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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. Lolzeyz

    You'd be saying you're proud to be an American just as soon as you're be yelling "Sieg Heil!!!" if you were born under Hitler's rule. You're a product of your environment, so stop waving politician's flags like a bunch of idiots and dieing all over the place. Srsly.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  2. FrankLW

    That is beyond inane. If we did not fight for our own democracy and freedom we would be immediately overrun by those who espouse anything but democracy and freedom and religious freedom would disappear as well.
    If that is what following "Jesus" means, it is tantamount to spiritual – and physical – suicide.
    The idea is most certainly not glorifying the rockets or bombs but rather their protecting the land of the free by the brave.

    July 12, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • DC

      This simply means you don't believe your god can save you if you are worrying about being overrun.
      You simply believe in you and whether or not you fight better. The original Christians didn't fight.

      July 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  3. The Beagle

    Your article inspired this post on my blog: http://pathofthebeagle.com/2011/07/09/fratricide/

    July 9, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  4. Join the religious guilt cult of your choice

    Surely our world is above petty lies and corrupt dealings. Who is behind the grief and suffering and what are benefiting by doing so? These are the words. Follow the money. So often heard but seldom processed. Analysis of how Christian churches make a buck show that if you repress the people and take away the fun you can torment them and make them believe anything loco story behind locked doors. We need freedom from religion. What basis are we working on? Gold standard didn't work. Church standard isn't working unless you are a pedophile pope or priest. Or if you enjoy being a nun at an all girls high school germinating lesbians. Who cares how much the Vatican, the Catholic Church pays off the world. Their order is wrong for the world. Stop the feasting and beasting on old time religion. It isn't good enough for you or me. When you do the math the bible is not historical. Just attend the best Christian college in America called Princeton Theological Seminary. If you preach religion you need to go their to realize that you are a hypocrite and you are spreading the wrong message. Find motivation in logic and science not from fiction in the bible.

    July 6, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Mavent

      Next time, just write "I'm a d0uchebag." It'll save a lot of everyone's time.

      July 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  5. Kate

    I appreciate Mark Schloneger for sharing his beliefs. They are not mine, but he expressed them calmly and clearly, and I understand his religion better. Such sincerity is hard to find.

    July 5, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Erica

      Exactly Kate, its nice to see someone actually write what they believe in, and not have to bend to make every side happy! Great thing about America, freedom of religion and freedom of speech! He has a belief, and he sticks to it, and in essence, is harming no one! I like it! Well done sir!

      July 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  6. shelou

    Being raised a fundamentalist and by a father who was a prisoner in the German prison camp in WWII and having attended a Mennonite College, I am proud to say that America is the place that people from all over the world come to avoid religious persecution. I believe we have room in America for every religion and that my father fought for this vision. However, you personally feel about abortion, the Mennonites extend that to not aborting a living adult, too. Non-violent civil disobedience is one the most powerful methods of social change with lots of examples. Jesus for one; did you happen to notice that he did not choose to begin a violent revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to claim rights for African Americans, but did not choose to violence either. I think that our military is also embracing a number of "nation building" initiatives that win the hearts and minds once the most violent are kept at bay. Whether or not you are a pacifist (is not passive at all), do not underestimate what it takes to do it or the power of it. Do not think that it is not an effective and courageous act. People die regardless of the methods we use; thousands died in our wars; many would die whether or not you pick up arms and many die, if you don't. Ghanhdi's use of nonviolence civil disobedience to run the British out of India saved thousands of lives on both sides and was most effective. There is room in America for each person to practice and protect their beliefs. We know the power of both the military and the use of nonviolent civil disobedience; it makes us stronger to use the power of both and to protect to belief in both.

    July 5, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  7. Nyarlathotep

    Pastor Mark's missed an important point here: America's real; Jesus ain't. Draw your allegiances accordingly.

    July 5, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  8. bobH

    which god are you referring to?

    July 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  9. TJustSaying

    Talk about following convictions. I do not have to agree with the Mennonites to respect this guy's conviction. To see this guy willing to take attacks to follow his beliefs is refreshing. He stays true because it is his interpretation of God's word. He does not fit the word to make his life easy but rather bends to the world to follow the path he is believes is God's true word. He does not try to fit into today's world but holds true to the truth no matter the cost. How many of us would die for our beliefs like those Mennonites did? Agree or not you have to respect the fact that they believe it even if no one else agrees. They have true purpose and shine as a beacon in the dark of how all Christians should be,

    July 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  10. very upset at where america is headed.

    it is amazing how we as "american people " talk about how proud we are and free we are compared to the rest of the world. the politics we see today (not to say in the past was any better) but today is an embarrassing joke. lacking respect honor and pride. the media is the biggest joke world wide. they only give you what they want you to hear and see. .c'mon ...who do you think your kidding but yourselves. America used to be the shining star of hope world wide no matter how you sliced it. thats not true today . now you may stand there and b.s. all you want about me saying things like, if this guy was a real american he wouldnt be saying things like that about america. unfortunately its crap like that that has made the U.S.A. and its people do nothing about it. all we know how to do is talk talk talk but no action. as we speak now we have the worst group of "intelligent and educated " politicians in washington running this country down to the ground and we are just standing here watching it happen and doing nothing about it. its all about power,wealth and selfishness and greed. when we break the laws of the united states we pay for it dearly. when a politician breaks the law of the united states we still pay for it, maybe they just might get resign. we dont hate politicians. we actually need them to run the country . but at this time who's running the country and how?. do you know? if you can't , then stop complaining and take the stye out of your eyes for a better look. then maybe and hopefully its not too late to join the few real americans who really care about our U.S.of A and its people and take back what is ours. stop the procrastination or better yet stop talking and start walking. as an AMERICAN im going to do what ever it takes to get my country back even if it means death. a soldier is trained to defend and kill for his country.........IM A SOLDER OF THE UNITED STATES AND I WILL DEFEND MY FLAG UNDER GOD.

    July 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Brian in Dayton

      Jesus is God. You can't take what he is saying out of context. In the teachings of The Son, we find the fullest revelation of what God really means. So it is true what Pastor Mark is saying. Jesus is both our country and the world's hope. Following in Jesus' Army is the Way to peace. Not guns. I was in the USAF as a younger, non-believer. I was the most of gung-ho, especially as I was in during the Cold War. Sorry, blessed are the peace makers. I'm in no way disrespecting the service of the members of the armed forces. But here's the truth. The need for a military is real. But it's the result of a fallen world that doesn't follow God( Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and His ways. IF man were to follow the Word of God, as revealed by the Spirit of the Living God, the Army, Navy, AF and Marines would be totally unneccessary. As would all of the police, prisons, etc.

      This Pastor is the truest of patriots. His allegiance lies with the Nation that will never end, the new Israel.....

      July 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  11. Blogson

    Being a Christian even though not being a Mennonite I agree with Pastor Schloneger. Jesus' teachings about reconciliation and forgiveness, also including lowing one's enemies, which generally will be far more successful than trying to kill then in them ultimately becoming friends trumps the underlying meaning of the ritual which usually accompanies the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. God's love transcends any national boundaries, which after all are artificial, and in their truest sense are a matter of convenience rather than of divine proclamation. One problem with patriotism is that it can become idolatrous and in the case of the U.S. as well as other countries, a vehicle for economic and cultural imperialism which all too often is achieved by waging war, and by killing and wounding people – God's most precious creation.

    July 3, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  12. ROBERT D. Thatcher

    The only reason the country is so "diverse" is that we have too many people here who dont look like us. Too much of this "diversity" is going to kill the United States of America.

    July 3, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Kate

      Oh no, people who don't look like "us"! Our country is doomed!

      You do realize our country has always been a mix of races and cultures, right? I mean literally from Day One. And that vast parts of our nation were once Mexican or Native lands, or owned by European countries other than the UK? Heck, it was all Native land at one point. But go ahead and blame the most recent immigrants for "destroying America", or those who look different from you (don't we all look different from each other?)- meanwhile, I'll pay attention to the people who recognize each other as fellow human beings, no matter their color, culture, or religion.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. Joel Persson

    As I read Mark's assertion, "I love my country", I asked myself, "What does he mean by that?" If I said I love my country, what would I mean? I suppose it would mean a fondness for the geography which I grew up in. Also the culture that I was placed into through no choice of my own. It means that I appreciate the freedoms I enjoy. How would I express such a love? Treating our natural resources with care would probably a good start. Paying taxes would probably show that love. Challenging rulers, systems, philosophies, and wars which I believe to be harmful to my country's good would show that love. Personally, I would conclude that the best way I can love my country is to give thanks to the One who placed me here and who loves it much more than any of its citizens. In the end, it is the Giver who deserves our love,not the gift.

    July 3, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  14. JD

    Some say "God first and country second" . Some say God and country are one. Some say country first and then God comes second when convenient. We live in a country that is full of diversity. And our politicians are finding it difficult to make the hard decisions on the budget, the economy, and way of life for us. We are willing to condemn others in favor of our own opinions, putting ourselves first and others second. I have been reading this in the responses to Pastor Schlonegger's opinion and beliefs. What makes it so hard for us to allow a group of Christians to practice their beliefs when sometimes they do not align with the majority? The Mennonites emphasize peace in their theology, and they try to live in a way that promotes peace. We could all learn from this as we take a stand for what we believe, and learn from Goshen College as they took a year to listen to their supporters and graduates. Maybe our government leaders could learn to listen to each other and try to compromise and work together. Respecting each other rather than immediately saying they are right and the other side is wrong and not budging (somewhat the way a small child acts at times). After reading the blog, I am observing that our country is filled with opinions, and unfortunately we may not be able to compromise or work together even on allowing the freedom (without condemnation) to say a pledge or require the national anthem. The opportunity was here to try to understand, yet it seems like the opportunity is now gone, since so many have blasted one person's viewpoint. Ask the Mennonites what they believe, do some research (with an open mind) and then respond. Each day we have the opportunity and the responsibility to learn from each other. We can be stronger when we listen to each other, glean the best from our views, and build a country based on diversity rather than "I am right and you are wrong".

    July 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  15. bhigh

    Mark Schloneger : Does your school and church pay taxes of any sort? I guess not, so don't complain about the government.
    I live in an area (Southeastern Pennsylvania) where there are a lot of Mennonites. They are an insular, exclusionary, hypocritcal, and very prideful sort. If you are not one of "them", they will not give you the time of day. Mennonites are one step away from the Amish, who are truly evil.

    July 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • mollydevlin

      Sorry. He is dreaming. There is no god.......and all religious schools and churches should pay taxes.....they are all cults...

      July 3, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • bobH

      amish are "truly evil"? have they murdered a lot of people?

      July 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  16. DB5602

    Bruce, a response to your posts on the 27th. If you're still around reading these posts, I wanted you to know how much I was impressed by your conversation with Patriotic Soldier. No doubt about it, PS was hurting and his experience in war are "certainly powerful" as you said. Thanks for being so well informed, in my view, and expressing your views as a Veteran. They are refreshing in this day and age here in the USA. Thanks again.

    July 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  17. Job

    I feel a sense of elitism here. The writer not only looks down on non-christians, but looks down on other christians who do not share all of his beliefs. I don't think history shows that the protestants martyred the anababtists either. And did not Jesus himself say render to ceaser what is ceaser's and God's what is God's? Doesn't the bible teach that God puts all governmental authorities in place? So should we not thank God for the country he has put in place that we live in and also be proud of our country? I won't even being to go into a debate about pacifism seeing as how God told abraham that the promise land was not going to be given to him yet because the iniquity of the amorite was not yet full. Therefore, teaching that God uses war as a way to judge nations and if God ever used war as a tool to judge than war cannot be wrong because that would mean God sinned! And I don't wanna hear any of that garbage about how man could never chose war without bad motives because man is made in the image of God.

    July 1, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • keith

      nope you are wrong. Anabaptists were murdered, burned, thumbscrews, stretchers . . . the whole thing by catholics and protestants. Sorry, there is a book called martyrs mirror, look it up.

      July 1, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • chief

      re job... its blasphemy to attribute something to God that wasnt.... the next time you pledge or sing and place your hand over your heart in allegianece.... wipe the blood of all the amrican indians off of it... and the blood of slaves.... you are indeed an imbecile to make the statement you did

      July 2, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  18. Aaron

    What don't you take your beliefs to another country where your religion is not protected by law? You'll likely rock to whatever anthem that country wants you to, otherwise you'll likely be imprisoned or executed. Ingrates the lot of you all.

    July 1, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Dylan

      I mean, that's sort of the whole deal, that Mennonites, historically, have never "rocked" to the anthem of whatever country they're part of, regardless of possible punishments. In Europe they were burned and tortured for refusing to change their beliefs, and in the United States they died in work camps for refusing to fight in WW1, or emigrated to Canada and Paraquay. I feel like people that make this argument completely miss this fact.

      Or, in simpler terms, if the deaths of soldiers validates or enshrines American freedom, it seems as though similar deaths of earlier Mennonites should similarly validate and enshrine their descendents' belief systems.

      Or, a different way, the argument seems to be, "People once died for this freedom, therefore you must also offer yourself to possibly die for this freedom, if you choose to practice it." Honestly, it seems to me that Mennonites have historically taken this to heart. "Early Anabaptists died for this belief, and as part of practicing this belief, I am willing to sacrifice my life or earthly freedom." There seems to be very little difference.

      Or, in a different way, I think that if you seriously built up the public opinion required to legitimately make that statement, I feel as though Mennonites would call your bluff and leave, and suffer, rather than deny their pacifist beliefs.

      July 4, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  19. Jim Withrow

    I hope you remember some one fought and died and are still dying to give you the right to Not Stand and Sing The National Anthem or ReciteThe Pledge of Allegence, i know some of my relatives did lay down their life, my own Son risked his for your rights. It is not a sin to proclaim Glory in your Life, Glory in the land that sustains you, Glory in the Freedom God has bestowed on you through the acts of others In his name. Be gracious in your life and God knows your heart. Boldly proclaim through verse and song that which you were given, Freedom, Happiness, Abundance. You are right it is not the singing and saying of words that are the issue. It is the song and words from and of the heart that are the issue. My heart is my God, My God lives in me and This Land he has provided for me to live along with my native brethren and give praise to him through which all things are possible. All Things, not some things that displease me, but ALL THINGS!! I pledge allegence so you know i would fight to defend a way of life God chose for me. I sing My National Anthem and also God Bless America as a praise and thanks for all given me by the Creator and Father in Heaven. This Nation, founded on priciples imbedded by faith in God, can allow others to live here that would not protect and defend but try to find an easy way to live their life without contributing in the hard work it takes to preserve it. Talking does not equal toil and blood. Rights are only as good as the one who is willing to defend them. You have the right to not sing, You have the right to not show your patriotism. You even have the right to leave this country and live somewhere else that wont require you stand and sing that countrys Anthem and Allegence without being thrown in prison and or shot, if you can find that place go there. I promise we wont bother you,look for you,or even give you a second thought because we care enough to recognize your right to live alone and disconnected from the people who would love you as you are, but who believe in saying thanks, and expressing solidarity in God and home. Singing and Saying it Loud is my right and i will do just that. To my last breath. to and for the Glory of God and his Meercy. One Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for ALL. Now that didnt hurt , did it?

    July 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • chief

      next time you pledge, wipe the blood off your hands .... pledge to the slaves that 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 10:58 pm |
    • keith

      Please remind me, which war was fought for religious freedom? Which Bible passage tells us that we are to fight to preserve an easy life and one of religious freedom? I am a bit confused. What does "love your enemy" mean, or do we just "love" them with hot lead and cannons? I love this country, but I don't love the evil that is exported and the wars that are fought in the name of freedom. Perhaps Jesus didnt really mean to love our enemies. Perhaps he misspoke and really meant "kill them".

      July 1, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  20. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEwrJsyh8tE&w=640&h=360]

    July 1, 2011 at 10:56 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.