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. Mike

    Westboro Baptist Church would be proud!

    June 26, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  2. Rui

    Atheists are probably the worst form of human beings, not having a morale compass at all and usually the criteria for becoming an atheist is to have a traumatic experience growing up.
    Atheists are usually confused about something, like, about family or who they love or probably and most likely about what gender they are.
    There is a special circle in hell for you 🙂 lol ,

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

      If you follow the moral compass of religion it flies you into buildings.

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

      Nah...Atheist just don't need to profess belief in some bronze age sky deity...or the threat of 'hellfire and brimstone' to make them behave like decent human beings...it's innate to them.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Night Watchman

      It was my strong moral values that led me out of the darkness of religion. Religion doesn't give you morals – it fucks them up. You can't trust religion to make sense. How can you be moral using guidelines that make no sense?
      Most religious people I have met are confused, delusional, and / or schizophrenic about their religious beliefs and resultant moral confusion. They are the most likely to misinterpret everything around them. They are delusional and cannot usually help it.
      There are no moral absolutes in this universe or existence. None.
      All we have is moral relativism.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Dr.Nemo

      The number of wars begun in the name of religion belie your point.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • minkakross

      wow that was offensive and spoken from a very ignorant position with regard to not only atheists but philosophy and religion in general. I don't know where you got your "atheists expertise" but it sounds an awful lot like pulling it out of your butt.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  3. believer

    it is interesting to read that their ancestors desired separation of church and state to keep the state (government) out of the church, not the church out of the government. Today, you can't say the word "Jesus" at a public school without causing a contoversy. The freedom of speech seems to apply to everyone but us Christians.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Night Watchman

      You are mistaken. You have freedom of speech. You do not have the right to force your beliefs on others, nor do you have the right to use our government to further your religious agenda.
      You also have the freedom to shut the hell up. I sure wish you would.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  4. Gigi Aldred

    Ian and Brian You are the idiots who need to do some research as your are the sick uniformed Americans who are making your country one of the most despised nations on this earth. It is the misinformed idiots like you that Obama and Hillary love and can depend on

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

      Yeah, just because the popularity of the U.S. is way higher since Bush left means nothing.... Don't let facts get in the way of tirades.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  5. rafael

    Good lord who cares. Just another wacky belief system with make believe as its first principles.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  6. ELH

    Sad, pathetic little people. If our National Anthem pains you so much then perhaps you would all like to emigrate to Saudi Arabia. They don't allow the singing of that song.

    You live in one of the few countries on earth where you are free to behave as the ingrates that you are. Shame upon you. I have never demeaned any religious sect, but your ungrateful and decidedly un-Christian actions make your group a cult and no longer worthy of my respect.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • Night Watchman

      As if anyone could ever be worthy of your wonderful respect. yeah.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • rafael

      Let me guess, you're a Christian fruitcake of some other stripe.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  7. leciat

    to not honor the country and the blood its citizens shed to give you the freedom to practice your religion openly and freely is the height of stupidity

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

      Yes, but don't they have the freedom to do that? Or are you saying they don't?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  8. Kosmichitchhiker

    So what I get out of this article they want all the religious freedoms associated with this GREAT Country but not have to be inconvenienced but giving it the proper respect and recognition that it is due, Pathetic.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  9. Oing

    While we're on the subject... I am SICK AND TIRED of everytime someone doesnt want to do something like salute a flag, or sing and "National Anthem" some crazy Military person will jump up and say, "WHAAT??? You know people DIED so you could be free???" First of all this country hasnt had a REAL war since WWII. The Real "War" in IRAQ was over two weeks after it started! Everything since then has been mop up operations and the Leaders being to chicken to pull out because If they do, and we get Attacked on the Homeland in a major way... the Party that is NOT in charge at the time will blame the other party! No Way Bush was going to pull the troops out! Not when he could pass the buck and say, "See when we did it my way we were SAFE!" Complete NONSENSE! So rather than just accept that we WILL be attacked again... The powers that be keep passing the "End to the War" to someone else. So IMO To HELL with todays so called "Soldier" when youall fight a REAL WAR maybe you will earn respect as a group.

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

      So get off your duff, pick up your rifle and defend your right to say what you want instead of sniveling and whining and allowing others to do the hard work for you.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • leciat

      right oing, all the wars that you have decided are senseless are the fault of the solider who is upholding his sworn duty to obey the commands of his commander in chief. and since we have had senseless wars then we should not honor the soldiers of the revolutionary war, the civil war and WW11

      June 26, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • DeMark

      I respect your view because as a leader of Marines we and my fellow service members understand that not all will agree or respect what we do. To say that there has not been a real war since WWII is once again your opinion. I will say this please tell that to our service members who have paid with their lives... tell their families and children that they didn't die in a real war. Tell that to my service members whim leave their families behind for months and years at a time. Tell that to those who miss the births of their kids to those of us who make little to nothing to fight and depend the rights of some who will only say oh its not a real war. Please define that and if you are a real man I have a great test for you please tell a company of Marines that we didn't fight in a real war... I'm sure your opinion will change in less than one min.

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

      What War did you fight in big shot? And what does someone expressing their right to religious freedom have anything to do with OIF or OEF? And what is your definition of war? I'm sure the tens of thousands that have died in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan, as well as their families and friends wouldn't take offense to this article, but certainly would be heartbroken to read your comment.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Name*Tank

      @Oing, I MIGHT agree with SOME of what you said. But regardless of what war or skirmish is being fought, todays military personnel signed up to sacrifice whatever they have in defense of this nation. They dont make the decision on WHAT a war is and what it ain't. Some of Those "fake" soldiers that you're referring to died REAL deaths at the hands of REAL enemies regardless of how you feel bout it. Im in the military and I dont think that everyone should tell me thank you when I'm in uniform in the airport on my way home from a deployment. I dont think that everyone should stand for the national anthem if they dont wanna. But what I do think is ridiculous is you calling us fake. I do what I do knowing damn well that when I leave and say "see you when I get back", that I'm going to a place where certain factions intend to make a liar outta that statement. You chose not to serve the country via military. Fine. Doesn't make me more patriotic or you any less. Bottom line, your fake soldier statement is false, and one of the most ignorant things I've heard in my life. With all due respect of course.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Night Watchman

      @Oing – If you're sick and tired, why don't you get some rest, drink plenty of liquids, and see if you can get over yourself?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  10. j

    Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow justice by the neck
    BILL LUEDERS | Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
    Sources say authorities are looking into altercation in Supreme Court chambers.

    Read more: http://host.madison.com/ct/#ixzz1QNjV3800

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

      If you want to inform CNN of something, they have an email address. But thanks anyway.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:30 am |
  11. MikeCT

    I have far more admiration for someone who follows his religious beliefs, even if I don't agree with them, that so many who profess to be Christian, yet are filled with bigotry and hate.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  12. Tom

    move to another country stupid people

    June 26, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Joe

      What are you going to do Tom? Persecute them for their religious freedoms?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  13. Qev

    They don't sound so bad. And, as long as they pay taxes for the use of the infrastructure and services that are integral to the host nation (a direct result of that "Rocket's Red Glare..."), in which they 'choose' to live, then I have no problem with these good folks living as separate and holistically as they want.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • rafael

      Now that sounds like a better encapsulation of American freedom than "go live in another country stupid people."

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  14. derek

    I guess it would surprise this pastor to learn that the stories of jesus being anything more than an ordinary guy in sandals is just a man-made concoction.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  15. Dennis

    Blasphemy is a victimless crime.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  16. Mark

    The US national anthem is the most abused and over used anthem in the world. City plays against City B = National Anthem. It should be played for international games only. This why Americans really do not understand national pride otherwise this country would not be in such bad shape.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Dennis

      Yeah, why should we remind ourselves on what unites us just before competing with each other.

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

      Wow! You are totally screwed up!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  17. Gigi Aldred

    America is the Axis of all Evil. Your day will come and deservedly so. Clinton and Obama are the lowest evil form of life that ever walked this earth. I am not sure what their goal is but I guarantee it is not about preserving the American Dream. They are the Axis of all evil. Two mentally disturbed and evil people who are not carrying out the elections promises they made to Americans who voted for them.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Dennis

      I can't wait to vote for President Obama again.

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

      You need to get some real information, and should not make statements such as this without facts. Your type of thinking is the real "Axis of Evil".

      June 26, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Rupert

      They're the mentally disturbed ones?? You should raise a mirror to yourself Gigi

      June 26, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  18. ShamsACI

    I just wonder to hear such words

    June 26, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  19. 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 7:43 am |
  20. ShamsACI

    I just wonder

    June 26, 2011 at 7:43 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.