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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. Jonsie

    Maybe he should remember the men and women who have died to keep people like him free. Or maybe, even better, he should find another country to live in!

    June 27, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • trixen

      Amen.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Lord Clappe

      Maybe you and all the rest of the self-righteous and sanctimonious "patriots" out there can go and commit an act of self-immolation in protest.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  2. USN

    I usually don't post anything but I could not help myself. As a active duty member of our armed services I can tell you we have all types of religions and even non-religous personnel. They pay respect to the flag every morning and evening contrary to their religous beliefs. The National Anthem is just that, a Anthem for our nation. It is showing respect for the flag that flies or our schools, federal buildings and even homes. We are not telling anyone to go out and die for the flag or this country, there are plenty of us that do it freely. We just ask that you respect the flag we honor so much. Stop over thinking things as simple as the national anthem. And start thinking if you do enough for your country!!

    June 27, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • USAF Retired

      USN – You are so right. For 24 years I too paid respect to our country every morning and night, not to mention all day long by serving in uniform. With so many people in the military from different religions and non-religous personnel as well we ALL paid that respect and so did our spouses, children, guest, and civilian workers. For them not to really makes me wonder how they can defned that -oh yeah on the backs of SOLDIERS, SAILORS, AIRMEN, MARINES, and COAST GUARDSMEN past, present, and future. United States of America 235 Years and counting. GOD Bless the USA and you for your service!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  3. matt

    They need to leave our country, simple as that.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Come on Now

      you sound like a communist. If it is not what you like.....get rid of it. Doesn't work that way.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  4. Dale

    Its very simple no national anthem NO FEDERAL MONEY bet they would change their tune real quick pardon the pun

    June 27, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  5. AnnieCee

    I think this strange tribe is adding to the problem of alienation rather than helping it. I don't like how our country is being run, but I do appreciate the foundations our country was built on. So I show respect, because it's a way to thank God for what He did in establishing the United States of America. And in showing respect for the flag and the country, it's my way of saying a prayer that God will help us get back on track. I really really don't think that separatism is a good choice, but unfortunately it's something that the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Amish, all those Pennsylvania Dutch tribes and even the Seventh Day Adventists seem to adhere to and I really wish they'd get over it.

    The Bible indicates that we are to identify with "our land" to the point of taking the sins of the country on our own shoulders and through intercession asking God to forgive. (You know what Bible verse I'm referring to.) I can understand that the Mennonites are sincere in what they're trying to do but I think it's misguided and very unfortunate.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  6. mike mcglynn

    These religious people are nothing but parasites Untill all religious instatutions pay their fair share; they shouldn't even be allowed to vote or speak outside the enclousures of their " church" on any issues. They all shout that it is their right to spread the "word". I say that only if you are willing to pay the price of addmission. Otherwise; the expression of "Parisite applies. I am a free thinker and proud of supporting my country and family above all else.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • AJ

      What exactly is the price of admission for religious parasites to be here?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • Kindness

      mike the last time I looked a building (church) could not register to vote, people can.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  7. Chuck

    The author is an American citizen who is given all the rights, freedoms and protections given to any American but he clearly states that the only nation he is a citizen of is "the church". Clear and simple hypocritical stance.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  8. Scott

    What kills me is that they brought religion into this. They only sing the first song of the National Anthem, and most people don't even know the other verses; many don't realize there ARE other verses. In this first verse, there is NOTHING said about God or religion.

    "True freedom is given by God, and it is indeed not free. It comes with a cost, and it looks like a cross." So, explain this to me. Are you saying that the Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors who fought to make this country free, from a Christian Monarchy, all died in vain? Tell you what, the next time there is a war , or the next time we are fighting for anybody's freedom, take all of our military out. Just go over there with a bunch of priests holding their crosses. Let's see where that gets us.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  9. RightturnClyde

    [thousands of Anabaptist men and women... burned at stakes and drowned in rivers.] millions of Jews and Catholics and Gypsies and Russians and Poles and Chinese and S.E. Asians have been m*rder*d from 1935 to 1945 and in the Cold War. . and your "tribe" ignored them.

    [we recognize only one Christian nation] no you don't .. a false teaching (an Apostasy). You belileve your "tribe" is different (and condescend) than other Protestants and Catholics and imply you are more worthy than others . you do not even mention grace ..Pride.

    [man-made, blood-soaked borders]. .. (the rest of us) did not stand by and ignore blood soaked borders and say it is not our affair.. How dare you despise us and call yourself superior for ignoring a world at war? You ignore a holocaust, exterminations, Gulags, merdrous Communism .. we were adn are killed IN YOUR PLACE because we do a duty. We took no pleasure in any wa-r or ki-lling .. you are not virtuous to do nothing .. that is merely expecting others to give their lives for you.. "

    [To Mennonites ... Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies]... but you and your "tribe" did not follow Jesus to a cross or martyrdom .. .. you let other do it and then claim virtue in refusal... special rules for Mennonites and special privileges? .. false preachers which John warned about ...(not Christian at all)

    [we testify with our lives] .. you do not testify with your lives .. comfortable and fat and affluent .. privileged. You let others die instead of you

    [freedom is not a right that is granted or defended with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air] a few paragraphs ago you were telling how Anabaptists were k_lled by Protestants and Catholics... so your freedom IS granted and defended by us with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air .. you refuse to help us .. and expect us to give you more .. false teacher .. not Christian but a cult

    [The world cannot know ..peace ] Jesus did make men he peacenekers ... . He said He will give peace (not as the world gives) when He comes (Parousia) ... the "world" will not know peace ... you are just taking privilege

    [the world cannot know ..God ..without Mennonites] Jesus said preach the gospel and baptize. ... you live in an ivy covered campus and accept no responsibility .. live a cushy life at everyone else's expense (and call that teaching about God? Wrong.

    [it’s life in this strange tribe that keeps me faithful to what I believe] .. . you ONLY believe in your "strange tribe." .. do not call THAT being Christian (you make your own doctrine) .. you let your countrymen die on your behalf and then despise them ? That is heresy You are more worthy? arrogant .. .

    June 27, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      a false teaching is a "heresy", a formal disaffiliation is an "apostasy"

      June 27, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  10. Budd

    And aren't you lucky to live in a country whosee men and women have died to proctect your right to not sing the anthem. Maybe you could sing it to honor them

    June 27, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  11. Reality

    Mennonites- too much inbreeding

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

    Next topic!!!

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  12. Bill the Cat

    The Apostle Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship more than once. Nowhere does the Bible advocate a separation of church and state. Try contextual and cultural reading next time, Goshen.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  13. Bobbie O

    No problem taking money from the Government though do you?

    June 27, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  14. aerix88

    An interesting opinion piece. I can see why they would choose not to cite the Pledge of Allegiance, but I don't see the National Anthem as either a loyalty pledge or anything crossing the church/state line, and I'm pretty big on not doing that.

    To each their own, though.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  15. Come on Now

    Nationalism is a religion!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  16. Butch

    I just did a quick check. Goshen College offers services to incoming students to help receive FREE government grants and financial aid. Nothing earth shattering here, most colleges do. Oh, but wait, Goshen and the author refuse to pledge allegience the nation? So, if they want complete seperation from the state and they want students who believe the same, then NO PUBLIC money at all, in any way, shape or form for any use by anyone in that community. I wonder how much federal money goes into the college is subsidies? Yep, they have no problem TAKING our money but ask them to help defend or show respect, it's not in their creed. Pure BS.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • News Flash

      Exactly. And their retired professors are on Medicare, and go to hospitals that take Federal money. There is no way to live in this society and pretend you are not a part of it.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  17. Concerned

    Mark, I am a Christian who loves Jesus, my Lord and Saviour with all of my heart. But I have to say in all sincerity that you are absolutley wrong. If you were not born a Jew then you are a Gentile...period. And God honors the honesty and integrity of all people to hold allegiance to their nation as long as that nation holds to the truths of the Bible. You are wrong on this...Period!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • nostradoofus

      What about Hindus.....Muslims...etc.,etc? More religious B.S. There is more B.S. on religion on this site than even I can believe. I think the one thing that God and I would probably agree on is that Religion Sucks.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • MikeHuntEsq

      Rabble rabble rabble! My interpretation of folk lore is better than your interpretation. Period!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • waves

      But there are no supernatural "Truths" to the bible that are backed up with any actual evidence, it is all mythology.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  18. Come on Now

    I don't know about you all but when my God looks down at the earth he does not see the lines men have drawn for each nation. He sees his WORLD. One World which should live in harmoney with each other. But sadly are not.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • nostradoofus

      Did He tell you that? Why have so many wars been fought by Christians because God 'was on their side'? What a croc. Religion....the root of much evil.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Come on Now

      NOSTADOOFUS – IF YOU WOULD LOOK at the wars in the name of Christianity they are not God's wars they are mens.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  19. DantheMan

    this story is as interesting as the one I read the other day in which someone explained why I don't wipe my a** after I take a s**t.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • Gedwards

      You don't?

      June 27, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Derek

      What an articulate and thought-provoking response to our fellow man's peaceful discourse.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • nostradoofus

      First good post today.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • MikeSullivan

      I can't tell you how hard I laughed reading DantheMan's comment. Awesome! Thanks for making my day.
      And hey, for the author- you're lucky Toby Keith hasn't come kicked you in the ass yet. America!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  20. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=390]

    June 27, 2011 at 7:24 am |
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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.