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. thresher

    So Goshen College should sing the national anthem in apprecation for the freedom to not sing the national anthem?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • jack

      he more small groups wish to distinguish themselves, the quicker we as Americans will forget what values and ideas bond us together in the first place. We should never focus on what makes us different or special. Instead, we should focus on what ties us together....because in hard times, you rally around what you have in common, not what sets you apart.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  2. Max in OC, CA:)

    I am. Christian man who loves his God and loves this Country. I respect other people beliefs and hope they have the same love for their God as I do mine. But in the end (ie death) we will all find out what really happens. And even if I find out that what I believed in what junk, I would have rather lived with the faith and love I had while alive than with nothing at all. Everybody likes to bash a Christian–but wouldn't you, the naysayers, want to get on your platform and speak about what you passionately believe than remain silent? Many of you have got something to say but are the last to stand up for what they really believe. Just my thoughts...

    June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • pithymcgee

      More than 80% of this country's population is Christian. I'm SICK of hearing you believers whine whenever the REAL minority – atheists – actually speak up. You can say "bless you", "I'm so blessed", etc., but any mention from an atheist that he/she thinks your view is silly is met with scorn and a victim stance of "O, heavenly father, protect us from this unrelenting persecution... at the hands of less than 2% of the population.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  3. nate

    Freedom means being free to do just what these people do, so those of you who think such anthems should be required are flat wrong.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  4. tippy15

    it is the school's RIGHT to exercise their freedom of religion. a RIGHT afforded them by "blood soaked borders". thank GOD the state cannot pick and chose which citizens to spill it's blood for.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  5. lance corporal

    I have no problem with this it's a free country but why are they upset I don't want to say under god???????

    June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  6. Observer

    The rest of America should not be forced to pay taxes to make up for taxes not paid by religious groups and especially those that are ingrates. Even if your primary allegiance isn't to the nation that supports and protects you, why not show your appreciation by voluntarily paying taxes? That would be a true demonstration of the kind of person you are.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • thresher

      How in the world do you go from not playing the national anthem to not paying taxes? That's quite a stretch of logic. Mennonites aren't opposed to paying taxes (at least not more so than the rest of the U.S. population) and pay income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  7. jimbo

    you "recognize" only the christian nation? LOL!! i "recognize" only my dog as president! i "recognize" only the walls in my house, there are no doors! religious people are risible

    June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  8. Tom

    What amazes me is all the time and efforts Americans spend going to church. They certainly don't reflect a belief in Christ in their lives.
    If you are on a train to hell, you might as well sleep in Sunday morning, after all, if you are not going to enjoy an afterlife, you might as well enjoy every possible moment you have here on this earth.
    The Mennonites may live a simple, deprived life, but at least many of them will be around a few trillion years from now. Where will you be?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • pithymcgee

      We'll all be around so long as the universe is around. Matter, like energy, can be neither created or destroyed. It exists in perpetuity, and thus humans – comprised of this cosmic dust – will still be a part of the universe so long as it exists.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Tom

      But eventually every neutron will evaporate. Where will you be then? Will there be any evidence that you ever existed?
      The universe had a definite beginning and will have a definite ending. Many atheists fought the idea that the universe is not perpetual.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  9. Joel

    So, separation of church and state is the reason not to sing the anthem?.....How about the freedom to practice your religious beliefs in a free country? Sing the anthem!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  10. Humanbeing

    I used to be against religion, but I now believe that faith has its place. Now I'm just against -organized- religion. Any time you have a group of the faithful who follow the rules and/or lead of another human or a council of humans, you get corruption, stupidity, selfishness, self-serving rules, and a general disregard for other people masked by religious ceremony and clandestine behavior.

    Believe what you want as an individual. Don't drag the rest of humanity into it with you... That's probably the best policy.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • InVermont

      The first Holy Man was the first rascal who met the first fool.
      Organized religion is about Earthly power, not God. It is sad so many don't understand that.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Brad May

      There is a place for faith; among the uneducated and discontent who lack the proper ability for coping and moving on, that or theocracies. I hear the faith of Iran flourishes, as it did in Somalia and practically every other failed state.
      Care to argue anyone?
      Brad May

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  11. Rick

    Great, you believe in Jesus over America. This is the new Taliban

    June 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  12. James

    I wouldn't mind being a devout and loyal follower of a nation if there was one worthy of that kind of loyalty. But no person, or country, should expect to get better than they give. Same with a deity. None of the ones presented to me so far can even avoid contradicting themselves, so they are not worthy of my devotion. At the same time, good for the Mennonites for reverting back to their core beliefs despite their misfortune to exist in such an over PC world.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  13. Rodney

    @Yuri Pelham: Um. No. Child sacrifice is NOT frowned upon by the Bible. In fact, it's tactily endorsed. Yahweh ORDERED Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, even though he said "Psych!" at the last moment. He stood idly by when Jephthah made a foolish promise to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to God if he would help him win a battle – which happened to be his daughter. Jephthah was devastated, but apparently his "honor" overrode his common sense and he burned her @ss anyway. And Yahweh let him do it.

    And let's not forget that Yahweh gave his "only begotten son" as a sacrifice for the sin of humanity. They used a scourge to make hamburger meat out of him before they nailed him to a scaffold and let him suffocate to death.

    No, seems like Jehovah really gets off on child sacrifice. But, I suspect – like most Christians – you probably haven't read your Bible, have you?

    Please folks, read your Bible. We need more atheists. Peace. Or better yet, reason.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Joe

      Your comment has nothing to do with the article. Just like a T.V. pastor, spread your thoughts and views. South Park nailed it with atheists. Just like organized religions. Atheists will fight amongst themselves one day proving their non belief views are far superior to others.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Susan

      Bitter much?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • James

      Well, duh. I clearly don't believe way better than anyone else and someday all will come to not believe in the way that I do. This is what I believe, and I believe it way better than anyone else.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Liam

      This is why sola scripture is irresponsible and dangerous – by believers and atheist as well. The Bible is only a part of ones spiritual journey. It's a divine origin with human interpretation, forever intertwined. We call it the word of God because this is all we have in the literature sense. IF you are going to choose not to believe because of what you read in the bible then you are stupid. And likewise if you base your faith on only what you read, then you are stupid too.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  14. Nicole

    When you live as a citizen of this country, you have the responsibility of patriotism.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Dachau

      Do you really have a responsibility? There is no such thing as american exceptionalism. If there were I would say it is exporting brancruptcy to the rest of the world. This country fails every test and should be merged with Canada and Mexico.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • James

      What a ridiculous and poorly thought out statement. So the African Americans who were forced into this country and enslaved should also have to be patriotic to it? Children born in the country 50 yearso ago who were fed radioactive food by the government as unwitting guinea pigs should think that was just peachy and love the country that did that to them? The poor who were tricked or forced into sterlization by their government should drop their lawsuits and praise the nation who ended their family line? The Native Americans, now obviously they should love the heck out of the USA. Grow up.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Susan

      If you ppl dislike the country so much either work to change it or move. Simple as that. Otherwise quit reading articles you know you will disagree with so you can let lose your wisdom and disgust at th rest of us. Part of solution or adding to problem?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • James

      Sorry, Susan, this country (allegedly) protects my right to read any article I want to, to react to it any way that I choose, and to hate this country as much as I want. Since you don't even understand the core tenent of this country, you should probably just move.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • thresher

      Define "patriotism" please. I would hope that it's something other than just singing a song.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  15. adam

    What good is a sporting event anyway. that money could be used for better purpose, like the economy and curing disease.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • James

      What money, adam? A well run sporting event MAKES money.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  16. Good Grief!

    The whole idea of obedience rituals like the Anthem and the Pledge being done at every opportunity is really bad enough – they really are opposite the liberty the Founding Fathers wanted – but having to listen to yet another overly ornate song styling of yet another self-indulgent singer is just too much.

    It's a shallow stupid ritual.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  17. Peter E

    You know who else jams patriotism down people's throats in every aspects of their lives? Communists. And who insists that God and religion must control every aspect of one's country? Muslims.
    Thanks right-wingers for projecting such a great image of our country...

    Am I the only one who feels perfectly comfortable in my patriotism and my faith that I don't need to force it on others every minute?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  18. DSharp

    This is another example of enjoying your religious freedom while ignoring the nation and the lives lost ensuring your religious freedom. You can honor God and your country at the same time.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  19. Mr. T. Bag

    It's amazing how every sect of Christianity believes they're the chosen ones - that they're right and everybody else is wrong... They're saints - the rest of the world is sinners.

    There's a word for those types of churches - CULTS.

    It is equally amazing how much they ALL have in common with Muslim extremists like the Taliban!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • thresher

      What do Mennonites have in common with the Taliban?!? Mennonites are not making anyone else not sing the national anthem - or anything. And Mennonites are certainly not advocating taking up arms against any powers-that-be.

      June 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  20. cmc

    I've never understood why we play the national anthem at domestic sporting events anyway. Anyone have any idea? It seems odd to play it when people want to be entertained by football, but not at the opera. Why get the anthem at a night out of basketball, but not at the start of a Broadway show? I kind of get it when national anthems are played at international sporting events, but why at national games?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:50 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.