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. RWB

    Most communists refuse to sing the Star bangled Banner.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Joe Canada

      Most capitalists aren't true christians.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Rationality

      Wow, and her eI thought the 1950's were over

      June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Erm

      Oh please. Grasping at straws.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  2. JJ

    And what if you are an atheist? Seems as if these arguments imply that nationality is tied to a god. I can assure that I can give dearly to my country without feeling the need to consider a god along with that. Remember that religious freedom means that the ability to have no religion is protected as well. I sing the national anthem because the country I support chose this as our anthem, but do not agree with the lyrics in their entirety. Much as I do not entirely agree with our governing body yet continue to pledge my allegiance to my country. In the end, if the Mennonites do not choose to sing the anthem, that is their prerogative and no hard feelings should be sent their way as long as they abide by the laws of our land.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  3. Ron

    RELIGION ... all it does...is create WAR!

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

      Sad to say you are right!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      W e
      A re
      R ight

      June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • a38679

      I don't know – this group seems more pacifist than a lot of religions/religious persecutors. So I doubt they're the war-causing type. And I have to respect and admire their conviction for their own belief while also respecting the necessary separation between their beliefs and other's beliefs AND the laws of this country. They observe their own religion without trying to force it down anyone else's throat (unlike most other christian religions in this country). And as an agnostic I have respect for people that can do their own thing without being judgmental towards others. Mutual respect – our country needs more people who practice MUTUAL RESPECT. Well written article – thank you for the insight into why you do what you do.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  4. Vanadis

    What do you have against lattes, buddy?

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

      Or being lazy, for that matter. It's Sunday...


      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  5. Paul

    I get sick in my stomach when I read this crap... hiding behind your savior is a poor excuse for your beliefs. Joy you are so right. if it wasn't for the American soldier who believes in God and Country. all you creeps whould be under Hitler marching directly into the gas chambers.............so are all so sad

    June 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Mighty7

      "God and Country". That was the motto for Franco's fascist government.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Rob

      You sound like a control freak... If we were in Hitler's gas chambers, it would be great, because we would live in total love and peace with our Master for forever eternally:))

      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      Following is not "hiding".

      It's courage.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • harleydavidson

      Mighty7, By way of your logic. If A is a Bad Person. And A does B. Therefore, Anyone who does B is a Bad Person. This logic is flawed. If you replace B with anything innocuous, the logic fails. For example, let B = sleeping. Franco was a dictator. Franco Slept at night. Anyone who slept at night is a dictator.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Mighty7

      Your "logic" example is about as idiotic as it comes. It shows precisely the sort of mentality that will reason away any clear comparison.

      Forcing anyone to be patriotic is the sort of thing mid-20th century fascists did. Every single one of them. Many of these momos are conservatives who appear to have a fascist-like mentality and use the identical same reasoning, symbolism and motto....ergo they are like Franco.

      Conformist Harley fanboy...try again.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  6. Scott Piercy

    It is truly amazing when a secular humanist and non theist like myself can easily agree with a devout Mennonite. This shows clearly that people of diverse beliefs can understand the things that make perfect sense. Surprise people, this guy got it totally right.

    Not to overly indulge in a history lesson here, we were founded as a secular nation and not as a Christian one. No amount of wishful thinking or ignorance of our actual history will change this. We were founded on secular principles and a strict separation of Church and State *PRECISELY* for the reasons the author describes. Ones philosophy should be ones business and should always have nothing to do with ones love of country. Ever. This is what liberty implies.

    When Francis Bellamy wrote our original Pledge Of Allegiance in 1892, the words "under god" were not there. And yes he was a Baptist Minister. And, interestingly enough, a socialist. "Under God" was added by Congress during that great era we all fondly remember known as the McCarthy era. You know this era right? When we were so scared of the "red menace" and putting people on trial for thought crimes. Putting "Under God" in our pledge, as well as changing our national motto to "In God We Trust", were political moves to differentiate us from those godless communists and socialist. One socialist is probably still rolling over in his grave about that, the one who wrote our darn pledge in the first place!!!!

    Most people that will find this gentleman's stance objectionable are merely reacting because they think something sacred in their memory is being disrespected. Just keep in mind that our current pledge is not only disrespectful to it's author, it is also disrespectful to our countries own founding principles.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Paul

      you are truly and idiot!!!
      How far back in history do you want to go to show how smart you think you are. Let's go back to Plymouth Rock and start there!!

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

      You are truly enlightened.

      We need not go "back" in history at all.

      We need simply look at the present.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Mark

      No...what is "truly amazing" is that someone who claims to be so enlightened, and so friggin smart...can be so stupid.

      Yes, Scott...you are a truly amazing...moron.


      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      Paul, JonnyKay, Mark, do any of you have evidence to the contrary? Or are you just being trolls?

      Scott is factually correct here.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  7. MC

    I think that Joy wants to burn you at the stake or drown you in a river until you confess to loving America. Your point is taken. Carry on.


    June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Geez

      A classic misinterpretation of scripture. When Christ said turn the other cheek, he didn’t literally mean take a beating. He also said render unto Caesar that which is Ceasar' and spoke of supporting your leaders.

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

      When Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek" he meant literally turn the other cheek.

      Give that which Caesar wants to Caesar.

      Give you an education, knowledge of religious history, the Christ Consciousness and the ego, and you might actually have something to live and die for.


      June 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  8. Name*Chedar

    Anabaptist in am creation of the mind. See the God they are talking about is invented in the mind that is why there are many denomination in Christianity. When things "pop" up suddenly then another religion comes out.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      "God" is Pure Thought.

      All representations flow from the Thought though none may contain the whole truth.

      The intellect represents the Godhead.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  9. Akbar Zeb

    ...It is official Democratic policy to appeal to the least-informed, weakest minded members of the public. Their base consists of soccer moms, actresses, felons, MSNBC viewers, aging Red-diaper babies, welfare recipients, heads-up-their-asses billionaires, and government workers—who can never be laid off. ...Although the left in America is widely recognized as hysterical, unreasonable, and clueless, the ‘root cause’ of these traits has generally been neglected.” They are a mob.
    “Liberals are the ‘some of the people’ you can fool all of the time.”
    “The mob mentality is irresistible to people with a desperate need to be popular, those who are perennially afraid of getting a bloody nose in the playground of life. That is why conservatives can never be a mob….” The liberal herd mentality, so blatantly obvious in phenomena such as their pack attacks on Sarah Palin, for example, is at heart a mob’s need for group approval and approbation. The poor dears are lacking in self-esteem you see (not to be confused with egotism, which they have in spades).

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

      Do you just troll CNN for opportunities to regurgitate Beckisms?


      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      The Republicans are comprised of very Young Souls seeking security and money at the expense of all else, preferably, anyone else on the Planet who may need its resources to survive the day.

      Democrats simply voice their concern for others beyond themselves.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  10. JohnnyKay

    I wholeheartedly agree that no 'Christian' can celebrate the death of another. I'll go further. No 'Christian' can bear arms, go to war or do the things most 'Christians do and still call themselves Christians.

    You either are you're not.

    Beautifully written article.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  11. kcuhC

    Their right to do. But I must say, were it not for countries like the US, these zealots would be executed in countries who are less tolerant than ours. They enjoy what they have on the backs of those to provide it to them (and they're ungrateful for it). So they have the right to not show respect to this country, and I have the right to call them ungrateful idiots.

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

      The Mennonites are all over the world, living what they believe.

      You're mistaken.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  12. Buck

    This is ridiculous. The part of the national anthem that is sung at events has NO MENTION OF GOD. What is the big deal? If you accept government money and accept the advantages of living here, sing the damn song! Like I said before, the part popularly known as the anthem, DOESNT MENTION GOD. So, get over it!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      The Mennonites don't accept "government money".

      Get your 'facts' straight.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  13. James

    Why is this the top news – it is an opinion piece. get it off the front.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  14. Aaron

    Alright, so you want separation of church and state and do not recognize any nation but "only one christian nation". Okay, in that case your school should not receive any state or federal funding and any one who believes this way should not receive any kind of welfare, unemployment, social security, etc. If you don't recognize the nation, don't ask for its help. If you meet this criteria, alright, I guess I cannot complain about your choice.

    Wait – God through Jesus gave freedom on the cross. Yes, this is true. But were it not for the defense of men who are willing to give their lives (rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air), then we might be back in a place where martyrs are made still. Okay, you might say "there still are people killed for their beliefs", and this is perhaps true in this country, but by no means the rate as in the past.

    If you are worried about the "ritual" in the anthem look at your daily life. I would wager I could find dozens of non-Christ oriented "rituals" that you perform every day. Singling this one out as a standing point is laudable, but claiming you are unique because of it is just plain egocentric – not Christ-centric.

    Sorry I've been so harsh, but I have problem with people using God to justify things that are contrary to the Bible, or are not addressed in the Bible. Yes, I have judged you and I shall be judged likewise, I know this.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      Jesus taught the Egyptian king making ritual that enabled us to avoid the first three Dimensions of Thought at death which are Chaos.

      He never taught he would do the work of a life for everyone else too lazy to learn.

      Your 'facts' aren't facts at all.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Aaron

      Interesting. Been reading too much Dan Brown?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Charlotte

      Well said. And I agree totally with your post. Yes, each individual can follow whatever belief they choose living here in the United States, but it is because of the defense of those rights by our nation (via military defense) that each of us can do this. To negate the sacrifices that have been made to afford us this right is very ego-centric. And this does not apply to only the military but to those individuals who fought, supported, rallied and spoke out throughout our history. They all have played a part in forming and shaping our country.

      And as Aaron stated, I would expect none of your followers, members etc., to accept any type of federal aide, help or services.

      So while I respect your right to not acknowledge these factors, I do not have to agree with them.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      I precede Dan Brown.

      But what an insightful writer he is.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • T3chsupport

      "Okay, in that case your school should not receive any state or federal funding and any one who believes this way should not receive any kind of welfare, unemployment, social security, etc."

      That's a laugh!
      Mennonites don't need your public schools. They typically home school. They also provide for themselves and their families, and don't need your handouts.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • sim

      Aaron: You're all wet, but my response is to "Geeze": Classic misinterpretation of scripture? When Jesus told his followers to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" he meant this: IF IT'S NOT CAESAR'S DON'T GIVE IT TO HIM. Got it? Do you think that if Jesus were walking among us today he would be parading up and down the street on July fourth singing Yankee Doodle ? Your 'classic misinterpretation of scripture' leads you to believe that the state holds ascendancy over all things. It does not. "Render unto Caesar" indeed. Leave these people alone. And to the rest of the fascists (those are people who hold the state as the source and object of their 'religion') responding here. The graduates of Goshen College have done more good in the world than all of you outraged armchair politicos put together. When you stand before God explain your position to him–see if he ushers you into heaven because you can whistle Stars and Stripes Forever. GOD AND COUNTRY. Not the other way around.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  15. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Geez

      A classic misinterpretation of scripture. When Christ said turn the other cheek, he didn’t literally mean take a beating. He also said render unto Caesar that which is Ceasar' and spoke of supporting your leaders.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  16. Pepper

    I grew up in a church that was about as fundamentalist as one can get. We believe in worshipping one God alone, but we also believe God blessed us by allowing us to be born and raised in the greatest country in the world for a reason. We do not 'worship' the United States, or any government, state or political party within it, but we believe that God would want us to honor our national heritage and respect those things that acknowledge it: the flag, its laws, and, yes, even its national anthem. In this country you are free to worship any way you want. Don't you think that respecting the American way of life (and that includes singing the national anthem) is at least one appropriate way to thank God for allowing you to live in a country where you have that freedom?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  17. ACivilNation

    It's Ironic that America, founded by those who wish not to be persecuted for their beliefs, has so many religious groups that all but outcast the traditions set forth by those who have tried to protect your religious freedom.

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

      Amen to that!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  18. Pat

    If they do not want to recognize the National Anthem then disallow all Government funding for the school and any students attending, remove their accreditation. Make the church and school pay taxes like any other citizen. I have two sons in the military so NEVER AGAIN will I go to one of their annual sales to buy goods. Even our enemies will stand for the National Anthem at the Olympics. This is a disgrace!!

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

      It's a disgrace to exercise the freedoms that your sons fight for?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Mighty7

      The Founding Fathers did not write ANY article or law that required or even suggested an American HAD to sing a song in order to PROVE their love to their country. The national anthem was IMPOSED in 1931 and thus is LESS than 100 years old.

      If that is what you want.....you and your sons can move to North Korea or Iran where singing the national anthem is a requirement and an obligation.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • JohnnyKay

      If your two sons are willing, paid killers for the government, then you have two sons who are not Christians.

      And you're more confused than any Mennonite on the Planet.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  19. Chau Duong

    Pleease move your college/university to RED CHINA, VIETNAM, NORTH KOREA, CUBA, MYANMA, or any Middle East contries.
    Those will teach them how to play the nation anthem before they do something?...
    Dear any religious belief, this is America, you must know who will go to die every day for protection this FLAG ...?

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

      If you're this willing, then you must go first.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  20. jphbphd

    I may not agree that commitment to the separation of church and state should lead to the exclusion of the national anthem. However, I find the explanation for Goshen's decision to be clear, defensible, and, most of all, rooted in historical and theological precedents, includilng considerable sacrifice. I commend Rev Schloneger for the articulate way in which he explains the Mennonite position, but most of all for the absence of inflammatory language, incivility, and judgment. We live in a culture that is diverse and pervaded with strong opinions and next to no humility. Most of us hold strong convictions (political, religious, etc), but when the strength of those convictions lead to exclusion, conflict, hatred, and absolute certainty, the possibility of dialogue, renewal, and enlightenment is inevitably squelched...to the detriment of all of us.

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

      I agree 100%

      June 26, 2011 at 10:12 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.