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. Tracy

    I wish that people would stop taking the separation of church and state out of context. The separation is meant to keep the government out of the church. Our forfathers fled England because of the English governments control of the church. It has nothing to do with keeping the church out of the government.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Hmmm

      I would really prefer if we kept the church out of the government too. Thanks.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:17 am |
  2. Big Daddy

    I agree with Kyle. Apparently hypocrisy is part of the mind set if not in fact the religion. It is Un-American and a slander against Christianity to pick and choose which parts of the American life and the Christian religion you will believe in because of it's convenience. Unfortunately blood was shed and borders divided to make this country, which by the way, is one of the few places on earth people can live and worship however they like. It's just a shame that there are ingrates out there who seem to despise this country and what it stands for, but choose to live here none the less.What a shame.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • Mighty7

      One of about 60 modern democracies with identical laws....including most of the EU.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  3. Wur

    " 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. "

    Is this also known as the Christian Holy Ummah, Mark? Or was that the Holy Christian Caliphate?

    June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  4. Ocho Cinco

    I don't have a problem with them not singing the anthem, I have a problem with their reason for not singing is is that they are some sect of crazy Christians that forbid it.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  5. Chris

    God, country, family. In that order. It's really hard to do because the selfishness of the natural man doesn't want to do that. But, supporting your country doesn't mean you kill all others just like placing your family above others doesn't mean you don't do anything to help anyone else. Having national pride (pride in the good sense, not the sin) is ok, and I thank God that I am able to live in a country where I get to freely choose to sing my national anthem in public events.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:13 am |
  6. Mike H.

    I don't accept the reasoning provided Mark Schloneger. It has no foundation. The "Star-Spangled Banner" does not mention allegiance to our nation but merely serves as praise that it exists. However, if he were to have simply said he and others like him were simply choosing to exercise their right to disengage themselves from our national anthem, then fine. Let's be honest here. Our nation isn't exactly a beacon of goodness and fairness and personal freedom is not reality in many aspects.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:13 am |
  7. Devin

    I think this guy is analyzing the national anthem a bit to much. Either way, I really couldn't care less

    June 26, 2011 at 5:13 am |
  8. Harry

    Some who have read and understand a little of the bible know that when the people wanted to make Jesus the king of Israel he went away and didn't let them. Why? Because his allegiance was to God's kingdom not mans. He also stressed to his followers to remain neutral in the affairs of men, ie politics, wars etc. That being said, he also taught his followers to pay their taxes, respect the country and government under which you live and to obey the laws of that country as far as they do not conflict with God's laws. Our allegiance is therefore given to God's kingdom.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:12 am |
    • Hmmm

      When I read a christian post, I always momentarily forget what century I'm living in. Just double checked it. Yep, it's the 21st.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
    • Kanbar the Kanbarrian

      If your allegience is to your god's kingdom, then why don't you go there ASAP? Why stick around here and bother everyone?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  9. Matt Sky

    One can be patriotic and religious without conflict. The ideals of America (freedom, fairness, kindness, strength) are really what one celebrates when we celebrate the flag, not the borders and official little outline of a country on a map. In the end, it's what we do that matters more than what we sing, or how we speak.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:12 am |
  10. brucemo

    Today I learned that a lot of people have never heard of Mennonites.

    I'm guessing they don't know that there are other sects who are the same way, and who don't do the pledge of allegiance.

    This causes problem when public schools try to *make* kids do that stuff.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:11 am |
  11. Joel

    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!

    June 26, 2011 at 5:11 am |
    • Keptin Moorgin

      No wonder we only sing the first stanza. Good grief what a mess. That's some bad song-writin' there.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  12. jb


    June 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  13. Richard Park

    You, sir, are lucky to live in the USA is all I can say, but by your actions you don't deserve too.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • brucemo

      You may have lost him when you misspelled the three-letter word.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:47 am |
  14. A God Fearing Muslim Woman

    The man is allwoed to sing or not to sing the NAtional Anthem. He does have that choice.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  15. Keith

    Don't confuse Nationalism with Patriotism!
    Hitler's Germany had plenty of Nationalism.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • Hmmm

      It's a thin line. I'd wager to say that a very large percentage of republicans are nationalists.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:11 am |
    • Keptin Moorgin

      No, Republicans want tiny nation-states where they can rule with an iron fist. They don't want a federal government.
      They just want to be dictators of their own little racist states. Heil Reagan! The Fatherland is Texas!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:17 am |
    • Tracy

      Reply to Hmmm: You're an idiot

      June 26, 2011 at 5:19 am |
    • Hmmm

      One definition: The belief that the state is of primary importance, or the belief that one state is naturally superior to all other states.

      Sound like republicans? America No.1? God Bless "America"? blaaa blaaa blaaa. I don't care what you call them, it'll be a cold day in hell when I vote for one.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:22 am |
  16. Kyle

    It's also no big deal when people are rude, ungrateful, apathetic, selfish, but it doesn't mean there poor behavior shouldn't be ridiculed for being uncivil.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  17. Jon

    Sing it, don't sing it, go away, you got your much needed attention, bye bye now.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:08 am |
  18. jb


    June 26, 2011 at 5:08 am |
  19. Don

    Just more confusion sewed by men translating 'religion' as they see fit. This country is doomed.

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

      I disagree. The population of atheists in the US has more than doubled in the last twenty years. There is hope for us yet.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  20. Tim

    I totally agree with Mr Schloneger's comments. Not only do I agree from a religious point of view – as a Catholic I resent seeing the Stars and Stripes displayed on God's altar each week, plus my church has no country, it is a world wide congregation of believers and transcends any artificial man-made borders but I agree from a political one too. School sports are meant to be games played by children, not acts of nationalistic jingoism. We don't need a 15 minute preamble, presentation of the flags, invocation, the signing of the anthem, fighter jets flying overhead... it's a game. Blow the whistle and get on with it.

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

      As a Catholic you are a hypocrite, a Pharisee, and seek to undermine this nation's laws with your own religious dogma.
      The Vatican is a country, so you're wrong there, too.
      And the Catholic Church is almost nothing BUT empty ritual and tradition. Those fancy church rituals often take longer than any baseball game. So you don't have much of a leg to stand on there. Old men wearing dresses just makes it easier to molest kids.
      Your altar should be burned to ashes and dumped into a sewer. Our flag is defiled by the touch of it.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:24 am |
    • Tim

      Another shining example of American tolerance Shibboleth!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:18 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.