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. Tom

    In reading these posts I am sure this is not a Christian nation. Those who say it is are in a small minority claiming the majority. It is time for this nation to look in the mirror and admit what it sees. America follows the same Christ as the crusaders. Jesus said, wide and easy is the way that leads to destruction, narrow and straight is the way that leads to life. Isn't it funny how a man, over 2 thousand years ago, got it right?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  2. Just wondering..

    So you really don't say the real reason behind not playing the national anthem. You say it's because "you don't recognize man made boundaries". Is there a real reason? I could say I don't recognize that my neighbor owns his lawn because the Earth is ultimately Gods, but that wouldn't make it right. It's 2011. We do alot of things out of ignorance and other out of respect. Respect the men and women giving their lives to protect your freedoms. I don't say that to be ignorant of your religion, I just think we owe those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Semper Fi.

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

      I respect the men and women fighting in our military to use the things they're fight for – the right to express my opinion – just like the Mennonites did with the National Anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  3. Pam

    I agree He does makea fairly convincing argument for his particular belief but it is somewhat contradictory-
    he writes "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")
    Aren't those men and women we sing for~ the ones who are protecting our freedoms? Otherwise we could be a country where we do not have our freedom of belief- to even type this article!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  4. BlackDynamiteNYC

    God don't like ugly

    June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  5. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • A Fae

      Eric P, you still don't get it... what can I say? Worldly minds think alike.

      Mark Schloneger, amen to that! Rock on man!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  6. George

    I just don't want to mess it up, like that bleach-blonde contest-judge.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  7. Splovengates

    Jesus never got involved in Roman politics.

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

      that's because jesus wasn't real

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  8. Eric P

    I can respect his views on this. I think Christianity is total BS because I have a brain, but I'm with the Mennonites on the whole not playing the National Anthem thing. I don't participate in that nationalistic mumbo jumbo either (unless I'm in uniform, and I'm required to). Good for them. Be a citizen of the world, not a country.

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

      Straight up man. Religion may be BS, but it's time to lose our pride in where we came from and just live as human beings, not divided tribes trying to conquer one another

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  9. rr

    I'm a christian and I don't sing the National Anthem. I do believe that we should pledge our allegiance to God only. I mean why should I sing the Anthem when states are passing laws giving sinners the right to marry. Think about it people. As Christians our country is turning its back on God removing prayer at high school graduations and legalizing gay marriage and CNN is downing people who refuse to sing the Anthem. What about the atheist who object to praying at graduation in Texas? Why are they not condemned? Why are people who don't say the pledge not condemned? Why are only Christians being attacked here? God is angry with the sin and immoral behavior that is going on in America today. His anger can be seen in all the floods, tornadoes, and wild fires out there. Repent America and return to God before he destroys you for your sinful immoral behavior.

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


      June 26, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Eric P

      Think about it? A Christian fundamentalist encouraging people to think? This is unprecedented! So your God created sinners? Hmmmmm

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • His Boy Elroy

      I REALLY don't think God punishes us by sending tornadoes and floods... especially if I pay any attention to the rest of your paragraph. If New York is sinning, then why is he flooding the poor people in Nebraska? Oh wait, maybe some Nebraskans are gay? Or perhaps a couple of them got divorced recently? And THAT is my point. Divorce is a sin... and no better a sin than you say being gay is a sin. You can't work it around to everything fitting only how YOU think it should be.

      As a sinner... and ALL are sinners... why would you pick out a certain sin and criticize people for it when there are so many sins everywhere that are not pointed out. I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ was born as God's son, lived on this earth, and died on the Cross to pay for my sins... and the sins of all who will accept Him. And I do not sit in judgment of someone else. The Bible says not to do that. I may pray for them. I may try and witness to them by how I live my life, but never in a million years would I choose to attack and write the things you do when I know I am a Christian. That alone is enough reason to ignore you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Splovengates

      God created Adam, Man created Atom

      June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Dan

      Wow! Does anyone understand that the National Anthem is NOT the Pledge of Allegiance? That it has nothing to do with God?

      Get with it, folks. Stop reading one thing, and then going off on tirades against it by providing arguments against not the issue at hand, but other issues which have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • EvolveAmerica

      Didn't Jesus say, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"?
      And aren't Christians born with original sin?
      So doesn't that mean that no Christian should be the first to throw stones, ie, the first to judge others?

      Oh, sorry, I forget that the very reason people believe in gods is because of their inability to reason.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  10. yar

    This country is real, your religion and "savior" are not. So like the majority of stupid people in this world, you pledge your allegiance to a fairy tale, which makes any opinion you have absolutely invalid. You seriously have the balls to belong to a christian religion and then make some comment about "blood-soaked borders"?! There is more blood on your hands than will ever be on this country's. Crawl back inside your neanderthal beliefs and leave us real human beings alone

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

      Awesome post!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Eric P

      Right on dude! More people have been murdered in the name of Christ than I think anyone cares to mention...then again, Christ killed people, so...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  11. Gary P.

    Do Mennonites serve in the military? From this pastor's stance I'd have to think that they do not. I don't know, I'm asking. As such, they should consider themselves lucky to live in a country where their religeous freedoms are protected by people who defend said freedom, and maybe be a little respectful of a 2 minute song paying tribute to those brave and valient people. 2 minutes isn't too much to ask before watching a 3 hour football game. Giving thanks to the military and government that alllow you to practice your religion doesn't violate any sense of separation of church and state, which seems to be one of their main arguments; it's called being polite.

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

      I agree Gary.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Dan

      What Pam said!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Eric P

      I'm in the military and I only salute the flag and participate in the nationalistic nonsense when in uniform...as required. Last time I checked, absolute unquestioning loyalty to the customs of patriotic country-loving are not a requirement to live anywhere. What does anything have to do with the military, anyway??? I think everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want so long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Not playing the national anthem doesn't hurt anyone. The guys who died for the U.S. don't care...they're dead. The only people who care are living who, unfortunately, have been brainwashed into believing that loving one's country is an important thing to do.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  12. Jose

    I hope you never have to defend your freedom in the field of battle. But, I hope when the time comes you'll understand you will have to raise your fist in order to keep praying to God under a banner. Even the crusaders flew under the white flag with a red cross regardless if they were right or wrong in their expeditions. There are many evil people who are relying on you and the Church to welcome them with open arms before they slaughter you all into a pit. Ask the people in the Balkans what that is like.

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

      I think you missed the point of this article, and Christianity in general. Did Jesus strike down the Romans as they were crucifying him? Did Jesus defend the faith on the battlefield? You do not understand fundamental parts of Christianity. Learn the meaning of turn the other cheek and understand it takes more strength to do that than to respond violently.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  13. matt

    Anybody can say there a Christian but its just a word if someone is a true believer its having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ just because someone calling themselve a Christian and says he or she doesn't sing the national anthem that person doesn't speak for all true christ believers

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

    I also believe in seperation of church and state. I also acknowledge that we had to use guns and spill blood to be able to practice our faith. Give unto Cesar what is Cesar's ans unto God what is God's. When you pray (if you do) lord help us if you pray to Washington instead of a higher being. having allegence to the US is no more different than singing your schools fight song.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  15. Gary D


    June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  16. Joe from Ohio

    I say we separate church and state even further. Organized religion has only ever made things worse. Let each honor their God in their own way.

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

    Ashish m

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

      I've never understood what singing the national anthem has to do with a sporting event.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  18. Trey

    This doesn't irritate me as much as it normally would. I guess it's because they aren't not playing it just to keep some illegal Immigrant from being offended, but to recognize one Christian nation. Although, I am not sure why they still can't play the National Anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  19. JIM

    This gentleman should talk to the surviving Jewish nation concerning living with your head in the sand. Not being Mennonite, I am not familiar with the doctrin. Even the Muslims, who believe that suicide is a free pass into eternity, render respect to the nation that allows them that belief. The only fair action by the US government would be to advertise the location of these free thinkers and pledge to not interfere if free lancers wanted to murder them for what they have. Deny your nation and loose their protection.///

    June 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  20. Not a Martyr

    Pete says it best: this article fails to make it's point because it fails to make any point, and the one person who did write in to support it misspelled kudos so I think that the educational system has failed them as well. Perhaps if people gave more thought to voicing their opinion than for what religion they have chosen to practice.

    This is embarrassing for CNN to give voice to this kind of poorly conceived and irrelevant nonsense.

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

      Not a Martyr has no room to speak. The educational system has failed because someone misspelled kudos, then he proceeds to make a grammatical error himself with "fails to make it's point". You've made a point here for sure. That whatever schooling you've undertaken, you failed to pay attention. The school did not fail. The educational system did not fail.

      You failed. Either return to school, or cease with the asinine comments.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
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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.