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.
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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.
This should be the national anthem anyway
What part of the definition of "SECULAR" are you people not understanding?
Secular – NOT pertaining to or connected with religion
In common usage THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS A SECULAR NATION you magical fairy believing ignoramuses.
It does not matter it is just s song. It is the FREEDOM that is sacred, not the song. Don't allow these brain-washed nationalists bring you down, symbols are not sacred; Freedom is. This is the most propagandized nationalistic nation on earth. We are slowly losing our freedoms as they are replaced by hollow symbols like the flag and that song, Only a fool thinks the symbols are more valuable than the liberties they represent. Our soldiers fought and died for this man's right to refuse. More power to him. He understands what America is REALLY about and it ain't conformity to others' wants.
Very good point.
Wow! I mean Wow! Nice to know that you're so much better than the rest of us because you believe in a bronze age set of stories.
You are the un-American one. You remind me of the whites in the south in the '50s. Judgmental hypocrites.
I think it's a measure of a free society how many viewpoints it can reflect. Oppressive regimes tend to have a more singular viewpoint. I think the country is better off with Mennonites in it.
The gradual development of the tradition of our national anthem is interesting as it bears on how strongly some in this forum regard its essential importance as an American icon. The Star Spangled Banner was penned around 1814 during the War of 1812 as Francis Scott Key observed the defense of Fort McHenry in Maryland some 38 years after the Declaration of Independence. The poem written by Key has four stanzas (we only sing the first), was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song and did not become the National Anthem until 1931 (117 years after being written). The fourth stanza of Key's poem contains the phrase "In God We Trust" which became an official motto of the United States in 1956.
Schloneger's article is well written and argued. His essay exudes respect and reason and it is principled. He is not divisive nor does he insist that anyone who disagrees with him should find the door. There was no national anthem in 1776, but if there was, I doubt that the Founding Fathers would have a problem with his beliefs or their application in his context.
very well stated and accurate.
How about creating your own Mennonite country? Jesus is the king of all nations and all of mankind. So, I don't understand why you would not praise God's name and support the country that is founded by our founding fathers who were obvious Christians and placed God first in the new country they made. I am tired of articles like this. If you don't want to support this county and the rights of this country that gives you the right to speak, then leave.
ph*ck Yeah Mennonite dude! Claim it for nobody. silent protest. Til I fart, at the game, then everybody be screamin!
Founding fathers weren't obvious Christians. I think a lot of people get confused on that point. At best, most were Deists. Common mistake, but I think a bigger mistake is rewriting history to make our founders into someone they weren't.
of U.S. Founding Fathers
Dutch Reformed/German Reformed
yeah sure, they founded it by slaughtering the people that already lived here. sounds like a great religious bunch to me..
Only one problem with this request. If he leaves, then just about everyone leaves.
That's right! Exercise your freedom to say what he wants you to say or get the heck out! Now there's a patriot who understands the principals upon which this great nation was founded: guns, Christianity, and irrationality! Yeehaw!
I would argue that choosing not to sing the national anthem is exercising freedom of speech, which is one of the most important principles this country is founded on. Standing up for your beliefs is patriotic. If you don't like that, then maybe YOU should leave.
Citizen, why don't you leave? I'm sure there's room for you in Iran, where your values would be better served. The writer's values, as a Mennonite, are not far from those of the Quakers. Ben Franklin was a Quaker.
% of Founding Fathers voting to make Christianity the State Religion :
Only in a country like ours are you free to worship as you desire. Try this in a country like Saudi Arabia. You live in this country and, while your allegiance is to God, it is the USA who gave you that right. Many people died to give you this right. It is certainly something that needs rethinking.
Really? You think we have complete freedom of Religion here? If so, what was all that fuss about a Mosque next to Ground Zero all about? By the way, I am agnostic, so as far as I am concerned there's very little difference between being a Muslim or a Christian.
This is hilarious. "You're free to do what you want, but you should re-think it."
Americans, not all thankfully, are capable of saying things like "only in America" is free, thanks to Christian faith and devotion to the flag . If you guys would bother yourselves enough to apply for a passport and go see really what the rest of world is like, maybe you wouldn't say such stupid things. I am a citizen of 2 countries and fiercely proud of both and would welcome the chance to add more!
It's just a song, a song with an interesting history but a song nonetheless. I think it and the Pledge of Allegiance are taken too seriously. People who get their panties in a twist over whether everybody is singing it should learn the meaning of democracy and freedom.
As a american Muslim I would never sing that song.
As an American Muslim you have the freedom to do this. It is worth noting that most Muslim run countries would not grant this freedom to you.
perhaps that is because you are a Muslim American ???
Your post clearly shows why the term "American Muslim" is an oxymoron. Did you not capitalize American as a further show of your disrespect for your country?
And I know of no one who would have a problem with you not singing it. But the question is would you stand in respect for others' beliefs. Almost eveyone I know would do so even if it was an Islamic event.
WOW. The country that gives you ur freedom is the country you refuse to show respect to. I don't how a Muslim would be offended by the Star Spangled Banner?? Please tell what part of this offends u as a Muslim????
Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
As an American Muslim, and current U.S. Military Veteran I hold my head up high and my hand on my heart when that song plays. I am grateful for what this country has offered me and my family, which is why I was proud to risk my life for it and its people. You are free to believe what you wish, but I believe that statements like the one made about not singing it as an "american-muslim" are one of the reasons the American Media portrays us the way they do. You should be thankful that this country has afforded you the right to speak your mind, and believe in whatever you want. Not only that but the countless American men and women who have risked, lost and continue to sacrafice their lives for your right to live freely. Think about it.
It is understandable that a Muslim would not sing the song. The song belongs to Americans
who love this country and embrace its traditions and the founding declarations upon
which it was built. Thus lies the paradox.
If I, as an American, relocated to a Muslim "founded" country, I would not embrace Muslim but would continue
to embrace the values and traditions of the United States........ and for that I would be killed.
Shame on you!
“True freedom is given by God, and it is indeed not free. It comes with a cost, and it looks like a cross.” I guess bombing innocent civilians over oil and stealing other countries’ water sources is the work of God? He does work in mysterious ways…
Menonites have been bombing people? News to me.
@cranston: If you believe “In God We Trust,” then yes. In the name of freedom (hardly ever the real case) we have, and will continue to attack other countries over political power, and their resources. We will call them terrorists and make you all very scared of them. Then we will use that as a scapegoat for our attack. Meanwhile greedy oil investors fill their pockets and you blame whichever president is in charge. Recently, NATO has and will continue efforts in Libya. Their will be more bloodshed from your “God” very soon.
What a sham of a religion. No wonder they're ostracized so bad. Their belief system would kill them off if they literally if they truly followed what they believe. Religion (and Jesus) can't provide ALL things. What about affordable food, housing, safe environment, paved streets, military, etc?
I'm all for religious freedom, and I give them props for wanting a true separation of church and state, but what a weird religion, as if that's saying anything 😀
And frankly, when you deviate from a core religion over and over, where the religion is hardly even recognizable. It's no longer the work of god, it's solely the work of man. Of course, I'm talking about Judaism, then Jesus, then the new testament and early christianity and catholicism, and the offshoots since then. If they thought the 95 theses "didn't go far enough", maybe they should have realized it's time to pick a new belief system and admit organized religion may not be the way to go and see how EASILY CORRUPTIBLE ORGANIZED RELIGION CAN BE.
I don't see how this religion, or Mormonism, or baptists, and the list goes on and on and on, how they can possibly still honestly say that it's God's law. What's the next religion to be hijacked and changed??
Can't we all just admit that no book or religion has all the answers, and any answers they might offer are only met with more questions that can't be answered. Such is the theme of our existence. Why be so stupid to pledge your allegiance to just one distant offshoot of a religion??
I can see where many people can be turned off the 'Star Spangled Banner'. For one thing, it's just another national anthem, so it's badly written (Inspired from an English drinking song), and aspires to all the themes that national anthems are know for: patriotism, love of country, our country is better than anyone else's, etc. But on a deeper level, the national anthem is a pretty dark piece of work: it's filled with violent imagery, jingoism, and rage against the world. It also divides Americans, implying that America is the home of the "free and brave". I guess that's the only requirement to be an American, provided you happen to be brave and free. (In whatever context those words mean.) People who seek a better world would be pretty troubled by the notions that the anthem inspires. Personally, and even though I'm an atheist, 'God Bless America' is a much better anthem, because it does call for higher aspirations and a better world, a world closer to the ideals of the best in the people, their communities, and their homes. I see the 'Star Spangled Banner' as the eagle, while 'God Bless America' is the turkey. In this context, Ben Franklin said it best, when he favoured that the national bird be a turkey, because it is bountiful, hard-working, defends itself only if needed, and it's a generally happy creature. The eagle, on the other hand, is a bird of prey, hunting and destroying what it sees. That to me is what the "Star Spangled Banner" represents.
It is sad that you grew up as an American and understand so little of what it means to BE American. Your interpretation is wrong - a sad reading based on someone who is ashamed of what they are and feels the need to apologize for it. I feel sorry for you.
you have a very strange view of America – perhaps you should not have skipped so many American history classes
good luck on getting that GED – you are truly one ignorant mo-fo
@Joke: I agree with you. It's also brainwashing our children at an early age. The symbolism of the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air, set the stage. This is to accept the fact that war within this country is not only ok in the name of freedom, but also ok by God. Conformity for the young sheep. Our farmers had your mind before you could even think for yourself. It's no wonder you all try and keep holding onto religion and faith in our government system. "In God We Trust."
Joke, I'm not replying out of hysterical anger – like some of the folks on this thread – but I do agree that your interpretation of the Star-Spangled Banner is full of errors.
Key wrote the lyrics after the shelling of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. After America gained its independence, the country was regarded as a joke by both the British and the French, both of whom interfered with American trade in order to hurt the other. The country was divided over which country to ally with, and George Washington recommended neutrality, but neither Jefferson nor Madison were able to end the situation short of war. When the Brits began arming the Indians, America declared war on Britain. During this war, the Brits retaliated against the American burning of the Canadian capital by burning Washington, D.C. Afterwards, the Brits went down the Atlantic coast and shelled Fort McHenry (protecting Baltimore) for 24 continuous hours. Held captive by the Brits, Francis Scott Key watched the shelling and was thrilled, the next day, when the fort – and the flag – were "still there." The Star Spangled Banner isn't about military aggression. It's a celebration that our once-tiny nation survived. It's also a celebration of those brave men and women who have stood between war's desolation and their homes and family.
– “Cosmopolitanism is the desire that the dominant purpose of the existence of the human race will actually be achieved in the human race. Patriotism is the willingness that this goal is achieved primarily in the nation that we are ourselves members and that result from it get along with all mankind ”
If you look around you, you see a failure in respect for peace due to lack of nationalism not the contrary.
And so the truth about right wing hypocrisy comes out: they only use 'God' as an excuse for political purposes. But they all just worship politics and whatever pundits tell them the republicans stand for at the moment. They place politicians above God, and self-interest above faith. And they will condemn and cast out all of us other, faithful Christians because we believe that God and the State are separate and shouldn't muddy each-other, and that God is more important than our favorite pundits.
You know who else put politicians above God? The Romans! Guess what they did to Jesus and Christians who dared put God above the state!
You know who else worships one's flag and patriotism above God? Communists!
Rome collapsed as a "Christian Empire." Christianity was enforced by the state. Edict of Thessalonica.
There are so many things wrong with this comment.
You would not have to change many of the phrases in this article to turn it into a sermon from an Imam. He loves his country, but does not recognize the authority of the government nor his place in that government. His devotion to his religious cult is no different than the devotion the Taliban have to theirs. Obviously, as with all fundamentalist religions, intellect is not particularly appreciated.
the pastor seems like a modified Jim Jones as he is a willing participant in a cult
seems that he would not be able to practice his unique brand of religion anywhere else but America
when the Muslims come to kill him and the other cult members he will be the first to ask the state to intervene
Goshen College should lose it's tax free status and all those associated with it lose their US citizenship
that position is as ridiculous as their core beliefs
@Vanilla Gorilla - LOL. You are right. He would be the first one to yell for help. We know it won't come from his god.
Interesting comment seeing that few would see Anabaptists as a fundamentalists. They are actually generally one of the more liberal groups in the Christian Spectrum working for peace and justice everywhere.
Fundamentalists are not a political group, David. Look up the definition!
Since they can only make that decision for home games, it brings up a question. Do they stand while the anthem is played at away games? Or do they only show respect for themselves?
Just because it's not commanded by your faith doesn't mean it's forbidden by your faith. The anthem seems harmless to me. it's just a song respecting this country. I'd have no problem singing the canadian one in canada were i to immigrate there.
Canadian anthem is about allegence to anglo saxons and queen of england not about freedom.. and i cantg see how nationakl anthem should get into sports games.. Go look at hitler and see what right wing national idelogy does.. makes u a functional as opoposed to intellectual creative thinker.
The United States gives you that religious freedom that so many other countries don't. You owe your country some respect.
owe? is this another fake guilt trip or what? I don't owe you anything. you want respect you gotta earn it. the usa aint earnin much these days. all anybody does anymore is complain. like you are doing rigt now.
So because our country gave us the right to NOT show such respect, we should forego that right and show that respect? What ridiuclous circular logic.
The wording of the Star Spangled Banner may not reflect the views of every American. Loyalty to the country is not necessarily support for the song – or for the Pledge. A private college, with its own views about what makes America great, need not sing the Star Spangled Banner if it disagrees with the lyrics. People make too much of this.
Playing the national anthem before sporting events is one of the stupidest traditions in America, who cares if they don't play it. What does the national anthem have to do with sports especially violent sports like football or hockey where grown men try to injure each other. Dumb. We've got bigger problems.
Are you for real? Blood-soaked borders? I guess you don't believe that the Crusades happened? What about Jesus commanding his followers to put to death any child that curses his mother or father?
Methinks you are a bit misinformed regarding your Old and New Testaments...
Where did "you" read this?
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you." Deut. 5:16
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Eph. 6:1-3
Where does it say I should be killed if I dont?
I came to America from India and I only sing the Indian national anthem because its where I'm form and a country I love. America is only my home.
You might want to go back, then, if India is so great.
Only your home? Well you must not think much of it then. You are free to do that. Maybe your house or apartment sucks.
Then you should go back to India. Were I to live in a foreign country, I would respect and engage in the traditions and customs of that country out of respect for my hosts. America is not just an economic teat that the rest of the world gets to suck on.
No, we're a teat. A big honking one. A niipple the size of Texas, too. It's all about money laundering.
@Chromotoa - I'm sorry you have such a poor vision of your country. You could not be more wrong.
Well, Bali, this is MY country, and while you're LUCKY enough to be here, you WILL sing our anthem, you WILL pledge allegiance to our flag, and you MUST pay the price for being able to take advantage of the freedoms and liberties America gives you while you're here, ya ungrateful ignorant, er, immigrant.
please show your home address so that everyone out there can send a donation that you can use to get your sorry ass back to India let me guess you claim to be an Indian American? you probably don't pay any taxes? came here on a student visa and are here illegally – scamming the welfare system and having as many children as you possible can so that they can have US citizen status?
I'm here on a H1B visa from India and trying to move my family here once i get my green card. I believe you should have some respect of the american culture. If my family is allowed to live here I will have more respect towards americans.
On the other hand America should have more respect towards other cultures and believes and not be so ignorant in their ways. If I wont sing the anthem because I'm Indian people should be more respectful and understanding of my believes. America is a country of immigrants and adopting our culture is also part of america like pizza for italy.
Mr. Singh, that is why people from other countries (such as yours) should stay where they are. It's obvious you are very loyal to India. If a person immigrates (legally) to America or any other country, they may always love their motherland, but should adopt an allegiance to the country that allows their freedom here. This country is richly blessed, but will eventually be completely fragmented if the people who have chosen to live here are not loyal to this country in mind, soul, body, and heart. That means you are willing to die to defend this country if called upon, which in turn means if someone tried to coerce you to spy on America for India, what would you do? Where would your allegiance fall? Just asking. Think about it.
Bali, you don't have to sing the Star Spangled Banner. These idiots need to get a life. America is not a religion.
Go back to your slum.
Then don't get into this discussion, Bali! You have nothing to share!