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. Bill

    Thanks to the revolutionists and American soldiers who gave their lives through the years, you have the freedom to live with the freedom's you have. All you are doing is showing disrespect to them. Goshen College is an embarassment to America and especially the patriotic state of Indiana. This line of thinking is similar to the Islamic beliefs. Go live in some other country!

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • I'mRightYou'reWrong

      Way to not understand America one iota, Bill. YOU go live somewhere else. PS - when's the last time soldiers have upheldd our freedom of religion and speech? Sorry, soliders have done exactly the opposite, fought against that time and again (Nat Guard siccing dogs on protesters for example).

      It's the People, the protesters and marchers and strikers who have upheld our freedoms. Read a history book, dunce.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • chief

      yes great story.... tell that to the american indians that were slaughtered for this great nation.... oh yeah they were here first

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

      They won't sing it due to boundaries, but that have no trouble with utilizing the tax shelter afforded by religious status. F'in hypocrites!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • amazed2

      I agree.... another nutty get us some attention group. Sad.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • alli

      Yes, Bill. Soldiers have died for our freedoms. One of those freedoms is the Freedom of Speech. That doesn't mean "the freedom to be forced to say some silly poem that wasn't even recognized by our government until 1942."

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Sue

      Go live in some other country? Wow! So if someone doesn't fit into your ideals and values then they can't live here? Wake up moron! America is full of all different races, religions and cultures. That is what makes us great!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  2. 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 Earnestly

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • William Coulter

      Thank you! You put it very well. This refusal really upsets and angers me. I'm pround to live in this great country and I appreciate all the sacrafices others have laid down so I can enjoy the life here that I do!!!!!! Shame on them!!!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  3. bob

    iya good for them while i love this country and am always personally willing to sing the star spangled banner on command at the same time tho it makes me proud as a american to see others exercise there free will not to and be supported by true patriots that encourge there freedom of expression even when they disagree with it

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. Nowthatsrigh

    Got to agree with Pete, so what is point of article?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  5. stee

    These are people living according to their beliefs and not hurting anyone. The most American thing to do is respect that and leave them be. Forced patriotism is a big step towards fascism. The Mennonites represent American freedom in action, not hollow words. I disagree with them, but may God bless 'em just the same.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  6. Nowthatsrigh

    Got to agree with Pete, no explanation of why not sing national anthem, so what is point of article?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  7. Randy

    The university is certainly not being politically correct. I support the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge and since they’re breaking no laws, I would think it would be hypocritical of me if I had a problem with its position on the anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  8. Dood

    Just more chipping away at the stone of unity and patriotism.

    After all, why should we love and honor our country or those who fought and gave their lives so we can be fat, lazy, unappreciative and Atheistic?

    Until you put your life on the line for the Red White and Blue, you have no idea what others have done. Shameful and arrogant.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  9. jtb1953

    If we don't fight evil we will become evil

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • nogods


      June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Phil in Oregon

      There is a point to having "one nation under god". All the founders were Christians, since you couldn't function at all in that society as an atheist. If you don't value the country, try living without all our support.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  10. Charlie

    Hi Mark,

    I am amazed by your courage. We live in strange times, where right and wrong have been flipped upside down. With each new generation we continue down the wrong path.

    I would encourage you to read these comments and be happy, because exactly what Christ said is happening here. He told us that they would hate us for our belief in Him, and following His teachings. Take heart in the fact that you are doing the right thing.

    I pray that you are strengthened, encouraged, and comforted in these hostile days.

    May the Lord richly bless you my brother

    16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

    21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  11. TryReadingOnceInAWhile

    Why do people feel that you can't belong to more than one group at a time? Does being a loyal American mean you can't also be loyal to your religion? Does that mean you can't be loyal to your family? They claim to be inclusive but their actions are divisive.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  12. jesus

    Don't worry. There is no god. You are all fools.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  13. Dontask

    I don't get it. Most of this article is just explaining the core beliefs of the Mennonite church. What is this? Propaganda? Next story please.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  14. derek rodgers

    just another reason why all religions need to be abolished....95% of the world is fn it up for the rest of us....we the 5% are the only ones trying to prolong mankinds existence, the rest of you are wiping us out in record numbers and have been doing so for eons.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • nogods


      June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  15. Babydove

    In this world of chaos and everyone interpreting the Word of God in their own way to fit their own needs and wants the Mennonite group give us an anchor. They are standing fast to what Jesus taught and that is very hard to do at this present time.God bless the steadfast.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  16. Phil Coffey

    The author is correct. Freedom is not free and his ability to offer his opinions is based on the sacrifice of those who have defended the nation that allows him freedom of speech.

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

      Well said.

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

    This is what you should expect with separation of church and state.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  18. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  19. Jeff

    Why get on a anyone's religious rights? There are people who believe in The Force from Star Wars. The Amish don't pay into Social Security. I pratice my faith and go about my life. I respect all other faiths even if I may not agree with their practices. Jesus said love thy neighbor as thyself. He was quoting from one of the first five books of Moses. My question is this: Would you help your neighbor in a diaster like Joplin, Missiouri?

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  20. Tom

    There is no doubt the Mennonite's beliefs follow the true teachings of Christ. To be a Christian, I assume, means following Christ's teachings.
    I understand the need to defend the country. The founders understood the need, but give me a break-Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Grenada, Libya, etc. Were we ever under true threat from any of these?
    So who's in error, the Mennonites who truly follow the teachings of their leader, and presumably WILL go to heaven for actually believing in their leader, or a nation which is run by a military industrial complex that has bombed and killed millions of people: Vietnam-2 mil, Korea-2 to 4 mil, Iraq-about a mil?
    Jesus said, He who lives by the sword shall fall on it. I guess only time will prove whether he is a prophet or a fake, but in the meantime, we must decide whether we actually believe in him or not.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:46 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.