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.
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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.
The tar Spangled Banner was written to commemorate the triumph of the U.S. over the British during the Battle of Baltimore Harbor. Francis Scott Key composed it after seeing OUR flag still flying over Ft. McHenry following an intense battle.Our national anthemt is testimony to God's protection over us. I agree, God is the giver of freedom. However, many countries have taken away that right from its citizens. Every time our anthem is sung, we honor God who gave us the freedom and the brave men and women of our military who have sacrificed their lives so that we may retain it.
Amen. (To Weezer's well put comment.)
"O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great dispair. Yea, admit this kind and decent woman into thy arms of thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he lay us upon the band of the Mennonites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give her a break."
This is typical of people that accept the support and money to live, pray and work in a free country, yet they spit in the face of the soldiers that died to allow them the freedom....Playing the National Anthem is OUR way of remembering the troops and showing respect and thanks....yet these ungrateful selfish anti-Americans continue to suck off the tete of America!
First, it's "teet," and second, aren't there other ways of showing support for the country besides playing a flipping song? Is that what you do, sit around playing the national anthem in your car or in your house "supporting" the troops? You make no sense.
dennis: showing respect to troops? To give people the illusion war is a good thing? How many homeless veterans are there? Has anyone ever taken care of them? No! Some christian display of love ? Jesus would and never will bless any violence against anyone.....
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.
There are more ways to serve one's country than military service and those who serve in all capacities advance the rights of all citizens, even the right to not pledge allegiance to a flag (please note that the pledge is to the flag first, and then the country which makes little sense) or play the anthem. The Mennonites serve according to their beliefs in numerous and profound ways. Pay attention to what people, individually and in groups, do rather than what they say.
Susanne, you are awful smarmy this morning please continue to enlighten us by telling us what orphanage you work in, or Veterans home, or homeless shelter, or shelter for abused women. And the gentleman name Jesus, he told you how he thinks? Or you translated on how "he must think". Keep drinking that latte looking over San Francisco Bay, because we will protect you to when the time comes.
While I don't condone the views of the article's author, the idiot commenters here should remember the simple founding principle of our country, and the reason it came into being in the first place – FREEDOM FROM RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION. this is not some 'liberal' view, but the reason the country has come into being.
Be tolerant, and show respect – that goes BOTH WAYS (or I'll persecute anyone who's not like me 🙂 )
religious freedom? I bet you stop religious freedom if a muslim wants to to build his church on a street right?
OK everbody, let's sing verse 2 together. What? You don't know verse 2 of the national anthem? Never heard it you say? You sure seem anxious to defend something you obviously know nothing about, and to criticize things you know nothing about. Just for kicks look up verse 4 and let's all insist we sing that verse at the next super bowl!
Well I guess if people don't know the second verse, then we shouldn't have a problem with people who openly refuse to play it. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
Not sure your point – but all the verses of this song are of "history." They reflect a very personal observation from the poet (Francis Scott Key) to describe the aftermath an event in history – and the thoughts surrounding an American victory and an American flag – both a very important symbol to this country throughout history. While every individual and every group has a right to decide if they prefer one song over another to represent the country they are inhabitants of – personally, this group's decision to make a change to history is no different than dishonoring the purpose of this historic song. Believers support their country, its laws, and those things that God has allowed in terms of patriotism. To pledge allegiance to this flag, or to sing this National Anthem is an American statement of allegiance to the country God allowed you to be a part of. Personally and from a "military" perspective – it is shameful that this group would speak out against such a symbolic and historic poem/song. They take the true meaning of their Christian message and muddy it up a little. My opinion.
My earlier comment, You say, is subject to your moderation.....Are You God?
I must say I applaud CNN for having this "Belief" section. It displays just how silly, delusional, and dangerous ALL religion is and has been. Those of us who have reached the age of reason, who can actually think, study history, and read (beyond the bible, koran, etc.) have known this all along.
You should read a little about Mennonites before you make such a comparison. There are few Christian groups on the planet who do more for the third world and for their fellow human beings than Mennos. Putting them in anything like the same category as Westboro is unbelievably ignorant (yes, I come from Mennonite stock, and though I'm not a practicing Christian, I have massive admiration for people who actually follow the good messages of the Bible, rather than purely the negative, as many are wont to do).
I believe that your church is being selective as to why is not singing the Nathional Anthem. Jesus himself said give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Your church should be praying to end corruption in this country which is why we go to wars in the first place.
I believe in Jesus and that God will take care of everything too. But go and create your own religious country somewhere else. If you are not proud to be an american then you don't have to be here. This nation was created under god and would not exist if it was not for all those brave souls who fought for it. You live in a dream world and have not one clue about the real world. God help all the poor mislead people who listen to your ideas.
Bela : Fought for this nation: Yeah right Jesus stands for peace not war...Killing is a sin for any reason. God does not stand for any single nation, and Under God was added in the 1950's....people condem abortion but go and kill people in wars...jesus is weeping for sure
Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF
Your view is the kind of persecution that Christians get for their belief. Second your view is ignorant of Christianity. You say that America would not exist unless those "brave souls" killed people with violence – rubblish! The only reason America exists because God allows it to exist regardless of what people choose to do. you say you believe in Jesus, well the Bible says that the devil and demons also believe in Jesus. You dont follow him and that is why your views are wrong but typical.
Im fine with the decision and their dedication to Jesus. I suggest taking away all federal money and they can pray for financial support
I'm sure they (the students and teachers) would be happy not paying federal income taxes so they don't need federal money.
I am not sure if I told some of you this but you can believe in more than one thing... and oh yeah, stop hating and killing each other. Peace out.
no such thing as federal money...... "the fed" and the federal reserve system are not truly part of the federal government. The congress merely has oversight authority.
Only on CNN is this acceptable material.
Why shouldn't it be??
I'm very disappointed in the Catholics and the Protestants. It looks like they missed a few.
Here is what defines a Mennonite. Growing up in Goshen and attending a Mennonite church when my family was suffering from so serious tragedies, it was the Catholics and the Protestant Churches that came to our aid. The Mennonites shunned us! Facts are facts!
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. -Thomas Jefferson
By doing a one minute salute, National Athem, you are showing respect to the country that allows you to preach your message. After that (praise the Lord!) you can do whatever your religion asks of you. THis is nothing but too much time on someones hands to say, "hey lets not recognize the flag, Athem, that has given us so many opportunities." This is nothing but an attention getter, a sad one, but nevertheless. The word appreciation comes to mind...
Incorrect Vumba.....Jesus was very clear in stating not to follow any country or flag. The american christians have been brainwashed into believing to vote for conservative parties or follow Jews blindly ...American christians are fools and I am a Jesus follower for almost 2 decades now. I am encouraged what I have read in the article and my hope has been restored!
“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” I know, you missed that one in your bible studies. Anything to go against the norm, it must feel invigorating, kind of dirty, to go against something that means so much to millions, and to spout off about it without worrying that in the middle of the night you won't be taken away. Fort McHenry was never seen more clear than right now.
I have no problem with your beliefs and am in agreement with your separation of church and state views. However, are you as tolerant of others who have differing beliefs from yours? I think not. Would you use the power of government to stop gay marriage, end divorce, outlaw abortion, alcohol, etc? If you don't tolerate different religious views you are no different then those who criticize you.
How can you ask someone if they would be tolerant of others and answer the question for them. You are assuming a little too much. The flag does not come before Jesus. Better to be grateful to Jesus first for shedding his blood for the remission of your sin; without God sending His son, there would be no world hence no America and no flag. The Founding Fathers did not invent life.
I get separation of Church and state, but a football statium is not a Church. If Menonites do not want to have a flag in their church no problem. Explain to me where separation starts. Obviously not at the doors of the Church. If you believe this to be true you should not play sports against and state schools or except any tax breaks from the state.
Dennis like I said only the fools and idiots of the US will vote for this evil being.
Well I guess it wouldn't be America without a whack-job like you posting.
I respect them. Personally I don't like our national anthem for another reason (almost impossible to sing well fo 90% of the population). But more seriously, they are practicing the rights that we are preaching, so we should all celebrate that.
Personally, I wish that 'under God' would never have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 50s because it has undermined the 'indivisible' concept that comes right after it. Before, we could all be patriotic Americans whether we believed in god (or witchcraft for that matter) or not. Now, we need to believe in 'God' to be considered 'good Americans' by the right-wing thought police. It is a shame that the xenophobia during the McCarthy Witch Hunt succeeded in dividing our country. It is also a shame that the right-wingers are too intellectually dense to understand that... If the 'founding fathers' were alive today, I am sure they would lose a considerable amount of sleep over the negative effect of religious fundamentalism upon our democracy.
William, I'm a right winger tea partier, have PhD in history, teach at a large university and am not dense. I'm here to tell you that most of your post is pure conjecture and opinion. I and millions of others have other opinions and they are just as important as yours. I will allow you to have your ignorant and leftist opinion. With you obviously being a "liberal" why can't you allow others to have theirs? You are all show and no blow.
Ginger, I am not a 'liberal,' but since you think that Americans need to profess their allegiance to 'God' to prove their patriotism, you are obviously more of an extremist than I. If you were alive at the time, you would have sided with McCarthy when he ruined so many people's lives in the 50s during the communist witch hunt. that was the period when the 'under God' clause was added to the pledge of allegiance to 'weed out' all the 'Communists,' since you are obviously ignorant of that fact. If you had lived in Germany in the 30s and 40s, you would undoubtedly have been involved in the extermination of the Jews. It is too bad that you are a sheep that needs to follow extremist ideology.
If the national anthem is so important to be played at public events why aren't all 4 (yes $) verses played? I'll bet not one person in 100 even knows the opening words of the second verse.