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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. rhumba

    Patriotism is not about singing songs and wearing three-cornered hats as one waves a flag. It's about obeying the laws of the land and being a good citizen. Everything else is superficial. A true patriot would never tell a good citizen that if they don't sing the anthem they should just go live in Iran and die.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • leciat

      Patriotism is about honoring the people who have fought and died to give you the freedom you enjoy

      June 26, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  2. Richard Aberdeen

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by some here. I stopped saluting the flag in high school parly because Rosa Parks, MLK and the Civil Rights movement of the time very clearly demonstrated we did not and still do not have liberty and justice for all or, even fore most in this country. And, partly because we were involved in a war in Vietnam that made no sense, not that any war we have fought has every made any sense to me, but Vietnam was in particular, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, an utterly pointless, useless and stupid war if there ever was one.

    It would be refreshing if the citizens of our nation actually stood for "liberty and justice for all", rather than stood up and recited a pledge that our nation obviously doesn't believe in, adhere to and/or follow.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  3. Oxymoron

    Awesome!!! Another article for the atheists to fellowship at and cram their gospel down people's throats..

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

      Awesome. Another article about right wing religious nut jobs who live under the cloak of freedom provided to them by this secular country, then decry the very secular nature that allows them to be live freely as cowards.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  4. Spock

    Another bunch of idiots.. They dishonor the Americans who shed their blood to support freedom for them to act stupidly. The board members and all those whom attend the Goshen College should be shunned by the community. They are a disgrace!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Dale56

      @Spock I am an agnostic and therefore not a confirmed believer. It seems to me that this group is practicing their own version of freedom of speech which in this case is no utterance of anything at all re: the anthem. Freedom of speech can also be not saying anything!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Night Watchman

      Illogical Spock is illogical.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  5. Ian

    This is just another example of how religion clouds judgment. If it were not for these "blood soaked borders" you would not be able to freely practice your backward cult of Christ, which is a compilation of folk tales created by a bunch of shepherds and fishermen over 2000 years ago.

    Christ said to give to Caesar what is Caesar's. In this case I say not just taxes, but respect.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  6. RIMike

    What an amazing fiction these folks have created. I suppose they have no problem driving on roads which were built with government funds, or being protected by government funded police and firemen. Yet they draw the line at playing a song which honors the fight for our freedom from Great Britain. Seems like a bunch of grandstanding to me.

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

      Just another group that wants all the rights and privileges of living in the US but none of the responsibilities.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  7. Gigi Aldred

    JR Yes you and your people need to look very carefully at the road you are travelling, as maybe not you but the majority of Americans support and believe the lies, propaganda and deceit that is being fed to your country to your people by Obama and Clinton who I will say again and again are the Axis of all Evil. Libya should not have been invaded by America who has caused the death of innocent babies, children, civilians, destruction of a once beautiful and prosperous country, assassination of the leaders family who gave the country their prosperity, health and education. It is the worst act of terrorism that has been inflicted on an innocent undeserving country. Why because Obama and Clinton are lying to the American people who trust them. IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE REAL FACTS I can direct you to the real truth. America is the AXIS OF ALL EVIL

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

      Shut up. You are a fool.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:41 am |
    • Bryan

      Libya has not been invaded. Libya has been interdicted under UN mandate. You are insane on a good day. Please go read a history book and then try to rectify what you're saying with reality. Start with a biography of moammar gadhafi.

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

      I was waiting for someone to find a way to throw President Obama under the bus. Seems line that is the normal thing to do these days, so typical.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  8. Balto

    You also realize that your loony tune little religious cult would have been wiped out by the Brits if they had had their way in the New World right? You realize the War of Independence was fought, among other reasons, for religious freedom? Your college needs to teach you some history, you redneck tool.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  9. The Veteran

    Listen folks, as Christians, we cannot pledge our allegiance to a piece of cloth, but singing the star spangeled banner is not so bad, even though pride in a flag is not a good thing. If we must have pride, it must be in our love for God and humanity.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Rui

      "as Christians, we cannot pledge our allegiance to a piece of cloth"
      Its not just a piece of cloth its the hand that feeds you and clothes you, without that hand you could not worship, never forget that.
      (In Hoc Signo Vinces) Never forget this either.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Night Watchman

      You make it sound like the Hand of Saruman. You talk like this is the Fatherland. The Reich. It's just a flag, not a hand.
      The flag is not the country. The government is not a hand. The issue is the First Amendment, not whether someone needs food stamps or not or whether that college is not paying taxes.
      Some guys don't want to play a song. That's their right regardless of whether they paid taxes, served in the military, or washed their testicles with rocks. They don't have to listen to the song and they don't have to sing it. They are free Americans.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  10. tim43

    This author and every Mennonite who agrees should visit Arlington National Cemetary and fall to their knees not in prayer but in tears of apology to those men and women who sacrificed everything that these folks could show such disrespect.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  11. Tx Vogler

    If they really believe in separation of State and church they cannot accept nor play sports against any who accept perks from the State. This includes operational funds and tax breaks. If they really follow the teachings of Christ then they should pay taxes. After all, Christ said render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser's and unto God what is God's. Failure to do so is hypocracy

    June 26, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Mrs John Green

      We do pay taxes. We render unto Caesar

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      As long as you seem inclined to take everything literally perhaps you should actually render unto Caesar. And if he is dead (and he is) try Little Caesar. I understand their extra cheese pizza is actually quite tasty...

      June 26, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  12. Rui

    "Anabaptists had the distinct notoriety of being tortured and killed by both Catholics* and Protestants"
    Obviously we didn't finish the job, this group is like the runt of the litter, frail, weak minded and disillusioned.
    Not standing for the national anthem of one's own country is quite sad, do you think Jesus would not stand or bow for his nations anthem, or for the song of his village? of course he would.
    Grow up and act like men.

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

      IIts called FREEDOM OF RELIGION you ASS WIPE

      June 26, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • ZECKAD

      I'm NOT a Mennonite but I do know a little of the life of Jesus. Your comment that Jesus would stand and recite an anthem of his country or village is pure speculation. If you know the Bible then you'd know that Jesus fled when he found out that the people were trying to make him king, he once said that his kingdom was no part of this world, and finally during his 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil, he was offered by the devil all the kingdoms, or governments if he'd do an act of worship towards him, yet he refused. All being said, Jesus respected the country in which he lived, case in point when it came to paying taxes, return to Caesar what is Caesars, but didn't involve himself into the politics of his day. This religious group has the right to not pledge an allegiance to any man made idol just as we all do. Would you recite a Taliban anthem?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      "Obviously we didn't finish the job, this group is like the runt of the litter, frail, weak minded and disillusioned." So burning or drowning the frail and weak minded is your idea of religion? So they are really just 10 suggestions then? Nice.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • WhatWouldMaudeDo

      LOL Are you serious? The idea that Jesus would be standing and singing the pledge of allegiance is absurd. Read the sections of the bible which quote Jesus directly. And read it for yourself, not with some preacher or priest telling you what it means. I don't even identify as a Christian, but wow I find myself far more knowledgeable about it than most of the people claiming to be Christians. And I actually agree with what Jesus taught. It's all his followers and their churches and interpretations that have turned the focus so far from what he taught that I doubt he would even step foot in most "Christian" churches these days. They seem to be more like the Pharisees that he spoke of. When the bible speaks of the "anti-christ", maybe they are referring to the contemporary Christian religion and the governments it is in league with. That makes more sense some mythological horned man coming out of the ground. The horned man is just a metaphor. He's already here and his name is Christianity. And no, I don't put all Christians in that category, but I've seen too many bad ones to believe most of what is called Christian these days is anything remotely related to Jesus. They've become that which they claim to be against. Same can be said of the patriots who talk about freedom yet want to force their creeds on those whose conscience prevents them from doing so. Hypocrites!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  13. paldog

    This piece is an interesting insight into a religion that most know very little about. I thank you for that. To each their own. I am an atheist, however you would not know that unless I told you. I behave in a "Christian"-like fashion, I just don't happen to believe in god. I, too, believe in separation of church and state, but for obviously different reasons. I don't want someone's 'one god' views forced on me. I do believe that we, evey American, does owe respect and allegience to the country we call home. To the Mormons who won't pledge, won't sing, or won't allow the National Anthem to be played, I have a few questions. Do you drive on US highways? Do you accept Medicare, Medicade, Social Security? Do you appreciate the freedom to believe in the religion of your choice? Do you enjoy the right to speak your mind? If the answer to any of these are Yes, then perhaps you should acknowlege your nation out of respect, even if it is not the primary guiding force in your life.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  14. clarke99

    How about saying the pledge instead, "One Nation under God", that covers who comes first.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  15. gommygoomy

    Just another Liberal, who thinks that HE is the Superior Mind, and that anyone who disagrees with HIM, is surely an Idiot.
    Let's see. I think we already KNOW what his Political Affiliations are. He's the typical Liberal Elitist. Hence, this NON-STORY, from this NON-NEWS ORGANIZATION.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • Max

      Liberal? Did you even RTFA?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Ian

      He definitely did not read the article. The far right never does, they just like to be heard. Ironically the author is a sort of a mega-Christian, just like Gommy Gommy. They are brothers-in-arms really.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • rafael

      Perfect irony. Thanks.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      What an amazingly insightful comment. What wit. What charm. Sparkling! Delightful!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Paul

      You're really failing to use any critical thinking skills here. How many fringe-fundamentalist-Christian liberals do you know? Try reading at least the first few words of an article before you use it to criticize the news site it appears on.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      Just another CONSERVATIVE, who thinks that HE is the Superior Mind, and that anyone who disagrees with HIM, is surely an Idiot. Let's see. I think we already KNOW what his Political Affiliations are. He's the typical CONSERVATIVE. hehe

      June 26, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  16. VirginiaChristian

    What a self-righteous chest thumper. If anything, this reinforced why most Mennonites that I've met over the years come across as full of themselves and have lost sight of what really matters about God. It smells like religious snobbery. Get over yourself.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  17. lho

    WHY DON'T ALL THESE INGRATES WHO DON'T LOVE THIS COUNTRY JUST PACK AND LEAVE.

    I SWEAR THAT I WOULD CONTRIBUTE TO THAT MISSION A LOT MORE THAN TO THE RED CROSS!

    JUST GO! YOU, THE UNHAPPY MUSLIMS WHO WANT TO BUILD MOSQUES ON GROUND ZERO, THE MALCONTENTS WHO WANT TO BURN THE FLAG.

    POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS KILLING US. WE SHOULD RETURN THE FAVOR.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Ian

      You caps key is stuck.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • drk

      Iho, you should probably ship yourself right out of US as well. Your comments were un-American. As for this story and this pastor, just because "your" ancestors didn't agree with others , it does not mean you don't belong to a nation, country. Under a cloak of religion and religious belief, you have managed to justify your survival thru centuries.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • shadetree

      True believers in the American way of life know that you should not be forced to pledge your allegiance to a government. And we also have the right to practice or not practice a religeon. Most religeons have wierd beliefs. I am glad to be an A
      merican that respects the beliefs of others that do not have the same beliefs as me. If we all thought like Iho we should have never fought for independence from the Brits.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Mighty7

      I would put you in a box and ship you the Bolivia just for that, you simpleton dumb yokel.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Jim C.

      The mosque was not "at" Ground Zero, it was in the neighborhood, just like there are strip clubs in that neighborhood and many other buildings. Do you read much?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  18. jerome rackiewicz

    In my little corner of the catholic world God and country go hand and hand that is how I was brought up. Well this is one religion I have no respect for and I have respect for all religions until beliefs like this are said. they should all move to an island and stay out of my life. God and country works together if you love one you should love the other. I wish all you Mennonites would leave my country and go be Gods children some where else. Idiots.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • rafael

      "That is how I was brought up." That describes why 95% of us believe what we do. Can't you see the irony in your own words? He is no different from you.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Mighty7

      American Catholics like you are an embarrassment for the rest of us.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  19. nbcbill

    As a catholic, I think this is pure and unmitigated BS. Jesus also said give unto Cesar that which is Cesar’s, and give unto God that which is God’s. He not only advocated separation of church and state, he recognized that the state had a purpose in this physical realm, and that we should honor it. So like the church, Cesar, the state, has its customs and traditions, and we Christians citizens not only honor it without question, we fight for it when necessary.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Marshall

      I most heartedly agree with you. Although I believe strongly in separation of church and state, I as a Christian who strongly believes in Jesus Christ as my personal savior, have undivided loyalty to the state of Texas and to my country, the United States of America and yes...I sing the national anthem and take the pledge of alliance to my country with pride and honor.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • Young

      As a Korean who understands the Korean War, i could not thank enough who fought for the war. I cannot image the people in North Korea and am glad i am not there. Peace does not come free. Some people never realize until they lose the peace.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • Night Watchman

      A Catholic? Then when are you going to pay taxes like every other business? Hypocrite.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      To "honor without question" is not the purpose of a democracy. Our state does not require blind allegiance, merely allegiance.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  20. Andrew

    I think the American national anthem is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and I'm not even an American. I'm Brazilian and every time I hear it, i sing along because I believe in all it stands for. I believe in all america stands for. In good and bad times. This religious article is the epitome of idiocy. They're separate from government so no singing the national anthem. But they can intervene and try and change laws they don't like; say gay marriage, drug legalization, medical pot, war, abortion, etc. In my view they should sing the national anthem every time for a country that gives them the right to be complete lunatics.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:29 am |
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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.

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