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. keith

    If you are an american, you should be singing that anthem, not ignoring it for your own political reasons. You complain about church and state, yet you turn around and do the same thing you complain about. It is YOUR COUNTRY and YOUR COUNTRY ANTHEM. If you don't want to sing it, then LEAVE!!!!! You cannot call yourself an american if you refuse to sing your own anthem

    June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • oilfeilds

      its not about politics, our for fathers gave the rule we are a free nation. even to our beliefs. to religion that why we came to this country to have that freedom to worship freely.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • God (the REAL one)

      You cannot call yourself a patriot if you blindly believe in everything your country does.

      Believing in fairy tales doesn't help, either.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Chris Christie

      Stop trying to shove your ideology down people's throats, you communist.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Dr.K.

      Really? One's willingness to sing the official song is the litmus test for whether one should be considered a citizen? Surely there are more important things?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • StoolinUrface

      Trying to shove the anthem and patriotism down people's throats is one of the principle pillars of communist and fascist countries throughout history and even today. Open you eyes you brainwashed star-spangled morons. Furthermore, the only war that has been faught for freedom in America was the revolutionary war and the civil war faught on American soil. All the other wars have been faught overseas, not for freedom, but merely for international influence or to control some foreign oil, gas or other interest abroad, not for the freedom of US citizens living on US soil although that's what you were sold time and time again.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  2. Craig

    Another case of a bad decision caused by mythology. How much longer must invisible men in the sky dominate the thoughts of people in this world?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  3. TracyL.

    It was an interesting article. But also not that interesting. Their religion, their school. I could care less if they sing it or not. You can still be patriotic and respectful without singing before sports.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  4. bellestarrr

    and besides those flag waving patriots in washington dc are allowing YOUR COUNTRY to fall to pieces while building up a nation that hates our guts both iraq and afghanistan..building roads and schools propping up corrupt governments...we should sing the national anthem for that stuff...our country is not that great anymore thanks to those flag waving, pin wearing anthem singing patriots in washington dc

    June 26, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Vumba

      No bellestarr, our country is still great you just have to move out of California and see the real America! "Oh say can you see..."

      June 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  5. Alex in NJ

    Herman Cain says if he is elected he would impose a higher standard to Muslims he asks to join his administration. He says he will pay extra attention to see if they really are loyal to America. Apparently he should employ the same scrutiny with Menonites.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  6. Frank

    Boy, religion sure is nutty... all of it.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  7. Vumba

    See what we have here is a minority group. A group that popped it's head up said something stupid but because they are a minority group we need to listen to them real hard to what they have to say. The majority has to sit back now and take liberal pot shots on how bad we are because...THIS is the problem today with the U.S.! Way too many minorities telling the majority how to think. Some of these names that come on to post a comment only come when a minority group starts acting up – oops, telling us how they feel. Thank you majority for paying the bills and taking care of us but this middle finger is recognition not condemnation. It's not the 80s & 90s no more. When a fruit loop pops up we call it a fruit loop and move on.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  8. charles bowen

    Christians are just as wacky as the muslims. What would Jesus do ? He is dead who knows. I stand and sing for those who gave their lives to protect that right . I think we used to call it respect, our Nation has forgotten how to respect anyone or anything. I'm a short timer and in some ways consider myself lucky to have live in Respectful Times. Good luck in a future and country with no respect! Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  9. Prometheus

    Stop keeping this as the #1 headline story if you keep sidelining my comments about it. I made 5 comments and this is my 6th. Way to go censor police. Maybe we'd like to know what OTHER people think, eh?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  10. stickittotheman

    Idea of a one-faith Christian nation harkens back to the Holy Roman Empire concept. Sounds like an exclusive club. When you exclude other faiths and ideals, you create a divide that is the opposite of the unity and brotherhood that is supposed to be the foundation of religion.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • surfs-up-charlie

      Exactly. I lost count of the times he said 'I'

      Religious people, for vanity's sake, tend to use that word a lot. That is quite telling.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  11. sean

    We are a nation claiming to be one, under god. Yet we scourn those who refuse to pledge their allegance to a flag and reserve it for the one true living elohim. We show true patriotism by remaining faithful to our one true father rather than a flag that represents our government, a band lying, cheating thugs.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  12. Susan

    Thank you for a thoughtful and reflective piece on your faith, its history, and the need to separate church and state.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  13. Louis

    I don't care for the National Anthem either; the tune is a tasteless old English drinking (The Anacreontic Song) and the, second rate, poetry (Defence of Fort McHenry) describes a battle from the War of 1812. More appropriate songs would include America the Beautiful and God Bless America, both written by Americans. During most of the 19th century, Hail Columbia was regarded as America's national anthem.

    The Star-Spangled Banner was adopted by Congress as recently as 1931; hopefully, we will adopt a more appropriate National Anthem someday in the future. It would be nice if that was composed by an American ...

    June 26, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • DB

      What have you done for America to earn the right to say anything? Born here, not good enough.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Paul Ronco

      Fascinating... thank you for the history lesson... good to know

      June 26, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Louis

      DB, I'm a Vietnam Vet; I have "earned" my right to an opinion.

      What have YOU done for America??

      June 26, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Night Watchman

      Actually, being born here IS good enough. Nobody needs to "earn" their freedoms here. It comes with the territory, not your personally skewed view of it.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  14. BS

    Another example of religion in the United States attempting to go over the head of the state. This is the sort of thinking that will lead to a second civil war. Always an American first, after that, you can be whatever you want.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  15. bellestarrr

    Listen up here rednecks...the very people that wear flag pins in washington dc and sing the national anthem with their hands over their hearts DO NOT HAVE YOUR BEST INTERESTS at heart...they are allowing companies to take your living(jobs) overseas...they are evilly thinking of ways to cut into the benefit programs you paid into your whole life...they want to keep the machinery of war going as long as they can so their contractor buddies can get rich and donate to their campaigns, they make decisions based on the rich and powerful not on the middle class or the poor..this man is HONEST..give him a break if he doesnt want to salute a flag that represents the process in washington dc..yes our country is great but it has also done great harm based on greed and empire.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • NooseJunkie

      you lost me at rednecks

      June 26, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • flchris77

      yet churches still want me to give them a large portion of my income. nice

      June 26, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Vumba

      Okay, they live their life that way but I don't. Your point is?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  16. Patrish

    Well I find it offensive that "under God" phase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. It was just fine in it's original form. No one can prove God (or Satan) exists and you can pray to the Dragon King, and if you believe you would have the same results.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  17. Paul Ronco

    I don't sing it either, but not because it's incompatible with my Christianity, but because it is incompatible with reality, which is that this country is an aggressive corporatist empire. When this nation actually becomes a Republic again, then I'll reconsider singing the Star Spangled Banner at baseball games even as I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus first and foremost in my heart. As far as the Mennonite refusal to pledge allegiance to the flag is concerned, I don't buy it and never have. Render unto God what is God's, render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. I do not think it is incompatible to take an oath to your country as long as your oath to God comes first. The Geneva Convention and the trials at Nuremburg showed us that following orders is not considered an excuse for committing moral crimes. Under the Mennonite logic, I don't see why one one shouldn't just as well refuse to take an oath of loyalty to one's wife.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  18. Daniel Haszard

    Jehovah's Witnesses don't do the NA either or salute the flag but for hypocritical reasons.

    Jehovah's Witnesses are controlled by their fanatical Watchtower leaders, issues like the Flag salute are red herrings to divert followers and the public from their corrupt practices.
    My family was spiritually and financially swindled by the Watchtower society,3rd generation Jehovah's Witness Danny Haszard

    June 26, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Roland

      They do it,for them same reason as,them minnonites before,they became jw they were bible students that tested tje biblical authenticity of each belief. When they left that mission to follow trumped up prophecies is where the problems startwd not here

      June 26, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • albert

      Please explain how you were "Swindled" financially. it sounds to me like you are bitter for different reasons. JW's are not known for "swindling".

      June 26, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  19. Roland

    What if a,minnonite lived iraq during the,gulf,war sang the iraqi anthem and,then prayed to.god to kill americans. You have to.realize most christian religions,are international. Last catholics please read the catholic encyclopedia on the national anthem you will be surprised

    June 26, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Vumba

      Hey Roland, did you know that during WWII the Germans thought that God was their side. Go figure!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  20. Doug J

    Refusing to play the national anthem is a sign of disrespect, so of course many people will be offended. And this is an athletic event, not a religious event, so his argument doesn't hold water.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • jim

      you're all wet

      June 26, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Night Watchman

      Disrespect is protected speech under the First Amendment. They are free to not play that song, and they are not being forced to sing with a gun to their head.
      That's freedom. They are using it. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Freedoms are like that. We don't always like to see other people using it in ways we don't agree with but are not illegal.
      And it cannot become illegal otherwise that would violate the First Amendment.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Vumba

      Doug, dumb answer give support to your rhetoric, or are you just trying to be radical?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • albert

      I disagree, we as Americans have a right to either sing the anthem or not. It is a right. Disrespect would be spitting on the flag or burning it. Not paying taxes, is also a sign of disrespect towards a government. Not singing an anthem? Please...

      June 26, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Vumba

      Doug, my apologies, this was for Jim not you I liked your point of view.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 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.