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. citation jet man

    Well Yahoo looks like you are still promoting anti-Americanism with this article. One day the people of the USA will rise up and unplug you. Mennonites are Taliban sympathizers.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • Reality

      Mennonites- too much inbreeding


      Next topic!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  2. Mike in Tennessee

    I've gotten to know many Mennonites over the past year,and I have to admit that they are probably the best embodiment of "Christian people" that I know. The Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Unitarians, Pentacostals, and Episcopalian could all learn a thing or two from the Mennonites. Also, last time I checked, Jesus wasn't American, never set foot in America, and would probably be disappointed in how Americans justify a lot of not-so-holy behaviors in His name. "Love thy neighbor," I'm pretty sure, doesn't encompass bombing them and turning away the poor and the sick because they live on the other side of some imaginary line. Also, Goshen College is a private college, which means they don't get federal funding (or your tax dollars) and they get to make their own rules up–just like numerous other private non-Mennonite Christian colleges make up their own rules and discriminate against who they hire as faculty and admit as students.

    God bless America, where we have the freedom to not say "God bless America" if we choose not to do so.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • Chris520

      Can you say anyone is good for following a religion. Religion has single handely destroyed more people than any other aspect of man kind.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  3. Gigi Aldred

    America should change the National Anthem to include "We are the worst terrorists mankind has ever encountered, we are, we are, yes we are the Axis of all Evil" we need to be banished from this earth as we are causing mass murder and destruction of innocent babies and people. please God destroy us and our nation as we are, yes we are the Axis of all evil .

    June 26, 2011 at 6:42 am |
  4. JWH

    Hypocrites, if you followed the Saviour you would not have time for sports.
    Remember, the Lord of the OT is the Lord of the NT and he took care of the enemies of Israel all the time.
    Maybe you should be like the OT belivers like Nehemiah Ch6 where they revived themselves and showed us how we should worship God.
    Two Apostles were know to be armed.

    Your ideology has been around since and before WWII and it is a cowardly religion hiding under the Red, White and Blue. .

    June 26, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  5. Jean-Luc Milan

    Whoa Mark, you had to know you were whipping a sacred cow. You did it with grace and conviction and I respect your well informed history of the Church, of course it's imperfect; everything that the hand of man touches gets stained & tawdry be degrees. But untold thousands will have no empathy with this viewpoint what-so-ever. They won't actually read your carefully crafted words just as they would not really listen to these words were they hearing you speak. It's the U.S.A. insualar, selfrighteous and protectivist, not a country renowned for its love of philosophical scholorlship. The use of derisive adjectives by responders, always indicate that you've trod on the toes of a challenged reader, a poor listener. Someone who perhaps regrets having dropped out of school in grade 8 or 9. I applaud you're willingness to stand up for your faith in the face of a virtual barrage from the minions who have little understanding of the real reasons that war is such a popular sport amonst the nations of this world and the human race in general.. Incidently I actually love the cadence and yes...the dynamic lyrics of this splendid Anthem. I regret that it is almost impossible to sing, except in a crowd where your inability to meet those high notes is kindly muffled; but then I also love das Deutsche Nationalhymn and Austrailias
    rousing 'Arise Australia Fair'. Have a nice day – a keep an eye out for groups of young 'crewcut' dudes in Levi's & Doc Martens.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:35 am |
  6. Boycott 'em

    You probably don't sing it because you don't know the words...

    But I'll bet that you know the words to all of those filthy songs you sing on your way to work.

    Sad, sad, sad...

    June 26, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  7. howlyn

    It is only because of "the rockets red glare", and "bombs bursting in air" that the Mennonites feel safe and comfortable practicing their religion in this country without fear of being "tortured and killed." They should feel blessed that they live in these United States, and proclaim their jubilation by singing the National Anthem. What a shallow, narrow viewpoint does Mark Schloneger possess.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  8. UERI


    June 26, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  9. Jeff

    This is a straight shot at not wanting to pledge allegiance to America. Francis Scott Keys wrote this during a time of war for America ( 1812 ). We are only asking folks to sing the first section NOT the whole thing that includes all the religious parts. I'm getting tired of the 'Intolerance" crap. Hows bout for once, we all tolerate something that was done specifically for America. Just for you haters of America! O! 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 through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
    O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    June 26, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  10. Matt

    I'm struggling to connect the dots between separation of church and state and singing our anthem at a football game, but whatever. If these folks don't want to sing it, no skin off my nose.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  11. JMC

    Yikes! I am a christian by choice. I don't force it on anyone, I share yes, after a meaningful relationship has been established, but if turned down....gracefully then keep that friendship and respect others! And if there is something that a large group is doing that I don't agree with personally I just QUIETLY choose not to participate and let them do it once again in LOVE. Telling people not to sing the National Anthem is just too much for me. Have your opinions and keep them quite in your heart. People have the right to CHOOSE for themselves but always pushing opinions on others just creates greater separation between people. BE NICE AMERICA and RESPECTFUL to others even if their opinion is different from yours. You may not be right...I may not be right! Hey and smile once in a while! Happy Sunday from a US Navy Wife!

    June 26, 2011 at 6:32 am |
  12. Kenneth

    This is just one of those things about being American. Here we acknowledge religious freedom, even if your religion won't acknowledge America. It's ironic, but it's the American way. As long as their not seditious or subversive, let them do their thing.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  13. Mary

    I'm Mennonite too and i applaud not playing "bombs bursting in air". Those who want to picture the bombs while watching a sports event have likely never felt a bomb close at hand. The negative responses of many persons are to be expected considering the political environment we are presently experiencing. Why choose sports events to play the anthem? People don't play it at other school events. .

    June 26, 2011 at 6:30 am |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      I am curious—not trying to stir up trouble—just trying to learn. How do Mennonites feel abut the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically since Congress added the "one nation under God" phrase i n the 1950s?

      June 26, 2011 at 6:39 am |
    • citation jet man


      June 26, 2011 at 6:47 am |
  14. Van

    I really do accept anyone's right to practice their own religion. After all, religious freedom is one of the foundations the United States was founded upon. By right, there are religious extremists, some who advocate peace and some who advocate violence. Their followers always seem to believe that their religion, for reasons that confuse me, is superior to others' and that their way is the only way to salvation. As long as these followers don't advocate my annihilation, I say "fine." But, while we can enjoy the right to choose and practice whatever religion we want, we are bound, as citizens, under the fabric of freedom, The Star Spangled Banner. I do not think that singing our National Anthem or reciting our Pledge of Allegiance is like taking an oath, subordinating church to nation, and while we may practice different religions, we are fortunate to be able to do that because we are American citizens.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  15. Cucky the Wallabe

    ...Okay, your choice. I like the picture though.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  16. Robert McFarland

    It is a Scriptural impossibility for America to be "one nation under God."

    June 26, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  17. 4urinfo

    Jesus was not crucified because he was a christian. He was crucified for purely political reasons, as he represented a great threat to King Herod, even if only perceptually.

    That is what makes the difference between a country where the politics allow for your religious freedom to practice without persecution, and one where you can't.

    I don't care if you sing the anthem at your sporting events or not, but please don't support your lack of patriotism, lack of respect, and lack of appreciation for the great gift of freedom of religion that this country affords you under the guise of following in Jesus' word. Your political apathy is a lazy as the 'lazy latte – sipping liberals' you mock.

    My father spent 2 and 1/2 years in a Korean POW camp for the likes of you. You're welcome...

    June 26, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Paul From Kissimmee

      Well said. And God bless your Dad

      June 26, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Rob

      Your father spent time in a POW camp becaus ehe was deceived into thinking he was fighting for what was right. How did it turn out..he faught for a nation where the corrupt bankers destroyed everything. You don't get it. America and the whole world is heading towards an opresssive one world where your values will be an enemy of the state.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  18. Billy


    June 26, 2011 at 6:26 am |
    • Rob

      Very intelligent response billy bob. Which mountain cave do you live in.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:01 am |
  19. JIMMY

    It's an anthem not rocket science. Play it and get over it.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:23 am |
    • UREI


      June 26, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  20. Mike Winfield


    There is no reason to get riled up.

    As part of their beliefs, these Christians apparently do not believe in taking oaths, taking office, or swearing allegiance (which is really taking an oath). They do not hate America or the flag or the anthem. They simply choose to not participate.

    They are not looking to abolish anything. Yes, our American soldiers died to protect this freedom to not participate. If you are a soldier, you must know this is the very definition of freedom that is worth fighting for.

    Personally, I am saddened to hear they do not take office because we need people in our government who are not afraid to take an unpopular stance. While I myself participate in singing the national anthem, I do not fear people exercising this kind of freedom. It is the comments from misguided patriots that scare me. If you grew angry reading this article and also fear/hate people from other countries or races, you may want to read up on fascism.

    To the atheists, why are you even reading this stuff? Seems like the comments are really from misguided agnostics. If you aren't sure about the difference between an atheist and an agnostic, look it up. If you have a problem with religion, you should make that a priority in your education. If the bible is a fairy tale, you should be able to read it and dispute it. If the bible is really the truth that it claims to be, you might want to study it so you can know the implications of a "rational" decision to ignore it.

    It would have been better if the author had supported his points with scriptural citations, but if you look up "Anabaptists" on Wikipedia, you will find scriptural support for these views. Took me all of 5 seconds to look up and 15 minuites to read.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:23 am |
    • frmrma

      Bravo! A voice of reason, for a change.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • Justin H

      You ask why, as an atheist, I read this stuff. The answer is simple. I am an American reading an article written by another American. Maybe we do not share the same beliefs and we see the world differently. Reading an article like this is about trying to understand others and their world view. It's about trying to understand other people who play a role in defining what it means to be American.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:34 am |
    • Chris520

      Just keep in mind that you can't have it both ways. If you want separation from church and state, then be quiet when the state passes a law, say like legalizing gay marriage or abortion.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:46 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.