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. GimmeABreak

    Synopsis: "Look at me, I'm different! I have the courage of my religious convictions!" The "courage" of their religious convictions is what the wing-nuts protesting at military funerals site as their justification too. "We just HAVE to do it this way or we are not being true to ourselves."

    This (and that) is a grab for attention.

    Without too many mental gymnastics, one might be able to distinguish an athletic event from a church service and show a little respect for a country that lets you post "Look at Me!" on CNN, instead of imposing the types of abuses cited in the commentary.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Mark

      Awesome! Very well said!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  2. Howard

    We sing "The Star Spangled Banner" to celebrate the courage of our forebears who resisted the rockets and bombs of a foreign power that would have subjugated us and endangered our forebears right to define our freedoms as they and we see fit. One of those freedoms is the right to refuse to celebrate them as everyone else does.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  3. IceT

    I sing the national anthem but I skip the "under god" that was added anyway .. For the same reason he stated, the separation of gov. supported religion.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • PinkFlam

      Ignorant Fruitcake!

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

      PinkFlam ... LOL!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Howard

      The National Anthem is "The Star Spangled Banner." The words, "under God" do not now, nor ever have been a part of "The Star Spangled Banner," at least not in the first verse, which is all that most anyone anywhere sings. In fact, in my 65 years, I have never heard anyone sing the 2nd and 3rd verses.

      I'm not nearly as offended by people not singing the National Anthem and I am by those who don't even know what it is.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • CNN Reader

      I think you mean the Pledge of Allegiance, don't you? There is no "under God" in the national anthem, although the last verse states "in God is our trust."

      June 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  4. Harvey Yoder

    Hitler's nearly successful attempt to take over the world was made possible because too few Christians in Germany failed to resist him, and in fact pledged him and his form of super-nationalism their full allegiance, sang his national anthems with fervent patriotism. That's where Nazism should have been stopped, where it started, without anyone having to fire a shot.

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

      Exactly! Playing follow-the-leader with blinders on is a recipe for disaster.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  5. Chris

    Mark, this perspective is why our national anthem had the words "under GOD" added to it in 1953. This way people could pledge their elegance to the country/flag "under God". For a country that is supposed to have separation of church and state we have bent as far as we dare to the left to create a state in which those like yourself can fill comfortable. Also note the "In God We Trust" on our money. If every person in this country was a conciseness objector....

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

      The National Anthem has the words "under God" where, exactly?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Pinmoneypete

      Let's not forget the fact that just about everyone takes Christmas as a holiday, even state and federal workers, and atheists. I wonder why they comfortable doing that? I'd like to see them go to the office this December 25th and try to get some work done, as if it's just another day.

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

      it was added to the pledge of allegiance not the national anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Julie

      Actually that's the Pledge of Allegiance (not the National Anthem) where "under God" was added. It was pushed by organizations such as the Knights of Columbus to make that distinction between American and communist USSR.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • TB

      God is fictional.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  6. lowlife

    No one should be concerned about religious schools singalongs. They should be more concerned about sending their children to them and what benifits they get from the schooling. Trying to transfer their credits is the real education.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  7. Bob Lee Swagger

    We can be religious, but that does not preclude being patriotic. Maybe the Mennonites should all relocate to the Middle East where the Muslims make their relion of peace and love their government. The Mennonites could do the same.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • twiddly

      Wow, talk about illogical! If putting religion and government together is a good thing, as you seem to suggest, then _you_ are the one that should go to the middle east and see how this is working out!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  8. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • believer

      Please stop posting this.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Mighty7

      That is a horrible song and a horrible computer-generated tune.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  9. IndianaBuckeye

    Remember, we live in a nation where we have RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. There is also a separation of CHURCH & STATE. Yes, the country was founded on the back of religion– but on several religions. Puritanism, Quakers, Catholics, Mennonite, etc. You can be proud of living in your country and loving your county and still worship whichever religion. I am Catholic and even I am uncomfortable with the amount of Church influence in our govt.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • RoboBobo

      And yet you are blissfully ignorant of the subject at hand today – which is the influence of government on the Church.

      A lot of church's have mixed patriotism with christianity, and yet the bible says not one word advising someone to be a patriot, and the United States didn't exist.

      From the biblical perspective the U.S. has no importance of any kind. The U.S. is a temporary country – formed long after the events of the bible and which will not last.

      From the biblical perspective, one's eternal soul is what is important – the nation you live in, has no importance of any kind.

      Any time spent on that subject – is a waste of time.

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

      RoboBobo – quite an appropriate screen name.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  10. Tom

    Quick statement and soapbox... you don't stand and place your hand over your heart (or salute) for the National Anthem, you stand and place your hand over your heart in respect for ALL OF THE PEOPLE THAT GAVE THEIR LIVES for this country and its way of life...the flag and the song represent those fallen, once you realize that, does the words, music or where it's played matter that much?... and now for the soapbox part... It really upsets me when I see people (and in particular the athletes) not standing and either saluting or placing their hand over their heart… The whole thing lasts maybe 2 minutes folks, you can’t honor the sacrifices made for you to live, work and play in the country for 2 minutes?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Mighty7

      I honor the fallen soldiers by counseling wounded vets. I leave the silly theatrics for people like you.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  11. Annunaki3600

    Since you state that you are free, why are you not on the front lines in so many of these civil disturbances around the World. I mean you do state that the Church is World Wide RIGHT!

    June 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  12. teremist

    Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the Holy Bible, knows that God rather often, not only permitted wars, but also INSTIGATED them. Often instructing his people to go against heathen tribes and idolators.Even the peaceful, and loving Son, Jesus, lost his cool in the temple with the money changers for their blasphemy. The Holy Bible also instructs us to be obedient to, and respectful of, our government and country. Allegiance to The Lord God, is to take precedence over all else, HOWEVER, that does not exclude also giving allegiance to a lesser degree to our country, anymore than it excludes loyalty to our families. Let us first honor God, then our nation and families. The national anthem, shows respect for our country, and those who have fallen defending her. To exclude it from your events, also excludes acknowledging the mercy and grace God has shown us through trials, tribulations and struggles.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  13. Bill

    I am constantly amazed at the number of folks who seem to want to have love of country become some sort of civic religion. I believe that we need a strong and clear separation of church and state in part because of the propensity of members of so many organized religious groups to desire to impose their practices and beliefs on others. I do the national anthem thing, but not the pledge (I usually just stand quietly). I also refuse oaths that include "so help me God." Simply affirming that I will tell the truth of follow the laws of the land is sufficient. None of this has caused me any problems. We'd be a better country if we didn't spend so much time trying to impose our personal beliefs on others.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • believer

      they adhered to separation of church and state to keet the chhurch pure from the inluence of government, not the other way around

      June 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • TB

      believer – Keep your theocracy away from my democracy. I don't believe in an invisible man in the sky and you can't make me. You also can't make me leave the country.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  14. Buddy Kowalski

    I am a veteran. I pay my taxes. I vote. I do charity work. I give blood and platelets. I am an atheist. I don't say the pledge of allegiance because of the "...and justice for all" line. (The "god" part bugged me later in life) So I am not patriotic?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Bill

      Sounds to me like you're something I'd call "a thoughtful citizen."

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  15. dan

    So if their church catches fire do they call 911? What about roads? Do they drive on our roads?

    June 26, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Eee

      They pay taxes, you dope. So yes, they get the same right to those things as everyone else. Try again. Unless you've discovered that you can say the pledge of allegiance to get on the turnpike, instead of paying the toll.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  16. bman

    Finally a Nut I can Agree with. Burn him anyway.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  17. Joe

    http://www.goshen.edu/financialaid/loans/ ... "strict separation of church and state" ... gotta love hypocrites.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • cxc496

      "Your school is your lender, and the loan is made with government funds. You must repay this loan to your school."

      June 26, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  18. porchiaknows

    Sorry, Pastor, but I think you are on the wrong track yourself. God expects us to love our country and sing its praises. Sorry but I don't buy into this cult thinking your kind has.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • twiddly

      "god expects us to love our country and sing its praises"?

      Where do you come up with this malarkey? Did god speak directly to you about this? Do you hear other voices? Does schizophrenia run in your family?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • s0ma

      you are delusional.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  19. Christian1979

    While i can agree that your "allegiance" absolutely should be to the One and the only God. I Believe that we the people should help others, not give our money to govt and hope they spend wisely... History shows govt wont. Also you, all of you, every stinking one of us in this country enjoy the freedom to congregate in any form we choose regardless of function. Churches specifically reap the benefits of the so called, "blood soaked borders." Evident in the fact that you wrote this. It is my opinion that if you do not serve this country, and you are not willing to pledge your allegiance to her sovereignty then you as a church should not reap those tax breaks, or any other benefit that residence inside these, "blood soaked borders," Would afford you. There are plenty of other countries that would gladly kill you for simply saying I believe in God, not whom ever. Also you must remember all those mennonite, or mennonite root, brothers and sisters that died founding this country so many years ago to have that God given freedom to worship Jesus Christ, and God, when ever or however you choose. How many places in the Bible did God give a new king who believed in Him a kingdom through battle?
    Dear sir, please read your bible and put down that hippie latte. Lol. God bless you all. I don't know you and we will likely disagree but I do in fact love you, And if called upon gladly fight for you.

    June 26, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  20. shipdog7

    I am a Viet Nam vet. I have always felt uncomfortable singing the national anthem. Singing about bombs bursting in air just reminds me of the ten year "wars" going on right now. We sound like a country who thrives in the reminder of war and destruction. We are so proud of the fact we have gone into other parts of the world and dropped bombs causing devastation. And you wonder why other countries call us war mongers?
    What happens when others come here and try and do the same thing?
    We go right back over there and prove we are a country hell bent on getting even.
    Enough bombs bursting in air! Help rebuild those countries we have destroyed with our egos.

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

      As a veteran I could not agree with you more. Thanks.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:03 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.