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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. Clu

    I can certainly respect and appriciate the sentiment and motivation behind what is said here, but don't forget that if it weren't for those Red Rockets and Bursting Bombs, there would not be an American for you to love nor a home where you can practice your religion freely.

    As long as there are folks who are willing to advocate love, peace and freedom, there will be folks willing to visit violence and destruction upon those who threaten it. That's the beauty of this country.

    While I may not agree with what you are saying, I will fight to the death to protect your right to say it.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  2. VoipOfReason

    I personally do not care if people sing the star spangled banner at this school, that I would have never heard of it not for this article, and I live in Virginia. This country while having its problems, does makes it clear that people here are free to say, and not say, whatever they like. I am not a religous person, but, I say, Good for those Americans who actually decided to use their freedom. I to like to express my freedom, by quoting...

    Christianity — The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree...

    Yeah.. and people believe that.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  3. jackson

    It's a contradiction really. The National Anthem celebrates this great country, which is based on the fact that you can worship as you so choose. To me, singing/playing the anthem, would be a celebration or testament of ones 'right' to practice their religion without prejudice or persecution, not the other way around.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  4. Peg

    Perfect, pastor Mark! The way and goals of the state are opposite the way and goals of the Christian life. As Christians we cooperate in every good thing re the state but our heart can't belong in two different places–our treasure is with Jesus–Jesus' way of loving saves and provides life for everyone, the state does not.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Belinda True

      You're a nazi. Death to anyone different from you as you want to force your belief on others. For shame! Now what Jesus would do!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  5. Raydy Gonzalez

    This makes me sick to my stomach. I don't understand how it hurts a religion to show national support this is the kind of stuff that tears our country apart. im a military veteran and the national anthem means so much to me and hearing it brings feelings that i never knew as a civilian. I love you the United States of America and I'm a 7th day Adventist. wheres our support being Patriotic is not a religion its doesnt require any you to swear yourself to anyone but show some support.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • James Romer

      Being a veteran, I would believe that you of all people would understand. I too am a member of the service, which i have been serving for many years now. One thing we fight for is freedom of speech and religion. Religion truly breaks down to faith. We fight war on terrorism so these people can be free to live a life they want and not what you think is right. Patriotism for paying respects to the men who died should not even be forced upon our people. Because overall you’re going against what you once stood for. Respect their cultures and beliefs. America has lost its ways in many ways but I will say this once. Don't push what you have been taught is right onto others. Because to me it seem like the worse kind of terrorism. The only reason why I stand and honor the national anthem is not for the people who dies in the wars but for the men I have served and the American civilians who have fought for what was right for everyone. Don’t just think about the soldiers but the men women and children.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  6. Myrmidon

    Enjoying the government-given right to practice religion without persecution while denying a token of respect to that same government. Interesting concept.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  7. El Kababa

    How fortunate for this University that Jesus did not forbid Pell Grants and other forms of federal aid to students. It is also lucky for them that the faculty are not prohibited by Yahweh from accepting federal research grants.

    But they certainly have a right to play or not play any song, including the national amthem. I do not rise to hear an invocation or any other prayer for similar reasons.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  8. Dan Carr

    With all due respect, there's some inconsistency in your viewpoint. You enjoy religious freedom (which you have not renounced) by reaping the benefits of others who have given their blood and their lives that you might be free to not sing the Star Spangled Banner. Jesus told the soldiers of His day to be content with their wages and toward the end of His ministry, He instructed his disciples to sell a coat if they had to, with which to buy a sword (a dagger). Jesus will one day rule the world and He will rule it with a rod of iron. God created families and government long before He created the church. Churches persuade.Governments coerce and enforce law at the end of a gun. That prevents depraved man from destroying all order and forcing us to live in chaos. I look forward to the day when Christ rules not only in the hearts of a few, but also rules over every being and when every knee has bowed to Him.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  9. Chris

    Brother Schloneger, A private college has the right to do what it wants to do. I, also, understand your point of view and agree with you to a degree. As a Primitive Baptist minister, I to agree, we who follow Christ the Lord should try to be as meek, humble and lowly as we can, using Christ as our example.

    Not that I have a desire to build a straw man, but what if the U.S. Government tried to, with laws, prevent you from worshiping the way you believe the scriptures teach you to worship? How would you react? I believe and you may disagree with my view, we are to be compliant with our government's laws until the government dictates to us how we can worship God. At that point, I believe, it is our duty to uprise against such things. Not necessarily violence.

    I do not hold it against you or the college for not singing the national anthem, if that is your belief system (in which I understand but not fully agree with), but ask you to consider the scriptures when it says we are to honor our leader and I believe that also to mean our country.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • El Kababa

      No one wants a law that commands this University to play the national anthem. I'm just exercising my right to call the University administration a bunch of ingrates. They don't turn down Pell Grants. They don't turn down research grants. Jesus doesn't object, apparently, to federal dollars but He objects to patriotism.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  10. Zelda

    @CW: Amen. Even to Americans, allegiance to God is incomparably important than allegiance to immoral home countries like America.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  11. CW

    Very well said,

    Although my faith doesn't see anything wrong in singing the Star Spangled Banner this author is right in say that our ultimate loyalty should reside in Jesus Christ alone.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Bible Clown

      So go to some country where there's an official religion and try to practice Mennonism there. Oh wait, you can't. America's the only place where you can practice your religion freely. Believe what you want, and good luck making your kids believe it as well.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Raydy Gonzalez

      Whos going to take care of you when the Nation is invaded. if were bombed, shot, and or terrorized. who keeps everyone so that they can practice there religious views. God said not to worship any other gods but this is your country. Its like your spitting in the face of everyone that fought for this country because jesus was watching us but who actually was there to fight the soldiers and they deserved to be remembered and respected im not saying worship them

      June 27, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  12. Bruce

    If a private school wants to exercise its religious freedom and express the separation of their church from the state by not singing a ridiculously bad and poorly-chosen anthem because to do so would break that separation (even if it is only a symbolic break through a symbolic act), then they have every right to do so.

    Indeed, it is freedoms like this that we as Americans have fought long and hard to provide to people like this.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  13. Kelly

    If you think America has "blood-soaked borders", need I remind you about all of the blood shed in the Bible? Does that mean you're going to stop reading the Bible because of it? Doubtful.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Amused

      I agree. It seems VERY hypcritical to deny all respect for the great country that established and protects YOUR freedom to show such disrespect. It is especially blind to criticize this country for its past and present bloodshed while PRETENDING that your christian religion has not perpetrated much more bloodshed in the name of christ! It all seems to be quite a farce to me!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  14. News

    It's a private college. They can make whatever decisions they want as long as its within the law.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  15. Triman

    I get your point but you are only safe in this country because we fight and die for your right to be free. If you lived in Saudi Arabia or Iran and any number of other places you would be dead. The least you can do is not rub our noses in the fact you refuse to pledge allegiance to the people that provide you the very freedom of choice you boast of. I think you're an inconsiderate idiot

    June 27, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • beth1

      I may/ maynot agree with what you believe/ say but I will die protecting your right to say it. I have very different beliefs than you (or the author) but I do appreciate the author explaining why a long standing ceremony was changed. Wasn't that the whole point of the story – not to rub your thin skin in?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. Dawn

    I am really getting sick of religion being thrown in my face for all the reason why we can't do this or that
    to this pastor her is my response please leave the country!
    this country was set up to have reilgion be seperate from government and if you don't want that government just leave we don't need you and i don't want you to have those tax breaks the country is poor enough already

    June 27, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  17. Jack Fuc

    I think religion is gay.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Bruce

      That would be nice if it was, but typically it's quite the opposite of gay. People are often down in the dumps emotionally, not happy at all, when they express their religious ideas and religious emotions.

      In fact, it's the dissatisfaction with life in general that is a great impetus towards religious fervor, and the happiness of gay men and gay women typically distracts them from religious calling.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Jen

      LOL Religion is a scam!!

      June 27, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  18. Linda

    This is ridiculous. Next we can't fly our flag?

    June 27, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Bible Clown

      This is on private property and not a state or federal matter; he just means they don't consider themselves to be Americans or bound by anything except their own interpretation of the Bible. You are making it possible by giving this cult tax-free status, though.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Bruce

      Yes, Linda. That is exactly what is at stake here–next, if this college is allowed to have its way and not sing a specific song before sporting events, if this private university is not forced by the federal government into singing that song before sporting events, the only logical conclusion is that you, personally, will be forbidden from flying your flag in front of your own home.

      Exactly, Linda–you hit the nail on the head. Your freedom to fly a flag is at stake here. It can't be any other way.

      [/sarcasm]

      June 27, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  19. Bible Clown

    When will America come to its senses and make these arrogant churches start paying taxes? I'm so sick of these millionaires laughing at our 'separation of church and state' while we lose our homes. Make them pay their share or leave.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Daniel G. Clark

      You mean Mennonite millionaires, BC? Mennonites are famous for paying their taxes while rejecting participation in nationalism and war, and while serving their communities near and far in every other possible way. And who's laughing? This issue is deadly serious. Please show a little respect.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Zelda

      Churches are too busy helping the povery-striken middle classes who will be slaves to billionares because of income gaps.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      ZelDUH, you are so clueless it's actually laugh-inducing to read your posts. How in the world are churches helping the middle class? How is someone who's middle class, by definition, "poverty-stricken"?

      English is obviously not your strong suit.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  20. Bruce

    This is ridiculous. As a veteran, I am appalled by the flag-worship and the turning of our soldiers into gods.

    We used to have Armistice Day where we remembered the end of a war and we remembered that there was a time way back when, when wars actually came to an end. Now it's turned into Veteran's Day to honor the sacrifices of the paid professionals who carry weapons and kill in our name, because we now have apparently no reason to desire the end of war. Now we celebrate battles, we remember war, we count among the "brave" only those who saw "the bombs bursting in air."

    Seriously, we need to drop the Star Spangled Banner (and the Pledge of Allegiance, because "allegiance" is not the proper disposition of the individual towards a free republic) as our national anthem and pick up something more like America the Beautiful.

    Stop celebrating war. We've had enough friggin' war already.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Patriotic Soldier

      well bruce i think that the rest of us real veterans would like to smack you around a little. We are not just blindly killing in anyones name the fact of the matter is we have friends and family dieing. its that simple and for you to make comments like you did are not only disrespectful, but unjust ...put plain and simple ...if u dont like it then go and hug someone elses trees you fake

      June 27, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Bruce

      Yeah, "Patriotic Soldier," you got that right. Your hard-fought freedoms are reduce, by you, to smacking me around. That's what we fought for. Right...

      Take your sanctimonious self-congratulatory crap elsewhere. When Johnny comes marching home again I'll say hurrah, because for crying out loud, it's time for Johnny to come marching home again. You remember when wars ended and they came marching home again? Remember when they came marching home again and didn't feel the need to smack other veterans around like you want to?

      You probably don't. That's sad.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Daniel G. Clark

      Well spoken, Bruce! I believe you speak for many other veterans who are reluctant to speak up and ruffle the hawk feathers.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Patriotic Soldier

      we wouldnt feel the need to smack those around who didnt make stupid comments and have nothing better with there day than sit around and complain and minimalize whet we did. If and I say that with the most sincerity. If youitruly are are a veteran than you of all people would know the feeling to have one of your family members..your brothers bleeding out in front of you and not be able to do anything about it. Instead no we ant to take shots at soldiers and there families or stand at protest at funerals. Like i said before..if you truly have a problem with it then stop spending the almighty dollar. And i also invite you to keep filling your post with big words that you find on google or spellcheck so that you can seem to be an educated individual once again minimalizing someone elses efforts

      June 27, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Bruce

      Patriotic Soldier, you've been sold a bill of goods. Patriotism is an evil we should be fighting against, not embracing. Nationalism, fueled by patriotism, is at the center of every major war we've fought for two centuries.

      I'm sorry for using words you had to look up. While you are looking them up, perhaps you could deign to read some history. I minimized nothing of your, of our, efforts and sacrifices as veterans. There is no shortage of praise for the sacrifices of veterans today. The shortage is in our collective understanding of history and of the proper disposition between the individual and a free republic. We simply don't bother talking about it any longer, because we are too wrapped up in the emotions of what just happened on the battlefield.

      The big problem is that we really can't even have this conversation when the battle still rages. However, if I wait until Johnny comes marching home again to say hurrah and then to start the conversation, I will be long dead before that happens.

      In the meantime, you can take your limited solace in the bill of goods that mega corporations have sold you in order to perpetuate this silly notion that what our soldiers are doing in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have something to do with our freedoms and have nothing to do with enriching the military/industrial complex (plus a few other notable industries who profit from our sacrifices) for their own sake. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

      Or you can smack me around, since that apparently makes you feel good.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Patriotic Soldier

      water floats my boat and yes i would still like toi smack you around..one again i still doubt the truth behind your service and quite frankly think if you did serve it was a waste of a uiform that probably stayed very crip and tidy behind your desk

      June 27, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Old Soldier

      Bruce = soldier. Patriotic Soldier = cannon fodder. Both are assets in war, but only the former can be a good citizen.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Bruce

      You can doubt whatever you want if it makes you feel better. You apparently have no care for the truth, so why not believe in all the lies manufactured for you by those who sell you a bill of goods, and all the lies you create for yourself on the fly dealing with someone who claims to be a veteran who says things that disagree with how you see the world?

      Run along and be a good little soldier. Yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die. Your peace can be the peace of the grave, Mr. Cannonfodder. Your freedom can be the freedom to buy a slushie at the local 7-11 and the freedom to watch pr0n on your new computer that you bought with a taxpayer-funded salary.

      Divorced from history, from philosophy, and from truth, you have no idea what freedom actually is. Whatever, pick me up a slushie on your way to smacking me around. After you have your violent fun with me, we can share a slushie together (I'll pay you back, I'm not a cheapskate) and we can talk about stuff. I'll try to dumb it down for you and not use big words and explode your brain.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Patriotic Soldier

      your right i will getv up tomorrow and put on my uniform and say a prayer for all of my brothers and sisters whom have lost there lives for this country whether or not thats how you see it. The fact of the matter is that is how they percieved it as they were taking their last breathe. We owe it to them not to the ones sitting in big chairs behid comfy desks making decisions from slanted points of view . So you may be right im sure all of the computer programming and media affairs issues you dealt with were very important in your eyes but the fact of the matter remains. Until you have walked for days without food and had someone elses blood cover your uniform for days bcause you simply didnt have abother uniforn than yes you are minimalizing our efforts. Just because you didnt go through these horrible experiences which i am in no way glorifying, because believe me if i could forget or pretend these things didnt happen, i would, but i cant . So like i said it is for the ones who wake up every morning lace up there boots and kiss the picture of their daughter that they never met. It for the ones who whisper with blood covered lips "tell my wife and kids i love them and i am sorry" . So no ...no one is feeding me anything i live it i walk it i breathe it opinions are fine and if u dont wanna recite anything fine. but i dont understand the need to publicize. keep it t yourself i mean do the rest of us post articles everytime it is played no we dont so we dont need it thrown in our faces everytime its not done

      June 27, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Bruce

      Look, Patriotic Soldier, I am sorry for your experiences in war. They are yours, and they are certainly powerful. You bringing them up in this context proves my point that we can't have this conversation while we are still in the emotional throes of an ongoing battle and the horrors it creates.

      Do not deign to guess at the nature of my service, because even if you are right you demean the service of all those whose time in the military was not as horrific as yours. Even if I haven't had someone else's blood on my uniform does not give you the right to silence me, to pretend that my opinions don't matter, to mark me as a not-true veteran. Your experiences, while certainly painful and emotionally powerful, do not privilege you to some status of super-opinion, where you lay your pain-and-sacrifice down as some rhetorical trump card in order to silence rational conversation about what patriotism is and the proper disposition between a free individual and a free republic.

      I say these things not to minimize your sacrifice or to demean your pain. I say these things because the conversation I hope to spark is long overdue in our nation.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:53 am |
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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.