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. Kerry

    living faith in Jesus rather than by man-made, blood-soaked borders.

    The Bible is full of blood-soaked borders. Nice try. I truly believe in God and that is all that is important.

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

      You are right that the Bible is filled with wars, sin, acts of cruelty and greed , because it is, in part, a story about the waywardness and weakness of people who did not believe and believed in God. Not every story in the Bible is to be a "good example" of how to live life. The Bible is a book about men's failures and the salvation that can await us if we accept Christ as our savior. I don't know why people tend to think that every story or character in the Bible is one we are to emulate.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  2. Tradecog

    Good. Do all logical-thinking Americans a favor and skip out of the country as well.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  3. ItsDaPoleece

    I know people who don't vote for women politicians because women are not allowed to hold public office by their Catholic beliefs. I know Jehova's Witnesses who just flat out don't vote at all because voting is against their beliefs. I know atheists who don't know what or where the Universe came from, all they know is that it wasn't from God.

    There's a lot of belief systems that sound strange or offensive to a lot of people. If you're willing to die to keep your faith but aren't willing to kill me if I keep mine, I'm happy being your neighbor.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  4. Robin Bray

    I'm not a member of any faith and I do not sing the anthem. Or God Bless America at baseball games. It is nothing more than propaganda. And before you say I am un-american I can tell you my family has been in this land since 1615. We fought in the colonial wars under the British, in the American Revolution and in every major war since then. We did not fight to live in a country run with propaganda and brainwashing. And flags are not pom-poms to be waved when an enemy of this country has been kille, nor are the holy icons to be worshiped.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • David H

      If you saw my post below, you will recognize that we are I for one am on your side.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  5. nirmalasuman

    The problem with us Americans is that we want the cake and eat it too! We want privacy to the limit and at the same time we laugh at those who go all the way. You cannot have both ways. But whatever we do, let's not ever consider our way of thinking is the only right way of thinking and find fault with others'. For instance when we consider praying to Jesus is the only right thing to do, let's not denigrate those who do not believe in God taking the form of humans at any time or those who believe in many Gods. Let me have my pizza and you may have your noodles. I may taste yours some time just to get to know what makes you like it so much. Even if I do not like it, no problem. Be happy with whatever you have. nirmalasuman@therightviewonline.com

    June 26, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Dan R

      That's the beauty of America. You CAN have it both ways. You can have total religious freedom and freedeom of expression, yet at the same time have the right to say what unappreciative jerks they are. As long as you are not throwing bombs at them or hurting them you can speak your mind just like they can. I choose to view them as unappreciative jerks, along with the other America bashers here.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  6. Ponger

    This article shows how Religion is another reason for mankind to distrust and hate each other as the Catholics and Protesants have to each other, and to the Anabaptists. Mennonites seem simlar to devote Muslims who want to follow Sharia law and avoid secular rules, yet Christians are a couple hundred years ahead of Muslims in issues like woman's rights. Morality can be taught and enforced at all levels. To not repect your secular goverment and instill national pride and repect of secular law loeses another oppurtunity to instill morality and brotherly love. It starts at the family level and it takes a certain level of civilization to get us to love non-family. It's a shame when a religion thinks it is the only true path to morality. And if pride is one of the great sins, then thinking your religious club is better than other religious clubs, or secular clubs that teach morality, is a major sin.

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

      Way to COMPLETELY miss the point Ponger.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. John

    God almighty, I wouldn't want to be in a foxhole protecting this country with 90% of the posters on this site....

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

      Agree with you, John! These are the kind of people our soldiers have to die for? Geeezz!

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


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

      You have never been in a foxhole except in your mind.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  8. jay a.

    These people clearly don't understand what Patriotism means. All us Christians pledge allegiance Spiritually to Jesus/God, but pledging allegiance to the flag or a National Anthem is on the level of a Nations Unity. That doesn't make singing the National Anthem a unity of Church & State. Singing it only makes us all Unified as a Nation of Americans. How hard is this concept to grasp?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Patriot American


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

      well said.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  9. rlcook

    Where would your church be if you lived in cuba, north korea, china or back in the days of the soviet bloc- where would your right to exist and worship be if the revolutionary war had not been fought?

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

      rlcook, This is the person's issue: There ARE folks who followers Jesus in those countries that are hostile to their faith AND they thrive in life and death because of that faith. I think he feels somewhat guilty that he does not feel the same kind of lethal hostility because of his faith but your comments make it clear that he is wrong.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  10. Joy

    Shamrock6, you are a cancer to this country! One less person like you will make this a better country to live!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  11. John

    It's safe to say that if boatloads of terrorists came to our shores with swords drawn and rocket launchers in hand, these Mennonites would be at the shoreline with flowers in hand to spread peace and love to them. That should stop them in their tracks....How foolish!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. JustPlainJoe

    Psychosis covered in a thin vernier of intellectual pseudo-logic. Ultimately, the ultra-religious are anarchists viewing the world in their own idiosyncratic ways. Although the message is "non-violent", this is not far off the from the logic of the Teliban. Predatory monotheisms should be returned to the ancient pages of human history where they belong.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. David H

    I also don't sing the national anthem. I will stand, but I leave my hands at my side and remain silent. I do this because I am opposed to the militarism expressed in the song. Why can't we have an anthem that speaks of love for the country without invoking either war or religion? Something like "This Land is Your Land" would be preferable in my book (although English teachers would cringe over some of the lyrics).

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

      Ugh. Not that song. We had to sing that in grade school. It's really silly.

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

      America the Beautiful is a better choice

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • David H

      @Sparky: You probably didn't get all the lyrics in school, as I did not. Here's one of the verses you might have missed:

      Nobody living can ever stop me,
      As I go walking that freedom highway;
      Nobody living can ever make me turn back
      This land was made for you and me.

      There are more about freedom and about helping those in need. It's not all about the natural beauty, but then, what's wrong with that part?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • David H

      @"ME": America the Beautiful is great, except that invokes religious beliefs that not everyone can go along with. As an agnostic, I do not want religious references in my anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  14. charles

    separation of church and state? tell that to michelle bachman who wants to teach inteligent design in public schools.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • tad pole

      Let's all just hope that was simply a typo.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  15. JasonD.

    I'd like to see us end the tax exempt status for churches. All churches. Especially this one.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Walter G

      Hear hear! Can we get more votes here? I vote we tax churches like any other business. We need equality in our tax code!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  16. Mawenzi

    Good for them. The USA is dead anyway...the Republicans have seen to that.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  17. Tom

    Sounds like a pathetic attempt to bring attention to your outrageous religion. Yes, I had not heard of your religion before this article and I even went to school in Indiana, but now that I am aware of it, it's one more strike in my book against religion in America. Hello??? Do you know how lucky you are to be an American? To have rights and freedom most of the world doesn't enjoy? To express your religion freely???? Do NOT spit in the faces of those who allow you to spit freely!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Mighty7

      So I guess you must be a fairly ignorant fellow. Thanks for letting us know.

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

      Tom, look up, Pilgrims First settlers of Plymouth. One of the american myths.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Tom

      I try not to pay your type any attention... I look for my peace in people, the earth, SCIENCE! You should try to be honest with yourself one of these days, it's really nice 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • levi

      I just think everyone needs to look at the news as a whole and see how bad a shape the world is in. we are living in the most critical time in human history. all those freedoms some of you talk about and the fact that we are "americans" doesn't make us any better than anyone else or exempt us from the same problems every country in the world is facing, unemployment, people going hungry, polictical unrest, religious hypocrisy, etc, etc.. wars has been fought many many years and has not solved ONE problem.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  18. jmeyersahm

    A great statement about church and state, thank you. I would think you, and your church could be advocates for changing the anthem to be America the Beautiful, Praising God for the bounty he has given us is a true way to honor God and our land.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Randy Roberts

      how is that freedom of religion ? do you want to force your beliefs on others ? there must be a separation of church and state. so that all are equal. our founding fathers did not want a state backed religion.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • ForeFatherSoldier

      Since when was football a christian theme? Did Christianity rise from the makings of football, or football rise from Christianity? No. This is an American tradition. American Football, and all athletics share the universal theme. We are here today, before we engage in our past times, to recognize how we got here, those who sacrificed and those screaming out now for the Colors that are flying at each and every stadium, gymnasium, and school. It is something deep within my gut, spirit, and heart that sinks when reading something like this. For a private christian school to not say the pledge of allegiance before class is something more arguable, but this is not the case. Shame is yours to have to all those that consent to such actions. Piece by piece, brick by brick we are tearing out our nations bond, the cement that holds hearts of all different kinds together for moments at a time. Does not matter if your a felon, a saint, a Catholic, a Muslim, gang member or a school committee member we all come together and give remembrance and respect for those two minutes of freedom. Thank You

      June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  19. abelincoln

    Seems like CNN is setting the background for sharia, when the time comes.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • shamgar50

      abelincoln, What a dumb comment!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Mighty7

      Sounds to me you have been drinking too much moonshine or your sniffing too much paint in that trailer park of yours.

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

      No Abe. It's called freedom of speech and freedom of religion, any religion.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  20. Patriot American

    Perhaps they should have all Federal & State funding stopped, along with any scholarships that fund the school. I'm tired of all you people blaming something else than what it really is as political correctness. Move your pathetic beliefs and school to another country and try to pull this. France, Afghanistan, the middle of the ocean would be good.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Mighty7

      Another "take their money away" moralist yokel.

      These are all private school and churches. They get NO money from anyone except their own donors.

      Sorry, no "Planned Parenthood Tactic" you can use here. Your ignorance betrayed you.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Christian.tx

      Mennonites do not receive government funding but quite contrary pay your school taxes plus pay for their own schools with private funds.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92
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.