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. Ban Islam

    Mark Schloneger is a disgusting delusional individual.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • AfriendofMarks

      Really? You arrived at that conclusion just by reading one article he wrote? Obviously, you have met him or attend his church or live close to him. You haven't? Then you are missing out on meeting one of the most loving, caring humble pastors in the church. He gave up a lucrative law career to spend 3 years in Mozambique in mission work then went into the ministry. You need to look in the mirror if you want to see delusional.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  2. James

    Could you write this from North Korea? The "blood soaked border" that divides Korea is exactly what gives Christians in the South the freedom to practice their faith – as you do. The Mennonites of Europe fled to the US for the religious freedom those very "bombs bursting in air" and many thousands of lives secured. Taking the pious moral high ground safe behind the freedoms someone else's blood bought and defends for you is just hypocrisy. Doing so in the name of Christ is even worse.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • josh

      I couldn't agree more

      June 26, 2011 at 4:54 am |
  3. ???

    cnn loves these anti-american stories... they just eat this stuff up and so do their lib readers.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Hmmm

      Then go to Fox clown. It's all about jebus over there.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:49 am |
  4. Hmmm

    I stopped at "Christian Values". I couldn't read on because I was laughing so hard.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  5. MrId

    I wonder if these fine folks at this school that only believe in this fictious one world nation-state are recieving federal tax dollars.....

    June 26, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Kyle

      Yes they are.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:53 am |
  6. Aaron

    I am currently serving in the Army overseas in Afghanistan. To live in our nation means you accept the state and federal authority, whether you openly acknowledge it or not.

    I am also a Christian. I believe that the preponderance of our virtues and values were immersed into the Christian belief in one God. Whether you agree with the belief or not, Christianity is a big part of our American history. It is obvious that the America has transitioned from a Christian nation that believes in one God to a nation that prefers to not associate a particular belief with America. That's the main reason why our nation was established. The people get to make the calls; no sect or organization can override what the people want.

    With that being said, you cannot exist in this nation and truly separate yourself from the state. Whether you fly a flag or do nothing at all, you are still a part of this nation. Be proud of it.

    In our current disposition America should live by this code, "No one has the right to be tolerated, everyone has the right to be ignored."

    I've been gone from home 231 days, 14 hrs, and 10 mins...I took America for granted. I'm ready to come hom. What a great place.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:46 am |
    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your service!

      June 26, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • Brian

      I personally would rather have you home and at the local pizza joint with your girlfriend Aaron.....Till your return thank you for representing the USA with your service...stay safe and do what you need to do to come home...

      June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • StreetJustice

      thank you 4 your service.

      but i think that the refusal to play the nation's song at a christian school is the right choice. as the apostle john stated:

      3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

      this is the reason i do not identify myself as a christian, because i do not walk in his path. as for being a follower of Christ and in the us army, i think you need to read again the words of him who started that religion and His apostles:

      50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”[a]

      Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

      33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

      34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

      35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
      36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

      Jesus was clearly in the right, yet he refused to fight. why? because

      9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters,[b] if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • bronk

      We're more than ready to have you come back from your tour. Whoever is keeping you over there isn't us but they're using our money. No reason exists for you to be in Afghanistan other than to keep yourself and your fellow ppl alive and safe.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • Aaron

      I appreciate the thanks and I hope I am able to buy all of you a beer...or beverage of your choice.

      I am not saying they don't have a right to not sing the national anthem, what I am saying is that the message of "we have beliefs contrary to the goverment so we don't support it by not playing the national anthem" is to no avail.

      I don't have to post scriptures to know that Jesus submitted to two things while on this earth, God and the elected authority. Mark 12:17 dilineates the relationship of "church and state". God wants his children to be aligned with the right people. You cannot stradle the fence. If you think that God has mandated that you should separate yourself, you must do it entirely; as in not a part of that group at all. I think you find that through Jesus life, it wasn't government officials and legislature that he separated himself from, it was the "religious mumbo jumbo" that had polluted the social order in Israel.

      I'm not saying that these people should go around wearing red, white, and blue and screaming "USA!" I am asking them to be proud of the nation that they are a part of; positively affecting the world. I think God would want that.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Ralph

      From the declaration of independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

      I cite this, because I've read a lot in this blog about when a nation "under God" was added to the pledge, or if to be patriotic or religious comes first, or if my belief or your belief, or if America has christian values, secular, or is a double standard nation that tries to fix outside what has not yet fixed inside.
      I believe We the People as a Nation, have lost the meaning and the understanding that our nation was founded under God's blessing and principles, the acknowledgement of a creator, in our sense that love comes first and from it our sense of community and from it our sense of patriotism in defense of our lifestyle and freedoms.
      United we must stand, under a core of values as a welcoming community of people that had a common origin in pursuit of happiness and freedom. IF We deny that right to others we deny that right to us. Selfishness is the only thing that can destroy America. Do not let that ever happen.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • In Arizona

      As a Navy Vet ~ thank you for your service Aaron. BTW ~ well said!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Xavier

    Free Will is something God gave each and everyone of us but really folks lately we have taken it for granted. We should remember what is happening as we speak God is talking to us in many ways...think about it. Just look at our weather and these natural disasters. But of course some scientist or expert will try and convince you other wise. "Please" they been trying that for 10 yrs saying "oh its global warming or its the sun...or something else dumb that we can't comprehend so that we don't ask anymore questions!

    June 26, 2011 at 4:45 am |
    • wilson

      You don't believe scientists whose finding are based on scientific evidence, but yet you don't hesitate to believe in the information written in a centuries old book of myths? Wow, you are a piece of work.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Brian

      So God is responsible for global warming? .....well that explains everything.....we need some huge million plus prayer groups going 24 hours and maybe tens of thousands of flagelants going from coast to coast in a frenzy of self mutilation and praise of the all father.......quick we need a lot of Monks...like now..anyone have the Popes number?...he has access to Monks.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Magic

      Yes, Xavier, just keep on tossing those virgins into volcanoes to appease the angry gods. Keep on slicing open those veins to bleed out the demons to cure diseases.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:12 am |
    • Brian

      Thanks Magic...totally forgot about the virgin tossing thing.....a sure way to end God's wrath and the odd tornado.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:42 am |
  8. Daniel B

    The problem with the author's argument is twofold. Number one, none of his points directly address singing a song about the country you live in defending itself from an invasion. He seems to address it, but if you look carefully you'll notice he never makes a direct and specific logical connection, instead opting for generic truths that are hard to disagree with such as "The only Christian nation is the church". That's true, there is currently no government that is dedicated to the will of God. But it's not relevant to singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Number two, the National Anthem glorifies God. It basically says that our success shouldn't be credited to ourselves since nations only are preserved at his grace or mercy.

    Now, as to his idea that it's unnecessary to sing it at sporting events, I agree. Why did we pick those events and not most other kinds of events?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  9. josh robinson

    he talks about the church but its a collage not a church so the church and state argument is not a issue and pledging allergens is not in the national anthem so he's seems to be talking out his but in the end its up to the school to decide but why not play it and if you don't want to sing it don't but by denying others at the collage the ability to sing it you are taking away there right to choose which is what there arguments all about.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  10. justin

    Every person in America has te freedom to do what they wish, but God is not going to protect you from invasion. Your countries military will. Have a little respect! The only reason you have the freedom to make this choice is ONLY because of our military which our national anthem honors.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  11. ms.2011

    Jesus most likely never existed. Thousands were crucified by the Romans, Why some choose to believe in an insignificant crucifixion in an otherwise remote and insignificant part of the empire is their business, but humanity is the same now as it was before Jesus. I grew up Catholic, but am a B.A. in philosophy; it is immensely interesting to study religion's origins an evolution. you will find that much of what we are told by our religious leaders is in fact total bunk. Judaism is noting more that an amalgam of other "pagan" beliefs that the nomadic Hebrew peoples picked up and integrated into their clans. Since Christianity is an off-shoot of Judaism (as is Islam), it would seem by their own definition, Christianity is itself a "pagan" religion. I recommend Voltaire's God and Human Beings or David Mill's Atheist Universe for those looking to a well reasoned, objective and historical approach to religious philosophy.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • john

      most scholars agree he existed. whether he was son of god or normal human is the issue. we have little to no proof anyone existed 2000 years ago.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • josh robinson

      very true i total support that point of view

      June 26, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Daniel B


      That is a pretty ridiculous claim and basically rends the rest of your self-proclaimed scholarly analysis dubious. I even asked a (seems to be deist, goes around debunking Christian beliefs in his classes) religious studies professor at UT-Austin (a very liberal university that is only about 10% Christian) about the "Did Jesus exist?" deal and his answer was "Of course he did. There hasn't been any room to make a serious claim that he didn't in a long time, and now conservative Christians like Lee Stroble just make up out the air that a bunch of atheists are claiming Jesus didn't exist, when actually every educated person knows he did."


      What is "Christianity's own" definition?

      June 26, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • ms.2011

      The only source that makes claim to the existence of Jesus is the Bible. I did not claim Jesus NEVER existed, but most likely did not. There is no hard archeological evidence to support his existence nor any sources contemporary to the Bible that also mention him. I would agree that in an age of mass illiteracy and poor record keeping it is undoubtedly difficult to prove the majority of humanity existed. My point is, one ancient written source which is filled with numerous inconsistencies is an unreliable source, not that any information can be gleaned from it, it nonetheless remains unreliable.

      There is little difference here than with the myth of King Arthur. It cant' be necessarily proven he did or did not exist with the available evidence. If he did exist, then as with Jesus, it is most likely a narrative of someone really lost to history, but whose story is combined with that of others so on through the passage of time and generations to form these grandiose stories.
      Anyhoo, as to the actual point of this story, I don't see the need to sing the national anthem at sporting events nor sing "God Bless America" at Major League games. I served in the Air Force for ten years and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; I think doing these sorts of things actually takes away one's freedom of choice.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:22 am |
  12. stephen Bertalli

    So, Don't sing it. You're reasons seem logical. There are much more pressing matters to worry about in this country and world!

    June 26, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  13. Theo

    Mennonites are pacifists. The lyrics of the Star-Spangled Banner is about claiming freedom through war. That is directly against their religion. Who cares if they don't want to play the National Anthem at their events?! Why shouldn't it be their choice? At least they don't blindly accept the tradition without having a clue what it means. I find that people who refuse to practice a tradition generally know more about the significance of that tradition than people who actually follow it!

    June 26, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Kyle

      Its about america winning freedom in the revolutionary war. It does not say we agree to fight for freedom, it does not say we should be happy they fought for freedom. Only that it happened and we won.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:57 am |
    • another Mennonite

      Well said, and Amen!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  14. Dick Bacon

    This is sooooooo 16th century.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:40 am |
  15. dave nelson

    Oh, how i love it when some makes the statement that they fought for our freedoms and that others should show their appreciation for that by doing what the are told. For those of you who feel that way, please be so kind as to look up the definition of freedom. You may be enlightened. I, too, served my country, and i understand that the result of my action is that people are free to choose how to live their lives so long as they do not cause harm to others in the process. Freedom to sing or not sing whatever they choose. And if i see anyone assault a person for exercising their freedom of choice at a sports event, i will happily show them what i learned in the military. I may not win, but i will make sure that person remembers me for quite some time.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • Keptin Moorgin

      Thank you dave. You're okay.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • Scotty2010

      Noone has ever told anybody they had to sing the anthem, at sporting games or anywhere else. It's a tradition, not a law. You are/were a soldier, so obviously you care about our freedoms. Good, so do I, and while I wouldn't sit idly by and watch someone get assaulted/arrested/whatever for not singing it, I wouldn't have any respect for that individual either.

      It's pretty simple to me. If you love your country, you sing the anthem when it's played at an event you are at. If a 'citizen' can't even be bothered to do that, then they should ask themselves whether they truly love the country they call home.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  16. Clark Nova

    Besides, it's almost unsingable and was written by a notorious racist. Best thing would be to scrap it and replace it with 'This Land Is Your Land'.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • Daniel B

      This Land Is Your Land was also written for racist reasons.

      June 26, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • stephen Bertalli

      Naah! A bit too folksy!

      June 26, 2011 at 4:43 am |
  17. oface

    so this is a history lesson about Mennonites?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  18. Sharky

    The author's argument seems pretty reasonable. This is a free country after all, isn't it? Only fascist countries demand overt demonstrations of patriotism. In a truly free country, you shouldn't require that people play the national anthem before every sporting event, and you shouldn't be offended if someone doesn't want to do it. He can be the guy that gets the nachos when the anthem plays. No big deal.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:38 am |
    • Brian

      Designated nacho runner...brilliant!

      June 26, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  19. Lisa

    Who he chooses to be brainwashed by is his business.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • Ralph

      love it!!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  20. Christian Abroad

    Your belief, your decision. But I do ask where is "Romans 13" in all this? Rom 13:1 "Let everyone be subject to the governing authority, for there is no authority except what God has established." This continues throughout the chapter. I believe the Bible shares that nationalism is not a bad thing, but in fact a form of worship to our Father in heaven.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:36 am |
    • another Mennonite

      Christian Abroad: You quote Romans13, but that passage is meant to tell Christians to obey the law where they live. Do you really claim that obedience to law requires singing the Anthem at ballgames? What law would this be that a crime is committed if you do not sing the anthem? Do you think America should demand loyalty oaths? I'd be surprised if anyone who was disloyal would care or would be stopped by such oaths.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:32 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.