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. Abel

    It's not a big deal, sounds to me someone just wanted attention.

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

      I keel yoo!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Hypatia

      Amen! Speshul snowflakes, y'know? They need attention or they pout!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  2. kingaire

    You can still honor your country that gives so much for your freedom to practice that strange religion.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  3. F Daniel Gray

    Oh the hypocrisy and the hubris! "You don't like it here, get out" "We brought freedom and democracy here." "You don't mind taking federal money." Well, let's see, how about a few historical facts, which the spouting by know nothings exhibited above, ignore. When the ignorant racist (believed they were superior to any other humans) Europeans arrived on this continent, the humans here who had preceded them by about 20 thousand years, had names for themselves, e.g., Cherokee, Mohawk, Aztec, The above mentioned "whites," stupidly proclaimed, "all of you are "Indians," and still do. Canada,, has now replaced that racist term with the First nations peoples. Certainly a more accurate description.

    When the racist and ignorant Europeans got the upper hand, through military might, they "brought forth" a new nation in 1776. That nation, led by "white' men decreed that "freedom and democracy" was NOT for all humans; in fact more than half the humans residing, slaves, women, and the First Nations peoples. And, after "freeing" the slaves, whose free labor provided the foundation for the economic behemoth the nation became 2 centuries later, continued to oppress them by law and agreement, segregation, and discrimination. A bit more humbleness and shame is in order; as opposed to the jingoistic rants so much evidenced in the posts here, still!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • rocketwire

      I hear you. I love Indians.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Trying to Push Them Back into the Woodwork

      Slavery was NOT the foundation of the American economic dynamo. The industrial revolution centered in the Northeast, and lagged terribly in the old slave states, which remained relatively poor up to present day. Slavery was a part of agrarianism, not the industrial revolution.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • O Canuduh

      They are still called Aborigines in many parts of Canada. And they are still discriminated against.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • rocketwire

      Get on with your life...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Realist

      Spare us all the evil white people and all other peoples of the world are wonderful human rights observers crap! Taking over another peoples lands and enslaving them is not good. It wasn't good for european whites in america, it wasn't good for members of one indian traibe when they defeated and enslaved the losing tribes people and took their property. It wasn't good when europeans (italy) did it to other europeans (england, germany, etc...). This world is built on survival of the fitest, at it occurs throughout the natural world. Wake up and stop vilifying white europeans until you can justify the thousands of years of the same activities that occured before Columbus ruines the world by finding the US.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  4. sally

    I don't care whether the Mennonites sing the song or not. It's their business. Personally, I love the Star Spangled Banner but that doesn't mean I put my core values aside. Sometimes I don't like what this country does at all...like the Iraq incursion, for example.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  5. David Keeber

    Having been the host of many Rotary Exchange students, I have been fascinated by their consistent surprise at our nation's use of the anthem at ALL games and public events, as well as our pervasive display of the flag everywhere. All note that in their countries, these are reserved for national events and holidays. After much consideration and discussion, I have come to believe that they don't respect their nations less, that they love their nations and the sacrifices of their ancestors, military and leaders any less. Instead, they don't wear it so obviously due to a more reserved and cooperative approach in societies that are less isolated from other nations, cultures, beliefs. I have also come to believe we do as we do because we tend to be chest beaters in our beliefs. This is both good and bad. Given that the world is changing, might we also consider a less jingoistic way to wear and enjoy our nation's unique place in the world that is less "in your face?" It need not mean that we believe our nation is diminished, but rather can stand strong in a way that is more cooperative and inclusive. This is another opportunity for us all to grow into the world's society of nations.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  6. Davin

    I am very disturbed by the choice that this college has made. Currently I am serving in Afghanistan and can say there are many reasons to have the "Star Spangled Banner" played before every sporting event and cerimony in our country. The things that the USA does for our nation and freedoms, and national security is superior to any other nation out there. Moreover, to live in the USA and not pay respect to our country's history is sad and discouraging! This college should not be able to compete against any other college or university encompassing the USA, in any of its programs.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Trying to Push Them Back into the Woodwork

      What you are suggesting is totally opposite of the liberties the Founding Fathers founded America on.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Realist

      Another fine example of a group of people enjoying the freedoms this country provides without doing a darn thing to help support those freedoms. Play it / don't play it – that's their choice in a free nation. But when the nation needs them and they all go running behind their conscientious objector cowardice, then they can deal with the resulting loss of freedoms and the persecution they will have brought upon them.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  7. Aaron

    This article just preached religion rather than talking about the topic of the article. Poorly done sir, not a good article when you just skim over everything to finally see the last sentence which answered why you don't sing the Star Spangled Banner.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  8. Americashero

    Your country can be honored as well as your God. Honoring one doesn't necessarily diminish the other. The Star Spangled Banner was written near the end of the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key was against the war, but he was so moved by the victory and the sight of or huge flag still flying after a fierce battle that he wrote the words that later became the national anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  9. Thanks!

    God comes before country, period! Thank you for sticking to your beliefs.

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

      then lets kill you now so you can go straight to your 'kingdom of heaven' and get out of my country.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • John Bell

      There is not god! Get over it...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  10. AfghanVet17

    You know, I'm getting a little tired of all the religious zealots in this country, shoving the words of this ancient story down our throats and hiding behind its "laws". The fact of the matter is that the Bible was written as a tool by the then governing bodies to keep it's people in line through fear, and thousands of years later it seems to still be doing its job to a large group of egg-heads. This country was founded on progressive ideals, and it continues to thrive and, in my opinion, grow. Religion has no place in determining our laws or patriotism. Get with it, or get out.

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

      There is way too much religion in this country. "People of faith:"this, "my faith" that, etc. They should read some real books, study science or do something to improve their minds. Although I agree with the article on seperation of church and state, this crowd seems religous zealot creepy. They should lighten up or find their own island. To make matters worse, the US is now importing record numbers of rag headed dark age primitives that have to whip out rugs and pray 5 times a day, threaten cartoonists with death and are always tryng to blow someone up. I guess you had your share of them Afghanvet17.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  11. DaleH

    I read this with much joy in the Lord. I am also a Christian, and it is clear that Scriptures teach us that we are a part of the Kingdom of God, when Christ translates us into His kingdom by grace through faith in Him. We owe our hearts, minds, souls, and strength to Him alone. Yes, America is a wonderful and great nation, formed by men, and it has done great things. But pledging our allegiance to it, in my view, is wrong, as God alone deserves our allegiance. We also feel that singing anthems to America, posting the flag, having political rallies, or the like, do not belong in the House of the Lord at all, and they are an abomination in His temple. We do not ever condemn anyone who wishes to partake in traditions, but we hold a personal view that for us, God and God alone deserve certain praises from our lips.

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

      God deserves your allegence why? Does he turn on electricity in your house? Food on the table? Keep you from pain? Keep you in love? Keep you safe? Keep you warm? Keep you cool? Provide shelter? Does he do anything in your life what so ever to make it better? And if so name it. Because there are 100s of millions of people in third world countries watching their kids die in horrendous pain who would argue God does not deserve allegence. At least our nation provides a road to drive on..and that is tangable. Muslims IMO are by far more dedicated in their allegence to God then christians..I know I spent 10 years killen them. Yet look at the misery they endure due to their allegence to God.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Cain

      You sound like you're ready to wear one of those detonating vests or one of those jackets with the extra-long arms.

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

      People have been looking up for 2000 years for some mystical salvation. It has never come. Yet your salvation is with in arms length with your fellow man. Keep looking up and youll never see where your going.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  12. Glenn

    I wish more people would put their country ahead of their religion. That way we wouldn't always be worried when we elect a president whether they'll be "taking orders from the pope", "praying with their finger on the red button" or secretly visiting madrassas. The principles of America should supercede the principles of religion X.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  13. Sam Sixpack

    Your kids play sports at Goshen because patriots fought for your freedom. Now you enjoy the spoils of their sacrifice. What's up with you eating that poison fruit?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  14. DallasMarine

    When terrorists and barbarians are overrunning this country, the religious will beg the U.S. Military to save them, not God. What's next, choosing to disobey the laws in this country because they follow the "laws of God"? Get out of here.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Shamrock6

      They are already here. They run the place.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Trying to Push Them Back into the Woodwork

      You expect terrorists and barbarians to overrun the country? Really?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Mighty7

      Another jarhead just showing us how ignorant many of them can be:

      THERE ARE NO LAWS that require ANYONE to sing the national anthem.

      Do they teach you civics in the boot camp or is it all just running and shooting?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  15. Dave

    Admirable lifestyle. But their religious freedom was bought with the blood of their fellow countrymen. Playing the national anthem would be a sign of respect to veterans like myself who realize that freedom (religious or otherwise) isn't free (to all) and that, while God may save us in the hereafter, he has not been all that effective in protecting us down here. They could have tried this brand of Christianity anywhere else in the world, but they flourished here in America BECAUSE religious tolerance was part of our NATION's founding principles (an idea that's lost on many "Christians" today). Try being non-nationalist or a fringe religious sect in other, less-tolerant parts of the world. Separation of church and state doesn't mean you can have one but not the other.

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

      America was founded on religious tolerance??? Who's religious tolerance was it founded on, the Native Americans? Fact: America was founded on Christian religious intolerance, millions of Native people were forced to convert to Christianity

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Dave

      It's a complicated world. We do our best.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  16. Martene

    That's a stupid reason not to sing the Anthem. If you don't like a policy get involved and get it changed – vote for the right people to change things. If your religion doesn't allow you to be an American, then you are Un-American.

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

      Agree!!! It is un-American!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I am Un-american and proud of it!!! I am NOT a patriot!!!!

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

      Singing the national anthem is not required for one to be an American. Why are you attacking a complete stranger with such a straw man argument?

      He doesn't want to sing the national anthem. You don't want to tolerate people who don't want to sing the national anthem. Which sounds more un-American?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • looseparts

      What's it mean to be an "American"? Certainly it means different things to different people. I was born here; that makes me a citizen of the United States. My family was born here; going back 7-12 generations. But just because I was born here doesn't make me proud that my white ancestors cheated, lied and conducted genocide to acquire the land that we call America. Being born here doesn't make me proud that my white ancestors chained men women and children to the decks of ships to be sold into slavery. Being born here doesn't make me proud that my government maintains a military presence 10 times bigger than any other country. No. Do I sing the national anthem at sporting events? No. If I were still in the 6th grade would I pledge allegiance to the flag? No. But what makes me proud to be an American is having the ability to stand up for justice and live in the hope for effecting the change I want. I'm a proud American who doesn't sing the national anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Trying to Push Them Back into the Woodwork

      Why do you call singing the anthem or any other nationalist obedience ritual a policy? They are traditions, not matters of law, and rather pointless traditions at that.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  17. Cantureason

    Last time I checked freedom was given by a secular nation who's men and women died defending. Just might be me, but I don't recall seeing god sweep down on his chariots and slay the British.

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

      They have the freedom to live their lives they way they want to. That is what our soldiers died for.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  18. ams

    Pete: Yeah it does! It's all through it. Their allegiance is to God not this country, they are nonresistant, & believe in separation of church & state. They believe singing can be a form of worship & they worship only God.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  19. Ken

    The propaganda line about "fighting for our freedom and democracy" was first used to try to get the American people to desire to entire into WWI (America's First Crusade) (more than 60% had no desire for entering a war). It was repeated for America's Second Crusade (WWII), and has been successfully used by war profiteers and propagandists since.

    Please, war is a racket, to quote General Butler.

    I applaud the writer for his conviction and succint explanation. Indeed, true freedom is of the Father, paid for by the Son.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • skytag

      In WWI Germany was trying to get Mexico to enter the war and attack us. They rejected the suggestion, but it gave proponents of entering the war some real meat to use in their arguments. In WWII two countries declared war on us, so that didn't give us a lot of wiggle room.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Maj. Gen. Smedly Butler is one of my biggest heros. I am a former Marine and am so proud that he took a stand. I quote him CONSTANTLY!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  20. Peter Q Wolfe

    Personally there is lots of truths to what this protestant christian denomination is stating. I've decided from being an atheist/agnostic to turn instead towards christianity either in roman catholicism or methodist just appears that everyne is in the details just losing sight of the purpose of christianity. I believe that we all need to re-evaluate what we think we know and instead think about repenting. However, it isn't my place for me to tell you what to believe in. I also believe that I like others need to practice what we preach cause of recent sins that I need to reattend church and get off of alchol and stop having infedelity. Sorry Jesus for I have sinned.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Trying to Push Them Back into the Woodwork

      Oh dear, another "I was an atheist who found Jesus" liar.

      Tell the truth – you were never an atheist or agnostic. You never seriously considered the possibility of the non-existence of God. You were just a Christian on vacation.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:33 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.