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. Crys J

    For those of us who are true Christians our allegiance will also be to God first, everything else including country, second. Freedom of religion was always what God intended for His creation. There are many countries that one can follow the convictions of your heart and mind. Many come to America today for financial and educational benefits, not only freedom of religion. Mennonites are peaceful and peaceloving, and I salute their authenticity.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • News Flash

      So you are a 100 % "true" Christian huh ? What about me, I'm a 99.9183461 % true Christian. My neighbor, says he's a 100 % true Christian, but I know he's an 87.2347 % Christian. Who says you are "true" and I'm not ? Self righteousness leads only to a dark alley.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  2. matt

    You know CNN, the second headline on your site is this article on God and country. It's painfully obvious that all you do is attack the right and God...its has gotten so old the constant drumbeat of bashing that occurs. The only blogs where you can post remarks are upon the amazingly baised stories about Palin, Perry, ect....then to read the same old diatribe from the minions. It's so old.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  3. jed

    Christians are citizens of the kingdom of heaven first. Unfortunately, many believers in the US have forgotten this (forget the larger and larger groups of deniers, greedy, and the generally wicked for a moment). They have transformed 'Christianity' into some twisted version of the American dream - show up for church once a week and be nice to people for a couple of hours and you are set. Of course they will almost run down the homeless person that is asking for a buck and will cheer and chant 'USA, USA' as we bomb another country that is not attacking the US. They will hurrumph with pride as our gov't spends $640 billion per year on weapons and wars as billions live around the world on less that $2 / day. As the blessings that God has given the US continue to flow away from our country and to other countries like China, I can only hope that the believers in this country can start to remember that they are Christians first.

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

      Well stated now where's the LIKE button?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  4. Joe citizen abroad

    Hypocritical nonsense. Mr. Schloneger seems happy to practice his faith under the protection of that freedom, bought with bombs and rockets and hundreds of thousands of lives over our nation's history...and with his tax dollars. He obviously doesn't refuse taxes, or he would be in prison instead of blogging away at his home computer.

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

      No one fought specifically to force people to sing the national anthem or say the pledge of allegiance! They did fight to guarantee that there would be NO state religion but freedom of religion instead and that is what the Mennonites are practicing.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  5. rplat

    . . . and good old CNN jumps right on this . . . anything to diminish the nation.

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

      I am so sick of reading comments like this. In NO WAY does this diminish the nation. It shows that we truly have freedom of religion! What diminishes this nation are the hateful comments that declare that the Mennonites should leave this country because they don't believe like you do. That is a slippery slope my friend because next, you may be told to leave the country because you don't believe like someone else.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  6. Think Again

    Funny how these clowns refuse to sing the song of the country that guarantees their right to believe as they wish, and that men and women haves died to protect that right. Maybe we should change the end of the song to read, 'the land of the self-centered and the home of the politically correct."

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

      Maybe instead of being hateful, you should understand that this country gives them the right to NOT sing the song or pledge allegiance to it. That is the beauty of living here.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  7. John Richardson

    I'm mostly sympathetic to the author, but he is dead wrong about where freedom comes from. It doesn't just come from rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air, but it IS something we have to struggle for on this earth. It does NOT come from "god". And the author's mocking words about nations' blood soaked borders are absurd in light of his own group's history: religious sects have blood soaked "borders", too. The Mennonites will get it when they not only eschew militaristic forms of national patriotism, but sectarianism and facile appeals to supernatural beings when speaking of things that are urgent business in the real world.

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

      You are speaking of a different kind of freedom than the author. What he clearly stated is that his belief in God set him free but requires a price of the cross. His freedom transcends man-made borders. What you are speaking of is national freedom that is guaranteed by the biggest military and largest, most powerful weapon caches. I would guess that Mennonites also use the conscientious objector clause guaranteed by this country to not fight in wars that they have a religious objection to.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  8. Paul

    Who cares? Why do these memmorons bother to open their mouths other then to draw attention to themselves and their silly religion?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  9. xXAnonXx

    Wow CNN , Israel gave land back to the palastines and THIS is your top story???

    June 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  10. annoyed

    "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."

    What else don't you believe in that truely exists? Gravity perhaps? Oh wait, religion and proven science don't work and play well either.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  11. jkary

    This is really funny to me since religious people in the united states often think of atheists as non-americans/non-citzens. (like President Bush did).

    Yet as an atheist, I put my country first, and the religious people put their country second below their god. Who's more of an american citizen now? I hold my country above your false gods. I guess that answers the question.

    Since your allegiance is not to your country first, I would expect Fox News to claim that these religious people are non-american and should leave.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  12. Lainey0828

    If people would rather not sing the anthem, then so be it. An article about it seems unnecessary but it's a free country. What's more disturbing to me is the comments people make here. My advice to people who seemingly think nothing of anyone but themselves, nor do they appear to have any loyalty to the country they benefit from EVERY DAY is to please leave it. We'd be better off without you here and you'd probably learn a thing or two about life if you had to actually see how it is to live elsewhere. kthanksbye.

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

      The country that you love guarantees freedom of religion and that is what these people are practicing. They are not the only religion that declares loyalty to their God above loyalty to anyone or anything else. Ask a marine about "God, Country, Self"...which do they put first?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  13. Marie Kidman


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

      What the hell is this?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  14. WDD

    Catholics against Protestants in Ireland, Muslims against Christians and Jews in the Middle East, Shiite against Sunni in the Middle East. Where is God? Where is Jesus? The old testament is the story of a dysfunctional family – talk about blood soaked borders! Somewhere people are not really understanding what the bible tells us in total and using only those portions that suite their beliefs

    Is it not possible to worship the Christian faith and pay respect to the place and people that give you the freedom to practice your beliefs without fear of retribution? I suggest they try that in the middle east

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

    Please move your college/university to another country. Thanks.

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

      Why? It's a private college and they can do what they want.

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

      Opting not to play the national anthem is small potatoes compared to what many private colleges do. They didn't do it for 116 yrs. I have no idea why they started at all, but they have every right to stop again.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Bobowe

      Next time they need soldiers in Afghanistan...or any other part of the world....send them

      June 26, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • TXpresby

      Playing the national anthem and saying the Pledge of Allegiance are not required by law. What is provided by law is the right to worship as you see fit. There is no need for Goshen or the Mennonites to move to another country as this one, thankfully, allows them to practice freedom of religion. I congratulate Goshen for standing by their principles but I would like to know the backstory regarding why they decided to sing the national anthem last year.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • GLMcColm

      But isn't America supposed to be the place where people march to a different drummer? Or is "Americanism" our own straitjacket?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  16. think now

    In 20 years or less, when may not have any right at all... the way the world is going now

    June 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  17. I sing

    The concept, design and creation of America deserves a song to be song in praise of all that it was meant for

    June 26, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • David

      But why does it have to be sung before sporting events? Some sort of indoctrination??

      June 26, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • I sing

      Because a group has gathered in a land that has created the freedom to gather....and we show it by taking time to acknowledge what we have by singing it's praises

      June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  18. Robert

    I am always amazed at Protestants who brag on being descended from the Anabaptists. The Anabaptist cult engaged in open, violent, anarchistic revolt against the established order of society. They opposed private property, killed landowners and their families and destroyed manor houses throughout Germany, They also practiced polygamy (so much for "family values"). Modern Mennonites do not do any of those things, but that is where their bizarre theology comes from, by their own admission.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • David

      Christianity and the Crusades - any worse?

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

      I don't know where you got you information Robert but what you are saying is simply not true. Anabaptists were non violent. Even secular sources show they were violently opposed to the point of death.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  19. A Veteran

    Sir, thank you for your explanation; it is always interesting to me to see how others come to their decisions. That said, I'm bothered that you felt the need to make the explanation. Many years ago I put on a green uniform and went off to fight a war, ostensibly to ensure your, my, and our children's freedom to worship the flag, or burn it, or just not have it around in our places of worship, as we choose. Frankly, I'm still proud as heck to live in a nation where you don't have to play the national anthem before you do something. I just wish others would act like they were as proud of everyone's freedoms as I am.

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

      Thank you, Sir! Thank you for your service to our nation and thank you for your perspective.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  20. Russ

    GimmeABreak, in the time and energy it took you to write your comment, you could have directed it toward toleration of people who do things a little differently than you. Comparing these people and their practices to the idiots of Westboro shows a distinct lack of capacity for nuance.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:13 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.