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. thejackylofAz

    @MrKirkPatrick- Please tell me, which one of our braves Americans are fighting for my, or in that fact, American freedomes? Lets see, Iraq, did they ever do anything to America? Nope, they wanted to kill Bush Sr. but pretty much all talk. So, Bush Jr. went in a killed Sadam. We are still there, what freedom are we protecting of ours in that country, besides freedom of the all mighty oil? Hmm..cannot think of one.
    Afghanistan- hmm, do we really need to go into this one? What did they do to us again? I know our government claimed that Afghanistan was the root of the hijackers. Now we know that Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian born, Saudi finance terrisot was the ring leader. Okay, Afghan had "training" camps in there boarders, so, we drop a few bomb on the camps game over.
    Pakistan- Limited military action. Thats where we found bin Laden (a CIA financed terrorist) and killed him. So, Pakistan should of orginally been invaded, sine thats where he was most likely at the whole time.
    Lybia- Hmmm, dunno what exactly this little country has ever done to us. Only about 1% of our oil comes from this country, so, our government must think we need them to give us 2% of our oil?
    So, in the "4" major military operations we have going on right now, only one is sort of valid, Pakistan, and that is a limited military action with no known ground forces within the boarders
    So again, what freedoms are they fighting for?

    The actual last war we ever fought to protect our freedoms was that of WWII....

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

      exactly, the freedon we allegedly are fighting for is already gone anyhow. Face the facts, folks. WE are the true terrorist organization in the world. WE destabilize governments, conduct assasinations and kidnap people. WE have the largest number of "prisoners" domestically in the world. WE bomb innocent civiiians and support dictatorships and tyrany around the world.

      We just have a great PR department

      June 26, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • MoreChoices

      Thank you! I've been saying this for years.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Night Watchman

      When we fight for our freedoms these days we are usually fighting against our own government.
      Bribes are the biggest threat to our freedoms as they have always been, along with religious nuts who cannot understand simple legal concepts like the rule of law.
      We are losing our freedoms. Sometimes we win a tiny bit, but the flow is backwards into the dark ages.
      These guys don't want to sing or listen to music. That's okay. They have that right.
      Overblown patriotism is all over the place here. Put it in perspective and I think we'll get past this article just fine.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  2. Epinnoia

    I remember a story from the book of Daniel about some guys being threatened with being thrown into a hot oven if they didn't worship the King's idol. They chose the oven, and were not burned by the fire. Mythological or not, it seems pertinent.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  3. Janet

    To each their own. Personally I always am brought to tears when I hear our anthem. When I was stationed overseas when I heard our song chills would run up and down my spine because it meant so much for me then being far from home as a soldier serving her country. I will always cherish this song.

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

      And no one is trying to take that away from you. Freedom is him being to choose what he feels is right and you being able to choose what you feel is right. As long as no one is trying to shove their beliefs down the throats of others there's no problem.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  4. lux et lex

    Good. I don't sing the national anthem nor do I recite the pledge. I have more issue with the latter than the former. Until our country stands up and "liberty and justice for all" means what it says, I will continue not to say it.

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

      You do not know what the true meaning is anyway. Not surprising after your post!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • lux et lex

      You want to bet on that Allen? I'm an attorney, I see the injustices of our country. I have seen the inequality and lack of liberty people here in America face every day. We don't stand up to this pledge, and I'm not going to just rattle something off that has no meaning. I'm going to work towards making it have meaning. Perhaps one day when these things are righted I'll start saying it again, and when that happens, I'll really mean it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • Allen

      I do respect you and your thoughts. However, if I pour myself out everyday to help those who are suffering and hurting, caring for those as I was cared for. Then I have a desire to know and God's Word says to " Pour out ourselves out as a living sacrifice" then by God's incredible blessings I can sing the National Anthem and say the Pledge knowing I did my best in a small way! Giving is what made our country great. Greatness is still around us!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • lux et lex

      You can stop with the god stuff. I think the pledge should be as it was pre-Red Scare with no mention of god. We are a secular nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Allen

      Secular in the mind of fool! Congrats!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  5. God All Powerful

    Hello God Here,

    No need to worry your puny mortal head over anything. All the is is of me, all that was is of me, all that is done is done of me, all that will be done will be done of me. So sit back and enjoy or hate the ride (depending on what I am doing to YOU) for I am God and I do, rule, cause, allow and make everything happen.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  6. Salsaman561

    I find it ironic that CNN has this article about a college that has no more than 25 students but makes it out to be the size of Texas. We haven't heard about this college, EVER, and now you wantt us to believe they deserve some kind of recognition. Please print something that is worth reading. All this, for a school that is looking for more money.

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

      It is a small school but please check your facts. Enrollment is more like 900. Exaggeration in any direction to make one's point actually weakens their point when the truth is known.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  7. Balto

    You realize the nascent US was under attack by the British and was defending itself when the song was penned, right? Eh. I'm sure this is lost on you, you mouth-breathing slackjawed fool.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  8. Byrd

    For the unfortunate people in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "rocket's red glare" and "the bombs bursting in air" still provides all the proof they need that our flag is still there. America needs to find a new national business. The one we're in now is killing everybody.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • Greg

      Try writing your own material

      June 26, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  9. jim

    I never understood what the national anthem has to do with a local sporting event. Are we that insecure as a nation that we have to reinforce our commitment before a baseball game?

    June 26, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Allen

      I am blessed to hear the National Anthem every day on the Military Base here as well as graduation, Athletic Events, at my church on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day, at a NASCAR Race, at a funeral for a fallen hero and other events. It is a song that last 1 minute and 36 seconds and every time I hear it, it makes me proud to be a Christian American. Grow up America!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  10. lho

    The National Anthem lyrics include "LAND OF THE FREE"....but not "HOME OF THE MORONS"
    Therefore, You will have to leave! I really don't understand you MORONNITES.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Why if you tout that the nation is the "land of the free" do you oppose freedom of expression?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Allen

      So true! In Goshen growing up you were either a Goshenite or a Mennonite! You phrase is even better!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      The whole point of freedom is that we have the right to choose things like repeating creeds and such without feeling bullied or threatened into what the majority deems right. What's the point of people just blindly mouthing words so as not to offend hyper-patriots? It loses its meaning and all the fighting for freedom people claim then becomes in vain because there is no freedom. Can't people live in peace side by side and have different ideas as to how they live in accordance with their beliefs? And how are they hurting anyone anyway. It's not like they are telling other people what to do. They're making a choice for themselves.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  11. Lori

    All I can say is what country do you live in and what freedoms are givin to you by the soldiers that are fighting for you to keep doing this crap...They want to take God out of everything and now they don't even want to sing the National Anthem.....Makes me very sad....do they not remember what this Country was founded on? Whats so wrong about the National Anthem? Get a clue goodness!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      The foundation of the US was that the power of the government resides in the people. This means that the nation belongs to the citizens, the citizens do not belong to the nation.

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

      If you think Mennonites are trying to "take God out of everything" then you haven't read the article and don't know bupkis about Mennonites.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  12. jma58

    Religion will be the downfall for this planet. People are so steeped in mythology they are willing to retard civilization..

    June 26, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Brian

      Yup...proof is in the dark ages....

      June 26, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  13. TRH

    "True freedom is given by God"....so I take it that you believe that God helped found the United States? A shining beacon on the hill (Ronald Reagan)...........another silly religion...and a sillier former president.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  14. Really!?!?

    This is out of hand. I am sure that this school, like most colleges, is financially supported by the AMERICAN tax payer. The least you can do as a result is pay some respect and sing the anthem. What is next? Will it be against your religion to fly OUR flag???

    June 26, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  15. paul

    Another religious nitwit throwing his stupidity at others. He's got no clue what religion is. He's got no clue what God is or who Jesus is. Just stupid dogma and rituals. But he's against that which allows him the reason for his stupidity.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • montyhalll

      So who is God to you Paul? I don't necessarilly agree with the choice that Goshen took, but I find Mark's article VERY well, written, very well stated. He's not asking anyone to do anything, he's only providing his opinion or more correctly: his truth. It's his choice to follow Jesus and he's providing an understnading of how his faith sees it and why they made the decision they did. He's not selling anything to anyone.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  16. Doug

    Funny how these freedoms bring us the weirdos that you think you are protecting us from.. Wow.. This is one freedom we need to rethink actually isn't it ?

    June 26, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      So what are you saying then – that we shouldn't have freedom to choose what we say or think? If that's the case, then what's the point of have the pledge or national anthem in the first place or go and fight for freedom. If we don't want freedom then all those things seem pretty hypocritical. You can't say you are for freedom AND say that people shouldn't have a choice. That's not freedom.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  17. Oing

    I dont Sing the Anthem, Dont Pledge to or Salute the Flag... Those are DUMB rituals that should be done away with.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Franklin


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

      So Oing what do you believe in?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Saquino01

      I bet you are one of the people who expects the gov. to take care of you, provide free health care, housing, education. Bet you aren't proud to be an American either.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  18. J B I

    I found this somewhat confusing. The National Anthem is non-religious. I do understand some level of opposition to the belief that freedom should come at the cost of war.

    I tend to think of the National Anthem as a story of our past, our history. It makes no sense to try to rewrite that history. The United States is bathed in blood, whether for good or evil. We started with a bloody revolution, protected ourselves and expanded with war, aided in the liberation of Europe from a sick dictator with our own weapons, retaliated from multiple attacks with force greater than what hit us first and more. Some of these actions are justified and some are not. To forget either type is to forget what we have come from.

    In the end no one should ever be forced or feel that they are forced to sing an anthem or say a pledge. If that is the choice of this school then I will try to respect it. Of all the things that are happening in this country this choice hurts no one, does not advocate violence or hatred and seems to be playing out respectfully and with thought.

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


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

      I don't mind if you stop singing due to a throat infection, or a reasonable reason. Not for some delusional, idiotic sense or faith, meanwhile you take in government money to run your religious college, you pay no taxes, and you expect people to find it charming. Imagine if they were Muslim.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • J B I

      I am imagining if they were Muslim. . . hmmm, my reaction is the same. What was supposed to change?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Night Watchman

      It's clear you haven't read all the lyrics to the Anthem. It's religious mostly at the end. We only sing the first stanza and that's what everyone is used to thinking about.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  19. Cindy

    I am a clergy person in another denomination and I applaud the position taken by Goshen College. Thanks for your courageous witness.

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

      There are much better ways to courageously witness to your faith than remove the national anthem before a sporting event.

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

      How much money does the US give them yearly?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  20. There are no gods

    Faith is defined as – a firm belief in something for which there is no proof. That is what the author of this piece stands for, but will not stand for the national anthem. Ah religies, standing for nonsense since time began itself. There are no gods!

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

      Simply ignorant.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • wing nut

      I've never seen you. Therefore, you must not exist.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
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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.