breath...any oppression I suffer will be "light affliction" compared to the glory that is to come!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Don Beyeler

      Good for you, Heather. You do the human race proud. Humans killed each other at the rate of 101,000,000 people according to my calculations at Wikipedia in the century we just left. Even monkeys appear to be more like humans should be in their interpersonal and societal relationships. Try reading the history of Medieval times – Early and late Middle Ages where the issue of church and state came up all the time – people that chose to deviate from Church/Civil/State authorities very often got burned at the stake, drowned, send off to the gallows, imprisoned and fed insect and mold (ergot) infested bread, or were banished. It was horrendous! We should take important lessons from the trials of our ancestors – Catholic, Protestant, or atheist.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Charles

      Your words cut to the core. They are true. The truth hurts, but it also brings true Liberty. Just like Jesus' words do. His words are like a two edged sword, they cut through all the distractions and rationalizations that we come up with so we don't have to fully obey His word. A couple years ago my family and I came to the same conclusions that you have. Jesus was not kidding or making a simple suggestion when he said, "love your enemies". It hurts when we realize all the pain, suffering and anguish that has been "made legitimate and morally acceptable" because Christians and Christian churches have gone in with the US Government and given their blessing to killing, to wars and to alliances. We "Christians" have been misled. How many people did Jesus kill? How many people did the apostles or early church attack and kill or defend themselves from? None. There is no example in the new testament of people that follow Jesus physically rising up and trying to defend themselves against oppressors – none. The opposite was the case. This Jesus, the apostles and the early church clearly did not rise up against Rome or physically defend their rights or try to overthrow the governing authorities that were in power. Christians and Christian Churches have been misled. They should not be giving moral authority to the US Government's military actions. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is the Truth, He is the Life, He is the Way. A modern day example – the underground christian church in China has grown by some estimates to be close to 100,000,000 believers. These are believers that are willing to risk life and property and family for simply believing in Jesus and wanting to live for him. This underground church has grown without legal rights and without "freedoms". Jesus is not the oppressor. Other people and governments are the oppressors and it is terrible when they use God to justify their actions. Jesus said "I did not come to condemn, but to save". Jesus said "I come to give life, and to give life abundantly." Jesus said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." This is why Jesus, the apostles, the early church, and the modern example of the underground church in China, suffered and bled and died for others – because they had been saved, truly set free, knowing that nothing that happens in this life will separate them from the love of God. They loved God back... and showed this by trying to love other people and bring them to Christ. Lord Jesus help me to live this way, your way, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  16. Matt Damon

    The only thing you failed on here is the worth of human life. An asteriod impact killed the dinosaurs. Do you know what will be our demise? Religious morons crapping out babies like we are almost out of humans and its their duty to resupply the earth with more misguided religous bedwetters who only clog the freeways and overflow the landfills. Life is friggin EVERYWHERE and if you have ever been to the DMV then you know first hand that no, life is not precious nor special.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  17. frank

    I don't like our national anthem, the theme of people being shelled is morbid, plus the melody is lame and antiquated. I think they should replace it with "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Good for them. Why the anthem is played at sporting events is beyond my limited comprehension. I guess most sports fans forget what country they are in when they attend a sports event. Maybe they are just too drunk, or stupid to remember.,

    June 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  19. Ian Adkins

    I'm a British-American. A song about Americans wiping the noses of the British–as our national anthem–doesn't seem right after 150 years of Anglo-American friendship. Nevermind its bellicosity. I much prefer "American the Beautiful." Doesn't build us up by putting down our best ally (and ethnic origin for millions of Americans like me).

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Chris

      The Star Spangled Banner is more about stead-fastness and determination and about defeating enemies militarily. Britain is not even mentioned in the lyrics. However, they (brits) can take comfort that they burned Washington during the same conflict that gave birth to the Star Spangled Banner.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • JW

      You do realize the backdrop for the song is the British shelling the Americans, not the other way around. It's also about fighting for freedom, which we do to this day, against terrorists and the like.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • iServe

      Wow you couldnt be more clueless about American History let alone the orgins of that song. I hate when people open their mouth to try to sound smart, only to show how ridiculously ignorant they are.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  20. Marie Kidman

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

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 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.