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. Reality

    What a wing nut!!!! It's hard to believe so many in the 21st century still believe in these faery tales........ If there was a Jesus, he was just a man and if he was around he'd be laughing at these people too. All religions are man made creations to explain away everything..... There is no magic God in the sky.... only the truths of science and reason..... I feel sorry for anyone who is gullible enough to follow this or any other religion. WAKE UP! You're not living in reality!

    June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • wing nut

      I think you write this reply to every post in the Belief Blog. Go read something else for a change. You're annoying.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Jason

      Which Science do you believe? the one where Light became matter and became cognizant of itself?

      June 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • airwx

      Actually, Reality.. we are living in reality. Your views are, iafter seeing hundreds of your prior posts, directly the result of a very tragic event in your life, not the result of critical thinking. This latest post of your's is starting to show those around you how hurt you are by seeing your frustration in print. I would like to see you get counseling for that hurt.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  2. P00P

    religion is for dope heads!!

    June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • check

      you mean poo-poo-heads

      June 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Peter E

    American orthodox jewish people also place God above America and they identify themselves jewish first, American only second.
    We don't criticize them either, so why get so upset about some Christians who want to worship God and still be Americans their own way. Why does one way have to be better than another?

    June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  4. Anne

    I'm OK with the anthem, but cringe at the pledge of allegiance.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  5. ChuckyNorris

    its nice to pretend everyone can hold hands and sing about how much we all lvoe jesus and everyone in the world can get along.. im sick of religious idiots thinking they are "above" saluting the flag that gives them the right to practice their faith.. this guy can kiss my a$$ and move to canada.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  6. Reasonable

    This is disrespectful. Religion has blinded millions of Americans and billions of individuals around the world. If someone does not feel the Star Spangled Banner isn't good enough for them, then kindly leave our country. Don't vote, don't celebrate our nations holidays and don't call yourself an American. Respect the millions of men and women who have sacrificed to preserve your right to practice your beliefs, but DO NOT disgrace their legacy by holding your loyalties to an unproven faith above your duty as an American to honor the very reason you're allowed to practice in the first place. Grow a back bone and think freely, not just by the foolishness of your parents.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • JAK9295


      June 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Ichi

      A to the M E N!

      June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • BS Hunter

      Unreasonable, first, you tell people they MUST recite the song, then you you say you want people to think for themselves. Why don't you say what you really mean? You only want people who agree with you to think for themselves. No one else should. The rest should blindly take orders from a self-appointed dictator like you. If that's the kind of country you want to live in, perhaps you should be the one to get out of this one, you America-hating hypocrite!

      June 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  7. Bob

    Why are there no Amish terrorists? Aren't they just as devoted to their God as the "radical" Muslims?

    June 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Andrew

      Sure, but they have a strict doctrine of non-violence that they actually adhere to.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  8. matt

    You folks might do well on Gemenon. Avoid Caprica and the rest of the colonies though...we are all polytheists.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Seattle

      So say we all!

      June 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Andrew

    This guy does realize that it's no longer the 16th century right???? We do live in the in the 21st century now, sometimes thinking has to evolve with your church. What are you doing in this country if you aren't going to pay homage to it? We're talking about the same country that is protecting your congregation from being persecuted, burned at the state and drowned in the rivers. Maybe you should say thank you by singing its National Anthem. Quit being so ungrateful.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Andrew


      June 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  10. Name*hahaney

    “Love it or leave it” is not just idiotic but also patently absurd. Only an imbecile can subscribe to such a philosophy. If something can be fixed, it ought to be fixed. American right or wrong is the most unpatriotic thing you could possibly say. It implies that you don't think it's worth fixing even when you know is wrong.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Thomas Thorstensson

      Actually an absolute standpoint in these matters is not imbecile; it's sound and good strong thinking. Singing the national anthem doesn't need to be fixed. When Sokrates stood in front of the Senate and was charged with treason he still upheld the State, defended it. You would not even come close to see his point.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • BS Hunter

      Damn straight! People like this claim to love freedom, but in reality, they only want it for themselves and people who see things their way. When anyone else exercises any, they get their panties in a bunch. There is a fine line between loving your country and wrapping your head so tightly in the flag that it cuts off oxygen to the brain.

      June 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  11. doomedbybho

    You don't say it because your a commie pos, plain and simple.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  12. educatedguess

    just like Jesus himself, the menonites are true communists,

    making the wall street money changers and their corporate shills feel very uncomfortable.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  13. Michael A.

    Very eloquently stated, and I think a truly Christian and Biblical position. Having grown up a Southern Baptist, I became uncomfortable with the merger of nationalism and faith that seemed to be required, and that included the display of the U.S. flag (or even the Christian flag) in churches. I think the Mennonites are on firm theological ground here, even if they are a minority voice.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Andrew

      True. But unfortunately sporting events aren't played in churches. Get over it.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  14. educatedguess

    majority of the US population can't handle the truth that the USA government has been the greatest purveyor of violence and injustice all over the world, to fill the bank accounts of the money changers and their corporate mobsters, all in the name of the american people themselves and all on the american tax-payers' dime.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  15. Jeebus

    Wait.. God is so against war and killing.. but.. Didn't God fight a war against Satan? Guess we were created in "his" image after all.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • God

      Yep, he got his ass kicked down to where you are and he wrote the Bible. Funny how that turned out.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  16. Sonia

    Jehovah's Witnesses has been doing this for a long time. Just because you don't believe in " man" SEEK GOD FIRST! standing is symbolic! Who do you STAND FOR?

    June 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Chris

      My family.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • check

      who can anyone stand for?

      June 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  17. hauslp

    seriously dude, you suck.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  18. Thomas Thorstensson

    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.

    – That is the same ethical mistake as the man that walks into a lion cause he's a friend of all animals and works for animal rights groups : and gets killed.

    The moral fallacy is : that all the people that died in WWII did not for example both respect and often felt "one of the same" as their enemies. No they where just rats;

    But you , you are an elevated being able to express love "all around".

    That is one of the worst ethical fallacies there are. War is war. Nation is nation. Belief is belief. It is when you have to do the hard thing without taking an elevated standpoint that you can start talking about these issues. To believe that you are going "out on a limb" by being as you are is not true. You are going out on a


    June 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  19. Dude

    Religion and politics, two things NEVER to argue about. Nobody will ever come to an agreement.

    June 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Andy

      From the declaration of independence "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

      I cite this, because I've read a lot in this blog about when a nation "under God" was added to the pledge, or if to be patriotic or religious comes first, or if my belief or your belief, or if America has christian values, secular, or is a double standard nation that tries to fix outside what has not yet fixed inside.
      I believe We the People as a Nation, have lost the meaning and the understanding that our nation was founded under God's blessing and principles, the acknowledgement of a creator, in our sense that love comes first and from it our sense of community and from it our sense of patriotism in defense of our lifestyle and freedoms.
      United we must stand, under a core of values as a welcoming community of people that had a common origin in pursuit of happiness and freedom. IF We deny that right to others we deny that right to us. Selfishness is the only thing that can destroy America. Do not let that ever happen.

      June 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • bussiebee


      June 26, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  20. RightturnClyde

    Where .. in the Apostles creed .. is there any tenet requiring anyone to wear special clothes, disrespect the nation, have a special diet, burn candles, sprinkle water, burn incense, ring bells, beat drums, wear miter hats, wear cassocks, wear special collars, chant, recite litanies, say it in other languages, drive horse buggies, speak Elizabethan English ... why should YOU be exempt from serving the country, paying taxes, respecting your neighbors? That stuff is all invented to differentiate ONLY and not to revere God or to behave in a decent Christian way. In my opinion NOT saluting the flag (or saying the pledge) is antagonistic towards those of us who protect your freedoms (and when necessary are injured or demised for them)

    June 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • LeftTurnLouie

      antagonized much?

      June 26, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
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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.