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. Livelystone

    May God bless this pastor

    Christians are called to worship and to the best of their knowledge remain obedient to God no matter what country they reside in. God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit together is their King and Him alone they are to obey.

    Christians are not to be involved in the things of the world and political correctness is not to be part of their vocabulary.

    No matter where they live they are to obey the laws of the country they live in until those laws conflict with the laws of God.

    Therefore a country can have abortions and gay marriage without having any affect on the true worshipper of Jesus

    True Christians accept what God gives them and do not resist thieves or others others who would do them harm..... Hebrews 11 gives testimony of those who were known for great faith in the Bible and who were persecuted for their beliefs, yet did not offer any resistance to their persecutors.

    Pretty hard to emulate them........ only through faith in Jesus Christ can it be done

    June 26, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  2. ktlin

    I think this man either has a different Bible than the rest of us Christians or he doesn't read it . This issue is spelled out in the Bible specifically as is many other things like not telling the truth and creating disharmony. I am sure God is not happy with the way some are acting and what they are saying especially on the national scene. But oh well I guess a lot of people live in denial don't they?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  3. opnmdedone

    Just Curious: I'm assuming their aren't a whole lot of Mennonites serving in our military then? I could be wrong here, but if you don't want to recognize the flag and our country, you probably wouldn't want to fight or fend for it either.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  4. Elliot

    Christians. Killing other Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the name of Christ for fifteen hundred years.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  5. ag

    No matter what reasons they have for not singing the national anthem, refusing to believe in national anthem, refusing to respect national anthem, refusing to play national anthem is treason. It is almost like disrespecting the US flag.

    National anthem is not about religion, it is about the country you live it. If you cannot respect the country which provide you with livelihood and protection because it is against your religious beliefs, you need to re-evaluate your options.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Bibliovore

      Refusing to play the national anthem is not treason. Refusing the anthem because you don't recognize the nation while nonetheless living as citizens of that nation and reaping the benefits of that citizenship is hypocritical. Mennonites don't refuse on an "I don't recognize the nation" basis to individually pay national (or state or local) taxes; anyone who does so eventually winds up in jail.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Stool

      You freaking little brainwashed star-spangled idiot.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  6. Dennis Stamper

    This is what freedom of religion is all about. This world and this country would be a much better place if all Christians followed what Jesus said and lived so faithfully.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • oilfeilds

      we said.. if we put jesus christ first with his teachings , yes we would be a better nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  7. Alan

    The only reason you are allowed to practice your strange tribal religion without persecution is because the 'land of the free' was preserved by the 'home of the brave'. No one is saying to 'worship' the SSB, simply pay your respects for those who fought and died so you could practice. (i.e. My dad) The SSB brings us together as a nation of free people – and in this era of constant attacks on our borders and beliefs by those who hate the fact that we are free – and should they succeed, then you will not be allowed to be part of ANY tribe other than the one mandated. Wake up! If not for the bloodshed spilled in the name of freedom, we would all be Nazi's today. Pay your respects to those who gave you your freedom!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  8. smccla

    I also am a man of faith, an Army vetran of 20 years and the pastor of a small Baptist church. While I respect your opinion, I cannot find any basis for it in the Bible. I am glad Moses, David, Joshua, Caleb, Abraham and many of the other saints of old didn't choose to put God in some kind of box that freed them to ignore and disrespect the hand that empowered them to be what they were. If Goshen college chooses to refuse to play the National Anthem, they should have the dignity and integrity to refuse to accept any Federal aid for any of their students, if they don't they relegate themselves to becoming purveyors of a hypocritical faith that bemoans so many Christians who seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Night Watchman

      Christianity cannot help but be hypocritical in expression. There are too many contradictions for it to be otherwise.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  9. InfidelGary

    Idiots. They should be thankful for the freedom to think this way.

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

    just wonder if this school takes ANY Federal funds. If they do then Goshen is just another word for hypocrite.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  11. JustMe

    (Shrug). It's strange reasoning to me, since not all Christians are 'free' as the song refers to it. They were thankful to have freedom from British rule, taxation without representation, to govern themselves. But whatever. It's a song, with or without all the idealism you want to apply to it. It sounds very silly to me, but don't sing it if you don't want to.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  12. Robert

    I sing the national anthem, but people around me wish I didn't. Anyways, as believer in Christ and a Bible teacher for 30+ years, I think it is proper to "honor the king" (I Peter 2:17)–that is, respect and be grateful for the nation. Our natioanl freedoms are not a trivial thing. They benefit many, including me and my family. I see that as a blessing from God, but also as the result of great sacrifice by my fellow citizens. That deserves a "thank you" and the occasional anthem. As with all areas of life, it is possible to allow patriotism to grow out of balance. Patriotic impulses must still be subordinated to the universal and eternal truth of Christianity.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Night Watchman

      There is no universal or eternal truth to Christianity. It's all BS. But you're brainwashed, so I don't expect you to understand.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  13. Roberta Smith

    I have served this wonderful country for 32+ years, first as enlisted then as an officer. I find it incredibly disrespectful for this action. Many Americans have given their life in honor for the freedom of speech so that ungrateful so called Americans can say what they like! How very sad for them. They should be ashamed.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Night Watchman

      Maybe you should be ashamed for thinking they have to please you and your silly ideas about stuff. They have the freedom, let them use it. Or did you learn nothing after all those years of working? Many people don't, you know. They work decades and it takes up all their brains just to get through a single day – and afterwards they are still children having never thought about the deeper issues that surrounded them their whole lives.
      Maybe that happened to you.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  14. Exasperated.

    Actually thats simply idiotic. By mentioning God in a patriotic song, we are merely professing that we as an american people we acknowledge God and his omnipotence.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  15. Prometheus

    OK, in a nutshell before Cnn crushes me again:

    1. If you live inside a nation and benefit from it's policies yet separate yourself from it by ideology then you are a parasite.

    2. There is plenty of space on the globe to purchase if you feel this strongly.

    3. If you lack funds to purchase lands for your 'church-nation' I am sure many folks will donate. "I" will donate.

    4. Don't call us when you find out that the world is a harsh place. That is a thing "we" already knew.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  16. David

    The Mennonites are not alone in being tortured and murdered for their beliefs. The Jewish faith is one of the most targeted, and devout religions around. Yet they are fiercely patriotic and loyal to their country. The same goes for the Christian religions, both Catholic and the many Protestant off-shoots, devout to their religion and to their countries. My ancestors were chased from France for being Protestant. This country, the United States of America, was conceived and fought for by these people. I know, for many of my ancestors were among them. We all recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and sing the National Anthem. I served this country for 20 years in its' armed forces. And while I also believe in separation of church and state, Iran is a great example, I can also distinguish between my loyalty for country and that of my faith.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Pat in IL

      I agree, David. Most, if not all, denominations have been demonized at one time or another. It's interesting to note, too, that Jesus did not teach religion or denominations.....he taught what it means to be a Christian.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  17. Pat in IL

    I don't understand this strange and unfounded justification for not flying our flag or singing our anthem at all. Jesus walked alongside many....recognizing different nations, languages, cultures, politics, etc. He walked alongside them all, and his teachings never asked anyone to not acknowledge their nationationality or national loyalty. In fact "love thy neighbor" is but one example of this teaching. This is just some kind of point-making for attention, and I fear that Jesus true message is lost because of it.

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

      Which flag did Jese salute and which anthem did he sing? You will not find that mentioned in the Bible because he said my kingdom is no part of this world.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  18. John


    June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  19. oaktree69

    Blah blah blah. What a long winded rant for a lot of nothing. Patriotism is fading and that is sad.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  20. Charles

    The anthem, sung at athletic events, is meaningless. If you want to be patriotic, then volunteer for military service, attend Memorial Day and Veteran's Day events. Give your time to vets at nursing homes, make the part of the country you live in reflect the values of the Republic. Cursing those who think differently from you makes claims of superiority stemming from singing an anthem false.

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

      Well said, Charles. I did not know what to expect from this editorial just from reading the headline. I'm glad I took the time to read it. I think you and the author express what many of us believe. This philosophy also runs parallel to my thoughts on organized prayer at public events.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • StoolinUrface

      Well said Charles.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
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