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. Vynn

    As an atheist I have to agree with him on the strict separation of Church and state. I may not agree with his branding of the fairytale that most Americans are deluded with, but I admire that they are not out to use politics as a club to impose your silly ways over the rest of us.

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

      "I may not agree with his branding "

      I assume as an atheist you don't agree with any flavor of the God narrative.

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

      You know what? I'm pretty much on my way to being an atheist, too. But it makes me absolutely SICK when I see people like you mocking people of faith. That's just plain rude. Live and let live, dude.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Whack-a-mole

      If you want to live and let live, then go do so. We are not required to bend over backwards anytime someone says something insane because they believe in fake gods. Mocking lies is not wrong and never will be. Lies are lies whether you believe them or not.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  2. Juice Newton

    So they won't practice some silly phony ritual of state worship because they practice the silly ritual of worshiping a 2000 year old zombie. It's like a stupid train crashed into a stupid truck.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  3. johnny

    this world would be a better place if everyone would mind there own business and let people mind theres if you want to sing it fine if you dont fine your right get over it.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  4. Rolph

    Religion is for people who look to the sky for answers to there own personal problems.
    Good luck. If you don't know the difference between right and wrong and good vs evil it doesn't matter what you call yourself.
    Christians should stop trying to sell their faith and beliefs to the world. We don't need another Crusade. !!! If the so called God isn't within you and he doesn't have the power to stop evil than what good is he ?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  5. dcvet08

    I would bet that Mark Schloneger and company would be "singing" a different story if their freedom was taken away from them – you know, their freedom that the U.S. troops fight everyday for.

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

      If our troops were to actually fight for our rights and freedoms, they'd put most of our politicians under arrest.
      Otherwise you are just blowing smoke out your ass.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  6. Dean

    Yes, and I wonder how many Mennonite churches there are in Iraq where the government is not willing to be tolerant of everyone freedoms.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  7. Ricardo Martinez

    In Mexico there is a colony of Menonitas, they make a great Queso, it goes very well with Fijoles. I don't care if they don't sing the Star Spangled Banner, but I would care if they stopped making Queso, I will not stop eating Queso.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  8. Bob Bichen

    I sing the anthem loudly and proudly, and put my hand on my heart while doing it, sincerely. America, for all its flaws, is still the greatest country on Earth. We are more tolerant and productive than any other country, and our ancestors and parents have led more positive change than arguably any other group, particularly if the short term of our existence is considered. If you choose not to sing (or play) the anthem, I respect your decision, but I won't feel the least bit silly or uncomfortable having pride in my flag, my nation, what we have endured, and what we stand for.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  9. 48dave

    “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21)

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

      I agree that they should take a further look at this passage in particular.

      While I respect the choice of his 'tribe' as he should so loosely use the term, I believe he as well as the people of his faith have fallen victim to a variety of historical religious practices, which are usually wrong.
      1) Harping on the idea and attempting to call into effect the collective superego of the 'tribe' that they were persecuted and murdered far far worse than other religions in the same era. Which if you read anything outside of your own religious text is simply not true.
      It also lends to a side point like the kid that wants to feel important: they are they 'only one,' exclusionary, isolated, and independent of the history of other people.
      2) Becoming so smug in the fact that they are 'different' and then attempting to further this cause and call it 'religious choice.' when in fact they, like so many others before them, are using 'secular' methods to bring about self-promotion. And then letting the secular media bring this attention to light. Hey Mark Schloneger, if you truly believe and support the separation of church and state, it can not be a selective set of occurrences. That means, don't whine, harp, or fulfill your duty to preaching your 'tribes' word upon a secular and state driven force such as the media. Or rely on the tools of modern society to give you publicity. It's hypocritical without room for wiggling.

      3) These points culminate into a final point that the only reason they 'choose' to make sure church and state are separate, at least when it's convenient. Relies solely on the fact that he and his 'tribe' reside in a country allowing religious freedom and tolerance. Apparently he and his abhor the idea of the 'blood soaked boarders' but I'm sure they have no problem enjoying the other freedoms including religious. If they abhor the idea so much that they wish to view themselves as a entirely separate 'nation' I invite them to go live in a country which does not celebrate itself. Then while they are sitting in a 3rd world country complaining of the lack of religious freedoms, media outlets, and starbucks, perhaps then they will reflect that being proud to live in the USA and practicing their religion can in fact be entirely separate experiences. But I guess they just can't wrap their head around that.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  10. Shamrock6

    Yay! Amruica the byootifull. Wal-mart forever!! Guns, guns, guns, guns, guns.......and JEEZUS!!! Gawd bless Amurica! if y'all don't lyke it you can leeve!!! Gawd bless the soljers who keel everyone for our freedom so we can be free cuz if they didn't go kill people every couple years we would be all speaking Hitler talk. Kill everyone for freedom!!

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

      Trolls should learn to use spell check...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Dumb americans don't know how to spell.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • nice

      Well, first kill all the Islamists.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • ismatem

      I'm still snickering ... thanks for the sarcasm!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  11. Darwin SpaghettiMonster

    We believe in a rulebook written by a dead carpenter and his single-dad 2000yrs ago, as such the anthem is silly.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  12. Kristen

    Perhaps if you all read it correctly, they are not against soldiers. They have every right to practice their beliefs, just as those who attend Oral Robert's College or UCLA. Even Westboro Baptist church has been granted the right to practice and Westboro is more like terrorists then Mennonites would you not agree?
    There should be separation of Church and State and the Mennonites have always practiced that.
    Most of these comments prove yet again, we need World Religion courses in our school to stop all the ignorance and hatred of the unknown.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Hmm. Sounds hypocritical

      Sounds like they are trying to have it both ways. If they do in fact want a strict separation of church and state, then should they give up their tax exempt status, and stop accepting grants from the government. Looks like they are picking and choosing which separations they would like to enforce.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • life101

      As a Christian I don't think Churches should be tax exempt. I'm ok giving them some exemptions if they spend money taken in on charity work like any american citizen or company donating money can deduct. If a minister gets paid, it's a salary and should be taxed like everyone else. Shouldn't matter if it's a small community church or one of the huge Mega-Churches, if they make money they should be taxed on it. Seperating religion from government shouldn't mean you can build a money making orginization, call it a "Church" and make millions and be exempt from paying taxes. As far as scholarship or government grant money, since when should help going to college (any college) be based on what you study. Religious colleges should be held to the same laws & standards as any College/University. Choosing what you study should not determine your qualifying for aid. I also agreewith Kristen, ignorance creates hated. Understanding others faith doesn't mean you have to agree but can stop the hate.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  13. B2Tall

    It sounds like this guy is confusing the Star Spangled Banner with the Pledge of Allegiance.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I plead alignment to the flakes of the snakes of an unmerry cow. And to the rebulicans, for which they scam, one nacho, underpants, with licorice and jugs of wine for owls.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  14. Justin

    I respect your right to not sing the national anthem. As many American soldiers died to give you this freedom, I'm sure a mennonite was amongst them. So long as you don't break the law or participate in treason. I don't think it is disrespectful for them not to sing the national anthem, there is no law requiring it. Furthermore, for anyone to judge that you must isn't a patriot either. I'm a veteran, and I fought for freedoms, not limitations. Do what you want, but as I said above, just don't break the law, or partake in treason...OH, there is ONE thing that even though you have the freedom to do, you shouldn't...Protesting at soldiers funerals...THAT is and should be illegal.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Sorry to tell you this but you fought for GE, Boeing, Lockheed, Halliburton, 20 or 30 wealthy families and that's pretty much it. You never defended anyone's freedom. You killed for profits. Nothing wrong with that but you do need to know the truth.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • waj66

      Please don't lump the practices and beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church and the Mennonite denomination together. Having had the WBT protest a funeral at my church... I can tell you that the two are worlds apart.

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

    It's not the People who hate America; it's the American Government who hates the People. They sceem everyday to cheat you out of your Social Security and Medicare and start wars basied in lies and you are to sing songs to them and Pledge to them? No way! Washington is just a big toilet that needs to be flushed.................

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  16. montyhp

    What a great country, where they are criticized for their point of view rather than being executed for it.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I don't know. We would probably be a lot better off if people got killed for saying stupid things. As long as I got to determine what was stupid of course.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  17. Tom Leykis

    More religious wingnuttery. NOTHING has kiilled more people, destroyed more cultures, tortured more, repressed learning and education, suppressed people more than religion. Erase all religion and we'd have a better planet and one capable of saving itself.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  18. Are you all kidding?

    What is absolutely astonishing to me is how we live in a culture that is trying to strive toward religious tolerance, and yet here we are. The true feelings come out when no one can know who you really are. Cloaked with anonimity, you bash religous idiots for not wanting to do something seemingly small and somewhat justified. I am not a Mennonite, but I do respect their rights and their differences. Are they not being patriotic in the simple act of exercising their freedom to obstain from singing? That is what this country is about. Freedom. And while, yes, you all have the freedom to jump onto a website, wait eagerly for a religous story to get you fired up, and attempt to verbally destroy that about which you probably know very little, it is sad and you should be ashamed.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  19. John

    So, no national anthem but you can apply for government aid to go to this school. Nice way to straddle the fence. If you dont like government in your school, then remove it completely. Did you receive federal aid to get your degree? Piety in all things sir!!!

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

      Do you think Mennonites pay taxes? I do.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  20. life101

    I think his article is well written and informative. I believe our founding fathers were 100% correct when they decided on the need for seperation of Church & State. I'm a Christian and do not want our government involved in or trying to control my beliefs. Why do people have to equate faith with government in any way. If its true freedom of religion why do you want to control what they sing at a sporting event. A sporting event! Keep them seperate, having a job, paying taxes, paying into or receiving social security have nothing to do with my faith. How important faith becomes when trying to get someone elected if they believe like you do..... but if their faith is different, we hear people panic believing if they get elected they'll try to push their beliefs on all the American people. People want it both ways & it will never work.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:01 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.