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. B2Tall

    I have no problem if somebody doesn't want to sing the anthem. I just think this guy is confusing apples with oranges. What next....he ccan't root for his alma mater's sports teams because he only roots for Jesus??

    June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • magcat

      Excellent point! LOL

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • sigh

      AMEN! That was my first though exactly! Then don't have sports teams. Then don't have a college that differentiates you from others. Our country exists as a unit. His, "we belong to Jesus' country" is actually a much more exclusive club than the U.S. Our goal, if not yet reality, is to have space for and honor all faiths. The rockets' red glare represents the battle that occurred to gain the very freedom he uses to not honor it. Gotta love irony and the fact that he doesn't see it!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  2. P00P


    June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Here's some 4 u


      June 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  3. Meanderman

    Frankly, I don't have much use for the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, and their ilk. They don't serve in the military or public service, don't become doctors, nurses, teacher, or scientists – in short, they contribute nothing to society except their bizarre dress and beliefs. They remain intellectually incapable of being productive members of our country under the guise of their religious beliefs, but are quick to use public services when they need them. While criticizing them has always been a political death sentence, this country can no longer afford the luxury of continuing their tax-free status. They're merely renting space here in this country, not truly becoming citizens.

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

      This is some serious ignorance you're displaying. All of these people you say don't contribute most certainly do contribute. Society needs a lot of people who aren't scientists, doctors, or soldiers. Honestly, you sound like a real idiot.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      skytag.. you are the idiot here. Isolationism breeds nothing but isolationism.
      Which river did your parents swim across, fool?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  4. VoceNuova

    All major forms of religion survive because of the support from state. Freedom is protected only with "rockets". New branches of religion are possible only because of the state. Christianity flourished because the Romans ruled by the Pope. The protestants came about because of King George wanted a divorce. All denomination of existing religion was as a result of disagreement with existing belief and interpretations. All the conflicts in the world are as a result of one group imposing its views on another group. And the group with might has the loudest voice. Even wealth is a result of might.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. Chris

    WHAT A BUNCH OF LOSERS!!! Only bible thumpers would try and convince the world that the Star Spangled Banner is not "christian like"....Are you kidding me?? I'm sure there are alot of people attending the Mennonite Basketball games. I'm sure those night games are pretty cool, playing under candlelight!

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

      Only some one who has never actually read the new testament would think that a song about war was somehow in line with the message of Christ. I am an atheist and even I can see how obvious that contradiction is.

      The fact that most Christians DON'T see the contradiction between violence, judgement, and the teachings of Christ is a sign of the widespread hypocrisy and ignorance among people who claim to follow those teachings. I'm inclined to think that Mennonites are being more true to the supposed word of God than most Christians.

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

      What Jason said.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      Special "covered wagon" parking lots too ...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • gsperson

      Jason – Oh you flatter yourself. Your being an atheist, turns out, doesn't really lend weight to your arguments about bible interpretation. You're kind of like a witch docter chiming in on the finer techniques of by-pass surgery.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  6. peacedog

    i think this is a conscience-motivated stand and agree wholeheartedly with it. until we all learn that this country is not a business and that we war more than any other country, we will not rest in peace. it is about people and peace, not profit and politics. kudos to these people of faith and conviction.

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

      your an idiot! when's the last time you put on a kevlar helmet and defended this GREAT nation that you like to criticize? i'm guessing never, and if you did then you were the pansy running the opposite way during a fight!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • peacedog

      not an idiot at all. in my life, i have known too many wars. when does it end? why is it always us? why do we fight in countries that do not ask our aid? in defense of this country, i would die. to make money for huge corporations....not. i love this country as much as anyone. i just want it returned to the people.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      Because, unlike most other countries, we actually take responsibility for the world in which we live.
      Think about it. In my lifetime alone (70 short years), I have witnessed dozens of despots who
      have fallen to our sword and millions who have been delivered. You can't live like an ostrich
      with your head in the sand for very long. The world grows smaller with each passing day.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • skytag

      @Chris: "your an idiot!"

      Having a different opinion than you does not make one an idiot.

      "when's the last time you put on a kevlar helmet and defended this GREAT nation that you like to criticize?"

      I have news for you. Our military has not "defended" us since WWII, the last time we were attacked by another country.

      "i'm guessing never, and if you did then you were the pansy running the opposite way during a fight!"

      Attacking people and insulting people's character simply because they don't share your views is pretty immature. Having convictions is not the same as being a coward. Too bad your parents didn't teach you that when you were growing up.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  7. Len

    How any rational and educated person who actually reads the bible can still believe in and devote their life to God or Jesus baffles me. God is the largest mass murderer in history. Seek a personal relationship or follow His moral authority? No chance. God, Jesus and all religions are a myth people. Wake up.

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

      and you are an authority on God? we have free wills, we make choices. it is a gift. we abuse it.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      Exactly. The whole religion game is a patent con game. Freud described it
      very well. It's all about "Think the way I think, or you're going to hell!"
      While the country is probably big enough to sustain the Anabaptists
      from the Indiana boondocks, they do not serve our national purpose.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • peacedog

      big difference between faith and religion. follow you heart. feel. therein lies faith. religions are man-made and at times suffocating. faith is not.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • skytag

      @peacedog: "big difference between faith and religion. follow you heart. feel. therein lies faith. religions are man-made and at times suffocating. faith is not."

      Faith is belief in something which you cannot know. No amount of faith in a belief makes it true. Look at all those idiots who quit their jobs, sold all their belongings and traveled the country in motor homes spreading the word that the world would end on May 21, 2011. Lots of faith. No connection to reality.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  8. luketheduke

    Wow. Amazing how much phony patriotism abounds out there. These good people put their money where their mouth is. Just read the comments and try and understand the price they are willing to pay. It sounds like they tried it last year YOUR way and probably couldn't live with their moral dilemma. And they not only preach life to the unborn but they don't think the state has the right to claim the death penalty. (In the eyes of most of the western world we are SO pathetic to the countries who have abolished it and yet we claim Christianity.) Patriotism breeds eras like Bush2 where we wrap our killing in our flag and refuse to look at our Imperialism. But I gotta love the balls. We went broke doing it and don't see 1. We ain't Christian. 2. We ain't Number Uno and we 3. Ain't got any right to tell other FELLOW AMERICAN CHRISTIANS how to live when they are practicing what they preach even when it is inconvenient and expensive. I am sure they will suffer awful economic hardship on their campus from all the phony patriots who should be supporting them if they are GENUINE patriots.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  9. Flooby

    This crap no name school should not have any problem not taking ANY government funding. This kind of BS is the reason this country is falling apart. All these religious nutbags need to GET A CLUE and stop believing in f-ing fairy tales.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  10. BillyD1953

    I'm an atheist and I never sing the anthem. I wouldn't sing it for any country and certainly not ours, which has become a war mongering corporate plutocracy.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Thank you. Smartest post yet.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Flooby

      Maybe you should move to Canada.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I am definitely looking into it. I was just reading where it isn't as hard as I thought. Keep your fingers crossed!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      Your privilege. But why do you stay here then? You are a hypocrite if you
      don't emigrate now. Places like Tunisian, Libya and Syria.. they all need
      you, fool.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • David

      If you can't appreciate the services, protection, and values that a country provides feel free to leave. I am not one of these hypernationalists that think you have to die for your country to prove your loyalty but I do recognize the millions of veterans who have given their time, effort, and often their lives for me to have the freedoms I do in these "blood soaked" borders. I do owe my allegiance to America, to its forebears, and to those who have sacrificed themselves for her. The day that I feel I don't I will go somewhere else.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  11. is

    It must be a slow news day when this pr piece is news. Way to go cnn.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  12. Robert McGee

    Go blow this smoke to the white crosses on Omaha Beach

    June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  13. Heather

    The only reason is separation of church and state? I"m not really sure because this article rambles on and on without getting to a point.
    It is true, you should not be forced to sing the national anthem. However, does that mean you do not accept federal funds for your university, including federal grants and aids issued to your student population who would otherwise not be attending school because they couldn't afford it. If you want to be a totally reliant on religion, your argument means you must give up ALL state and federal programs that enter your university; you can't just pick and choose

    June 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Howard Barnes

      It's deeper than that, Heather. We are all inextricably bound to each other at this point
      in time. People like the Anabaptists, or Gov Perry from Texas, who think they should
      be left alone, should be examined by psychiatrists.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  14. Howard Barnes

    Well there are good reasons for not playing the national anthem at events but this guy's reasoning is absurd.
    First of all, he cites the group's history of religious persectuion. That, in itself, is grounds for participating
    in a ritual on behalf of a country which has successfully separated church and state, no? But the punchline
    that "true freedom comes from God" is laughable. We would not have the measure of freedom which we
    enjoy in this country were it not for the thousands of young people who sacrificed their lives to oppose hegemony.
    This guy needs to get a brain instead of rotely reciting religious convictions. God should always be put above
    country, but country needs to be elevated above every oddball, yokel group that has its own agenda.
    The man is a screwball.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  15. Tom

    Anyone who reads the words of Christ knows He compels His followers to live by His teachings. Those who do not follow His teachings don't believe in Him.
    A person's salvation hinges on belief in Him. Are you a true believer?
    "Wide and easy is the path that leads to destruction, and many there be that find it, but narrow and straight is the path that leads to life, and few there be that find it."
    Which path are you on?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  16. Hypatia

    I'm a cradle Episcopalian–yeah, that means I qualify as a Christian, despite what the ultra-fundies would like anyone to believe, and that is, without doubt, the most specious bit of pretzel logic for taking a pompous, contrary position I've ever had the misfortune to read.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  17. James Pepper

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
    – Mohandas Gandhi

    I like these Christians, they actually practice what they preach.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • gsperson

      Christ also said "Give to Caesar what is Caesars". I wonder if they can practice some of that? It amazes me how the Caesar line is forgotten when conscientious objectors and no pledge groups "adhere" to the bible. I imagine, though, they think that line only applies to actual taxes, as if Christ was working as a tax consultant at the time.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • skytag

      Christ was talking about tribute, which was basically taxes.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  18. SurRy

    Standing at attention and swearing allegiance to cloth material, and belting out a song on queue has always seemed a bit ja vol herr kommandant – ish to me.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Chris

      Yet another idiot amongst us! I hope you don't live in this country because if you do then you should be hung! You sit around with all your hippy tree hugging pot smoking friends and bad mouth this country and question our history, yet you want all the privileges that people like me and my fellow soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors provide on a daily basis? pack your bags and leave if you hate it here so bad..i'm sure Afghanistan would love to have you there!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  19. dee

    The National Anthem does seem to focus too much on war but I feel it is referring to the Revolutionary War which has nothing to do with the wars we've had since then so I have no problem with it. I do have a problem with the wars we've had since then. None were about defending our freedoms.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • not quite

      Actually, it refers to the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War.

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

      You do realize that the song comes from a poem that was written by Francis Scott Key in response to the battle of the War of 1812 at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, right?

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

      It was written about the bombing of Fort Mchenry during the war of 1812, not the revolution.

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

      The national anthem has nothing to do with the revolutionary war. It was written about 30 years later during the war of 1812the by francis scott key

      June 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Joe citizen abroad

      Yikes. The Star Spangled Banner was written after the revolution, during our second war, the 1812 war, in which British troops actually torched the White House. I think that war was probably about defending our freedom. Heard of a little group called Al Qaeda? They destroyed a couple of buildings in NYC awhile back and killed a lot of innocent people. I think the war against them is probably about defending our freedom too. Oh, and if we hadn't entered WWII, you'd probably be reading this website in German right now.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Army Veteran

      Sorry Dee, the National Anthem was written during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key as he watched the shelling of Ft. McHenry by the British in 1814. It was a poem he wrote that was put to music. Most American's no nothing about their heritage or what all of our symbols and traditions mean. The ones that do probably served in the military. As the line from Starship Troopers goes, "Service equals citizenship."

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • RichM

      Defending someone elses freedom is certainly not worthy of a great nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  20. Bauie

    As some who thankfully does not live in the US do you realise how crazy most of these posts appear? All this nonsense about soldiers fighting for your freedom, what freedom, you are one of the most regulated countries in the world and anyhow, practically every "war" you have been involved in except the WWII was a war of choice. Its just that your government and media are so good at brainwashing and conditioning you that you actually think you are doing good work when you invade a country and depose a government.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • 1nd3p3nd3nt

      lol, there's argument about it, but basically the regulations are to protect and ensure a quality of life for the citizenry. My other post is awaiting moderation, I went into some more detail there. The concept of freedom is fairly complex and full of almost paradoxical qualities.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • CRD

      Agreed! Hit the nail on the head! America is a great place with great ideas, but not everything America does is right. We would make more progress as a nation if we recognized that.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • gsperson

      Bauie – What country are you a citizen of? I wonder if you didn't mention it because it would have made you look like a hypocrite.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • John Richardson

      The last war fought to any significant extent on American soil was America vs America in the Civil War, and even that war was fought, except for Gettysburg, almost entirely on the soil of that part of America that no longer wanted to BE part of America. So yes, it's a bit of a stretch to say to couch America's rather intense military history in terms of the "defense" of anything, except those mysterious and seemingly ever changing "American interests". If America had been repeatedly attacked and its existence ever really be hanging in the balance, I could understand some resentment towards conscientious objectors. But that's not at all what our history has been like and our freedoms and economic well being would likely be better off if there was a lot less kneejerk militarism and some more conscientious objecting. I'm neither a pacifist nor an isolationist, but seriously, the country spends a lot of money spilling a lot of blood in wars that have had little to nothing to do with self defense in any halfway realistic sense of the word.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:40 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.