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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. eclectic

    True patriotism, like religious faith, is best expressed from genuine belief, not from rote obligation.

    July 1, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • chief

      patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel......

      July 1, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • eclectic

      Ah, you missed my point, Chief. I wasn't defending jingoistic "my country, right or wrong" patriotism. Rather my point was that people only ought to sing the National Anthem, say the Pledge of Allegiance, etc only if they really want to do so, instead of out of some misplaced sense of obligation.

      July 1, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • chief

      my bad... just mistook your comment for a neotard that confuses our country with Christianity....

      July 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  2. Adolf Pina Jr

    The man has no pride in his country. If it were not for the brave men,
    who have fought to keep this country free. This man would not have the right to say that .
    In fact accoring to their religions he woud be dead. He should be thankful to all those living and dead. And be Proud of his country and those men. Otherwise he would not have the right to have a religion to pratice.
    I sing The Anthem evertime i raise the flag at my house. My dad faught in WWII and I am Proud he did.And all of the men who fought in any war.

    July 1, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  3. rabidhunter

    Speech on Independence Day

    John Quincy Adams
    July 4, 1837
    Newburyport, MA

    Why is it, Friends and Fellow Citizens, that you are here assembled? Why is it, that, entering upon the sixty-second year of our national existence, you have honored with an invitation to address you from this place, a fellow citizen of a former age, bearing in the records of his memory, the warm and vivid affections which attached him, at the distance of a full half century, to your town, and to your forefathers, then the cherished associates of his youthful days? Why is it that, next to the birth day of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day?—And why is it that, among the swarming myriads of our population, thousands and tens of thousands among us, abstaining, under the dictate of religious principle, from the commemoration of that birth-day of Him, who brought life and immortality to light, yet unite with all their brethren of this community, year after year, in celebrating this the birthday of the nation?

    Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon the earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Savior and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?

    July 1, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • chief

      great point... this was written while slaves were being beaten and the native american were being lied to about their new home in oklahoma.... the lucky ones died on the trail of tears..... shut the hell up with this Christian nation crap..... we are the greatest country in the world, but place bloody hands over our hearts to honor it......

      July 1, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • RillyKewl

      Yeah, I'm with the Chief on this one. For sure.
      I was not aware of how devoutly yucky JQA was.
      Thanks for the quote.

      July 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  4. Anthony Barnes

    ‎50But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
    51Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
    52For from henceforth there shall be five in one hou...se divided, three against two, and two against three.
    53The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    Luke 15:50-53 (KJV)

    This pastor's assertion of his religion's belief in spreading peace, is in direct opposition to the Bible.

    July 1, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  5. Mitch

    Mr. Schloneger,
    You refuse to acknowledge the freedoms you have in the secular world because you also do not realize how your religion enslaves you. After all, they told you not to sing the national anthem and you obeyed like a good soldier.

    July 1, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  6. Chad Holcomb

    As a American I respect what you feel. As a Pastor myself I think things like this just turn people from Christ. We as Christians seem to want and set ourselves apart. Not only from the world but from other Christians. We are called to preach the word. Bring people to Christ. Love everyone. I don't see this happen. You have the right to feel this way, but it doesn't help in doing "The Great Commission" we are told to do.

    July 1, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • chief

      i kinda remember this,..... love not the world or the things of the world.....

      July 1, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Ken

      So Chad, how is it that you preach the word regarding the "Good news of the Kingdom"? recorded at Matt.24:14 and Matt. 28:19,20. ? There is one group world wide who are accomplishiong this work and remaining neutral. They are doing it door to door in over 236 countries.They would never consider pledging their alliegence to anything other than God's Kingdom! Regarding nationalism, according to Jesus teachings true Christians would be identidfied by the love they have among themselves (John 13:34,35) Also they would be neutral according to (Isaiah 2:2-4) Find the group refered to and you will have found the only true subjects of God's Kingdom. Talk to any of them . . . They teach for FREE also.

      July 1, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  7. rabidhunter

    Everybody, except for maybe Christina Agulera knows the first verse. But most people don't know the next three verses. Take a long, hard look at the last verse! Francis Scott Key was a Christian.

    Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
    O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
    Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
    In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
    'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
    A home and a country should leave us no more!
    Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    July 1, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • chief

      whoop-de-doo.... i am sure he thanked God for his slaves and the riches he made......

      he was the head of the american bible society and also was a freemason....

      July 1, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  8. Ann Ellison

    Just fine with me. I don't see why you think anyone should be interested in your faith, beliefs, or religion.
    Keep it to yourself and I won't tell you about mine.

    June 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Cindy

      It is so strange that you are reading the "Belief Blog" of CNN and telling people not to share their beliefs. Instead of criticizing people for their beliefs try to understand them. It is also okay for you to respectfully share your own views.

      June 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • JW

      I agree with Cindy. Sharing your belief is kind of the whole point of this.

      June 30, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  9. CS

    Follow your heart where God leads it, if you believe that he is calling you to be closer to him in this way who does it hurt? The great thing about this country is that you are free to express your religeous convictions without any real persecution; opinions vary about whether you are right or not but who cares about others opinions are as long as you know in your heart that you are right with God?

    June 30, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  10. paul lehman

    As I understand the Bible government is setup by God for the organization and running of the human race. In other words war is and has always and will always be a part of the human expereince. It is the God ordained job of the government of the United States to protect the citizens. The fact that the mennonites have taken on the task of forcing government to or somehow setting themselves up as the divine conscience of government concerning war and peace, makes them not separate but apart of the problem. There is a certain ring of pride that comes with the following paragraph. "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". Excuse me, I sure do not have to have a Mennonite tell me or show me that we live in broken world and that war is a bad thing what do they think we are stupid? I grew up a Mennonite and over the years have watched as the Mennonite Church has become a elitest church, setting themselves as a authority on the economy, war, peace promoting a liberal and socialist agend. Honestly, I don't think that most Mennonites understand that. It is just that they say that they are separate from the world and really the are not at all. Growing up I always wondered why Menoonites hated this country they say they don't but they really do.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • JW

      Maybe my experience has differed. I think Mennonites are the least elitist of any Christian denomination.

      June 29, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Laughable

      You don't understand the Bible at all.

      June 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • JW

      Which one of us were you talking to?

      June 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • DissentIsWholesome

      Paul, as an ex-Mennonite, you're an interesting person but you also appear frustrated and angry. Lehman sounds like a name that I would recognize that is often of ethnic Mennonite background. So why the use of emotionally charged words such as "elitest", "liberal", "socialism", and "hated this country"? I know for a fact that most Mennonites are not elitest, liberal, want to have a socialist economic system, or hate this country. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) claimed on June 27 that a "hatred of God" informs liberal beliefs. Really? Would you say this too? Perhaps, if you would examine yourself and your views, you might realize that you seem to come off a bit judgmental and using much black and white thinking so common today in American and in conservative Christian churches around the country. I consider it very possible that I as a progressive/liberal/moderate religiously, economically, and politically, would find that you and I could have a very amicable and meaningful discussion as Christian brothers. We would both be tolerate, open-minded, and listen carefully to each other and ask why we think the way we do, wouldn't we? And neither one of us would be domineering, would we? I conscientiously feel that I am following my convictions to the best of my ability. My life experience may be very different than for you and my dominant "Maslow hierarchy of needs" level may be very different than for you. And that's okay. We may view the world from a slightly different angle and envision most things of value through a different filter. In my 68 years, I try to allow for ambiguity, knowing that everything is not nearly as "clear-cut" as we imagine them to be. Please join me in opening ourselves to the possibility of considering the merit of all viewpoints. (I, myself was a self-employed agricultural consultant for 40 years and made a living working with people that were to the "right" of me 95% of the time.) It was always interesting. I wish you well.

      June 29, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  11. EM

    he should be proud to live in a country that gives him the freedom to flip the flag the bird. America's freedom allows him the ability to practice his chosen religion and he has the audacity to shun the country that gives him that freedom. throw him into Libya for a while, he'll come around and be proud to be an American.

    June 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Laughable

      Our liberties are inalienable which means they don't come from the government. You should understand that basic bit of the philosophy of the founding.

      June 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      @Laughable:
      Your belief that "Our liberties are inalienable which means they don't come from the government", is common, but untrue. Governments regularly alienate people from their liberties. Rights may be inalienable, but the exercise of them is only possible in societies that are free. Some of the most restrictive and oppressive societies in the world today are those founded on fundamentalist notions of what a particular god wants or doesn't want.

      June 30, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Ash

      EM, the author is not flipping the flag the bird. It is just in his view that expressing such concern for mere symbols of a nation is not as important as expressing his love for God. Your insinuations of the necessity of singing the anthem allude to state idolatry and the philosophy of fascism.....Think about this...

      June 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  12. WWRRD

    Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's, and give to God what is God's.

    Strange folks in their little Prairie costumes. but all I've met are good psirited people.

    June 29, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  13. kingnpriest

    There is no room for patriotism in christianity. Jesus died for the sin of all men, in every nation, and throughout history. He in no particular way loves Americans more than Germans etc. John 3:16 God so loved the world (cosmos) that he gave his only Son...) As a result of being born again into Christ, and becoming part of his body on earth, (the church) we are commanded to love everyone in all nations. We are told to preach the gospel all around the world to all people groups. Never once instructed to kill people, or establish our own nation, we rather are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, looking for a home in heaven. Hebrews 11:8-16 (John 14:6 ONE WAY!!)

    June 29, 2011 at 6:47 am |
    • Dan

      That's right...

      June 29, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  14. RM

    Of course you are free to choose whether or not to sing the national anthem – that freedom is the very thing that makes people WANT to sing it. It's a celebration of our rights and freedoms, including (a) the freedom from having to adhere to organised religion imposed by a central government and (b) the freedom from the interference of a central government on the right to worship as we choose. You can choose not to sing it because you are free not to, but choosing not to sing it because you feel it is a governmental imposition is a fallacy.

    June 29, 2011 at 5:10 am |
  15. Texan

    "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."

    I thought the cross was blood-soaked. And that we were bought with a price. Spiritual freedom came at a price and physical freedom does too.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • La Mer

      Excellent point and well put, Texan. Since the author believes so strongly in seperation between church and state, it should be easy to see that they are able to be honored seperately. It is because one is in America that they are able to practice the religion of their choice, no?

      June 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Gio Andollo

      @La Mer: No. The church of Acts was underground and they practiced the religion of their choice. They had true freedom in Christ and there was nothing the Roman Empire could do to abridge that freedom. They made no distinction between "spiritual" and "physical" and understood that their freedom comes from God, not from the principalities, powers, and empires of this world. So long as we hold this vision of God's Kingdom in our hearts, we will always be free regardless of which blood-soaked borders surround us. (note: I am not a Mennonite myself, just a follower of Yeshua, but I certainly share their mind on most issues..)

      June 29, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  16. hooglyboogly

    @ Joe June 28, 2011 at 5:51 am

    "So these people believe THEIR imaginary deity would be mad if he found out they were singing the anthem? Wow. New levels of psychosis."

    Perhaps but at least these particular Christians understand there is a clear distinction between church and state unlike most Christians in this country who choose to force their brand of bigotry and intolerance on everyone else. And there are far more of them then there are anyone else.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  17. hooglyboogly

    There seems to be a recurring misinterpretation here that the National Anthem, i.e. the Star Spangled Banner was about the Revolution. It wasn't and it has nothing to do with our freedoms (insert Braveheart scream here). It was written during the War of 1812. Perhaps those of you who continue to slobber all over the military and the state could take a moment to look it up.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  18. hooglyboogly

    @John Z June 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    "Dear Luke,
    First of all Im not Christian. Second, your an idiot. Lastly, the song was written for the American Revolution and not for the last 38 years of yor accidental existence. WWJD? Jesus would high five me and slap your face for not using yor brain!"

    The song came from a poem written after the battle at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 idiot. The stars and stripes wasn't the flag of the United States during the Revolution because there was no United States yet. And Jesus, for those who choose to believe in that, would be facepalming himself over your comment.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  19. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  20. DJ

    Umm shouldn't you be ranting about the Pledge of Allegiance here, not the National Anthem?

    June 28, 2011 at 4:54 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.