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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. Prosinator

    Mennonites understand bloodshed for values held dire. In Germany and other parts of Northern Europe during and following the Reformation they were killed for simply believing in free choice on the issue of baptism. They were killed by their own patriotic countrymen. From the vitriolic tone towards them by many patriots of today, not much may have changed. Mennonites have a deep heritage in the U.S. and its founding. The were invited here almost 100 years before the revolution. Thanks to them we have shoefly pie, whoopie pies, and angel food cake. Oh, and they provided and sustained Pennsylvania's anti-slavery stance as a constantly free state. I'm sure many patriots were opposed to them at that time as well. They may have one quandary to deal with in the near future, though. Should the Muslim movement become a threat to the U.S., will they fight against them? Their stance on peace/pacifism when founded was not to kill fellow Christians. Extremist Muslims are clearly anti-Christian and seek the death of Christians. It is a question they should have addressed during Hilter's atheistic Nazi government.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  2. Mike D

    I bet a little Nietzsche would really make their heads explode 😀

    June 27, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Chris

      Or how about Leo Tolstoy. I like his quote: "Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal."

      June 27, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • Mike D

      @Chris, Im not endorsing the guy, but he did do a lot of historical research on the origins of christianity. It's a little more scientifically honest than the bible.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  3. ficheye

    You are correct to ignore the phony patriotism espoused by this song. And you are also correct to ignore the rantings of the phony patriots who are judging you on these pages. Our nation operates at a high level of hypocrisy, many not knowing what they are saying as they exercise their right to say it. It is very strange to say the least. I applaud your courage in saying what many others feel but aren't brave enough to say... that our nation has lost it's way a long time ago and is ruled by war obsessed fear mongering. The capitalists and soldiers took us here. They still lead the way... down.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  4. Dennis H

    Few people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus realize this, but for the first three centuries, anyone in the military who wanted to follow Jesus was required to leave military service. The early Christians were pacifists. Why? Because of the clear teaching of Jesus about loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, returning good for evil. How could someone claim to follow Jesus and kill an enemy? Not surprisingly, followers of Jesus were persecuted by the authorities. It's a wee bit threatening when an illegal movement starts converting half the population – and they won't fight for you... It's only after Constantine legalized Christianity and the church and state began to merge that theologians started getting creative and coming up with things like the just war theory. The Mennonites are much closer to the early followers of Jesus than most. Like much of the teachings of Jesus, people have found ways to "modify" what he taught. It's too radical, too "unrealistic," too idealistic for most people. But that's what he taught, agree with it or not. Jesus frankly believed that love and forgiveness, not violence, was the way forward. Those of you who argue for the use of violence to preserve freedom need to explain how you say you follow Jesus at the same time, if you indeed do so. Give the Mennonites some respect – they have the guts to stand up for what Jesus taught, no matter how unpopular it may be.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Chris

      Nicely said!

      June 27, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      That's true!

      June 27, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Amy

      Oh.My.Gosh. I wish this was similar to Facebook so I could "like" your post. Well said sir, well said.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Mike D

      Couldn't agree more that it's totally hippocritical to think killing for your country is any better than killing for personal reasons. Why aren't all christians as honest as you?
      On the other hand, a pacifistic country is a dead one. Peace and government can only be attained through threat of violence cause not all people are as christ-y as you frankly. Its a mad mad world. Explain that

      June 27, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  5. Mark

    Religion is still retarded. Its an anthem. Its a song. Sing it. Who cares. Jesus certainly doesnt.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Mike D

      @Chris: I don't disagree with you! (minus the religious plug for jesus, who I agree this world needs another moral, compassionate voice like him)
      I totally agree that a lot of greedy, selfish people use religion as a means to their own end. It's quite common in fact. If organized religion was run by god or our perfect creator, whatever, it would be fine, but religions are run by man, which as we know are far from perfect.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • News Flash

      Wish I could sing it. Every time I've heard it lately some chic is up there singing god knows what, all over the place, adding and singing so much different "jazzy" crap to it that no one could sing it with her, and we are expected to just stand there and listen to her butcher the song with our hands over our hearts. They are not even doing the National Anthem anymore, anywhere. It's an improvisation with some, (few) similar elements to the actual Anthem.

      June 27, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  6. Urbo

    I hope someday you do not come into contact with some radical Islam fundamentalists. They also swear faith only to the Koran, which says they should try to kill you because they do not believe in Allah, their God. Who do you think will win? Good luck, Dude!! And I'll bet you'd then wish for a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Mike D

      haha exactly, what some of these religious fanatics don't get is how religion was, is and always will be a major cause of violence in the world. So if the goal is non-violence, I don't know if organized religion is really the way to go frankly.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Chris

      Mike D, selfishness and greed are the major causes of violence in the world. Some people use religion as an excuse to achieve this end. Many countries have tried to get rid of religion and guess what? The violence never ended. It seems we have a human condition towards selfishness at the expense of others. This has to change, Jesus came to show us that it could be done.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Mike D

      @Chris: I don't disagree with you! (minus the religious plug for jesus, who I agree this world needs another moral, compassionate voice like him).. I totally agree that a lot of greedy, selfish people use religion as a means to their own end. It's quite common in fact. If organized religion was run by god or our perfect creator, whatever, it would be fine, but religions are run by man, which as we know are far from perfect.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Mike D

      and @Chris, I totally agree that human's have a condition towards selfishness, and Jesus + 2000 years hasn't changed that (obviously). It just gave christians a new perspective on suffering.

      June 27, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  7. taintedwaves

    The author states, "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."

    Christianity never ever set up states or conducted wars and created man-made, blood-soaked borders. Yeah, right. Seems kinda pious to belong to the only one Christian nation. Silly man.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • TB

      Not silly. True, organized Christianity HAS set up nations and ruled kingdoms too often in the last 2000 years, and that is part of the problem. ALl these people are trying to do is live what Christianity is really supposed to be; seperated from state and politics and just focused on Jesus Christ. I dont think they are saying they are Anti-American, they are simply stating that they are not going to try to create a mongrel child made of their faith and of politics. I can't really fault them for that.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  8. mike

    Jesus went to death for our freedom. so did my grandfather when he fought in WWII.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Kutulhu

      The difference is, one actually happened, and one is a myth.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • bobby boy

      https://dailymotion.com/video/x4gbei

      June 27, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • bobby

      your grandfather may have died while in service, but that doesn't mean it was to preserve our freedom. our freedoms were legislated to us. through laws. Look at Canada for example, it did not have a bloody separation from England, and yet it still has freedoms.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Mike D

      I really don't get it. How did Jesus die for our freedom? I'm at a total loss on that.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • mike

      the point about Canada is very true. also, i do not believe that Jesus died for our freedom, i was just referencing what the author said.

      June 27, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • mike

      i am also not naive about the nature of war. i don't think that every soldier went into Europe or the Pacific to lay down their lives. but if Britain fell to Nazi Germany, i don't believe America, and its freedoms, would have been left alone.

      June 27, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  9. paulstutzman

    Thank you, Mark, for this clear explanation of how your Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is practiced in life.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  10. Robert

    Your article is well-reasoned. I am a Christian with I believe many similar beliefs, and while I think it is possible and fitting to be a part of an earthly nation as well as the Christian kingdom ("nation" really doesn't fit in my mind), as in "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" and that governments exist at the will of God to rule over and provide for its people...although you and I disagree with the decision, I can see the logic and I respect it.

    June 27, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  11. Dom

    Don't want to pledge allegiance to the USA? Move to Canada.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Chris

      That is a good point, they are also statistically happier, healthier, live longer, and have less poverty. Oh, and have less crime. It's just too darn cold.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • mike

      yeah but then you have to pledge allegiance to the Queen

      June 27, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • DanBoy

      We don't pay no allegiance to the queen. We are only grateful to her because we have a public holiday in her name. that's it 🙂

      June 27, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • really?

      at least Canada has Universal healthcare...

      June 27, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  12. Mike D

    Organized religion, organized government. Simply two sides of the same coin. Seems like a rivalry thing to me!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  13. Viperstick

    As a member of the Armed Forces, I resepct the Mennonite viewpoint outlined above. However, I do hope that Mennonites and all Americans realize that our founding fathers recognized that the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are derived from our Creator. Furthermore, the founding fathers recognized that it would require the blood of patriots to fend off tyrany in their time and throughout their fledgling nation's history. Put simply, our forefathers recognized that God helps those who help themselves.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • lookmom

      God helps those who help themselves is not from Christianity (the Bible) and neither is the pursuit of happiness. the Bible never mentions happiness, just joy, which is a purer, deeper goal. Jesus brings life and liberty but both of those are in the Spiritual sense.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  14. Anaheim Bob

    Really? Stinking Libs. Enough said.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  15. R R

    Freedom is not granted by "rockets' red glare," that much is true, it is a gift from God. But when it is threatened by force, it can only be defended by force.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Pacifist

      Tell that to Mohandas Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      R R,
      Definefreedom.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  16. orangeboy

    This is so silly. *My* invisible friend wants me to sing "Born this way" before sporting events.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. Reality

    Mennonites- too much inbreeding

    http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00359580

    Next topic!!!
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Jayne

      WOW!!! I guess those guys are FAST little banjo players!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  18. fwdjunky

    "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."

    When that "nation" starts paving your roads and paying for the infastructure you use and the social programs you and your followers are elegible for then I can agree with you. Until then, shut up and pay homage to the real nation that takes care of you and your mis-guided ilk. Oh, and while your at it, please start advocating that "non-profit" churches (lets take a look at your books for the last 10 years, shall we?) start paying their fair share of taxes. God doesn't seem to be paying for much these days, he has left that to the middle class.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  19. patriotofAmerica

    I respect your religion and your right to practice your religion but did you ever stop and think how you received your right to practice your religion freely? Our rights and freedom was fought for by our soldiers. American soldiers. The National Anthem is sung out of respect for those soldiers and respect for this country (America). The Star Spangled Banner is talking about our National Flag. If you can not respect this country or,stand up and fight for this country, and the soldiers who protect it and have died for it, then you need to find another country to live in. I've heard Afghanistan has some vacant caves...

    June 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  20. Mike D

    Organized religion, organized government. Both two sides of the same coin. Seems like a rivalry thing to me 😀

    June 26, 2011 at 11:45 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.