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. Joshua

    At first I thought this was going to be a thought-provoking article. Then it turned out to be "my religion thinks we're above political borders". Bet that guy likes driving on roads maintained by the government and utilizing other government run or funded programs.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • chris

      The contradictory and ultimately hilarious part of this belief is that they don't believe in our "blood soaked borders" when it is rocket's red glare and bombs bursting in air that make it possible for them to practice their beliefs without compromise.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jerry

      I totally agree Josh..... The pin-head author doesn't see the big picture because of his selfishness. Wake up you moron..... You can believe in God, any God and still love your country. I know you said you love your country, so sing the Star Spangled Banner AND feel free to pray to the God you believe in. What is wrong with some people in this great country these days? Remember, it is this great country that allows you to believe in whatever it is you want to believe in. So worship God and worship the USA..... you can do both you know.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  2. Scark00

    Tell that to Bob Hollenbaugh one of the crew of the USS Johnston who was from Goshen Indiana.
    Tell that to all his crew mates who gave there lives for the United States at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
    Tell that to any man or woman who gave up there lives for our Freedom. A Lt. Col. in the USAF said it best.
    Only two people have died for us, Jesus gave his life for our sins and the US Soldier gave his/her life for our FREEDOM. If you wont play the anthem and honor our honored dead then that is your right as a US Citzen.
    We do not play the national anthem for politics or religious beliefs, we play that national anthem for America and what it stands for. America is an idea, I personally believe if you do not believe in the idea then it is time to go live somewhere else and start your own idea. God Bless the United States of America!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Simon

      blah blah blah, patriotic baloney, blah blah blah

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  3. zilla

    this is like saying because im catholic i dont have to stand up and do the national anthem. if you live here and your college is here than you need to do it period

    June 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • wrack

      sports god counrty rawr

      June 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  4. luketheduke

    God don't you guys learn from history? It's coming up next week so go rent BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and see what happened to a guy who believed: AMERICA! LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT! He became an activist to end the Viet Nam War and now realizes what excessive nationalism and patriotism has done to this (once great) nation. Haven't you had any history courses in YOUR college? Oh I forgot. You didn't go.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. Simon

    Both religion and nationalism are equally foolish.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • wrack

      I agree. It's the ultimate act of conformity to compulsively rally behind such things in public.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • caeser

      I tend to agree–both are becoming somewhat archaic.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Joy

      What is your alternative to both, Simon?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  6. StXavier

    God is personal to me I need no building's, book's, or some one preaching to me of his greatness I keep him in my our way close to my heart, I speak to him every day. I honor my country for it gave me the freedom to be as I'm an at times I sing my countrys song the NATION ANTHEM it's a good song an shows respect to my country.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. JohnOBX

    I'd rather sing and raise flags to a flawed nation than follow the invisible man in the sky (a.k.a. the flying spaghetti monster).

    June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  8. Fast Fred

    hummm....so John baptized Jesus cause he believe in .....himself ?? So much nonsense.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. Puck

    Jesus said render to "Caesar what is Caesars"....does Caesar (Bush/Obama/etc) own your life? When they came to take Jesus away to kill him, the Apostles pulled out swords, and Jesus warned 'those who live by the sword die by the sword'. If protecting Jesus wasn't worth violence, what cause of man is worth fighting, killing and dying for?

    Read Daniel 2 – which clearly shows that all the nation's of man will be turned into dust...utterly destroyed. Then ask why should we fight for these nation's? The Lord's prayer tells us to pray for 'God's Kingdom to come', not die for the temporary ones here now.

    Oh, and every nation claims divine right. The USA is 'under god' and so if all of the Middle East and every nation that murdered throughout history (or at least they all claim it). Don't be confused by the marketing material....bloodshed and the lies to get people to participate in it are essentially the same in every time or language.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • young

      Well said brother 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • young

      well said Brother =)

      June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  10. K3Citizen

    To each their own, but if one federal or state dollar goes to that college then they better reconsider joining the rest of Americans.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  11. John

    Religions around the world have created more divisiveness that unity. Won't they be surprised and shocked when they find out there are no fantasy places called heaven and hell, and after death we ALL turn into a pile of rotting flesh and bones.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  12. Bill

    It's as simple as this. Leave our country and go to one of the other countries that believe in the practice of your faith. I'd bet my bottom dollar that you people take advantage of all the freedoms that living in this country gives to you.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Scott in NH

      So you are proud of America's freedoms, but want people who express a belief different from yours to leave the country? That's pretty confusing!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Newamerica

    I dont have a problem with news media running these kinds of stories, just not as the front page, major headline. There are so much more important things going on in the world to put on the front page. And if there is absolutely nothing (which is doubtful) politically, socially etc going on then maybe an article explaining world events in context of something relevant. This is more of an interest section that can be clicked on further down on the page. Not prime time material. Smh

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • wrack

      Meh, it's sunday.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • X1

      What framework do you use to determine what is major and what is special interest? Are self-seeking political hacks, rainbow flag sightings, and charlie sheen rantings 'major' news to you?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Newamerica

      Nope those are stories that don't affect the world in one way or another. Lives wouldn't be affected by what charlie sheen has to say. Now border security, the economy, war in Libya Iraq or Afghanistan affects the world in major ways. Things that are relevant to a lot of people. Articles like the ones you mentioned and above have their section in the news just not front and center as the top story of the day. Or hour as it may be.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  14. Jacob

    Don't sing the Star Spangled Banner. Instead sing America the Beautiful. It allows you to recognize the great land we live in while acknowledging that all gifts, including the beauty of "spacious skies" and "purple mountains majesty," come from God and that among the greatest "Crowns of Good" God has given us, which allows us to emulate him, is brotherhood.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  15. X1

    Do you have the same juvenile thoughts about....corporate monarchy? gay politics? Islamic activism? Or are you another conformity-peddling snipe? Did you serve in the military, or do you just remove the hat from your small head and sing presumptuously at ball games?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  16. educatedguess

    you sir are on the side of Jesus i know. unfortunately your tribe is only a tiny fraction of the humanity.

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

      Personally, I haven't stood for this B.S. since jr. high and I don't pledge allegiance to the flag either. You do you and I'm gonna do me.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  17. Jack C.

    As a more liberal minded Christian, I am impressed by the Mennonite belief system. I had held some incorrect misconceptions about the religious group, but from what I've read in this article, it is great that they advocate for separation of Church and State. At a time where so many fundamentalist right-wing "christians" are trying to use the GOP as a platform to disseminate their views, it is refreshing to see a conservative church group pushing for the oppositie: a distinction between church and politics.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  18. P00P


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

      REASON would dictate that CNN provide a space for religion. too profound for you?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • ANtosna

      That stuff isn't seksy enuf. This is Sunday-seksy-stuff. People want to rant after church I guess.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Toilet

      Hey, I have been looking for you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  19. dee

    Based on this article, it appears to me that the Mennonites are the TRUE Christians. They glorify God, not a nation and follow the teachings of Jesus that say to love our neighbors and love our enemies. Why can't people see that?

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

      your a quack, just like all the other so called "christians"...a bunch of followers who can't make decisions by themselves, that is what all religions are..Not a single one of you have seen Jesus and if you have then you definitely need to see a psychiatrist, or lay off the acid!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  20. smart1

    you live in a free country, but yet you don't sing the anthem of that great country because you love you religion? Isn't the reason you can practice your freedom of religion because of the freedom our country affords us? you're an idiot.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • educatedguess

      good thing that you live in a "free" country where you are allowed to say nonsense freely.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • levi

      practicing a religion should be more than just freely meeting at a place of worship. even if u live in a country where u can't meet freely, you can still practice what you believe because it is a way of life.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 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.