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. Pete

    What this article completely skips is any explanation of why being a Mennonite means one should not sing the national anthem. No explanation whatsoever. Thanks for nothing, waste of my time reading the rambling article.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Byron

      "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."

      Pete, did you miss this paragraph?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dexter

      Actually, he made the point quite clear. Throughout history, the Mennonite church has faced oppression from a number of different groups, all enforcing the power of the state (federal power). As a result, the congregation has always been a proponent of separation of church and state. They believe in a "Christian nation," instead of a political one.

      What the author fails to understand is despite the fact that one may choose to not recognize this nation, they are still a member of it, and owe a great deal of honor and thanks to those that have done so much for them. Something as simple as singing the Star Spangled banner is an easy way that ordinary men and women of America can show their appreciation and pride for what others have, and continue to do to make such a place possible. The great thing about this country is, if you don't want to show pride and appreciation for what this country has done for you, you don't have to. But in my honest opinion, if you'd rather not show thanks, you can GTFO.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • martin

      right explain why and why not

      June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • sebastian

      your comment is worth more than the entire article. excellent point. bravo

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • SS

      @ Dexter: For what it's worth, the author says he recognizes only one CHRISTIAN nation - the church. He says nothing about not recognizing other nations - just not other Christian nations.

      June 29, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  2. Splovengates

    The religion of America is no longer Christian, it is the religion of the flag.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  3. Frank

    Interesting posts. If I'm interpretting correctly, the one's who normally scream of religious zealotry and plead to keep church out of state are criticizing the church for wanting to keep state out of church. Welcome to America folks, where we prize our ability to freely express our religion. If you don't like our values, you're more than welcome to leave.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  4. Tony

    Nobody cares. The MAJORITY RULES. This is an *INSIGNIFICANT* minority.
    This is HARDLY worthy of front-page news.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  5. aaron

    I enjoy hearing the National Anthem, however, I do not sing it because I sound like Kermit the Frog when I sing.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  6. Splovengates

    The religion on America is no longer Christian, it is the religion of the flag.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  7. Charles A Hospital Corpsmen

    If they say separation of church and state, they wont mind to lose all their federal grants that give them all their funding. they say screw the people who work for the serve the U.S. eg police, firefighters, and the military by not taking just a few min of their time in remembrance. That's not something that i would not want to be apart of

    In no way does this statement hold any opinion of the U.S. Government

    June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Mighty7

      and yet another "take their money away" yokel. These momos seem they want to use the same tactic on anyone.

      This is a private church and school funded by their own private members and receives no funding of any kind. But their members ALL pay taxes as individuals, thus funding YOUR children's education and the rest of the government,

      You people are ignorant to the core.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dr J

      The beliefs of the Mennonites are neither odd nor offensive.
      They're just profoundly wrong and unjust.

      Mennonites are parasitical of the very violence they condemn.
      They live off the hard-fought stability of their hosts, stable nation states -
      stable because able and willing to exercise coercion and violence -
      hopefully, in a manner more good than bad.

      Coercion and violence can be as tacit as incarcerating rapists, collecting taxes,
      or just being the revenuer. But it also escalates, even to the point of killing -
      sometimes the corpses belong to fellow clansman, more often they don't.

      It's always been this way. Likely as not, it'll always be this way.
      The coercion and the violence are as much a part of life as reproduction and death.
      Killing is an unfortunate but inescapable part of life,
      not nearly as fun as the act of reproduction,
      but far more enjoyable than the act of death.

      Mennonites get every benefit of the killing.
      But they won't take moral responsibility for it.
      Instead, they make others carry that odious burden for them -
      often, the ones picking up Mennonite moral slack are young men,
      kids, really, just 18 or 19 years old.

      Carrying that burden changes them, in ways they can't control and do not like.
      As for the old men - and the Mennonites - whose killing the young men are doing,
      they are morally obliged to own it.
      The old men usually do.
      It's a burden they themselves once carried for their own fathers,
      when their fathers were too old to carry for their sons.

      Mennonites think they're morally superior to the old men.
      What they actually are is fundamentally and profoundly unjust,
      victims of their own false consciousness.

      In reality, Mennonites in the US own a share in the Marine Corps and the military,
      and in all other instruments of state coercion and violence.

      Mennonites think they can treat the Corps like the Sabbath goy!

      Hiring a Gentile won't cut it in our republic.
      If the author is really looking to be a just man,
      he msut give up his citizenship.

      The author is no better than a tax-cheat.
      Such a man has contracted to receive goods and benefits for a price.
      He takes the goods, but refuses to fulfill his side of the social contract.

      Theft is never victimless.
      Others now pay more.

      The author is also like the tie-dyed, pig-tailed, hobby-activist.
      Once a year he carries a sign advocating rat-rights,
      as he walks in a circle for an hour,
      in front of the university medical research lab.
      When the morally-satisfying act of self-promotion is over,
      he drops a few tabs of his Prilosec (miracle drug, changed his life)
      and then grabs a super-sized cheese burger.
      His moral demands are only these:
      - that someone else do the medical research leading to miracle drugs;
      - that someone else do the killing that went into the making of his greasy burger,
      - preferably, in a place where his delicate eyes don't have to watch it.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  8. wial

    Oh, the god-fearing, chest-pounding, gun-caressing masses. If Jesus had been like him he would have been a supporter of the Roman emperor or a terrorist.

    One of the many ironies lost here is the national anthem was based on a pagan drinking song. Those so religious about its preservation are actually defending the worship of the god Bacchus! Silly ignorant people. It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

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


      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  9. Todd

    This country was built on patriotism and the belief in God. All this political correct BS just makes me sick. We can't celebrate this, we can't celebrate that. You can't wave a flag because it is like waving a pom pom. Don't celebrate Jesus' birthday because the Muslims and atheists will have a fit. Backing the troops, oh no, that will mean you support the war. Pretty soon we will all be staying in our homes because the moment we leave we will be insulting some other country because we have more money than them and they are living in a sand hole. Our fore fathers would be ashamed of us for how this country has turned out these days. Until the day I die I will be a believer in God and a proud American showing off my patriotism. I would rather be right than politically correct.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • EvolveAmerica

      This country was built on greed and the belief in capitalism. "God", "Jesus", etc., is just a way to market to people – just ask Bernie Madoff's victims.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • jeff

      sadly, you are neither right nor politically correct.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Dev

      Thanks, Todd. You're part of the problem. One of the flat tires ruining the performance of the machine as a whole. The "Founding Fathers" were great men but they were just men, plain and simple. They weren't perfect and they didn't create a perfect union. They just strove to create a MORE perfect union. Stop worshiping them as though they were deities and believing blindly in everything they set forth. How can you not see the correlation between overzealous American patriotism and overzealous Muslim patriotism? Two types of nuts with the same dangerous crunch.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Max308Win

      also, in the "Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary," most refer to it as simply the Treaty of Tripoli. In Article 11, it states:
      "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Dr J


      Might also add that the treaty was only possible
      because the US Navy and US Marine Corps overthrew some jihadi-Muslim states in North Africa,
      and did a little nation building,
      or rather, installed in Tripolis a puppet with the good sense not to attack our ships.
      (always sound wisdom)

      Jefferson was killing Muslims.
      He was not spreading Christianity.
      Just like now.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  10. GaryGuitar

    Here again, religion raises its ugly head. This is just more religion wars. I'm fine with them separating church and state, even if the reasons are based on history of relilgion killings and other crazy religious practices of the past. This is just more religious practices of the present and I guess we can all thank our imaginary friend in the sky.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  11. craig14445

    I know many of the meonnite faith here in upstate ny. I took the time to read this article. OUR nation is a nation where you are free to warship you faith without being accosted and free to drive your horse and buggies down the road in the middle of traffic. You are free to be as deep in your faith as you wish. However....

    You WILL follow our laws while you live here. You WILL show so damned respect to our flag and you WILL learn to come off your high horse of arrogant superiority. If you dont liek that then you WILL get the heck out of the United States of America.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      Are you on your high horse?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Timothy H

      That is one damn big horse he's on. Very tall. Hey craig14445, how's the weather up there? Can you see forever yet?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Jean

      I don't particularly agree with the author but I saw no disrespect for US in it. Just because Mennonites don't like the anthem doesn't mean they don't like the country.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Joy

      I agree with you, Craig! Societies are created based on rules of conduct.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Mighty7

      Singing the national anthem is NOT A LAW ANYWHERE....except in the mind of ignorant hayseeds who think it is.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  12. shamgar50

    Wow! I can’t believe all the “Super Patriots” thinking this guy is unpatriotic. Funny, but to me, THEY seem more like the mentality you’d find under a totalitarian regime, or some un-American country

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • BC

      You must be a muslim.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • shamgar50

      BC, how is that, genius?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. tom

    You have to have a religious reason not to sing the national anthem? I thought we lived in a free country. You can refuse to sing the national anthem for any reason you like. Only fascists would force everyone to do it, which sometimes it seems "patriotism" is taken almost to that level in our country. Let's hope this doesn't make news for very long.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • GaryGuitar

      Good point, Tom.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • BC

      Tom the Tool!!! Has a nice ring to it. Dont ya think?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • shamgar50

      Tom, Isn’t it funny how these “Super Patriots” would just love the FREEDOM, to force everyone to be like them.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • shamgar50

      BC the buffoon sounds better!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  14. mattmchugh

    There's nothing in Mr. Schloneger's commentary that gives any philosophically coherent reason why playing the national anthem - a song wholly devoid of any religious content whatsoever - offends his Mennonite sensibilities.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • amy

      Then you can't read.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • shamgar50

      Have mommy explain it to you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  15. QED

    I'm almost certain this has already been stated, but if this guy were Muslim and said that his allegiance was only to Allah (which by the way, just means God... Biblically speaking, the same God worshiped by both Christians and Jews) and not to a flag, this article would be a buzz with hate talk, death threats and otherwise unfriendly comments. I'm not saying he's wrong to take such a position; that's the sort of freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, but if we're going to say that it's acceptable, then be prepared to hear people of other religions saying the same thing.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  16. John P

    You should move to another country. You are a disgrace.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Mighty7

      Do not invert....disgrace.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • D

      Not at all. Of all the churches which have had the world infiltrate them with the obvious falling away of their first love...they have forgotten their first love is to Jesus...their world...then their country. For a concrete/recent example...you have jr bush throwing the name of Jesus around like candy...but being more than willing to let the rich plunder this country and leading us into two wars we are still throwing people into who are dying. Looking at his actions...he wouldn't know what a Follower of the Way actually believes and should have spent more time in church learning about the actual Jesus.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  17. The_Mick

    Nowhere, in the Star Spangled Banner, is there any pledge of loyalty. In fact, when I was in high school in the 1960's, it was considered technically incorrect to hold your hand over your heart during the National Anthem since it is NOT a pledge: standard procedure was to stand with your hands folded behind your back, a position known as "parade dress."

    June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Holy Joe

      not "parade dress" but rather "parade rest"

      June 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  18. DJ

    You certainly have convinced me!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  19. chief

    What he said was " I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone." its no different than the cherokee native americans not pledging and honoring their past.... oh yeah the US gov did everything in its power to eliminate their heritage.... trust the government, ask any native american

    June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • QED

      There is a world of difference. First, the indigenous peoples of the Americas didn't come here wanting to start, or asking to be part of, a so-called democracy. Then there's the issue of why would the Cherokees want to pledge allegiance to a country that nearly annihilated their people. The Mennonites don't have that sort of conflicted view; that is to say that they don't have ambiguous feelings about pledging to an oppressor. I'm not saying he Mennonites don't have the right to pledge loyalty only to Jesus, but unfortunately, it does leave them open to questions about whether or not they can be counted on to serve their country. We wouldn't tolerate this from other religions, why should we accept it here. It's one thing to put God first; it's an entirely different thing to say you will not also swear allegiance to the country that we're all part of.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • D

      We have allowed Jehovah Witnesses...Quakers...the Amish (another branch of Mennonites) to serve the country during war by either putting them into the medical profession and other non-combat positions during wartime. How soon we forget that Alvin York was another who held pacifist believes...but he became the most decorated soldier of WWI.

      Just because someone is not willing to believe and follow through on the lies for the wars does not make them less patriotic. It just means they have a moral/ethical center most others do not have and are more than willing not to practice.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  20. Josiah

    If you really only believe in one Christian nation, and not in America, then you should get out.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Yeehaw


      June 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • GaryGuitar

      I would be okay with them staying because they have a right to believe whatever they want in America, but if they take you up on your suggestion, I will help them pack their bags.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:51 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.