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. floridavet

    I'm just a little tired of weenies who love to live in the USA and enjoy all its freedoms, but who don't have enough character to stand up and salute the flag, or stand at attention when the national anthem is played. I served in the USMC long enough to be posted in Vietnam for a year, and a lot of those who went didn't come back. I'm sure there are many other veterans out there from many other campaigns who remember many of their friends who didn't make it. The reason they didn't make it is they gave their lives for their country, so that whining schmucks like this guy can exercise his freedom not to respect our country's national anthem. I don't care what your religious beliefs are, even if you don't care for the "warlike" theme of the Star Spangled Banner," at least give our veterans who died on your behalf the respect they deserve. Semper Fi.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • JoeT

      I guess what you don't get is that they died and you served precisely so Mennonites can devote their religious lives to God rather than Caesar.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • scott501

      Who cares what you THINK? America is based on freedom of religion. Did you miss that?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Absolutely

      I 100% agree, and I wasn't even around during Vietnam. Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

      The article's author is mistakenly comparing the pledge of allegiance to the national anthem. While I could see some merit in not reciting the pledge of allegiance if your religious values are so inflexible and your mind so weak as to confuse your allegiances - not singing the national anthem is a disgrace. I don't think this is a liveral or conservative issue - its a disrespect issue based upon a hypocritical interpretation of the intention of the national anthem. We do not glorify war, we value our peace. Christians should understand war better than anyone - this "Christian nation" is exceedingly good at waging it when called for (or even just feels like it). The author should check his smugness and re-read his bible - there is no conflict, the very need to "explain" his silly religious belief shows the guilt he carries and his arrogance that he cares so much what others think. Google "hubris", consider it a warning - and for the record: no one who loves this country cares what you non-lovers think; shut up and enjoy your freedom quietly and don't procreate, we don't need your genes in the future.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • ToddMo

      I agree – all Mennonites are "weenies" and "whining schmucks." Even the ones that gave their lives for their beliefs. Well thought out, Floridavet.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  2. jshelley

    All Mennonites should have the Star Spangled banner tattooed on their chest and be forced to memorize and sing it once per day. If noncompliant, compromise their internetes address so the anthem plays 24/7 at full volume at home and legislate that loudspeakers be placed outside their churches, blaring those sacred words at all hours.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Zhuoyi

      Yes I agree. Because Mennonites ahould be free to do EXACTLY as we tell them. God Bless (MY VERSION) of America!!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Zhuoyi


      June 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • William

      You should be sent to the gulag for two or three decades so you know what America's freedom is really about, because it is obvious that you have no clue about it now.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  3. Frank

    Some would have an ideal nation where all have the same religion, all agree, all line up to salute the idol they all idolize. All would love the dear leader and all would defend to their death the perfection of their union. I love America for its diversity, for its minority rights, for its human rights, for its historic defense of those rights and for the union of democratic states. I love America for what America does for me. I love America for tolerating every deviate from the norm and every normal from the deviate. I love America for demonstrating that slavery was wrong, discrimination was wrong, that religion and politics can coexist without coercion. We could not have a perfect union without its imperfections and righting of wrongs and wrong headed dissenters free to dissent and to consent to the dissent. I am a Muslim.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Zhuoyi

      Beautifully said.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  4. Wolf

    "Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
    What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
    Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
    O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
    O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
    Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
    What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
    Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
    In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
    'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

    And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
    That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
    A home and a country should leave us no more?
    Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
    No refuge could save the hireling and slave
    From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
    Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
    Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
    Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
    Then conquer we must, when our cause 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!"

    Nope....nothing wrong here....unless you're an un-American puke.

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

      Horrible argument.... What's wrong with me NOT wanting to sing it?

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

      The Star Spangled Banner is a rant that disturbs those of us who are less militant, less belligerent, more tolerant, more loving of humanity and our place in history. The pledge of allegiance is also disturbing to those of us who would not pledge our allegiance, first to a rag, then to the nation for which it stands. It also disturbs us who know that the nation is a nation of men/women/children, not a nation of religious nuts who would slaughter innocents who get in their way on to church. The music is OK, but the words are certainly not American. They applied at a time of slavery, Indian wars of ethnic cleansing, wresting our destiny from the clutches of colonialism, and old world politics and even in the new politics of suppression of minorities in our own midst, Democracy is coming, it is not here yet. Let us praise America The Beautiful in an anthem of tolerance and love, not war and killing. And let us pledge allegiance, first to the nation of human rights and values, and then to the flag that is a symbol for us with liberty and justice for all.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  5. firewalker25b

    This is where it all starts ....Religious fruits and nuts..............NOW I CAN SEE A REASON FOR THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE in today's world.


    June 26, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • News Flash

      If this was a Christian Nation, (ever), why didn't the Founding Fathers just make (one of the many versions of)
      Christianity the State Religion ?
      Since it's obvious you never took even one course on the bible, the Book of Revelation is mythology, and nut jobs like you and Harold Camping have been trying to shove that paranoid cr-p down our throats for 2000 years, and it still hasn't happened, and will not happen until the sun burns out and becomes a red giant, in a few billion years. What are you going to say when you are still waiting for the end times when you are on your death bed ?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. jim atmadison

    Good for them!

    I sing the national anthem, but I haven't said the Pledge of Allegiance since junior high because of my personal religious understanding.

    To me, to pledge allegiance to a flag is a form of idolatry.

    In addition, pledging 'under God' is a violation of the First Amendment.

    Pledging 'under God' is also in violation of my church's conservative roots, which forbade interdenominational worship and prayer (we weren't allowed to become Boy Scouts).

    The wall between church and state needs to be protected for the sake of both.

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

      Talkin' about the National Anthem here, not the Pledge of Allegiance. Stay focused, k?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  7. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  8. John D.

    How is this a story?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • aaron

      it's not. it's an opinion piece on the religion blog

      June 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  9. Zhuoyi

    Great article. That is what makes this country so great. People have the freedom to express themselves or not express themselves as they see fit. So long as a person does not directly infringe on the life, liberty, or property of another, he or she should and MUST be free to follow their conscious. Forcing people to sing the anthem, pledge allegiance, or express patriotism in any way is simply not in line with our American ideals. A person doesn't have to sing the anthem to be a great American working to make the country a better place.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Red White and True Blue

      "Forcing" is not the issue. That they would choose to deny the very country that gives them the privilege of choice when they describe themselves as "all inclusive" is reprehensible.

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

      I don't see them as denying the country so much as enjoying the freedom the country is giving them. Refusing to sing the anthem is not denying the country anyway. Most Americans misunderstand what freedom is. Freedom is NOT the right to live your life as other people believe you should. Freedom is living your life in the way you see fit, so long as you are not directly infringing on others freedom. To try and shame these people into compliance with our expectations of what it means to be American, is a great disrespect to every man or woman who has lived and died building this country. True goes for you and your opinions as well.

      This is why America is so great! You and I are free to have this conversation about someone else's use of freedom!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  10. mrloosa@live.com

    Funny how some people are so intolerant of.......intolerance...........????

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Frank

      Huh? Must my tolerance include the tolerance of those who would destroy me? Must I die for the right to live? Should I pray for peace while shooting those who would be peaceful if given a chance? Should I bow down to the would be tyrant who would kill me if I don't? A true democracy tolerates the minority interests and defends the weak and insecure in the spirit of human rights to be different.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  11. Jean

    Being proud of your country has nothing to do with religion. The National Anthem is a way for all of us to respect our country. I think the decision to turn away from the country that allows them the freedom of religion is just wrong.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Mighty7

      A song is a song. A country is a country. Those who want to make one the same as the other are un-american simpletons who should probably move to Antarctica.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • jim atmadison

      So utilizing the rights given us by our country is being disrespectful of those rights and turning away from our country?

      If we're all supposed to be in lockstep with you, why would the founding fathers have given us such broad freedoms to be different from each other?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  12. guest

    at the end of the the day God gives us oxygen, water, and energy from the sun to be alive. the world itself is my country.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  13. Evan

    Hey Friends, please visit HelpFaye.ORG .... about a friend fighting for her life.... Thank you

    June 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  14. PABornAndRaised

    Out of respect for the soldiers and officers of the law who defend with their lives the borders and laws of this country and allow the rest of us to live with liberty and in relative peace, individuals such as the author of this article who take for granted this nation and refuse to acknowledge the blessings bestowed upon them by being born in this country – refusing to do something as simple and straightforward as singing the national anthem – should be given the opportunity to leave this country so that they can prove to themselves how truly central Jesus Christ is in their lives and how unimportant and secondary their US citizenship really is. My guess is that less than 5% of these so-called believers actually could walk the walk outside US borders. Probably less than 1%. Don't worry Mennonites, we will continue to fight the daily battles and lose our loved ones to protect and preserve liberty, allowing you Mennonites to continue to live as true believers spiritually opposed to singing the national anthem and to enjoy the benefits of our spent blood and treasure. Is it that difficult to recognize that your spiritual exceptionalism to any reasonable person is actually offensive and unacceptable?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  15. Cindy

    Christianity produces one nut job after another. Suggestion? This guy should sip a latte and realize without the dogma of his religion he is left with a spiritual empty well... he talks about world but calls people with beliefs lazy.... I have never in my 45 years met a christian I could trust yet alone one who was not a hypocritic. This guy and his tribe play the proverbial martyrs. Sick.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  16. sta303

    It is only the anti-christ christians of America that equate god and country, war and jesus, patriotism and creed. Most American-stylized christians will burn for their love of murder and unchrist-like behaviors. This anabaptist is the closest I have seen to the real christ in any American. You fraudsters take heed...

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Mighty7

      These patriots are almost identical to Franco in Spain: Every morning in school, face the flag and sing the "Sun on Your Face" anthem....or in sporting events and even in church. They are so stupid they do not even realize how similar they are in their logic to mid-20th century fascists.

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

      You are correct, sir or madam. Most peaceful people I know are either atheist or mennonite. Go figure.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Not Buyin'

      Nice try Paki. Now, back to your cave. Our Predators are watching you.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  17. mrloosa

    Funny how some people are so intolerant of.......intolerance...........

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  18. idb

    The greatest asset of the United States is diversity. The national anthem is one of the few things that binds all those people together. Deciding to not play it on public events show great disrespect to the country that allows you to express your opinion in the first place. Therefore it is a misguided decision.

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

      Your conclusion makes no sense. Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem lead to indoctrination. Why the heck does a National Anthem have to do with a baseball game??

      June 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  19. ozzy

    So they don believe in violence? So after they don't sing the National Anthem they go out on the football field and try to kill the other team?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  20. Nina

    I am a non denominal Christian, but I also do not believe in war and blood shed. I do not pledge allegience to the flag because I can only pledge my allegience to God. I feel our government has become, well lets just say, not what it should be and yes, I do live in America and love this country, but I am so disappointed in the way our government is conducting themselves that I do not vote anymore.

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

      You do realize that you current stance won't do much to help change things? I am not criticizing you, per se, but I must say goodness requires action not just hoping.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:50 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.