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. Christian Patriot

    I fully understand the author's desire to pledge allegiance to the one and only God, but I also know that Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to give to the Lord what belongs to the Lord (paraphrase). Singing the National Anthem is merely our gift of thanks to this country for what God has allowed to happen. It is not an affront to Jesus. Beside, if we were to follow this logic, we shouldn't tell our family that we love them because, first and foremost, we are to love God, and any showing of love to another human would be "sacrilegious." I think many confuse singing the National Anthem as praise and worship. It is NOT. It is merely respect for our God-given country.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Dan

      I think part of their issue (and mine) with the anthem is that they are largely pacifists. To sing about rockets and bombing people can definitely create some issues for those who believe Jesus called them to live non-violently.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • read the article

      "Patriot" - if you could take your bible-goggles off, you would see that this article is not about choosing Jesus over Country, but about separation of church and state as a principle. And if you think God "allowed" our great country to happen through the slaughter of Native Americans, use of slave labor, and the strong arm of our military, you have a very different concept of God than your own Christ did.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • wjmknight

      There is no account in the New Testament of Jesus paying a Roman tax or making an oath to Rome, so Jesus did not practice what he preached! (according to what you think the passage says). The passage you cite has many interpetations, and making an oath to a civilian government is not what Jesus was discussing..

      I suppose if you were around in Ancient Rome you would be telling the Christians about to be eaten by lions that "Well, the scripture says render unto Caesar, so you should make the oath to Caesar. Getting eaten by lions is really your own fault."

      And people wonder why Islam is the fastest growing religon.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  2. Brian S

    Public forums are like a nasty car wreck – you ought to move on and not look but I just had to do it. It's entertaining in a sick kind of way. Seeing the flag-waving fools and the hate-filled anti-religious crowd go at it. Hardly a gram of intelligence can be found by sifting through the lot of it. What the man said in his article made perfectly good sense to me – he's putting God before Country and is walking the walk. Leave him in peace.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Yep, it is a free country after all.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Jum

      So you are including your post in your rant I assume. Being you are just a religious zealot who wants to bash people of higher intellect with valid talkign points. Go away.

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

    Don't you all think Baldwin and that guy in that photo look like gay lovers?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Mighty7

      No, not really. But I find interesting only YOU noticed that.

      Must be really cramped in that closet of yours.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  4. FaithinRedWhiteBlue

    I have a freind who fell away from the church due to the pastor's money scandal. He said "he lost faith". I replied, you put your faith in the wrong man. Man himself will let you down as we are that way by our sinful nature. Don;t out oyur faith into the men who wrongly use the words God and country. Put our faith within God himself. So called Christians years back did horrible things to their fellow man, all in the name of God. Our flag and its anthem represent the stuggle of independence and the hardships our fore-fathers endured to ensure freedom. Freedom to worship, freedom to say what we think. If you red the words of the anthem, you'll notice it tells the story of struggle and survival. Yes, there are those who mis-represent the truth and shape it to their will......but our will and quest for truth will ALWAYS overcome evil. So press PLAY and proudly place your hand over your heart, its for those who went before us and paid the ultimate price for the freedoms you so truly love and take fro granted everyday.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Luke P

      That is quite the speech there. You might as well run for mayor with words like that. Ceremonial stuff should be right up your alley.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  5. Marty

    I agree with the notion that nations are "man-made, blood-soaked borders." However, the author strangely ignores the fact that all religions (including Christian religions) are a) also man-made constructs, and b) most are bathed in blood-soaked ideology. Christianity says love your enemies (see the Crusades and the Inquisition). Islam means peace (yeah, right). How many wars have been fought on religious principles alone?

    June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  6. peg

    The flag respectfully

    June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Uruz

      ... declined to be interviewed for this story?

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  7. Respect

    I sing out of respect and realize the event I am at is in America where people of religion ans no religion died for it.

    To not participate is their loss, not the whole

    June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • ElmStreet Regular

      Their particular sort of "participation" is part of what makes us strong. We are free to express ourselves as few other countries can do, yet even that is being taken away from us by people who think a song is more important than the freedom it sings about and that they should be forced to have this music play at some event that has nothing to do with our national identi.ty?
      Ok, now my head hurts.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  8. Surthurfurd

    In 1892, Francis Bellamy, wrote the Pledge. He was a Christian Socialist who believed resources should be shared.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  9. Jum

    I just wasted 10 minutes of my life reading this garbage. First off, I am not involved with the military in any way. However, if you want to enjoy the freedoms of this country then you should at least respect it. Why are you allowed to be exempt from taxation? Why are you able to enjoy the religious freedoms that you do? Religion is the bloodiest concept ever created by man. More people have been killed in the name of religion then all the diseases combined. You are not better then me. You are not better then anyone. You are just more idiots wasting more tax dollars.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • FaithinRedWhiteBlue

      Would you believe Hitler was vey religous?(Aryan Christ) Sure, so called religous people have done terrible things for many years. Come to think of it, all your basic dictators were religous to some point. Some even devout followers. The big problem is.........that's not religion. They all re-wrote the bible in their image and what they wanted. So, I now would state that they were not religous........just mad. Therefore, true religion had nothing to do with it.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Molex

      You read slow. That's really all I have.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  10. Frank P

    What would the reaction be if this were written by a Muslim and talked about Islam and the Koran in the same way.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Mighty7

      Feathers and Tar. Probably a bullet in his mailbox. Who knows. These neo-fascist patriots are one crazy bunch of loonies.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. HB

    They do not believe in nationalistic "blood soaked borders" but they do believe in religious "blood soaked borders." It is hypocrisy when you claim you are setting an example to the world by removing borders while you are creating borders based on religion.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  12. Debbie

    I agree with you Missouri, the Mennonites are the TRUE Christians.

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


      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Troy

      What? A true Christian? That's such a wrong statement. I, as a Christian, do not worship the American Flag, hence there's no compromise in God's instruction in not worship a false god. I'm pledging allegiance to a symbol of my country and government (the one by the way that allows this college to do what they do). It even states in the Bible to pray for those who work in government. Romans 13:1. So, with all that being said, I'm going to say the National Anthem every time I hear it, render a salute (I can do that being in the military) and have peace in my heart that I'm still a TRUE Christian.....

      June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  13. jen

    oh but christians get their panties all in a wad about those of us that refuse to say 'under god' during the pledge of allegiance... this country is NOT based on christian anything - as so said by our forefathers! i dont care if xians dont want to sing the national anthem if they so choose - but dont put prayer back in school and dont force us to say 'under god' during our pledge!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  14. joe

    sigh, just another religious zealot.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • scott501

      or patriotic zealot..its a free country

      June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  15. Casey

    You know what: just as I deserve to live as I want to, so do these ppl. they arent harming anyone. they arent committing any crimes. they arent persecuting anyone. as long as our Mennonite brothers adhere to the law of the land, then they have every right to enjoy the freedoms that are set before them. GOD BLESS THEM and everyone else should remember that not everyone is called to be a fighter, warrior or politician. not everyone wants to have an opinion on the latest election. so leave these folks alone and let them live their life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Worldwalker

      I'm seeing a disturbing number of people posting "you have the freedom to do exactly what I think you should do" here.

      I don't happen to agree with the Mennonite beliefs, but they have just as much right to hold them - and to act on them - as anyone else does, so long as they act within the law (or accept the consequences if they violate it, as many people have in the past when faced with what they believed to be unjust laws). Whatever our founding fathers may or may not have believed, "you have the freedom to do what I tell you to do or else" was no part of it.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  16. zoso0420

    In God we trust. All others pay cash.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  17. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  18. Mike

    Have any of your "people" serveda day in the military?

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

      Certainly they have– ever heard of military roles reserved for conscientious objectors?

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

      I appreciate that you chose to fight for my right to opt out of serving in the military.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Uruz

      Did you actually *read* any of his article? What a foolish question.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. Jeff


    It's as if everyone is so afraid to "lose" your self definition or as the article "National Values". America always boasts about how free they are yet often times when people make choices freely that they believe a right for them everybody is so quick to judge and whine about what others should do and shouldn't do. If you are free then why do you need national values?. If you are free why do you care about another's choices?. If you honored each others freedom like you say you do, why would you care if someone sang the anthem or not?. Here's a thought, some might be familiar with because of your "Christian values". Try just allowing others to choose freely without judgment. Allow yourself to choose without judging yourself. You all get so caught up in your precious "American way" your just people choosing, and if you want to really be free one day you all might have to let go of all this American Values crap, just be free and be examples of freedom for the world to see.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  20. Jim

    I can't understand those who criticize the citizens described in this article. Haven't all our brave military men and women who have served this country done so precisely to protect the freedom to believe as we want? To speak, or not to speak, as we want? To live without fear from the majority who wish to impose their will?

    In our national anthem, it speaks of the "land of the free". I believe that is exactly what it means.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • scott501

      Agree. Thats what is so HILARIOUS about their thinking. They dont get the basics!

      June 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Tom

      Yes it is true, but if it weren't for the wars that they are opposed to, they would not have the freedom to begin with, and they do not seem to respect that. I understand not wanting war, in many cases, it does not need to happen, and others, it does. The Star Spangled Banner is really about one war, really, more of a symbolic moment of one war. It is not about Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc. If they oppose that we should have fought the Revolutionary War, then they can go ahead and move to Britain. Our National Anthem is a story, a story of the beginning of our country... You can't change the story, or forget about the story, or in their case ignore the story if you want to receive the benefits of what it has given us.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:53 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.