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. Concitentious

    There is no reason to try to get rid of the national anthem before sporting events. If you have a problem with the national anthem you have the freedom to voice that opinion. There is no need to make a big stink about it. I don't see why people feel the need to get rid of harmless traditions. The national anthem is a harmless tradition. If it offends you, don't partake in saying it. Nobody can force you to say it. There is just no need to try to make others do the same. I know that the national anthem brings up good feelings of pride and appreciation for those who choose to sing it or listen to it being sung. Due to the fact that it brings all those people happiness, I think that the harm (some people being offended) is justified.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Moro

      I guess, you must be for drugs then ... It makes people happy so what's the harm(?), right? LOL

      June 26, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  2. Ryan

    People are free to believe in imaginary beings but I think it's a form of child abuse to teach these religious delusions to children.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • dtboy

      You cannot disprove God any more than I can prove that there is. How about checking your arrogance and just be respectful?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Me

      Should be teach them the delusion that there is no God when the evidence of creation is all around?? Yeah you can believe the lie of the big bang and evolution just so you can live a sinful life and not have to worry about it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Night Watchman

      @dtboy – If you know you cannot prove the existence of your god, then why don't you try keeping your obvious lies out of our government? Lies cannot be proven. That's how we know they are lies. They are not based on true facts.
      Our true facts show your religion to be lies. We have already proven your god to be a lie. It's all over. You lost.
      Maybe you didn't get the memo. People who cannot prove what they say are dismissed as liars or nuts or mistaken.
      If you are sincere, then you are mistakenly sincere...because you're nuts...for believing a lie and passing it on as if it were true.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:32 am |
    • JoeyD

      But teaching them about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy is perfectly ok, right?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  3. Oing

    @Adam... Man you are so far off base youve been tagged out and everyones gone home, and your still running around the bases. First off todays Military is made up of Volunteers. I was in the Airforce for a while and Believe you me MOST of the people I was in with were NOT there because they felt some great need to fight for freedom. They were there for selfish reasons (Because it paid, they could get a skill, free healthcare, etc)... so I dont give too much of a hoot about someone "Serving" in todays military. Do they get killed? Sure... but so do people in LOTS of professions and so did a WHOOOOLE LOT of Iraqi and Afghani civilians! Why did those Civilians die? Because plain and Simple the USA was looking out for its own interests. OIL in Iraq, and Bin Laden in Afghanistan. No one gave a damn that countless Iraqi Men Women and Children would die for George Bush. Anyone who went to fight In Iraq or Afghanistan is a puppet of the Miltary Industrial Complex put in place to keep the Rich Rich... It has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Defending the USA. FWIW Im not going to sing the Anthem EVER again and I applaud the articles author for not doing so as well. As far as America being "The Greatest Country Ever" LOL!!! Depends upon what you mean by "Great"! This country has been around for how many? Couple Hundred years? And during that time it had a LOOONG history of Bigotry that still exists today... and after only a Couple Hundred Years its on the Verge of COLLAPSE! China on the otherhand has been around for How Long? 1000s of Years? How bout India? Thousands? They may not all be iPad owners with SUVs over there but again... what does "GREAT" mean? America was an interesting concept but its falling apart. Countries like China and India will be here LOOOONG After America has ceased to exist! IMO USA has ALREADY ceased to exist as a real Country... EVERYTHING here is for sale to the highest bidder... We are basically just a bunch of collective markets at this point. USA as a real country is DEAD. WAKE UP!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Night Watchman

      China's government is younger than our own. It started last century. They have not lasted thousands of years. Only the area has been populated by different peoples that long.
      The same goes for India. They have changed their government many times. Just because they continue to call it India does not mean they have the same system of government.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • Oing

      Governments come and go... but as a Country and a Culture... THOUSANDS of YEARS.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Oing

      Countries are NOT governments... you are missing the point. America has the same government structure but stopped being a real country IMO because of GREED.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Night Watchman

      I agree that this country is full of greed that destroys us as a country.
      China is very greedy and capitalist as they use totalitarianism to oppress the people.
      India is also very greedy and capitalist, but their democracy is different than ours.
      Many parts of their cultures have remained the same, yes.
      We have culture here, too. Much of it will likely remain like it does in other countries.
      I think that you just need to pick a group-identlty you feel comfortable with.
      That's what we often do to cope whether it makes sense or not.
      Tired of the status quo? Pick a group that is against it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Oing

      "Culture" You mean... Shopping Malls and Walmart? America HAD culture but as I mentioned it was SOLD to Walmart, Home Depot, the huge Shopping Malls... and so on. Now to get any REAL culture you have to goto specific places... like New Orleans/New York/etc.... American "Culture" is dying just as Fast as Walmart can build another Superstore.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Oing

      When America began to Die Culturally was when Coporations became SOLELY Interested in one thing: RAISING THE STOCK PRICE AT ANY EXPENSE. Once they began to take that posture our Nation was DOOMED culturally.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  4. DrMabuse

    Excuse me–it's the Star-Spangled Banner. I just got up.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  5. BMette

    This article demonstrates that human effort and intelligence can be wasted on irrelevant nonsense.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  6. TalkingOutLoad

    This article is bullocks. I went to church with this pastor when we were kids in Kidron, a large traditionally Mennonite community. They are as ass backwards as they sound. If someone from the church joins the military they are treated as though they are sinners and if that honorable person should happen to be killed in combat they say he got what he deserved. I've seen it happen and it's madness.
    The weird thing about their mode of thinking is they don't seem to realize that they are essentially biting the hand that protects them. The unique peculiarity of our country from all others is that we protect all of our own citizens even despite what they may say against their own country because they are protected by the very rights and freedoms we guarantee. Growing up in this 'tight knit' Mennonite community I never observed the reverence for the rights they enjoyed because they say they are already guaranteed these rights by God, that it isn't within man's power to guarantee these rights. In other words, though they may cry out for separation between church and state, they will refuse to acknowledge that without the state their rights won't be protected from those who would gleefully take them away. They would rather suffer torture or even death. They won't even raise a hand to protect themselves because they also preach passivity. With a doctrine like that I'm surprised they haven't been wiped out in other places of the world.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  7. DrMabuse

    I think these religious delusionists should read up on the story about why and how the Star-Banner was written and read the lyrics of the entire song. To me, it's not so much a glorification of war, but a glorification of the indomitable nature of the American spirit to protect its freedoms–including freedom to practice silly religions.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Joseph

      Go to a airport and see what being a true American gets you.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • Matt

      It can be argued that religion is a practice of tribalism. Tribalism is inherently exclusive and often leaves members wary of outsiders. The same can be said for unfounded patriotism. The dumb luck of being born in America, I think, doesn't give you the right to believe in some inherent exceptionalism. That being said, you're right to call religion delusional, but so is the belief that you are somehow better because you were born here and not there.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • DrMabuse

      Your inferring more than what I said. Your logic is erroneous.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  8. Nathan Jones

    I appreciate a stand for religious beliefs. As a Christian and a American I feel I can be both, and I do sing our national anthem. However, I highly respect your stand on this issue. Unlike liberals you are not forcing your viewpoint on others you are simply standing on your convictions. Amazingly your right to make your stand makes you uniquely American!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  9. ben

    amen, pastor.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  10. Katie

    I can respect this view. It's consistent. I know far too many 'christians' who confuse being christian with being patriotic and vice versa. One can be both, but being one does not necessarily mean you are automatically both.

    Freedom exists for everyone, but only a government can grant liberty. We often confuse those two things as well. Our government has granted us liberties but cannot grant liberties to those in other countries. When we go to war we do not "spread freedom" or "defend freedom." When Osama bin Laden's cohorts took down our twin towers in NYC, he was attacking capitalism in general and the US in particular. He succeeded in attacking our liberties because our government immediately, through the misnamed Patriot Act, took away some of our liberties. Shooting Iraqi and Afghani fighters doesn't defend those liberties and won't restore them.

    Praising a flag through a drinking song that glorifies this country's ability to rid oneself of tyranny through violence may be patriotic, but it certainly isn't Christian.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • revinger

      hitler was very patriotic.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • dtboy

      Government doesn't grant us liberty, it can only protect it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  11. citation jet man


    June 26, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Liberal Taliban? The most extreme example of an oxymoron. The Taliban are ultra conservative.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Nathan Jones


      June 26, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Tam

      Worried about how more and more I see Americans are turning into extreme. If you don't agree with someone, you tell him that he is liberal and want to ship them.

      For you, a non "believer" was created (say by mistake).... luckily you will give him a chance to live (and if it was in your hand, you will kill him FOR THE SAKE OF JESSUS and the Cross),

      June 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  12. petohhatp

    Is not all religion cultish?! Simply by the fact that in order to exist it must 'convenience' adherents of its primacy and 'truth'. Without this conviction (brainwashing) or convincing, religion cannot or could not exist. Followers are required to believe or have faith in something/someone that cannot be empirically validated! Which means it is a cult. Interesting how the writer speaks about 'man-made blood-soaked boarders', these same boarders are prevalent within all religious doctrine and practice.Religion is for all who are devoid of spirituality and must be 'taught' how to understand their innate higher consciousness. Spirituality is not doctrinal, it is intuitive and personal. Also read the 'original' Star Spangled Banner and not the current 'politically correct' version to understand the true ideals of what the author's intent was...

    June 26, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Me

      Some would say you are brain washed by Satan for not believing...

      June 26, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • Nathan Jones

      There is no human society that does not have a religion. Even the most backward tribe worships something. It is inherent in humans to worship. Many today deny that but they still worship….they may worship their car, a movie star, their sports team…but they still worship….they just don't recognize what they are doing.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • MoreChoices

      You're wrong, Nathan. Maybe you should lookup the definition of "worship" again. There are many people who do not worship anyone or anything.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • petohhatp

      The first thing "Christians" say when they feel opposition to their beliefs is that any opposition of their 'belief' is Satanic, when in fact under their own doctrine opposition to opposing views is Satanic!

      Watch what you say God IS listening...

      June 26, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  13. Ramon

    “many of whom felt like playing the anthem compromised the college’s Christian But I thought country was founded on Christians values? Do American’s know what they want? Or just being herded like goats

    June 26, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  14. dtboy

    Another group confused on what the role of government is. Government was create to protect what is of God. Rejecting is leaves you open to external persecution. Church and State are joined at the hip, regardless if you'd like to separate the two.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  15. citation jet man


    June 26, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  16. cpc65

    "But a Mennonite pastor who graduated from the school says there are good reasons for Christians to skip the anthem." – Granted, nobody should be forced to sing the anthem, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance for that matter, against their will, but let's not forget that fact that The United States was one of the first nations to have what's called freedom of religion, which is why the ancestors of many people like them came to this country in the first pace. Also, there is the separation of Church and State (at least in theory). I feel that these ideals at least deserve a little bit of due consideration.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  17. Allen

    I grew up in Goshen and witnessed the good qualities of Goshen College and was even a part of several of their activities and events. However this is beyond me. The Mennonite Church has done some things over the last 3 decades that has showed the world that they are making decisions that make no sense at all. If this is their belief then to not play the National Anthem at all, then I believe other schools who do play to show tribute to those who have giving their life and service to our country, need to drop Goshen College from their athletic schedule.

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

      Some refused to play them. They just arranged different games. They are not basing this on a disrespect for members of the armed services but on their faith.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  18. Reality

    Mennonites- too much inbreeding


    Next topic!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  19. truthwillsetyoufree

    Intriguing article. Thank you for sharing. I am most impressed that you know why you believe what you believe – a rarity in this day.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  20. mkirkpatrick

    Absurd. It's not about separation of church and state and not about where many of your faith live. We have Americans all over the world and MANY are fighting for freedom throughout the world. You should be ashamed of yourself for not honoring the country YOU live in and given the right to share your religious views. I find it disrespectful, an ingredient for insighting anarchy and creating doubt in the minds of generations to come.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • MeIAm

      Oh, shut up! He was given a right to follow his convictions, and you curse him for doing it. Ridiculous.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:12 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.