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. petemg

    While people fight amongst themselves on religion, they are allowing the Evil one to step in to conquer. Religion is between individuals and their God/god. We do not have to practice what others do, we just need to love them. Read Romans 14. Individually we all shall have to answer to our God/god. If we show kindness and compassion to others, we go a long ways. In the Christian religion we are taught that we must prepare for our God's return. Our time is short, just be prepared. So many people have a strong hatred for different things, one realizes those people do not love even themselves. Once you love yourself you will learn to love each other. Open your hearts and minds to God.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Brian

      Evil one?...Dick Cheney I presume?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  2. Surthurfurd

    Most of the founders of the US would have refused to pledge to the flag. They considered the nation as belonging to the citizens not the citizens belonging to the nation.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:03 am |
  3. Gigi Aldred

    or we could try this"We are America, we are thieves, we are terrorists, we are liars, we are murderers, we are pathetic, we are the Axis of all evil, yes we are American............Long live Obama and Hillary as they have made us what we are. God forgive us Amen

    June 26, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • JR

      Gigi, I guess you have to blame someone, this is a country of many people and to believe that two people have made the millions of citizens what you claim, is looking for a scapegoat for the failings of many. Confession is not making up stories, but admitting that you too have done wrong. Being able to admit to past wrong doings is a sign of strength, weak people and countries will try and prove they are right to the time of their demise. Look beyond the words, like it or not, we are going to have to learn how to live with the rest of the world. Does that mean we give up our own values, no, but we need to learn how to respect other's for their good values too. We all need to confess our sins and work to be better people and countries.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  4. Matthew

    smokincol, did you read the article or did you just make a knee jerk reaction and post without thinking?
    Goshen College only first played the National anthem LAST YEAR, for the FIRST time in its 116 year history. So much for your assumption. The sudden turn in ideology was starting to play the national anthem in the first place. This is a turn back to tradition for this school, not a minority of liberal thought control socialists. Though what a completely unrelated group advocating government control of utilities has to do with Goshen college, I don't know. I guess that you don't know what socialists are as well as Mennonites or Anabaptists.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • citation jet man


      June 26, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  5. revinger

    don't you know jesus was a tatooted skin-head marine?

    June 26, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  6. Steve P

    It is indeed ironic that these Mennonite folks (who dare to publically state their view that church and state should be completely separate in this country) are met with distain while the religious right (who advocate what amounts to a theocracy) is embraced as being the only "true Americans".
    Let's stop the bullying, respect those who think and believe differently than us, and recognize that our concepts of reality may not be accurate or complete.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • citation jet man


      June 26, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  7. unowhoitsme

    American, love it or leave it. Take your cult with you.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      I agree with that statement if you are referring to the Christian Right and its political wing, the GOP. They'd fit right in Iran. Theocracy and no gay marriage. Iran is like a Republican paradise.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  8. Adam

    As a Marine I fully respect all the rights I gave blood, sweat an tears for. No one is asking anyone to change Gods or faiths. Our National Anthem is not about religon, or putting belief in a flag before your faith in God. It is paying your respect to the men and women who have sacrificied everything to allow people the rights to say im not going to sing the song or pledg the flag. Im not asking you to sing, im not asking you to pledg. Im asking you to stand silently and respect the sacrifice of your fellow man who died to give you thoes rights, or spend a year somewhere like N. Korea and tell them you dont want to stand for the anthem or have it played at your sporting event. I think people kind of forget how good we have it here in the good ol USA. We go where we want, live where we want, worship whom ever we want, because a long time ago a few folks got on a boat to go some where else to worship in their own way. That was the first brick in foundation of the greatest place on earth, The United States.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  9. revinger

    i suggest they drop the sports, too. it's just a form of glorified and idealized war.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Simon

      Not the way their sports teams play. They really don't put up much of an effort. I think it took their football team 4 years to win their first game.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • J.D.

      Goshen College doesn't have a football team. Get your facts straight.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Simon

      Not anymore. They did in the mid 1990s.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  10. Hellstrom

    Freedom is dying in this country anyway. There are too many people who think:

    "you are anti-american because you dont believe the same way I do".
    "you should not have the freedom to marry who you want".

    June 26, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  11. Patriot

    The National Anthem does not ask to be your God dingbat. You should move.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • Rob

      The MOST unpatriotic thing you can possibly do is tell those that you disagree with with to leave....

      June 26, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  12. thunderkick

    you can't tell people to leave america because their ideas are different than yours, that's un-american

    June 26, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  13. DavidInAustin

    Here's the article: "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."

    Here's smokincol's comment: "I will assume that the national anthem was OK in years past, to be played at college occasions. now explain why the sudden turn in ideology. you can't except that a minority of liberal thought control socialists have taken over your college..."

    Perhaps before you tell everyone what they're thinking, you might want to stick to the basics, smokincol: Learn to read.

    This article was very eye-opening. Thank you, Mr Schloneger.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:52 am |
    • freedommeansrespect

      Couldn't agree more! This was a very informative article. I started out believing one way and ended thinking another. Wouldn't it be great if everyone was open-minded and respected that America was founded on tolerance! Except maybe for the natives.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • tcp

      Correct. I would have liked for him to touch on why it was decided they WOULD play it last year...
      I'm a full on non-believer but these guys seem to have a real conviction and for that they should be praised. As long as they are not excluding anyone based on their beliefs...if they are, then they SUCK just like most other religions.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  14. John

    How about no federal funding also? I insist

    June 26, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • DavidInAustin

      I doubt that they receive Federal funding. If you're referring to Federal tax exemption, I don't see how their beliefs are inconsistent with that.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • Joe

      Its a christian university they dont get federal funding

      June 26, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  15. JoSteed

    Oh Gigi, that's why people come here to live the life that they dream of and want. I'm not sure what type of life you have, guessing it sucks, but envy is also an evil trait.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  16. Randall hurd

    Maybe they need to start their own country a pay for freedom with their religion. This country has already paid with the anthem at it's core. If you can't stand up if your able to defend this country, you don't belong here. Even the Amish people went to war for us.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • telloh

      The anthem started being worshiped in this century. You seem to think YOU are a bigger patriot than Civil War heroes and American Revolution heroes.

      Because you listen to a song at a baseball game.


      June 26, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  17. citation jet man


    June 26, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • wjs

      Citation, you are a complete idiot. Also, please turn off the caps lock. It is not polite to shout, but, then again, from your rants, I gather that good manners and tolerance are not among your strong points.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • Rob

      all caps just brings more attention to the fact you are a ret-ard

      June 26, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • Mighty7

      Certified Class A Moron. 100% pure American bred.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  18. Simon

    I grew up in this town and many of of my high school friends were of this denomination.

    It certainly isn't a fanatic cultist version of Christianity. It is a bit cliquish and slightly self-righteous, although I would argue that any branch of any belief system is that way. For the most part they are consistent on their belief system. While they are mostly unwilling to serve in the military they are willing to serve the country in other ways as long as it isn't in a violent way or in a manner that supports others in acts of violence. This shouldn't be mistaken for pacifism. Although they tend to voice a pacifist stance on the world I don't think I ever encounter a member of the faith that would not resort to self-defense.

    Their view on oaths, including the anthem, stems primarily from not wanting to put anything above their faith. However, if you talk to them in depth about it they tend have a more common sense reasoning behind it also. They don't really see a compulsory oath or song as being truly indicative of actual loyalty to a nation. Sort of an actions speak louder than words approach. They don't oppose others taking oaths they just don't think it means a whole lot compared to doing something to support one's beliefs.

    They are not trying to force their beliefs on others, although occasionally you will encounter a younger member of the faith that thinks that is their purpose in life. While they allow converts they tend to be skeptical of those not born into their faith. This is to the point they tend to play something called 'the Mennonite game' in which they trace their ancestry back as far as they can by memory where the 'winner' is the person who can get closest to the founding member of the faith...or find common relatives for everyone playing the game at the time (I am serious they think this is fun).

    Most people posting have a one dimensional view on them based on how the poster feels about patriotism. They are not paragons of goodness nor villains because of their stance on oaths. They are much more complex than that.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      That is a very fair and rational description you give in your comment and probably the most informative and useful comment of the 4 or 5 thousand here. It's refreshing to read something that looks as if it was written by an intelligent life form and not just an automatic knee-jerk response motivated by sentimentalism and anger at anything not familiar.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  19. Hellstrom

    Freedom means that you can not only sing the anthem with pride, but it also means you can choose to not sing it.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • Texan

      You're absolutey correct, Hellstrom.
      They have a choice; a choice protected by the sentry standing post, airmen flying over hostile countries, crew sailing waters dotted with pirates, and the many other service men and women who will go without so much as a thank you for protecting those rights.
      Yes, i believe in a higher power, and I'm willing to discuss that with anyone that wants. I'm not right or left in thinking...I just think. The school has a tradition of NOT saying the anthem and changed it last year. Good for them. Now a decision was made to go back to that tradition, that's their right. But the article does not ackowledge, not even a bit, that these rights are protected by the same government they wish to be separate from. That is the shame in what he/she wrote.
      So, for the author, THANK YOU – to ALL the Service men and women protecting our great country. GOD bless you and GOD Bless America.
      And, no, I am not in the service nor have I ever served. That, too is a choice this great country provides me.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  20. smokincol

    I will assume that the national anthem was OK in years past, to be played at college occasions. now explain why the sudden turn in ideology. you can't except that a minority of liberal thought control socialists have taken over your college, in the same way they have taken over so many other colleges, in this country. this is the most disingenuous piece of crap literature I've read in a long time. you could never present any logical reason why the playing of our national anthem has no merit, no matter what your agrument might be.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • wjs

      Read the article before you comment. The article clearly states that they voted last year to sing the national anthem, reversing a long standing policy to not do so. 'They have merely returned to their original policy ... As for your reasoning as to why they voted not to sing it, you are simply showing your ignorance about who the Mennonites are and what they have long believed.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • David

      Did you read the article?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • Andrew

      Dude, they're conservative

      June 26, 2011 at 7:36 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.