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. Joebob

    Blood soaked borders? Are you kidding me? You wouldn't have the freedom to observe your religion without the country born from the fight for freedom that you separate yourself from.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • JMK

      So being in a free country they must be forced to do something that goes against their religious beliefs?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      You're referring to that "fight for freedom" that took the freedom of Native Americans away.

      I see.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Joebob

      Know who said "Live free or die."?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Joebob

      JMK, you're missing the point. Not saying they are "forced" to do anything they should feel honored to do. "There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain."

      June 26, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  2. Jimbo

    It it wasn't for the USA your people wouldn't have the opportunities that you do to practice your nonsense worshipping. Leave, if you don't want borders and we all under Jesus, go see how the rest of the world will tolerate this idiotic thinking.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  3. Keeg

    Living in america these people take freedom for granted, god doesnt grant freedom, thats something man has created and man must protect. And if your so bent on seperating church and state then do it, dont let a national anthem have an effect on your religious beliefs

    June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Jeebus

      Actually.. it is man that took away freedom.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  4. TF

    Oh who cares what they do? If this is the top story at CNN today, must not be much going on.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. DLG

    So basically every single person at this school pay for their college education without federal assistance? They've never got loans from banks, or purchased cars on credit, right? Because if they had, they would be supporting the federal government!! I guess I'll check the website and see how many kids go to school there on assistance programs. It would hypocritical of them if they do.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  6. Clayton

    Why is this on the top news in cnn at all? It not at all what I have come to expect from cnn..... Epic fail

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  7. Agnim

    Mark Schloneger, there is nothing "strange" about living a life that this rooted in the Principle of Non-violence! NOTHING!
    Such a life will only seem "strange" to those who are lovers of violence & warmongers at heart.

    It is the foolish love of violence that has driven the ignorant & deluded religious-types to be fueling seemingly endless jihads & crusades for centuries.

    Non-violence is Law of Nature governing human behavior. Those who violate this Law is lost, doomed & senseless, as the bulk of abrahamic religious followers are - crazies!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  8. Jim

    While I commend the author's faith and dedication, I believe it is somewhat misguided. Though we should not be "of the world", God fully understands that we live in the world and are part of it. God sent us to this earth and while here we all face very diverse challenges. The author was blessed to live in a time and place where he is free to practice his faith, where he has enough to eat, and where he's generally safe. Others face great struggles in the places where they're born, but may be blessed in other ways. So, we should all be thankful for the blessings we have and should recognize that we must work within the constructs of our society and nation wherever we can. Remember, Christ did say, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's ..." I believe that recognizes that we do owe allegiance to our land and I, for one, certainly count myself blessed to live in this one. Further, I feel that the National Anthem is a great song and especially enjoy when we sing all the verses that speak of God's hand (though we only do that in Church).

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  9. Lew

    This is just another example of how dangerous all religions can be. Blind faith in anything (god, country, politics, another person ...) may prove to be our end.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Christian Patriot

      Your lack of faith will surely be your demise.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  10. Daniel

    I thought I'd be offended but I read this article with an open mind. I can't say I disagree with most points in this article because I too love my country, but sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  11. CLV

    Christ is believed to have said "Render unto Cesare those things that are Cesare's and unto God those things that are God's" implying that as social beings, to avoid chaos and anarchy, we must adhere and obey the mores of our society. You can work within the social system and still honor your moral code (whatever that may be) but to imply that your belief system trumps your responsibility as a citizen and supporter of YOUR country...is very, very sad.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  12. Francis Scott Key

    Your Church is Your Church because people that might have not even believe in your beliefs, or even believed in God whatsoever, have died to give you that right to believe and Worship as you wish.
    Have you ever contemplated the song’s symbol is an acknowledgement to peoples of all types, by no choice of their own gave their lives in military events.
    It is just meant to say thanks to the folks that died so we can in turn attend our athletic events, take our kids out for ice cream, and protest against the leaders themselves. North Korea has songs too. Respectfully to you Sir, I wonder if people can opt out of singing them there, not sure if there is a Mennonite branch in Pyongyang.
    I am not trying to disagree with your beliefs or your right not to sing. Think about why you aren’t singing and who you aren’t singing the song to. You aren’t singing the song to our country. You are singing the song to those that died before us.
    So I’ll sing the song to those that have died, even though I really don’t think the country is doing well and I really don’t like the path the USA is on right now. Personally I believe our country really shouldn’t be involved in half the current wars/events that I have seen in my life. But being a veteran myself, I sing the song because without those people that died through all the time of existence of the United States, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to live in a company that is free to the level where I can for the most part say and do as I please.
    If we have enough people that don’t believe in the participation in singing, or likewise participating in military wars/events, there eventually won’t be a country around that has the freedom to do things as simple as attend an athletic event at our own free will.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  13. John Doe

    The Mennonites are trustworthy the American Government is NOT. Stop being a sucker and a slave to Washington, DC. They don't give a flip for you or your family. Allah will destroy America, you don't have to do a thing. Wait till they cheat you out of your Social Security and Medicare and then say the pledge and sing the song, fools. I will trust a Mennonite hands down over the Federal Government any day. Wars cococted from lies and the murder of thousands for oil? Some country!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Gabe

      Let me guess. You are an unemployed hipster that thinks legalizing marijuana would be "good"......Get a job conspiracy theory.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  14. Gabe

    The least you could do is honor your country. Freedom of speech came at a cost. It's called respect!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  15. scott501

    The guy who beat that father into a coma at a ballgame probably sang the national anthem too

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  16. N


    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  17. Sharon

    I admire people who believe in strong values and I see many things about the Mennonite faith that I find admirable. However; they seem to forget that Jesus Christ was following the laws of the land when he allowed himself to be hung on the cross for sins he didn't commit because the law allowed it. He recognized the authority of the country in which He lived. So while I too believe that there God's Kingdom is greater than any earthly country, I also know that it is important to recognize and sustain the laws of the land in which we live. Part of recognizing the laws of the land and showing our devotion and appreciation to those laws is to sing the National Anthem.

    In additon, I also wonder if perhaps some people don't understand why the true symbol of freedom is not he cross. The cross was an earthly thing that allowed Him to be hung and die as He suffered for all the sins of the world. It wasn't the cross that set him free! It was the Godly power to rise above death and be resurrected that set Him free. The cross is a symbol of death. Life is a symbol of freedom! Death is an earthly restriction. Eternal Life overcomes all earthly power and truly is freedom!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  18. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  19. Jewell

    I'm thankful for articles such as these. I had forgotten that our national anthem had four verses. I looked it up and I especially love the fourth verse. It contains the words, In God We Trust. What a wonderful, diverse country we have! Thank God He has preserved it for all of us to enjoy and express our opinions and thoughts freely.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Grimwolf

      That's not original. Just like on the money...

      You can go ahead and thank "god" for this, but you should realize we worship Baal – not god.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  20. Shamrock6

    I don't sing it either. But it's because america is a dump and has nothing to do with religion. chrisitans and america go perfect together. A group of crazy idiots together with the fattest, dumbest country on the planet.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • ChelseaJean

      If you think this country is so horrible why dont you get out?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Joy

      Maybe you should do something to make this country better rather than talk bad of this country. Try living in Haiti or Afghanistan, maybe you'll like it better!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I did. I served in the Marine Corps for 9 years. What have you done? That's what I thought. Nothing. I get to say whatever the hell I want. Can you say the same? Nope. I would leave this hellhole in a heartbeat but where are you going to go? What country would take americans? That's right. NOBODY. You're stuck here just like me and everyone else.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • ButterSquash

      How can you say America is dumb when WE invented Dancing with the Stars, breast implants, and made Justin Beiber famous????

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 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.