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. ksmary

    I am not a Mennonite but some of the things I am reading here are truely awful. Mennonite communities in Kansas are generous in their care for their neighbors whatever their beliefs and often are the first to pitch in when disaster strikes. They don't get the press like the Red Cross, but they are there for the people in need, and they stay until the job is done, not just while the media is covering their work. If you don't like what they believe about the separation of church and state, fine, but remember if you think they are not "American" enough, say "no thank you, I would rather you not help", when they come to your community to rebuild your house after a tornado, flood, etc.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  2. Dave

    Why don't the writer of this story and those clowns that "choose" not to play/sing our national anthem Pack up and go to ANOTHER country since they clearly do not appreciate this one! Shame on them -they are the same people that enjoy the freedom, safety, comfort, and opportunities provided by this great country yet they can not find the sense or RESPECT to salute their country- not good at all- these people belong somewhere else... As in out of the USA!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Gigi Aldred

      No Dave it is you who is pathetic, you support America the axis of all evil who is murdering babies, children. civilians, destroying infrastructure in Libya, murdering generations to come with the radiation from your filthy bombs, assassinating innocent leaders and their families. You Americans and your national anthem is not worth the paper it is written on you hypocrite, pathetic American. Hold your head in shame

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  3. Clang

    The Star Spangled Banner is not the issue I have with this story. Jesus NEVER existed and there is no proof to the contrary (sorry the bible is not proof), so it is time to let this ancient insanity go. There is actually quite a bit of written word and commentary that exists from the alleged era of Christ, and yet there is not one word about him. You gotta have faith – It amazes me that intelligent, rational people who would never take anything else in their lives on faith, cannot see through the veil of control.
    My challenge to any of you that are inscensed by this post is to actually think about what you believe. When/if you break it down, does it make sense? Are you motivated by fear? Do you transfer that fear on to others? Is your only response, “what if you are wrong”?
    I’ve met more people in recent years that are drones to their Pastors views; they seem to have forgotten that they have the ablity to think and queston. So ultimate the sum total of their views revovle around whom they need to dislike and when pressed most any explaination of the reasons turn out to be false.
    Religion makes zombies of us all and will do nothing but divide us, cause us to mistrust, alienate and destroy those that do not believe as we do.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  4. believer

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    This is verse four for any American who does not know it...or that it exists.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  5. Medievna

    I don't get it. This beautiful country guarantees its citizens the freedom to practice their religious beliefs as they see fit, yet she can't get so much as a bone thrown to her when it comes to upholding the philosophies and patriotism that founded her. If people want to live in a country run by religion, go live in Iran.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  6. Charlie

    Not sure I buy their stance, but at least they aren't weaponizing their faith. These days, that's rare. As for a previous poster's argument that dissent is parasitism, that's just silly. The rights and protections of a free nation extend to all its members, regardless of differences of opinion on specific policies or customs.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  7. gary

    I don't sing it due to it's glorification of war. USA is too obsessed with war and violence to the neglect of science, education.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Dave

      You should then head to another country since you clearly don't respect the USA or those that have fought to provide you safety and freedom!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  8. steve

    Jesus would have some pretty hard things to say about the USA. I don't think his policies would win favor in some quarters.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Bill C

      Move that college out of the country. Perhaps to a country that will trample their religious freedom and their rights to free speech. If any of the brilliant members of the school board had that type of experience, they would gladly sing the national if they were fortunate enough to ever return to this great country.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  9. troy

    What's ironic to me is that groups like these draw the line of separation of church and state in a manner that supports their own beliefs. As it relates to gay marriage, abortion, prayer in schools, etc., etc., I can imagine your tribes separation of church and state isn't so separate.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • John Worst, Gwangju, South Korea

      You'd be surprised, Mennonites are pretty consistent.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  10. Missy

    Sorry, even Jesus said render to Caesar what is Caesar and to GOd what is GOd's. God triumphs all, but loyalty to your country is a given. This approach is another load of hooey to further a liberal agenda and I'm not drinking this cup.
    Take off the Birkenstocks and pledge your loyalty to the country. End story.
    P.S. Remember all "green" is not the new god......

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

      Jesus was talking about taxes.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  11. flbrnt

    I am gay, and in spite of being "wicked" and an "abomination" I am on the side of the school. Isn't being forced to the national anthem like being forced to burn incense to the emperor? I believe in religious freedom and this is what this country-and its anthem-are about.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  12. Gary USARMY 1969-71

    Why am I no longer surprised that so called "patriotic" Americans demand that everybody sing the national anthem. Even if they can't sing a note? Even if they have a sore throat? Even if they don't care to? Even if for deeply held beliefs, they decline to do so? This is not about being patriotic. This is about demanding conformity to your own narrow view. If I have any rights as an American, surely it includes the right not to be coerced into singing a song. I notice that I am just about the only person singing along with the National Anthem at baseball games, but as an American, I would defend the right of any citizen who declines for what ever reason to not sing along. I don't sing God Bless America for reasons similar to those given by the Mennonite pastor.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  13. azproud

    And in the book of ummm say I will call it, the book of double cheesburger, "The Lord shall give thee a great tax right off"...stated in the book of double cheeseburger...ugh

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  14. sapsxy

    The purpose of all different race,religion,culture,and sects on this earth was and is to see if human species can one day live with total peace and harmony amongst themselves and when this happens and some centuries of this being maintained and total assurance has been "seen"..then finally the "spacemen",a.k.a : aliens will show themselves,for the human species to be shown great many undiscovered realities of the past,present and future,in all its many different
    topics and human species will be allowed to become member of "Intergalactic organisation".This is the truth of all

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  15. paul

    esus also said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars’." This was in reference to taxes, and you must pay them, and then he told his disciples to go fishing, and one of the fish had the money that was needed to pay the taxes. Does this mean that Christians should only pay taxes if the money comes out of a fish? NO! This was a lesson to the disciples that you live in a country and you should abide by its rules. By this man's logic, one must assume that all Mennonites are the ideal of the walk that Jesus desires of us. Hardly true. They have bad ones in the group, just as all groups and races of people do. All of us humans are a fallen race, out of the grace of God... How does singing our national anthem change that? All it does is dishonor the ones that paid the ultimate sacrifice for you to have the choice to sing or not to sing.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  16. Irene

    It all boils down to a simple fact – it is our flag and our borders that protect these people from any kind of prosecution for the statements or acts of the sort. I don't care for any religion, I detest any intrusion of the formal church in my life, I believe in the eternal energy of the Universe and us all being particles of that energy that is constantly charging and influencing us, I believe that thoughts are material and dark thoughts and intentions should be avoided at all costs, but I also believe that decent people should not be eating from the hand which they believe is dirty. And when they have feeding grounds secured for them by someone else, they should at least be grateful. Let them try the same without the cover of a Star Spangled Banner.

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

      It's not the cover of the star spangled banner that matters, but the national security complex. What I love about America is that we are free to sing, not sing, speak Spanish, English or Hebrew, practice any religion we like, travel freely, get free civil schooling, without being required to pledge loyalty to anyone or anything.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  17. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  18. Here it is

    I can and do appreciate your desire for separation of church and state but whether you like it or want it to be or not, it was and is the rockets red glare and those bombs bursting in air that gave you the right for your church to be there. If you claim to be spiritual ancestors of the Anabaptists perhaps it is a good time to reflect on their history.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • JLS639

      The battle Francis Scott Key wrote about had little significance for the outcome of the war and none for the existence of the nation or the freedom of American citizens. The British felt that sacking and burning Baltimore would demoralize the Americans and deprive them of a privateering base. More importantly for the soldiers, it would provide loot, which was the main goal of the attack.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  19. Manuel Labor

    We should just make "Party in the USA" the new national anthem and then no one would want to sing it anyway.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  20. Matt

    It's a shame they think they are solely confined to singing the first verse only – thus limiting them to praise the country alone. Why not sing the fourth verse and praise god and the nation at the same time?

    Fourth verse:
    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
    Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
    Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
    And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:02 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.