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. Sean

    I'm sorry but I had to stop reading this article once I saw the word "alma mater"

    June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  2. RoboBobo

    Patriotism is for fools.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  3. Gigi Aldred

    Wow CNN tell the truth about Libya along with the lies of Obama and Clinton, just imagine the response you will get if the American Nation Anthem gets so many losers sucked in . You could make the world more decent if you told and reported the actual truth. Come on Turner you are old enough not to care about protecting America the Axis of all Evil for much longer let the real truth come out

    June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • twiddly

      Please go back to burying your head in the Faux News sandbox.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  4. RV1982

    I am a Christian, and I do put God first in my life. However, I am also a citizen of the United States, and as a citizen I have responsibilites to my country. Singing a national anthem does does imply my devotion to my country is greater than my devotion to my God. There are no laws in the United States that coherce me to put country ahead of my God, or for that matter to sin against my God. In fact, that is what the national anthem in the United States is all about...singing about the survival of a country, or an idea the country was founded on, which allows me the freedom to put my God first. I would find it rather hypocritical to live and enjoy the freedoms of this country and not sing in appreciation and recognition of these freedoms. Any religion that finds such an act as seditious to either it's authority, or better yet God's authority, must have no faith in it's follower's ability to discern the difference between loyalty to God and country. In fact, I would go so far as to say such a religion may not really believe in the principle of "freedom" that our country was founded on.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • WDW

      My God, someone who actually "gets it"! Thank you for your most eloquent prose!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • RoboBobo

      With all do respect you don't put God first in your life at all – you clearly have placed your country above your religion.
      And the only weak attempt you make to deny that – is to conveniently claim that your country has never been in conflict with any of your values.

      Well the only way that can possibly be the case, if your values are defined by your country. I've seen this over and over again, over the years. Church preaches against divorce – but the mood in the country is divorce should be OK – soon the church that once preached against it – is having divorce support classes each Thursday in the rec room.

      Don't believe in abortion? Well maybe soon you will believe in it, but even if you don't you still pay your taxes, and that money still funds Planned Parenthood – an abortion services provider.

      Do you think its important to save people? That their eternal souls are important? Well everytime the country kills someone in a foreign war – their chance for conversion is over – they are dead.

      But none of that will ever bother you – because your values are defined by the common values of the country – not by the bible. Where in your bible does it say the United States should bring democracy to Iraq?

      Jesus was pretty clear he didn't care about political systems at all – it was all about your 'eternal soul' the stakes were so high – you either were eternally in heaven – or eternally in hell – our temporal life on this earth paled in comparison to that.

      But most Christians don't get that – since their faith is just a 'flavor' just a bit of color that they add to their real religion – which is the common viewpoint – the consensus thinking of America as a culture.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • jdomn

      Your entire comment is a logical fallacy. You don't mention that there are many ways to express patriotism besides this one song. You also do not address how the themes of war in the song conflict with this particular church's beliefs... beliefs that predate this song and this country. As a true American, I welcome these people and the diversity they bring. Do not mistake their not singing this song as anti-patriotic; it is simply anti-violence. It would be more fair for you to criticize that view, saying that pacifism is naive and self-destructive, but you cannot jump to the conclusion that it is unpatriotic or disrespectful of the country. There are many more serious issues than a song that I do not agree with, but that doesn't make me unpatriotic. I'm very conservative and oppose almost everything Obama has done or is doing, but that doesn't make me unpatriotic; it just makes me an American with his opinions that happen to be out of sync with the president. You don't have to agree 100% on everything in America in order to be a patriot. I bet there are many fundamental issues in government that make you sick, but that doesn't make you less of a patriot. Issues of war and pacifism are no different.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  5. JigokuShonen

    Religion; the accepted insanity.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  6. Isaac

    As a christian military veteran who proudly sings the national anthem at ball games and loves the pledge of allegiance, I fervently support this religious group's decision to follow their conscience and live by their beliefs. I have more respect for people who follow peaceful,gentle anarchistic beliefs that harm no one than I do for those who loudly proclaim themselves to be Christians and patriots but live unchristlike lives and who do nothing to make this country a better place to live.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • John Richardson

      I'm with you, Isaac!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • SamosaAmerican

      Well said; what we have here is jinogism and not real patriotism. If those screaming and forcing their views really wanted to support the US, they will join the military or at least support a war tax when we have spent 3 TRILLION already on wars overseas without a draft or without asking people to sacrifice a penny. Bush Cut taxes for the rich and never asked any of us to sacrifice. Bring back the draft.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Matt

      VERY well said

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • jdomn

      Well said!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  7. glu

    More $@#holes trying to tear this country apart.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • James Hawk III

      * "significant events"

      June 26, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Daniel

      Oh you mean like the folks that added "under god" to the pledge years ago. What really bites is when I have heard truncated versions that go like this "One nation, under god, indivisible with liberty and justice for all." Really? skip the whole pledge part but toss in god. THAT's gonna tear this nation apart

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  8. Rick McDaniel

    Religion is devisive, and ostracising, in all forms of it. The refusal to play the anthem is nothing but a symbol of that devisiveness, and an excuse to push religious ideas on others, that they may wish to reject.

    The national anthem is really about outward nationalism, and has little to do with religion.

    The world would be a far better place without the religions of the world.........with Iran being the perfect example, of why religion and government should NEVER mix.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • twiddly

      Yep, all religions are cults. They only survive because children are brainwashed from birth to believe whatever their parents believe. Very few would accept all the religious absurdity if they were left to freely choose what to believe when they reached the age of reason (say, 16+).

      If you are religious, do you believe the same as your parents? Over 90% do. Doesn't this seem odd to you?
      If born in the US, you are likely some christian denomination, maybe jewish. If born in the middle east, most likely islam. If born in the far east, probably buddhist. Etc, etc.

      What most people believe has absolutely nothing to do with truth; it has everything to do with where they are born and the beliefs of their parents. This is so ridiculous it would be funny, except that it causes so much harm in the world (crusades, inquisition, jihad...).

      Take a look a whynogod dot wordpress dot com

      June 26, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • NancE

      You're condemning and supporting their beliefs in the same breath. It's a religious school. They are refusing to sing the national anthem precisely because they believe religion and government should NEVER mix.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Jake

      Really... you are going to talk about divisive when you are doing it yourself by creating a rift between atheists and people of religion. You are wrong on a fundamental level, people whom preach hate are the problems we have in this world. I agree that this is a little offensive to me. The interviewee stated "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." that to me is a slap at all the people whom gave their lives to protect his "God" given freedom from other men trying to take it away.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  9. Lance

    I cannot believe the people who have a problem with this peaceful, inspired, humble man's opinion. How selfish can one be to curse his article only to promote how smart the pundit thinks he is.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  10. Dave Winningham

    Please don't use your religious beliefs as an excuse not to sing the national anthem. When you pledge allegiance to the flag, you're not pledging to a piece of cloth, you're pledging to what the cloth stands for. Many brave men and women have died to protect what America represents. If you don't believe in it, or if you claim to believe in something "higher", then feel free to move to the Middle East, because there that's what they do too.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • uncertain

      Dave, you just described the pledge of allegiance, not the star-spangled banner. Wrong article.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  11. stillvictims?

    The Star Spangled Banner was written when the United States was under attack by the British during the War of 1812. Fort McHenry was being bombarded by British warships, but did not surrender through the night. The story is one of American defense in the face of foreign aggression on American soil. Now we are the superpower fighting aggressively against other nations, yet our national anthem somehow continues to make us believe that our country is a victim.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  12. waj66

    Objection to phrases like “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air’ runs true to one of the basic tenets of Mennonite doctrine. Members of the Mennonite faith have from their faith’s very beginnings conscientiously objected to war. It should not be surprising that they would not want to glorify “rockets” and “bombs”. This one tenet has caused the Mennonites centuries of persecution. They migrated from Germany to Russia in order to avoid military conscription. They later immigrated to the US from Russia for the same reason. And even here in the US... some have gone to jail for those beliefs.

    During the years when the US had an established Draft, the Mennonites were eventually given the option of alternative service. As noncombatants, they have served here at home, the have also served as medics in the armed services.

    When there is a disaster., such as Joplin, Mennonite Disaster Relief is quite often the first on the scene. And long after our troupes leave a war… you will find Mennonite volunteers in the war torn countries diffusing mines and carpet bombs.

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

      I really hope you meant "defusing" rather than "diffusing" 🙂 Cheers

      June 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • waj66

      LOL! Thanks for the correction.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  13. twiddly

    I see nothing wrong with national anthem other than the silly "under god" that was stupidly added.
    And the mennonites are no more, or less, ridiculous than other varieties of christianity; they are just fewer in number.
    When a cult has millions of members, as the major religions do, it is automatically accepted by most of society as something reasonable, but it is still a cult.
    Take a look at whynogod dot wordpress dot com.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • stillvictims?

      By the way, the word "God" is not in that national anthem. It's in the Pledge of Allegiance.

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

      I think you're thinking of the pledge of allegiance...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Think Again

      Twiddly, try drinking some coffee before posting. You are referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, not the National Anthem. And, in that area, you are correct. The "under God" was put in during the Mc Carthy era (1950's) to sow we were not "Godless Commies.'

      June 26, 2011 at 9:18 am |

      Although I kind of agree with what your saying, I don't think the words "under god" are in the national anthem. I think your refering to the pledge of allegiance.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Kac

      "Under God" is not in our national anthem. It is in the Pledge of Allegiance. While I respect your right to disagree with the placement of "Under God" in the pledge, I personally find it "stupid" that you don't know the difference.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  14. malamuteshogun

    Jesus said "Give to Cesar that which is Cesar's. Give to the lord that which belongs to the lord." If you are an American citizen, or any person enjoying the freedom to speak against America you should still be giving thanks and praise for those liberties. Not saying the pledge of Alegance has more to do with their churches seperationist ideology than praising Jesus. How can somthing that causes anger and dissent among your fellow citizens be the work or in the name of a man that said, "Love your neighbor." Is disrespecting other peoples values and tearing down their feeling of national pride really the work of Jesus? I don't think so. It's is the work of misguided people who have been deceived, either by satan or their own foolish pride.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  15. Brian

    Although I do not find this a credible reason to not play the national anthem of the country in which you practice your religion I will acknowledge your right to NOT sing the national anthem as your first amendment right.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  16. Scott

    Interesting that you "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"... and yet, you choose to live within those "blood-soaked borders" and with all of the benefits and protections that those borders provide.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • 99indinf

      Well said!

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

      Which country without borders would you suggest they move to?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • msaprilr

      Um, well, there is no where on earth that is not a political country with blood-soaked borders. It's pretty much inescapable that they must live in one.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Gfreas

      Exactly, Scott. Love it or leave it, but stop trying to destroy it from within. Liberals are trying to turn the republic into a politically-correct, socialist mecca for the weak, self-proclaimed victims, and the lazy. I think all events should have the Star Spangled Banner sung, with accompanying explosion sounds to emphasize that being the world's greatest protector of peace requires strength and exercise of power to defend against those nations who would be happy to see our country and our allies destroyed. What were supposed to do in 1812 when the Brits attacked, sot back and allow them to destroy us?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Gfreas

      Sweden would be happy to have them.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Scott

      They could always start their own country... just don't drink the kool-aid...

      June 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  17. Ursula

    I don't live very far from Goshen College, so this whole ordeal is old news for me. The problem is that if they are refusing so sing our beloved anthem, it is making them appear to be unpatriotic. Boo Goshen College! As an atheist, I have a problem saying 'God' in the pledge, so I simply don't speak the word. If G.C. has a problem with 'War' then they should just omit that word from the song.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Navy1775

      There's no word "war" in the national anthem you non-believer

      June 26, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • John


      June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  18. Gigi Aldred

    Because it is full of lies ans sh.t

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  19. Don McKenzie

    I sure will not count on you to protect my community. It would not be significant enough for you.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  20. jeff

    silly christians...

    June 26, 2011 at 9:07 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.