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. chief

    american indians dont observe thanksgiving... oh bad indians

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  2. Naive

    Do the Mennonites take time to reflect that the reason no one is trying to burn them at the stake or drown them in rivers anymore is that there are people who do sing the national anthem that protect them?

    It is easy to belief in a faith when you enjoy security provided by others. The common good is exactly that...common to everyone...and everyone should do their part.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Phil Mayor


      Is that what happened at WACO to the Branch Davidians? Were they protected? Or were they Burned at the Stake (so to speak) ?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  3. Ricardo Martinez

    If you do not want to sing the National Anthem you don't have to, when they sing it just keep your mouth shut, why tell us why you don't keep your mouth shut, anyway I would never understand your way and you mind, I like hot sauce and maybe you don't. I don't care,

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  4. BHoward

    Enjoy your freedom of religion and separation of church and state. We veterans purchased it. Without the nation, who you won't give appropriate honors to, your "tribe" as you call it, wouldn't exist. Its our nation that protects your freedom of religion. The very least you could do is say thanks by showing some respect. Shame on you Goshen College! I'm sure all of Mishawaka is proud of you.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  5. Cordell Corder

    Religions are the cause of most wars. It's a good thing this country allows such unpatriotic behavior to exist, otherwise the wearing of blinders which allow you to exist in the 14th century mentality would long ago been cancelled. Don't come to my door!

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

      Unbridled Nationalism causes most wars.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  6. why

    why do you hate America? Just sing the freakin song my god. Loser

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  7. Chet

    The country that gave his church the right to be here can get along just fine without him. Give him a ticket out of town.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  8. chief

    many blacks dont observe independence day? oh bad blacks, not american...

    June 26, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  9. Nick

    The fairy tale believers talk about why they don't sing a song based in actual fact. Excellent.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  10. Bob Johnson

    We live in a great country where you are allowed to make these type of decisions without fear of governement intervention. God Bless America and I chose to sing the National Anthem. In honor of all our troops that have given their lives for our freedom to make this type of choice.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Phil Mayor

      Hey BOB " We live in a great country where you are allowed to make these type of decisions without fear of governement intervention."

      Can you say WACO?

      You are fooling yourself. Do some research, this means reading a bok or two that does not begin "Once upon a time...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  11. Akmid

    Why won't the United Stated Congress stand and say a pledge of allegiance to the People of America everyday? They pledge allegiance to $$ and they Rich every day and not to the People of America. In 100 years America will be an Islamic Republic.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  12. John

    A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  13. chief

    you people bashng him make me want to puke..... muslims do this all the time but you zeolots dont say a word

    June 26, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  14. Mike

    uhhg, shut up with your preaching. The article didn't have anything to do with the headline

    June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  15. Will 18E

    Why do Christians hate America?

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

      great comment dolt

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

      No, that's a good question. Why do Christians hate America? Because Jesus isn't coming back and they want to start without him. They want the world to be so bad that he HAS to come back and they are willing to destroy everything so it can be magically fixed by Jesus.
      And America is easy to destroy from within because no one want to be the one to stand up first.
      Not even our President is willing to go against the status quo. It has become too powerful. Religion is just a tool for them.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  16. Randy

    Um, why is this even being reported on? Who the heck cares if a college is or isn't playing the star-spangled banner? Whomever is complaining about this needs a life! This is about as important of an issue as the dirt in my backyard.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  17. Robert

    The National Anthem is a time to celebrate our country and the man and woman that died to protect your beliefs. If that offends your people then maybe this is not the country for your religious beliefs, I agree with you that it is hard to believe differently sometimes. Yet the one thing we need to believe in right now is the country that is providing those freedoms you are trampling on.

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

      It could also be said that what you're suggesting is to trample their first amendment rights. Yes, people fought and died to protect those rights however, Votaire once wrote, " I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.". He may not have been from the US, but his words ring true. This country was build on a foundation of dissent. People are not going to say or believe thing you're going to agree with but the same people who fought and died for us to respect and revere this country are the same people who fought and died to allow these people to express dissent or to reject the national anthem at their private school's athletic events.

      Further, I agree. There absolutely should be a separation of church and state for exactly the reasons they stated.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Phil Mayor

      Robert, The National Anthem is just a bunch of feel good words set to music, just like the pledge of OBEDENCE that is in grained in children at school. Just get draged into the LEGAL SYSTEM and you will see that, that "and JUST US for all" is total BS.
      You believe (not think) that this is OUR country. NOT!!! It is the property of the multi-national corp's and HUGH BANKING intersts. They own (your) reps. These hand puppets do as the $$$ tell them. So you keep doing all the flag waving you want the the monied controllers will keep laughing all the way to the bank. Critical thinking takes a lot of guts, it requires one to look at the things of importance as they are, not as you might wish them to be. That is very frightening to most Amerikans. So they have there own version of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb AKA the National Anthem to protect them from the BOOGIE MAN that the powers that be place out like the scare crows in the original Planet of the Apes. You better get back under the covers now before they come in and find that you are not doing as directed and cut off your American Idol watching privleges.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  18. YBP

    All gods exist only in the imagination, and everyone imagines them differently. Religion is divisive and destructive. It should be banned everywhere.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Timothy H


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


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

      Funny, the Communist party thinks it should be banned as well.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  19. Splovengates

    For the true Christian, separation of church and state is sacred & mandatory. Never forget what the Catholic church did when it became the state. Millions died

    June 26, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  20. Earnán

    Just another arrogant religious cultist who skips paying taxes while expecting the rest of us to protect and support his parasitic ass.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Neese

      So true! If they don't pledge their allegiance to their country maybe they should forfeit their exception given by the united states!

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

      Funny, I don't see any mention of his tax record in this article...

      June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Anthony Rivers

      Individuals pay taxes—religious organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques) do not. This man pays taxes like you.

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

      And just so you ignoramuses know, the Pledge of Allegiance wasn't even formally adopted by this country until 1942. So are you saying every citizen between 1776 and 1942 didn't deserve their rights because they didn't say it? Don't be fools. And last time I checked, we have freedom of speech in this country. We're not some weird cult where you have to say some oath before you can take part. The ignorance of some people is astounding.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 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.