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. Adeshina

    I lot of countries give support to student both Domestic and International, i dont think you need to be praising US for that. the fact still remain the same, the leader's of US are antiGod. Please Mr Kyle change your ways don't belong to the group SS

    June 26, 2011 at 5:04 am |
    • Hmmm

      Who cares what the religious beliefs of our leaders are? For all I care, they can believe in holy turtles as long as they do their job.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:06 am |
    • Kanbar the Kanbarrian

      I hear it's turtles all the way down...

      June 26, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • Reality

      Mennonites- too much inbreeding


      Next topic!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  2. Liberty Spinner

    Quakers do not pledge the flag for the same reason. The Mennonites are also a pacifist religious body that performs endless good works in the world.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  3. James

    1) America isn't a Christian nation.
    2 )America is a secular nation.
    3) The founding fathers weren't Christian.
    4) American's are so clueless about our nation's history that they think we are christian nation.

    *SMASH my head against the wall

    June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • Scotty2010

      I think it's the "under God" and "in God we trust" bits that give them that idea...

      June 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Felix

      James, great posting.
      Scotty, these are the effect, not the cause. The Religious Right of the day, many years after the Founding Fathers intended to create the myth of the Christian Nation, hence these two catchphrases.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  4. BD70

    Had to double check the web page...thought I hit a religious site by mistake.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  5. nate


    Religious wingnuts have inconsistent and hypocritical beliefs!

    FILM AT 11

    June 26, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  6. J

    While I agree with his belief in Jesus and the Christian church, I don't see that as mutually exclusive from belief in the United States of America. I can be proud of my country while living a Christian life. Not once in this article does he mention any Biblical scripture to support his belief. I don't put the U.S. before God, but that doesn't mean I can't honor my nation by singing the national anthem or flying the Stars & Stripes.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  7. J. Snider

    "...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."

    I agree with most of your opinion. You don't want to sing the anthem? Good on you. You love your country and your God? Good on you. But that previous statement is a bit much. If the cross is what provides freedom, why has it been cause of so much death and destruction? Why are there so many countries who base their governments off of the cross that do not grant their citizens freedom? I don't understand, but perhaps you do? Maybe I was wrong in what you were insinuating. The only other explanation of your statement that I can find is that nobody is free unless they pay the cost of believing in the cross. That's a bit much.

    I was raised a Christian. I think that core Christian values are similar to the values of almost all religions; good ideals for any person to follow. I think the majority of Christians are good people, just like I think the majority of all people are good people. But I do know that there is the minority, who are bad people, and will take measures to take away freedom. The sad and simple truth is, these measures are not stopped by a cross. Unfortunately, they are stopped with the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air. To say what you said in that statement is to greatly disrespect every man or woman who has ever lost their life fighting to protect the freedom of others.

    I'm not defending the use of military action at any cost. There are just as many or more times that military action has been used for the wrong purposes as it has for the correct purposes. I could name examples all day. But, without military action used in the proper manner, freedom could easily be taken away. WWII provides a simple example. Adolf Hitler was a terrible human being and used military action to take away freedom. The only way he could be stopped was through military action, which he was. You cannot deny that, unless you're a nut job and want to argue the Holocaust wasn't real. However, I'm not arguing all military action is necessary. Another WWII example, the A-bomb. It can be debated all day whether it was necessary to use or not. Simply put, did it provide freedom? No, it killed people and took others freedom to live a healthy, normal life and we would have won the war eventually, at the cost of much less lives and destruction.

    Fact of the matter is, freedom must be fought for and defended. And as wonderful of a thought it may seem to a devout Christian, freedom is not provided by a cross.

    Mr.Schloneger, I completely back you and your alma mater in choosing not to sing the National Anthem. I also agree with V Saxena and think that anyone who has a problem with it "can suck on an egg." But when I was reading this article, the statement quoted above set me off due to it's ignorance and I felt compelled to respond. If you read this, sorry if I seemed derogatory, it is my nature and I do not mean to offend you.


    J. Snider

    June 26, 2011 at 5:00 am |
    • JSpinner

      That is why the line "no religion, too." The cross, the whatever religious symbol is an excuse, not a reason for all the terrors they have perpetrated. If people didn't twist the teachings to justify killing, like the fundamentalists of any sect that believes it is their duty to "save" the pagans, heathens, or kill the infidel. The Christians are not the only ones to use their holy book to justify mass killings. Look around today at India/Pakistan, Shiite/Sunni, Egypt and the Christians or the world and the Jews. Is it any wonder that people believe everyone has to agree with them to get peace? As long as people believe passionately that their way is the only right way, our duty will be to spread the word and crush the heretics.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  8. Andrew

    As strange and silly as their religious beliefs seem to me, at least they don't sound like religious hypocrites, and I wouldn't have to worry about these people trying to push forth religious based laws into the public sector. It'd be nice if most christian denominations were so passive.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  9. Xavier

    Who are you people? And who's the guy saying Jesus prob never existed? Even most hell bent scientist that believe the world was formed on the big bang theory aknowledge Christ existed. Are you trying to say millions of us people (Christians) are crazy. To include Muslims who speak of Christ in the Holy Kuran?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • Hmmm

      Actually, what a scientist says about Jesus and his existence is rather irrelevant since they aren't historians. And yes, most historians do agree that somebody named Jesus probably existed. We don't have any definitive proof but I'll throw you a bone.

      Oh and to answer your other question. Yes, all religious people are crazy.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:01 am |
    • Mark

      Yes if you are publically claiming your religion, and having to prove your point, you are in fact crazy

      June 26, 2011 at 5:02 am |
  10. R Burns

    Christianity definitely provides room for patriotism! see Matthew 22:21, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Revelations 1:5

    June 26, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • John

      I think these are shaky verses to use.

      The Matthew passage is talking about submission to governments and paying taxes because what is "Caesar's" is ultimately inconsequential compared to what is God's.
      The 1 Timothy passage tells us to pray for our leaders.
      The Revelation passage simply acknowledges that Christ is ultimately in control of every nation.

      None of the passages call for (or even, perhaps, allow for) the outright veneration of a particular nation. These are about submission to civil government as an outpouring of our submission to Christ.

      Wouldn't that then mean that praising the nation would be like praising the creation rather than the creator, or the servant rather than the master?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  11. Mighty7

    I won't sing it neither. There is NOT ONE SINGLE LAW that requires or imposes the signing of the national anthem. It is THEATRICS and nothing else. And I have no idea why sporting events. Why not at the movie theaters? or at the symphony? or during a wedding? It is idiotic and ANYONE who wants to question somebody's "patriotism" over this is an imbecile who deserves to be admonished in public for doing so.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:57 am |
    • Kyle

      There is no law, but there are holidays. I suppose we should get rid of those. Strange...I find schools taking one opportunity to show respect for the government that financially provides the education, either directly with state schools, or by financial aid to the students, is not simply good manners but something people should want to do. You sound like a complete ingrate.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • Chris

      Actually, it used to be played in movie theaters. And, last I knew, it was still played before movies on military bases. Creeping commercialism took it away from us in regular theaters.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:05 am |
    • Mighty7

      Kyle....so let me ask you: What are the price of tomatoes in Toledo?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Kyle

      I'm guessing you don't care if you are an ingrate, or my opinion for that mater. Bravo, doesn't mean people like you don't "deserves to be admonished in public for doing so"

      June 26, 2011 at 5:16 am |
  12. D

    I'm hoping this means they don't take any federal or state money? That would be incredibly hypocritical.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Kyle

      the student do, which means the school does.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  13. Rob

    So what your saying is you can't be Christian and patriotic at the same time?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • StreetJustice

      no you cant Rob. having love for a man made country in a system that's ruled by the evil one would aline you with the devil and make you gods enemy.

      4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?

      15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  14. Vandelay Industries

    Blindly patriotic people remind me of religious nuts.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  15. Adeshina

    He choose to belong to a strange tribe. that is absolutely the right way. You have the right to choose what is right or wrong for you. I support

    June 26, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  16. whocares

    who cares really??
    the economy
    multiple wars/military engagements
    The Bruins winning the stanley cup and about 1,000,000 other things that are more important.

    Sing/dont sing...nobody sings when they play it at a sporting event anyway. Who cares???

    all things that are more important

    June 26, 2011 at 4:55 am |
  17. Autistic Aaron

    I thought CNN stood for Cable News Network? How is this news?

    June 26, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • SpasticSpork

      i agree. this guy didnt state any news but seemed to defend his alma mater and the beliefs of his church. wheres the unbiased news that doesnt seem to exist anymore? people are opinonated and there is nothing wrong with that (but 99% of these people on the boards think so because they are "right") but this guy sure cared about his picture (he looks like he just ripped a good fart)

      June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  18. StreetJustice

    13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them [d]from [e]the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

    Jesus was clear on the point that his kingdom and his followers were to be NO PART OF THIS WORLD. and why did he say that, the apostle john explains:

    15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

    the book that these people follow requires them to separate themselves from the rest of the world. instead of bashing them for following the tenants of their faith, perhaps we should be getting on the so-called Christian right who seems to ignore the words of Jesus

    June 26, 2011 at 4:52 am |
    • Felix

      Oh, me, me, let me quote a holy book too! "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" (Mad Hatter 4:32)
      Please, stop quoting the Bible, a book by goat herders for goat herders.Is not as if it carries any weight, really. It's all made up.
      You're not adding to the argument, just making noise.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  19. Kazan

    Sounds honest no problems with his thoughts......

    June 26, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  20. Kyle

    Lol, your religious freedom is protected by the US government. You pay taxes, you follow the secular laws of this nation and you have the freedom to leave if you choose. Claiming you 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." is apparently a complete lie. You purchase US passports to travel, you use US currency to buy stuff. Your college and it's students accept the US government financial student aid and you are proud of the fact that your school will not even pay the minimum of respect to the country by singing its anthem before sporting events. You sir are a liar and ingrate.

    June 26, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • Jon


      June 26, 2011 at 4:59 am |
    • Mkoua

      Come on. It's no big deal. It's just a silly song. Sing if you wish, do not if you wish. Do you think our founding father's would give a damn over something so trivial? The country survived for almost 150 years with no official anthem, I think we can let this slide.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:03 am |
    • Adeshina

      I lot of countries give support to student both Domestic and International, i dont think you need to be praising US for that. the fact still remain the same, the leader's of US are antiGod. Please Mr Kyle change your ways don't belong to the group SS nation

      June 26, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • Albert

      As a Free American Citizen, I say you can stuff your National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance. Being able to decide whether I will do something or not, is called FREEDOM! Standing in a group reciting a pledge or anthem in unison reminds me of something a Communist Country would require, mandate or thru peer pressure enforce....

      June 26, 2011 at 5:18 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.