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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. MountainWoman66

    Pastor, thanks so much! As a former Mennonite (still Mennonite at heart, just with no congregation), it felt good to read this and reaffirm that while I love this country (and am grateful for everything I have), I love God more!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  2. Meryl

    I am amazed at you article, it is well written and makes your points very easy to understand. Unfortunately you live in the United States of America, not that America is bad, you are. I am a firm believer in Christ as our savior, and of course the Lord and his father are ours to worship, but religion in itself is created by man and that makes it corrupt. Your Religion is no different from any other religion, it practices what the church deems God's will, as do all other religions. Each man has to decide what Gods wants of him, not what the leaders of the church deem to be correct. If you have tax exempt status as a church, then you are able to practice your religion, collect money for the church and pay no taxes. I would hope then that you are not participating in any Government programs other wise you are just a leech on society. If you can't swear aliegence to this country then you are no different than any of the other leaches in this country. I believe that all tax exempt status should be removed from churches or church related affiliates

    June 27, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • cannibeth

      "Each man has to decide what Gods wants of him"

      or if the man professess to be christian he could just look to the bible to see what God wants of him.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      cannibeth
      cannibeth
      "Each man has to decide what Gods wants of him"

      or if the man professess to be christian he could just look to the bible to see what God wants of him."

      I see your not familiar with how the interpretation of the Bible has changed over the last 2000 years. Most Christians don't know the history of their own religion.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  3. John

    Well, you may call people bigots, hateful, or whatever you may.....But the fact of the matter is that the Bible refers to it as an abomination... Now, GOD is Absolutely, 100%, a loving God, full of grace and mercy. He loves all people, but despises sin. He hates the sin. He hates sin so much that he turned His head on His own son while He took our sin on the cross. I agree that Christians need to change their people approach, but we cannot accept sin as righteousness.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Seabass

      What is it with people always talking about their imaginary friend in the sky and cloaking their fear in moral righteousness? Come on people – time to lose the crutch, open your minds and behave like grown up adults.

      And same goes for the infantile ultra-nationalistic comments here. The world is getting smaller (and better). The flag-waving crap just sounds insular and old-fashioned.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Maurice

      Are you saying that the jealous and wrathful god of the bible is loving? Is that why he commanded his "chosen people" to go into all the cities, where the civilized people lived, and kill EVERYONE – man, woman, and child. Oh what a LOVING GOD – AMEN!!! The biblical god is nothing more that a sadistic pederast who has an insatiable hunger for foreskins and thirst for blood. He even decided that he would impregnate a 15 year old virgin against her will – she did NOT consent, and was frightened as hell – and then use his own son a a human blood sacrifice supposedly to "save" a bunch of retarded apes who are nothing but parasites to themselves and the earth they live on.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      Yes John. The God of the Christian Bible hates sin so much that he has committed genocide against every living thing on the earth. I wouldn't think it going to far to say that the God of the Christian faith is a petty, spoiled, narcissistic, tyrannical monster. Fortunately there's no such thing as God. Not your God, not any God.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  4. Yusuf

    Why can't these Christians assimilate into American Society?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Seabass

      LOL. Good one :D:D:D

      June 27, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • cannibeth

      most christians have. we walk among you. muahhaaha. lol

      June 27, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      So you're saying that to assimilate into American society we must worship at the altar of DC? That we must get down on our hands and knees and pray to an idol (flag)? That's really what it sounds like your saying.

      “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” George Bernard Shaw

      June 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  5. Bob

    Thank God somebody is taking a stand against the forced flag-worship garbage I was forced to endure growing up. I'm as patriotic as any sane person, but I don't believe in worshiping flags, Bibles, or any other inanimate objects, nor do I believe in nation-worship, nor in government-worship.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • BuzzMann

      Sounds like you NEED something to believe in bud.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Bob

      Aren't God and basic human decency enough for you, Buzz?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  6. DoubleAofNJ

    America was founded on double standards and lies. Above all, the land we live on is stolen, we fought for "freedom' from the British but how long was there slavery in America afterwards? And America is one on the most dictated countries. Freedom is having the freedom to do ANYTHING, right or wrong. Can you walk around naked with no clothes?? Its not a violent crime and dosent affect ANYBODY, but you'll get arrested. NOT free. We cant even freely practice religion in this country. Marijuana is part of the Rasta religion. Are they allowed to freely smoke. No. Start thinking for your self and look at the BIGGER picture...

    June 27, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Wendy

      You are extremely hateful. There is not one piece of land in the WORLD that didnt belong to someone before someone else came along. You choose to look at every stain in this countries past and call it evil. I do not brush it under the rug, but we are also a nation of wonderful hardworking people who would die for our children and help a total stranger because it is the right thing in our hearts to do. There is way more good in the world and this nation than there is bad. You must be a sad and miserable person because all you can focus on is the exceptions in society. Should we all just thrown down our flags and say to heck with it, we are not a country anymore? Where are you from? You should be ashamed!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  7. jim

    I don't care whether or not you sing the national anthem, just start paying your fair share of taxes.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      How do you know he doesn't pay taxes? Just because he is a pastor doesn't mean he has tax exempt status.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  8. MarineDad

    And who the $%& cares whether this pastor sings or not..... and I don't want to hear inane reasons.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  9. SDF

    I gained a huge amount of respect for the Ananbaptists after visiting the Menno-Hof Museum in Shipshewana, IN a couple of years ago. This article has only served to increase that respect. If it wasn't for the "God" part, I'd sign up tomorrow.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  10. Sam the Sham

    God grants freedom by giving courage to the righteous. It is God, through the hands of man, that provides the tools necessary to ward off evil.
    Not singing the National Anthem of my great country is as offensive as it gets. This "song" testifies to the courage of the christian soldiers in their fight against tyranny.
    You and your "church" should be ashamed.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Chachi

      For the moment at least, you are an idiot. Sorry, but it's the "god's honest truth". Such piety. Such sanctimony. Such hypocrisy. And not just you – oh no, you have plenty of company in that regard. That said, I can't honestly hold myself to a higher standard than you or anyone else, since I've exhibited those same traits.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Knucklehead

      You need to grow up. Your allegiances belie a weakness of character.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  11. chall

    Sorry, Pastor, but you and your flock and your college are misguided and wrong on this one. Was your lame history of the Anabaptists meant to evidence some justification for your unpatriotic behaviour? As my kids would say, "FAIL!" So because some religious group was persecuted in the past, you won't sing the Anthem...what about the fact that real men and women, also worshippers of God, have laid down their lives in faraway lands for 200 years so that you could practice your religion here, with the freedom that you currently enjoy?? That's not enough for you to pay tribute for a minute and a half before sporting events?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Knucklehead

      Why just sporting events? What kind of patriot are you? Why not before everything? Why not before meals? Why not before the start of 'American Idol?' Why not in the shower? What if at noon every single day, everybody stopped what they were doing, just pulled off the side of the road, or whatever, and sang our National Anthem? Wouldn't everything be better? What a K!ck A$$ country we'd have then!! And...I...CAN....SING....LOUDER THAN YOU!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Pennswoodsman

      oh, how holier thou art. If only those silly anabaptists could just understand and feel the way YOU do, then maybe this world would just be a better place. I mean, how dare they feel differently than you. "why can't they be like weeeee weeeere, perfect in every waaaaaay"

      June 27, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      “Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy” George Bernard Shaw

      June 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  12. William Demuth

    While I approve of the seperation of church and state as a cornerstone of America this article creates a question.

    If one openly statyes his loyalty to his imaginary sky freind is higher than his loyalty to his country, can he EVER be trusted?

    His beliefs, when viewed from the outside are disturbing, not because this man is a threat, but because MANY MANY MANY threats come from religious zealots.

    Just apply his philosophy to Muslims, and you would have people lighting torches and calling for a lynching.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • cannibeth

      of course he can be trusted. just bc he adheres to Gods law over mans does not in any way mean he does not adhere to and respect the laws of the land. only if they are in direct opposition to Gods law will Gods law take precedent over mans. and to belittle someone by referring to their love of God as their "imaginary friend in the sky" simply shows disrespect. one may disagree with another w/o being condescending.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • hooglyboogly

      cannibeth

      "and to belittle someone by referring to their love of God as their "imaginary friend in the sky" simply shows disrespect. one may disagree with another w/o being condescending."

      Sure, because Christians never disrespect, slander, malign, or condescend the non-believers. I mean its not like we atheists are the most mistrusted people in America for no good reason. Oh wait, there is a reason its called the Christian church. Don't bother telling me that isn't true because my family are Christian and I hear the propaganda all the time.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  13. Bob Kebic

    National Anthem should be played only when the national team is playing or on international events if the medals are given, like The Olympics, World championships, etc . Playing the Anthem before a high-school game is silly and belittles the importance of the anthem. Even playing it before a NBA game doesn't make much sense when those teams are "loaded" with foreign-born players. Forcing the Anthem and the Pledge of the Allegiance before any unimportant events sounds too much "USSR'sh"! – there is not much else too keep people patriotic so bombard them with patriotic slogans and songs any time you can?!?!? America is and should be better than that! Don't give politicians a free ride, let them earn our loyalty and respect just like we earn our living and serve our country – with hard work and love for the land called United States.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • chall

      Could not disagree more. The singing of the Anthem is show of respect for each other, and for the greatest country in the world. I don't need to have the National Anthem "forced" upon me, I welcome any opportunity to sing it, as do most Americans. Do you wait for "important occasions" to tell your kids that you love them??

      June 27, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • DoubleAofNJ

      I agree.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Knucklehead

      This slavish love of country is so anti-American... My God, stand up. You have a spine. Be a man. Admit the fact that your beloved country is always a heartbeat away from going nuts and enslaving an entire race or exterminating one or taking the vote away from somebody or sending your children off to war for oil profits. Doesn't mean America doesn't have a great heritage, just a mixed and supremely human one. Be real, Captain America.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Bob Kebic

      Kim Yong il salutes you! Our FATHERLAND needs to show us LOVE by constantly playing our anthem(s) – just like in beloved North Korea!!!!! You have to repeat those slogans and anthems otherwise people wouldn't be patriotic anymore.

      p.s. I don't like relentless brainwashing with "The Anthem" and "The Pledge" because it REMAINS ME TOO MUCH OF MY OLD "MOTHERLAND"!!!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  14. grist

    It is the pledge of allegiance which is the problem. Irnonic that our pledge is a violation of churches and state. Too bad they put in the words "under God". Instead of being a unifying statement that all Americans could be comfortable saying, it splits off about 15% of the country.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • William Demuth

      I agree. I will not say it.

      My nation is below no imaginary sky creature.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Bruce

      I agree, but the problem is actually not "under God," but rather it is "allegiance," especially in reference to a flag, but even when referencing the republic.

      The proper disposition to a republic is not allegiance. People should look that word up and figure out just how ironic and wrong it is. The proper disposition to a republic is participation. Inasmuch as "under God" refers to a common cultural idea (and it certainly does) rather than some orthodoxy of belief handed down by some religious authority (and it certainly doesn't), then participation in a republic with that common cultural idea is not compromised by the personal beliefs of an atheist like me who understands "under God" differently than does the devout Christian.

      In fact, it is the atheist who is in a better position to participate in a republic because of their understanding and the devout Christian who will have a much more difficult time participating in a free republic. It is the latter understanding that leads people to think that "allegiance" is the proper disposition towards a free republic.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  15. Nancy

    Just a question: Does you school get any state or government funding???? If so let's stop!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Knucklehead

      How American...

      June 27, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  16. Marie Kidman

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

    .'

    June 27, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  17. Fred

    You have the right to sing the National Anthem or not to sing it – aren't you glad you live in a country that gives you that freedom – too bad so many people like that freedom, but fail to recognize the Nation that provides it by simply pledging allegiance or singing a song.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  18. BSargent

    Mark, I applaud your convictions and even agree with them. However, while I personally don't feel comfortable with a pledge of allegiance to anything (the American flag, the Christian flag, or even the Bible) as my allegiance is to Christ and Christ alone (He is the King of kings, the ruler of all nations; one day ALL will bow to Him – Psalms 72:11), I am not sure I agree that singing the National Anthem opposes our faith. I am proud of what our country has accomplished, even when I am disappointed and often disgusted with our leaders' behavior, and I am thankful for the sacrifice our soldiers have made. This is what the Star Spangled Banner says to me...not that I am honoring a piece of cloth, but that I am proud of the nation that holds up that cloth as its banner, and I am proud to be a citizen of that nation.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Geoz

      The article said nothing about "refusing to sing the national anthem". It said that the national anthem is not part of their religious beliefs and church. That is the separation of church and state that more churches should understand and more used to believe in. I'm not a religious man, but this belief makes all kinds of sense to me. So many churches become something other than their faith, when they bring government, nationality, and politics into the hall of worship. That is a big mistake. .... and as you have done, often mistaken for any sort of anti-American sentiment, which it is not.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  19. abr173rd

    If your school or students attending that school are receiving government funding in any way shape or form, you are a hypocrite for at least not allowing the National Anthem to be played. I agree with some on here that the anthem itself is more about the sacrifice's that have been made for this county so its citizens can practice whatever religion they so choose. This country has it's faults but in comparison to the rest of the world America is one of the freest countries and is home to many brave citizens willing to sacrifice for it. Anyone who disagrees should move to another country...Just as you wouldn't purchase a product you don't like or associate with a religion you don't agree with. Than again in a good portion of the world you wouldn't have that freedom to begin with.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Geoz

      I'm glad Freedom of Religion is part of the deal in this country. I wish nationalism could take a step back.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Knucklehead

      Sure, you can practice any religion you want here. But if we don't like it, we will harrass you unmercifully, even as we brag about how free you are. Of course, we can no longer make any assurances that your phone conversations aren't being listened to, especially if you are of a certain religion, or your library records being looked at, or anything else we so deem fit to look at to protect you from yourself, but that doesn't mean you aren't free. We just need to know everything you're doing and thinking.

      Of thee I sing.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. Margroks

    Sing it or don't sing it-but don't force anyone else to do it because you think it should done.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:35 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.