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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. J. B. Rainsberger

    I can't support your religious thinking, but your conviction and consistency in it gives me hope for a rational world.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  2. theRightRadical

    When will you Super Patriots, so full of yourselves, so caught up in symbolism stupid things like the flag, voting, and anthems. Finally realize WE AINT FREE! So there is no reason to worship the symbols of tyranny. Long live Goshen!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  3. Dylboz

    So, when CNN says your comment is "awaiting moderation," it really just means "your comment went down the memory hole."

    June 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  4. wwajdblogger

    If Jesus had attended sporting events in the Roman coliseum, like a good gladiator fight, I'm sure he would have recited the Roman Pledge of Allegiance. America was founded as a Christian nation so Christ could rule the world as King. American Jesus would want us all to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Also, We Are the Champions.

    http://www.whatwouldamericanjesusdo.com

    June 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      That makes for a good laugh. America was never a Christian nation. Our nation killed Indians, enslaved blacks, upheld segregation, and still treat blacks as second class-citizens. When did America ever look like Christ? The answer is never. The American jesus is an idol that doesn't exist.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Lovethechallenge

      Please help me someone! I can't tell if wwajdblogger is using satire or using incredible simplicity and the worship of fantasy and idols. God loves America more than Switzerland, Rwanda, Ghana, India, China, etc! Really! I didn't know that! This god of American as you describe it, isn't the God of the Universe that loves all people equally is it? With a Universe of 13.7 bil years, an Earth of 4.5 bil., a human species of 200,000 to 400,000 years (who killed each other during the last century to the tune of 101,000,000 people according to my calculation from Wikipedia) who have functioned at times in a manner worse than monkeys, perhaps we need to evolve a lot more and bow our heads and knees in humility and ask for mercy. No thanks, I don't want your god of America as you describe it – your folk civil American religion. Rome had their paganism too which had nothing to do with the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  5. Harvey Yoder

    What is not being recognized in this discussion is that members of the sixteenth century free church movement of which Mennonites are a part suffered and died by the thousands for claiming the right of everyone to belong (or not) to the church of their choosing, a freedom we all take for granted today. The official Lutheran, Reformed or Catholic state churches of that time (not now, of course) persecuted, killed or exiled those who refused to have their children baptized and registered in what was the official brand of Christiandom of the region of their birth. In celebrating freedom of religion in America today we are all "Mennonite" in that respect.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  6. WhatWouldMaudeDo

    What is it with people who confuse symbols with what they represent? If you believe the national anthem represents freedom or respect to our country then isn't it the ideas that are most important, not the song? Same with the flag. It's not the flag itself or the color and shapes, it's what it represents that's important. The flag itself is just a piece of cloth. If a small group of people who run a small college feel that the use of those symbols are contradictory to their religious faith then why is it such a big deal if they choose not to use them? It's not like they're telling others not to use them. If you don't like it, then don't become a Mennonite and don't go to that college. They're not even disagreeing with the fundamental values that most all of us share. They just don't want to use those symbols. Big deal. Even if there were some group that didn't like the colors of the flag and decided they'd fly green purple and white, so what? It's the freedom and ideals it represents that's important, not the flag itself. And by the way, most of the founding fathers were very skeptical of Christianity and although they believed there was some type of higher power, many of them were very critical of the Church and the Bible. A large number of people who founded this country were also freemasons who ritual magic and the layout of D.C. is actually based astrological and occult symbolism. This movers and shakers who built the U.S. at that time were closer to gnostics and the heretics who the Catholic Church persecuted and killed than Christians. A lot of people might not believe this, but researching it is as easy as using google. Things aren't always as you were told.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  7. Speedy

    The Love of Jesus Christ/GOD is different from the love of country, yet, without people willing to die for the right to worship freely, there would be no church in which the pastor could preach.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      That's not a true statement. There would be people to preach to and the church, body of Christ, would still be here. Otherwise, the world would end. You don't believe in God. Based on your comment, you put your trust in military and not God. God is able to keep his people in the world to make it better without military intervention.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  8. Natalie

    Really people?! I can't believe some people think that because someone elects not to recite the pledge of allegiance or sing the star spangled banner that he/she does not belong in this country. Are you saying if I go to eat dinner at Outback I have to order the steak? I guarantee the manger would not kick me out if I ordered a salad. Show some respect for others who think differently, it's nothing to fear. FYI- not everyone is Christian in this country, accept diversity and get off your high horse.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  9. SAm

    A little judgemental, aren't some of you? Especially without knowing the facts.
    I grew up in the Mennonite church, and had family members attend Goshen.
    1. Yes, some Amish do ex-communicate members who leave, but not all. And the AMISH would be one small wing of the whole Mennonite faith around the world.
    2. You are completely wrong in thinking that ALL Mennonites refuse to serve their country. Most refuse to CARRY A GUN or kill people, but many ( including my own father in law) served in wars as medics, or clerks, or other non-combat roles. Others during Korea and Vietnam served in V.A. hospitals here in the states as well- as registered Conscientious Objectors. They're NOT refusing to serve their country, but ARE refusing to kill other people for it.
    3. It's hard for a group of believers that have been persecuted for hundreds of years- to drop a main point of their religion- that God and Christ are first, ABOVE the state. And now knowing history the way we do- what makes you think that whatever war our government tells us is "just" is actually so? We know now for a fact that the Gulf of Tonkin was a complete lie and got us into vietnam, and there's many other examples as well. As a Christian, and pacifist, I will not take "turn the other cheek" and throw it out the window, because my government tells me to do so. There may be other motives behind it. I'd rather take the peaceful route, serve morally without killing others, and live how I was raised to live- with respect to ALL people. Which generally means not killing them because someone waving a friendly flag told me to.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      Excellent comment. I totally agree. There seems to be a mentality that one must be either a flag-waving patriot who just believes anything and everything they're told and ready to kill anyone who disagrees OR they must be a flag-burning hater of America who eats babies and sells drugs to children. It's so ridiculous. I don't hate my country, but I'm not going to blindly follow whatever I'm told if it goes against my conscience or defies fact or rational thinking. When people stop questioning and thinking for themselves a country will turn corrupt and eventually die. We saw the results of blind patriotism in many examples during the 20th century. Too bad so many can't learn from history.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  10. believer

    its interesting that separation of church and state for them meant keeping government out of the church, not keeping church out of the government. They deserve to exercize their first amendment right the way they want.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  11. D. Romero

    Ouch! I'm having a hard time with this. You are afforded freedoms in this country, yet you don't feel the need to give honor to those who give their lives for you to have freedom of choice. I know of the freedom of Christ Jesus it is spiritual (the heart). Singing the National Anthem will not tarnish your faith in Christ. The song does give honor to the very country that allows you to be tax free. Some freedoms allow for foolishness.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  12. Ted M.

    The separation of church and state is not a complete separation.
    When a religion violates the law, the state has a vested interest in prosecuting the criminals involved regardless of the religious values involved.
    Nobody is being forced to sing or listen to music here. Every American has the right to free speech. That takes care of this "Star Spangled Banner" problem.
    No, the problem here is the Mennonite community thinking their religious values trump our nation's secular laws.
    That is the real problem here.
    And that is also one of the biggest problems with religious values. So many people think they trump everything.
    They don't. They are insane to think so.

    June 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Dp

      What law are you accusing Mennonites of breaking?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Ted M.

      I am not accusing them of breaking the law, I am accusing them of putting their religious values above the law.
      No one is above the law. No religion is above the law.
      Everyone is equal UNDER the law. Religion does not support equality.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  13. batman

    mark, nobody cares. freedom does come from god, via bombs and bullets. jesus is a Sargent.

    June 27, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  14. Emily Jantzi

    As a person who grew up in the Mennonite Church and also graduated from Goshen College, I was not taught to respect the freedoms that we take for granted. It was only recently that I was able to connect our freedoms with the biblical concepts that this country was founded on. I have also learned to respect the spiritual callings in individual lives, including military. As a christian I see my ultimate calling as a peacemaker but recognize that there is a time and place to confront evil head-on. The national anthem is simply a show of respect for those who have sacrificed in the past, serve our country today and the freedom we have to choose and follow our callings. My daughter attends Goshen College and we are grieved over this decision.

    June 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • robjones

      Excellent counter-point to the article. Thank you.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • DB5602

      Emily, you need not be grieved. One of the great things about this country is that one can maintain a separation of Church and State and still love this country as much as anyone. To be able to dissent from what so many may believe is the highest kind of patriotism. That's part of the problem today. So many want to less others do their thinking for them within spending any time to study the issues. I was never a student at Goshen College but I will continue to contribute more then ever because of their very respectful stance on this issue. One suggestion. Study sometime European Medieval History and perhaps your own Anabaptist roots and the issues of Church and State that people by the thousands died for – "burned at the stake", tortured, drowned, ethnically cleaning, etc. for their convictions. It should offer a real lesson for today. Have a nice day! I wish you well.

      June 27, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • bleemer

      i also Emily would be grieving. Goshen college is such a horrible representation of the mennonite way of life. The decision to not play the anthem for 115 years and then all of a sudden out of no where play it was a media ploy. knowing they would then go back to not playing it just so they can be loud and in charge and make their point. if mennonites are truely called to keep peace then this never would have happened. make peace goshen college and stop trying to stir up a debate. debate this debate that. try and get your point across on this or that. that is all Goshen college is ever trying to do. Lets see who we can make mad. if you dont want to play the national anthem then dont but shut up about it, stop trying to see who you can affend and start winning people to christ(which we as christians are suppose to do) i'm sick of hearing about debates and ready to hear about souls being won to jesus. KEEP THE PEACE GOSHEN COLLEGE BY SHUTTING UP. ur convictions are your convictions but keep your convictions to yourself and start telling people about JESUS.... once your do that HE will convict them of what he wants to convict them of.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Lovethechallenge

      Bleemer, You can be assured that I am not speaking for Goshen College. (45 years ago, I was a graduate of Virginia Tech) But I do know for a fact that Goshen College never made this decision as you describe it, as a "media ploy", never! My friend, if we are going "win people to Christ" "and tell people about Jesus" as you describe it, we don't start out by "bearing false witness against our neighbor" (throwing out speculation that's totally false). DRT below says it so beautifully through US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson with regard to our convictions. Now what are your convictions that I should covet?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  15. Artist

    Mennonites opposed the American Revolutionary War, World I and II. I am not impressed. Parasites living off of others price of freedom. It is a good thing their numbers are getting smaller.

    June 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • JW

      So I have to be in favor of every war to be a productive member of society?

      June 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Normon

      @JW,
      No, but the man sitting down to a steak dinner is also free to complain about the use of animals for food.

      June 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • bleemer

      not all mennonites think this way so please dont put us all in one boat

      June 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • escot

      Mennonites are a far more complicated lot than you describe. Some Menno folk across the centuries have taken up the sword, often with catastrophic consequences to their communities.... whether that be in Holland, in Russia, or elsewhere.

      Among the huge positives in their history, Mennonites always condemned slavery. (by comparison, the Quakers for a period tolerated it in their midst)

      Oh, and about that American Revolution, you might find it ironic to know that in April 1776, their was a flagrantly illegal electoral maneuver in Penna elections - requiring all citizens to take loyalty oaths. (which anabaptists and quakers generally refuse - on principle) that maneuver shrewdly caused a swing in the PA colonial legislature, a coup d'etat that made possible a change in Pennsylvania's vote for independence.....

      Not exactly a "proud" moment in American history. (and one few Americans have any idea about - as it's not in the textbooks)

      June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  16. Jonathan

    Separation of church and state is one thing, but it sounds like you're not advocating separation, you're advocating replacement of state with church. "...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." "...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."

    Matthew 22:21 "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s" How does proclaiming your patriotism and love of country in any way diminish your devotion to God? How does pledging your allegiance to the nation which, despite your fairy-tale happily-ever-after view, won the freedom for you to believe as you wish through the sacrifices and deaths of many many more than one individual, make you unable to proclaim your allegiance to your savior?

    I don't find it offensive that you don't sing the national anthem. I do find it frightening that any apparent fealty to this country that you might have is simply a matter of convenience or common beliefs, and what would happen should that be challenged?

    June 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Bruce

      I don't know about you, Johnathan, but what I find disturbing is the use of words such as "fealty" and "allegiance" when it comes to describing the proper disposition between the individual and a free republic.

      Perhaps you should check with your liege lord and get back to me on that?

      June 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  17. spocksbrain

    I believe very strongly in the separation of Church and State. But a football game is not church. And and the very privileges of not having to have the American flag, not having to sing the anthem, not saying the Pledge of Allegiance (I'd remove the superflous "under God"), and feeling free to practice your religion are reasons to honor the United States. Separation of Church and State doesn't mean you obliterate one for the other.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • JW

      Is pledging allegiance and singing the national anthem the only way to honor the United States?

      June 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Rob

      Bravo

      June 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Bruce

      A football game is also not a pep rally to be used to distribute propaganda from the federal government. It's a football game.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  18. RainyAlaska

    Wow, such issues. I don't see the National Anthem as violent. Also don't see standing while the National Anthem is played as something forced on me. When I hear the music, it reminds me of the struggle for this country to be free and the sacrifice that early Americans made to worship in whatever way they wished. The author of this article has the reilgious freedom he describes because America fought two wars with Britian. The freedoms we have in this country did not come free, they were fought for. It wasn't easy, it was bloody and violent. People lost their lives for this country. I don't believe it hurts anyone to be reminded of that. We should never take freedom for granted. I'll play the National Anthem, recite the Pledge and enjoy and be proud of every minute of it. If you don't want to play the National Anthem, guess what?... that's your right as an American but never forget the struggle that gave you that right!

    June 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • jim jones

      All Mennonites should leave the country, be drowned in rivers or burned at the stake. Sick of carrying you & your kind.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Bruce

      Holy crap, jim jones, did you read what you just wrote?

      June 27, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • DB5602

      jim jones, Perhaps you're angry and frustrated just now and I'm inquisitive as to why that might be. I will never know. But I'll bet that you're a really nice guy most of the time. As a Mennonite for over 50 years, I can guarantee you that you have not been "carrying me". I have been a business man, providing employment to many, paying lots of taxes, "rendering to Caesar" his due amount, and trying to be an "ambassador of good will" for our beautiful country (primarily it's people) and donate my time and effort as an agricultural consultant to a couple of other countries while being retired for 7 years. And I'll bet that you will go on to contribute much in your lifetime. I think that you can be a very likable guy! Have a nice day and wonderful life!

      June 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • DRT

      In light of Jim Jone's obnoxious comment, consider the wise words of US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson with regard to compulsory flag salute:

      "Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, but, at other times and places, the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. [p641] As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

      June 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  19. Marie Kidman

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

    June 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  20. Tim

    While I greatly respect and admire the Mennonite culture and beliefs, I think it is extremely naive for anyone, of ANY spiritual belief, to try to say with a straight face that ALL war is wrong.

    I think that Jesus' admonition to "turn the other cheek" is often taken out of context. I think it's accurate when it comes to everyday forgiveness and understanding. But when there's something that love and forgiveness can NOT conquer (Nazi Germany, Imperialistic Communism, or Militant Islam), then people, even with a strong belief in peace, have no choice but to take up arms. To surrender to such forces of evil, I believe, is more contrary to Christianity than using weapons in its defense.

    If we "turned the other cheek" to any of those three examples, there would be no Mennonite (nor any other) Church to subscribe to. And I guarantee you that not taking an oath of allegiance or singing an anthem would no longer be a choice that one was allowed to make.

    Just my two cents.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • keith

      You are actually a bit un-informed. The Anabaptist movement grew the fastest under severe persecution when the Catholic and State Church tried to wipe it out. Nero tried the same to the earlier Christians . . . . Christ does not live in a country but in the hearts and minds of those who follow and serve Him. Even though His followers will be martyred, His spirit cannot be stopped.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Bruce

      Tim, that's because while you should turn the other cheek on a personal level, what Caesar does on a national level is up to Caesar, and we should give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (which is taxes in the literal sense of the context of that particular phrase, and the practice of withholding a portion of your taxes to represent the amount that is for war that many Mennonites perform seems inconsistent with what Jesus said in this case).

      Too many Christians, however, think that the U.S. government is not our equivalent of Caesar, and instead harbor these ridiculous notions that the U.S. is a "Christian Nation." Too many of them harbor this idea that the U.S. military is represented by the heroes on white horses found in Revelation, and can't fathom that the U.S. military is more accurately thought of as on the other side of that battle.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:13 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.