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. da son

    Wait wait, how does not singing your anthem means you should leave??? It's just a song of a poem. If you take it for any additional meaning, fine by you, but I don't have to. Libertarians always talk about true freedom, eliminating as much of government control from the people. Well, True freedom means, if I don't want to sing something, then I don't have to.

    I fully agree with the Church. Jesus while he walked among people of his country and others, his whole teaching isn't centered around us putting our allegiance towards any man made stuff. His teaching is in putting all of faith into him and his faith. The church didn't sign it for 116 years, last year, some decided to do it, but after careful thought, they reversed the decision. I don't see anything wrong with that, considering their history of strictly following their religious practices against far more pressing situations then a song.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  2. Follower

    "Mennonites are uncomfortable with the ritual embedded in the singing of the national anthem" Any church being uncomfortable with ritual LOL .. churches are all about ritualistic embedding (indoctrination) of children from birth. While at the same time enjoying all that our country offers without paying taxes!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Can these prayers be answered?

      I just wish that wifey wouldn't nag..nag..nag so much & quit spending so much, clean the house & learn how to cook. Oh..
      & wash the car.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • J

      You're dumb. He didn't say they were uncomfortable with ritual. He's saying they don't feel comfortable with the ritual embedded in the national anthem. It literally celebrates the formation of a country – man made borders – what he specifically said his church does not support.

      Learn to read.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  3. baronsternberg

    Whether you agree with these people or not, they're within their rights, and it's not like this particular exercise of rights is causing any provable harm to anybody. Get a friggen life.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  4. HRPufnstuf

    Or, it could be that you don't sing the National Anthem because you're a POS.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • jake mason

      No, it is the fact that they dont go through life blinded by artificial nationalism. Who is the real POS?

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Marching to Pretoria

      It's the old "Render what is Caesar's to Caesar..render what is God's to God." That's true...but we also live in a violent & greedy world. It's one thing to be idealistic..it's another to defend yourself. I try to mix both...you have to if you want to survive.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Kinoeye

      @Marching to Pretoria... So you sacrifice your ideals to what is convenient at the moment? In another scenario, if you were a soldier and being held prisoner and tortured for information, you would sing like a bird because it would ensure your survival? This is what's wrong in the world - too many people prize their own comfort and survival over any deeply-held beliefs.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  5. Doug J

    Remember this, Mennonites – "We sleep peacably at night because rough men are willing to do violence on our behalf" – George Orwell

    June 26, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • TB

      ...even what that violence is unjustified.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Kinoeye

      Nice quote, except for the fact that it was never said by Orwell. But while you're quoting Orwell, why not go read 1984 to see a depiction of a place that forces its citizens to participate in rallies? Could be eye-opening.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  6. JOn King

    Religious people are strange to me. If I told them the sky was green they would look up to get proof. But tell them a story written by people 2000 years ago saying a guy once walked on water, they require no proof. Strange.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Russ

      I really hate people like you who just can't help but make fun of the bible. You don't have to believe in it, but don't profess to say that just because you don't understand that it must be make believe. You are a sad excuse for a person.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  7. Jcork


    June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  8. mac

    i really think america needs reform. But I choose to sing it and worship god because i have the right too. I do not believe the dribble my pastor taught me, as in everything else the bible was written to me certain and historical and political views. I think the over all message of the bible is true, the events and some of the people in its pages may or may have not lived, but I worship the message and live by a set of moral value I believe strongly in. With out Buddha or Christ some of the value billions on this planet worship today may have never come to play. The people who pass on the words of Christ or Allah have been the ones who have tarnished the image of "God" they have taken lives, they have caused mass genocide in the name of God, but these are all the flaws on man.
    Church has no place in State , it helped form someone the laws and moral out looks most people over the history of the United States view and live by, but as less and less people have a strong moral set of values, we see corporate America bringing the nation down year by year. Only to line their pockets.

    At least when "God" was as strong as "State" we had a strong moral society with less crime and better prosperity.
    Now all we have a politicians making money off corporate donations to drive their own political

    At least when most believed in " One nation under God" , we all still had a chance to make a difference. Now we all just set back and let our government do what ever it wants. Its because of that we are failing as a nation.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • JOn King

      Totally wrong. One nation under god theory to blind voters from real issues caused most of the problems we face today.

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

      >At least when "God" was as strong as "State" we had a strong moral society with less crime and better prosperity.

      Cite examples of this in our history – when do you mean, the 1890s when the "God" and "State" allowed corporations to create an super rich class by exploiting the poor, or the 1920's with prohibition and gangs...or perhaps the 1950's when...

      >At least when most believed in " One nation under God"

      *Congress* at Eisenhower's prompting (aka "State") add this phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 to "strengthen" our resolve to fight godless communism and differentiate us from them.

      >Now we all just set back and let our government do what ever it wants.

      Do you really believe this? Or is this more revisionist history being presented, as isn't is actually true people of all classes are more involved in government than manyt times in our country's history (with the American Revolution as an exception)

      >Its because of that we are failing as a nation.

      I don't believe this is so, and don't think you have even come close to make the case that these are the "reasons" why. However if one wants to argue we are failing as a nation, I could see other much larger social and economic causes for that. But not because we have become "godless". Educate yourself to the absolute truths in history.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  9. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  10. azproud

    This is america, if you can't stand and support it and stand beside it with "our" traditions, leave it. I have no idea where you could go but please find somewhere other than the country I love so much.

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

      azproud – Are you serious? If someone doesn't support YOUR traditions, they should get out? Is that how you bestow "freedom" in the country you "love so much"? People are "free to do what YOU want them to?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Kenny

      You just kill me! You claim to love this country so much, yet you deny people one of the basic cornerstone's that our country was built for and on "Freedom of Religion"

      June 26, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • FDA Stamped and Approved True Christian

      Your traditions ? Like slavery ? Bwhahahahahahaha.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  11. Sick of Bought off Politicians

    Why should we sing the "star spangled banner" when we live in a country full of corporatism/greed and bought off politicians (which our corrupt Supreme Court allows)! I'm sick of it and so is everyone else!!!!!!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  12. Scott

    Ironic that some refuse to sing the song that stands for the very reason they have the right to religous freedom in the first place. Maybe they should try and use their powers of philosphy for positive reasons than trying to grandstand and find all the negative things. Just a thought.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • TB

      Yep, it's a thought. Not a good thought, but a thought.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  13. DB

    What gives anyone the right to mouth off in any of these forums on CNN? It is the American Soldier who has fought for those rights ever since 1776, including at Fort Henry, from which our National Anthum was derived. If you don't like it, if you don't love America, if you don't enjoy the freedoms you have here, if you don't believe in that we need the military, if you don't believe that the foundation of our core values are being chipped away to take your rights away by leftists and liberals who want to see American fall as power, then either you are so diluded with cool-aid, have your head in the sand, or just don't care. What you do is have the right to leave the country that I am PROUD of, sworn an oath to, served under the flag, and care about, and find another one more of your liking. Obvioulsy you do not know how good you have it here and maybe you should move on and leave us alone.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Steve

      I'm pretty sure it's Fort McHenry.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • jeffroweld

      Well said!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • News Flash

      What gives others a right is not anything YOU did, it is the Const'itution and the Bill of Rights. IF you did anything to defend those, thanks for your service. The National AnthEm was written, (the words anyway), by Francis Scott Key, and adopted by Congress, and is a piece of crap music, and I DON'T like it, but THAT doesn't mean I don't love America. The last few times I heave heard it, including the Super Bowl this year, it was SO screwed up by the soloist, it was almost unrecognizable. Just because you took an oath to do what you were told by your military superiors, (and not to "think" and spout your opinions to the citizens of the country you swore to uphold), does not make you opinions more valid or more correct than anyone else).

      June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  14. scott501

    I am amazed this is an issue in a free country. Let these people follow their conscience. Why is this anyone elses business? It the usual American thinking that there is only one way to live? Stop trying to control other people.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • TB

      Agree! You're a voice of reason among a chorus of kneejerk myopic nationalism.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  15. wantstoknow

    Does Goshen College get any type of financial aid from the Government? If they do, it should be immediatly cut off.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  16. Som

    Agree with Keith!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  17. JakeF

    Hint: Most people in that picture of Lincoln Financial Field also don't sing the Star Spangled banner when it is sung by whomever the guest singer/group is.

    /Eagles season ticket holder speaking from experience of many, many games
    //who cares if you don't sing, you're just like the majority of people

    June 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  18. KellyinCA

    For every "patriot" who would force others to worship the trappings of a deeply-flawed and arrogant state, there are ten or more who would prefer simply to live lives of peace and community with those around them, regardless of who they may be. The ritualism embedded in the treatment of the American flag accords it an inappropriately deferential treatment that would be more effectively and productively directed in respect towards fellow citizens and fellow humans. The myths surrounding the founding of the nation, so thoroughly questioned, scrutinized and rightly diminished by modern scholarship, can no longer support the nationalistic rituals that attempt to bolster America as a singular idea when so many different and contrasting ideas of America now exist in our discourse. Blind allegiance to a flag seems empty when we can't have a civil word to say to those who may disagree with us.

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

      Why don't you go and find a less "deeply-flawed and arrogant state" to live in and try to belly ach the way you do here. Obvioulsy you are one of the problems in this liberally lead country

      June 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • DerrickinDC

      Very insightful observation.

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

      Agree! Amazing how the flag stands for freedoms to say and do things that if the "freedom-lovers" had their way, would be grounds to expatriate you (yes DB, that means YOU). Patriotism extends far beyond blindly (and mindlessly) following the populist notions of what a "good American" is.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  19. Mitch

    I was lead to believe this was about why you aren't singing the national anthem, not your crappy religion, I've been duped

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

      True Mitch ... that was nothing more than an advertisement!

      June 26, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  20. Carolyn

    Can't we just sing the song in remembrance of what we once stood for in this country! It seems like everything is going by the wayside. And as far as God and Satan, the biggest deception of all is non-belief!

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

      Carolyn, This country also thought there was nothing wrong with enslaving Africans that were hunted down like animals.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • TB

      God, Satan, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Unicorn, Great Pumpkin, Centaur, Minotaur, Santa Claus, Donald Trump's humility...do I need to continue?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:30 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.