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. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • QED

      Cool looking butterfly, and cool that you posted a video... I didn't know you could do that on CNN. But the music is a snoozefest; it sounds like someone's 10 year old sister wrote it.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  2. larry flint

    It is my understanding the singing of the anthem at sporting events only started during world war 2. A way to support the war effort and the troops during the war. It just stuck after the war was over. Its a nice gesture but it really dosent make much sense when you think about it. Should we all stand up and put our hand over our heart at the beginning of the next Heavy Metal Rock concert and sing the anthem?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Ralph

      "Since the strong denial of all true christian values and basic human liberties and universal human rights by the political selfish bureaucratic America, as a matter of principles and faith, and not political correctness, Our true allegiance to love and community must come first, and our patriotic fervor and freedom should come from the basic principles born from it motivating us to say from the heart: God Bless America!!"

      June 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  3. Moder8


    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  4. Jeshua


    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • MGrant

      How wonderfully third grade...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  5. TL

    "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." Even Christ recognized political government.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • waj66

      So as a Christian... Do you approve "one nation under God" or one nation under Caesar? Just curious.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. 2bits

    I won't sing the national anthem because this nations leads the world in it's treatment of the deaf in society.

    68% unemployment among deaf in this country–the highest of any group–and NOTHING is done to even discuss it. When you write about it the news centers they just say what's been done for TV like CC or something and change the subject.

    When America starts treating their deaf citizens like real citizens I might change my tune but the discrimination is deafening and total across America.

    Don't believe me? Check your local Vocational Rehabilitation office to see the official stats.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  7. Scott Piercy

    "under god" was added in the McCarthy era (1954) for all the wrong reasons. That era, and the man responsible for it, are an embarrassment to all our country stands for.

    Just because you've been blithely saying it all your life does not mean it was a good thing.

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

      The man came up with it?
      Well, he pointed towards the obvious.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  8. charles

    aww, someone's feelings got
    hurt because "God" is not in the national anthem like the pledge of allegiance?

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

    I wish someone of that faith would explain why passages such as Matthew 22:20-22 and Romans 13 don't apply. The reason might be good. But if it's so good, then why aren't they sharing it at every opportunity? (Matthew 28:16-20).

    June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. suzique

    There is only one reason CNN made this a huge headline – they are part of the progressive movement toward one world, one government, one religion (not Judaism or Christianity), and one currency. That stated, I thought Mark Schloneger made a polite, clear statement about his beliefs. I just hope he and his parishoners stand politely and quietly while others render the honor.

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

      Paranoid much??

      June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  11. lance corporal

    and yet if someone drops under god they go ballistic...... stupid one way selfish tools who want to control every one

    June 26, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  12. SoCerebral

    And to those who think their sons/brothers/husbands/friends/countrymen have been fighting for freedom... a word to the wise. For the last 50 years or so, all they have fought for is oil (yes, that includes Vietnam. Do your homework). Americans have not been fighting for American freedom for a VERY long time. Every war since has had nothing to do with American freedom. It is staggering that people are ignorant or purposefully blind enough to actually believe our men are fighting and dying for American freedom. Wake up!

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

      Yes....and all THOSE wars started by republican presidents!! Are there any Mennonite Republican Congressman????

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

      Then why is gas $3.50 a gallon? Why are we using oil reserves? Where is this Iraq oil that we fought the war over?

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

      Can't agree with the Vietnam/oil thing but the rest of this post is true. The USA gets involved in wars because they think it is in their self-interests but those self interests have nothing to do with freedom. None of the countries they have waged war against have been a threat to American freedom. The irony of the whole thing is that whenever the USA gets into a war their own government reduces their freedoms in the name of security even though the country they are fighting pretty much never is a threat to American freedom. The only threat to freedom these other countries have is the threat to global control by America. Whether it be politically or economically.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • abelincoln

      Somebody will always be in control, right?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Rudie

      Mr. Schloneger may get powerfully ill from eating contaminated organic sprouts when real farmers have no oil/gas to operate their machines. Waynesboro, Virginia, has temps below freezing many winter days – I expect Springdale's members will chop his wood for him. By the time the hunger and the cold get to him and his family, millions of the less fortunate will be dead thereby leaving more for him and his. Locally, who will want to read his selfesh message. Without electricity he can not reach beyond the range of his voice. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  13. Brian Z

    It must be wonderful to have nothing better to worry about.

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

      I was thinking the same thing. Must be great to have it all figured out, too.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  14. Andi

    In the church I go to they teach us we need to respect the country we live in, ergo singing the National Anthem is a sign of respect to the country. Doesn't have to do with religion per se, but if you can't follow the law of the land you live in, how you can follow the law of God?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • jim atmadison

      They are following the law of the land.

      And the law of God according to their own understanding.

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

      I was always told in church that there was a difference between God and Country. I think there were a few passages that basically say that God's law comes higher than man's law (but I need to look that up).

      June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Terry

      It's only a sign of respect if that how YOU do it. And it is not a law. That would be against their freedom of speech and religion.
      They don't have to listen to a song if they don't want to. This is not a dictatorship. Dictators love to force people to sing national anthems all the time.
      We aren't communist China, even if we do use their torture techniques from time to time. Let's not go there, okay?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • JunkJunk

      Yeah, but where in the BIBLE does it say someone must respect their country by singing a national anthem? Don't get mad at me: I've been singing the song since kindergarten. I'm just trying to understand your reasoning.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  15. JMK

    People died to make this nation free, and freedom means not being forced to do or say something you may disagree with (politically). It seems odd that it will be the Liberals who will defend a very conservative Christian church and the Conservatives will be the ones demanding them to be forced to say the National Anthem. Haven't these people heard of the First Amendment?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • 14Mickey

      Your inaccurate stereotypes about religion and politics are misplaced. As a leftish liberal Christian who feels all children should recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school daily and all sporting events should start with the National Anthem, I certainly don't see myself in a minority. The minister is wrong and encouraging poor values that have nothing to do with Christianity, and your beliefs about liberals and conservatives don't fit actual people, just your misperceptions.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • rick

      When since the revolutionary war was America in a war based on American freedom?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  16. Katrina Gressett

    The point of singing the national anthem, particularly before sporting events, is to recognize the country that gives us the freedom to have and enjoy such events. The anthem remembers the sacrifice people made to ensure our freedom from persecution and our liberty to govern ourselves. People with a more religious bent should perhaps sing our anthem even louder than the rest of us because this might be the only country where they can practice their particular belief openly and without censure.

    The rest of us should sing our anthem every chance we get, especially before sporting events or other activities of lesiure because we should remember the sacrifices our countrymen and forefathers made so that we could have the freedom to gather peacefully. Not everyone on this planet gets such a basic right.

    O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Mighty7

      I honor the fallen by visiting the graves of my friends on Memorial Day and counseling wounded vets.

      You can do the theatrics if you wish. I suppose small town simpletons need this sort of assurance. I don't.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • 14Mickey

      Well said, best comment on this site.

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

      Very nicely said

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

      what we consider to be a "basic right" are really just privileges. Those privileges come at a great cost to sooooo many people, and not just our own people either. At some point, the mess we create today will come back to haunt not us, but our decendants.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  17. Joe Canada

    Anybody else notice the war mongering in the american't national anthem?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Absolutely. americans are sheep. Nothing more. The oligarchy of big business and the wealthy few have convinced these idiots that everything is about freedom. We must kill everyone in order to preserve freedom. How do you make a country free? You bomb them and kill them until they are liberated. Who wins? Corporate america and the wealthy elite. Who loses. Everyone else.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • 14Mickey

      There isn't any. Learn American History, including the war of 1812, as well as the meaning behind the Anthem, and you won't embarrass yourself by making ridiculous comments like that on a public site.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Yar

      Anybody else notice the blatent trolling in this guys post?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Dan R

      No. Not at all. The song was written watching Fort McHenry being attacked and defending itself, in a war the British started. And if your country was attacked Joe who would defend it for you? Yes, the "war-mongers".

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Dan R

      Shamrock, where do you live where you where you have the freedom to make such statements? Probably here.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  18. icedawg

    But what does singing a national anthem, any national anthem, have to do with a sporting event regardless of religion? What's the purpose? Instill national pride? How does singing the national anthem before a high school football game, before a professional sports game instill national pride? In the latest Stanley Cup finals the US and Canadian anthems were played before each game. The joke is that the Vancouver team was loaded with Europeans and Boston was loaded with Canadians. The anthem tradition has become a bit of useless grand standing.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • 14Mickey

      Please feel free to emigrate anytime to a less worthy country where your values, beliefs and ignorance will be more appreciated. I Recommend Yemen or Somalia.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  19. Rob

    I understand respecting those who faught and gave their lives for this country... I also understand that the Bible says murder is a sin (sorry, the innocent family that has a bomb drop on their home as they sit for dinner, ya know the "collateral Damage", they are murder victims), and that the way of Jesus was to love your enemy... You can't have it both ways people. All these beliefs in an eternal afterlife, and yet so many of the believers are preoccupied with getting revenge or justice against those they feel wronged them.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  20. Brett

    I thought the headline said there were good reasons. Sounds like a lot a goofy, made up reasons to me.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:16 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.