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. patrick

    Please leave our country immediately then if you don't appreciate it. I wish we actually had some way of seeing what happens when you die, because the disappointment of everyone who thinks that god actually exists would be amazing!

    June 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      The earth belongs to God. They can live where ever they choose.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • blagblag

      It wont be amazing for you when you find out God does exist. Why don't you leave this country, it's people like you that cause this great nation the most harm.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Parag from Sugar Land

      Blagblag: you leave the country. The national anthem honors our brave fallen war heroes that have made it possible for this greatest of all nations to prosper.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  2. Eric M.

    Don't thank the doctor that saved your life because he's not Jesus. Don't thank the policeman that stopped a home intruder because he's not Jesus. And especially don't thank the country that shields your soft, ungrateful a** from the people that would love to kill you.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • bob

      Paranoid right-winger who thinks that almost everyone with dark skin wants to kill you. Most of those who do, do so bc of our support for dictators in their homelands.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Scotty2010

      I don't see 'dark skin' or anything even close to that in his post.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • blagblag

      @Eric M. your obviously confused. Moo.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  3. Chatarri

    This nation was founded by those who wished freedom for themselves and their descendants – freedom OF religion, for one. I honor those who have sacrificed to keep this land free. In so honoring, I hold fast to tradition while constantly evolving in hopes that those who come to this nation seeking these freedoms embrace our laws. A land without a center nucleus is bound to fail – as we are seeing now.

    As a Mennonite – I understand the use of the bible. If this is true, there are many references – I chose this one as an example:

    1 Peter 2:13 – 17
    Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

    Also – Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best:
    In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

    The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world.

    The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - everywhere in the world.

    The third is freedom from want - which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.

    The fourth is freedom from fear - which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world.

    However – as religion, laws, freedom are mocked and traditions thrown by the wayside and we no longer honor morals or those who volunteer to serve our great nation – I only feel pity by those who use their religion as a shield to disrespect others.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  4. P00P


    June 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • TOILET

      You're looking a little flushed!
      Let me take you away from all this!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  5. Jeff

    Even Jesus in the Temple stood up for what he believed in, and he fought in the Temple, overturning the money changers tables and driving them from his sight. The author's freedom and ability to worship as he choses, is a result of the blood and sacrifices of my forefathers who have fought, and some died, to make this country free. Men like him let the Nazis conquer Europe and it was men like my forefathers, who fought and died to destroy the evil that the Nazis brought to the World. When the 21 st Century Nazis, the Muslim terrorists or Chinese overrun Europe and perhaps even this country, it will be due to the cowards who are self-serving parasites on this land, only taking, and giving nothing back of sustance to this country.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Jesus did what he did in the Temple because those people were greedy and using the Temple to make a profit. Jesus didn't hurt anyone. Jesus didn't pledge allegiance to a country and neither should any Christian. God has the ability to destroy this whole world. Fear him. Don't fear terrorist and death. Our military can't defend you from the power of God. Why bow down and worship a lesser god like a nation? No nation can protect you from God's power, if he were to unleash it.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  6. Kevin41

    this is so dumb

    June 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  7. GaryG

    "traditional American values and heritage"

    You mean like genocide of the people that lived here before the Xtian immigrants stole their land? Or perhaps subservience of women, after all according to the bible women are inferior so disallow the right to vote.

    Maybe you're referring to slavery since the bible is the guidebook for slavery and owning other humans is a right outlined in the bible.

    Xtian hypocrisy at its finest.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  8. JohnNavy

    Freedom looks like the men and women serving in our armed forces keeping us safe from evil. I hope you sleep soundly tonight knowing our nation is safe through because of our military overseas sleeping on a cot....

    June 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • bob

      Guess what? To a majority of the people who have lived in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. they see freedom & evil differently than you, & for an understandable reason.

      Keeping us safe from what? Saddam's WMDs? People who hold anti-American views due to our support for dictators & our wars that have caused devastation that we then flip coins to the millions of victims? If we were not an imperialist nation, then this anti-Americanism that you claim we need to bomb all over the world for (which actually produces more of it) would not exist.

      It's unfortunate that those in the military are pawns of moneyed interests, but it's even more unfortunate for the millions of poor people aborad who have virtually no services at hand for their suffering.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Evil is not stopped by military might. That's why we have evil occurring right here in America by Americans. Sleep safe? People are being killed in there homes here in America. There is no safety. Remember this, we all will die at some point. You only delay the inevitable. Choose to serve God and men in a good way and stop worshipping false god's like a country that doesn't have the power to raise the dead.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  9. ChrisnSanJose


    The earth belongs to God, not men. We are suppose to share it like God intended for us too. Greed has caused nations to hoard and determine who gets a piece of what God gave to all.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • kb43

      ok so i can move into the house you live in then! after all you are not greedy!

      June 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Tal0203

      Did I said a word about natural resources? I was talking about labor , provided by citizens of U.S. nation... I guess under your disposition we, people of U.S. nation, should serve others just because others are Christians... Something wrong with this picture. I believe if you are using ANY services of society, you should pay back: just praying for only your fellow Christians is not good enough...

      June 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Fred L May SR

    We all come into this world the same way. We choose what religion we follow. When our days on Earth are over, it will be Gods will as where we will spend our Eternity. Believers will go Heaven while others will go to Hell. Live a clean wholesome life and you will live in Eternity.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  11. bob

    It's good to see someone who chooses the cross instead of the flag, as the two are incompatible. The freedoms that we have were not given by a government (set up to serve the interests of property-owning while males, of which Africans were part of that property), but rather were agitated for by organized people's movements throughout our history, & in response the government felt compelled to grant fearing greater civil discontent & strife if it did not make concessions.

    The notion that a Christian could support, for example, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America over the past 125 years (a complete hostility towards democracy & human rights) is utterly indefensible, & thus none of the fake Christians who support the status quo will ever be able to defend & reconcile with the teachings of Christ, so instead will just repeat bumper sticker slogans about 'freedom.'

    June 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      I agree with you Bob about Christianity and American values and beliefs being incompatible. You can tell a person really knows God when they are unwilling to follow the status quo of worshipping a nation.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Mike D

      While I agree with you on your points about how immoral and evil governments can be and how some of our rights are due to government's fear of backlash from citizens, our most fundamental freedoms were fought for, via armed revolution . Not all governments have given in or are giving into political pressure or because it's the right thing to grant their citizens a full bill of rights. America is far from perfect, but don't act like it's not a great environment to practice religion without fear.
      And I believe you more are at odds with Capitalism than our government, though the 2 are intertwined clearly.
      And I'm tired of hearing all these religious fanatics ranting against our government. I'd like to hear a better solution for government and economic systems from these critics. And we're talking about humans mind you! Not angels.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Mike D

      And I would also agree about how Christians can be a huge bunch of hippocrits, and to truly be Christian, you can't be for any violence, etc. So for that, I give many of you religious people here huge credit. If you truly do follow Christ's teachings to a T. Which would be pretty anti-human of you, btw. Great ideal though. Wish all Christians truly followed Christ's teachings, but just like 99% of christians, I am a non-christian. Jesus seemed like a great person though.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  12. Indiancurry

    People in 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 my home but the culture in my country is different. America is a country of immigrants and adopting our culture is also part of america like pizza from italy.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Chatarri

      I accept your ways – I love your food – I'm glad you're here – but, if Americans are so awful and your culture is so much better why are you here? Maybe you should make the stand in your country to make it as good as whatever brought you to American and let us awful Americans who are so intolerant wallow in our culture. What made this country great was immigration – we all melted/melded. What is hurting is coming to this country and maintaining the country of origins culture. We are becoming divisive and divided.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • JTM

      You are seriously comparing pizza to a national ritual of respect for the blood and sacrifice of those who protected our nation?

      I'll make you a deal. I'll try curry if you start supporting the nation that shelters you. Or do us both a favor and get the hell out.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • Parag from Sugar Land

      I am from India also, came herein 1980, became a citizen in 1988 and have lived a wonderful life in this great nation. I am very proud of my Indian roots, my liberal Hindu culture and the country of my birth. I was emotionally overcome with tears of joy when India won the world cup and we had a neighborhood party where we sang the Indian national anthem over champagne and scotch. Enough said.

      I am also very proud of and grateful to my adopted country. In my humble opinion, a US citizen refusing to sing the national anthem is being a hypocrite, whatever their religious views. Coming from India or China or Timbuctoo does not absolve a naturalized citizen of their patriotic duty to their new homeland.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Where Do I Begin

      Okay, first–let's just get this out of the way so we can focus–you meant "beliefs" instead of "believes" correct? Thought so. Moving on.

      Pledging allegiance to a country, um, of which you are choosing to be a part (e.g. in the case of immigrants–or anyone who was born here and does not leave for some other land) is some what required. Why? Well, you CHOSE to be here. If you don't want to pledge allegiance to this country, please pack your belongings and scurry on off to a country to which you CAN pledge allegiance. I'm not saying get out. Please. Stay. By all means. If you are willing to be loyal to this land. I would have the common courtesy to do so if I chose to become a citizen of another country.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  13. PeterD

    Jews Don't sing 'Star Spangled Banner'

    June 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  14. Tal0203

    So, let me make it straight: you are recognizing "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." However, you are not shy to use benefits our nation offers you: security and protection of your "nation" borders, support of infrastructure, such as transportation, utilities,, etc. And do not even pay a dime to the U.S. since, as church, you are not paying taxes? How hypocritical is that!!! I do not care if you sing national anthems, but tell me what you are acknowledge only your "Christian nation" is way too obnoxious... At least I could proudly say what my U.S. nation accepts anyone regardless of their religious believes, without prejudgment!!

    June 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Mac11

      You said it. They can leave the country and no one would miss them. I hope they do.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  15. ChrisnSanJose

    God's children are finally waking up and realizing that our only allegiance is to the Kingdom of Heaven, not a country. Our mission is to love others (include our enemies), share the gift of reconciliation, and to care for the poor and helpless. We are not here to honor men who killed Indians and enslaved Africans. We are not put here to honor any military. Christians are her to honor God.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Scott

      Time to give a terrorist a hug. That will solve the world's problems.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Chatarri

      Romans 3:23
      For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  16. TobiFabian

    I am a Prodestant Christian, and I disagree with this article on one point. He has a point when he says true freedom comes from God and not war, but we're not talking about America's freedom from sin, we're talking about America's freedom from England. I suppose the soldiers, instead of fighting, could have sat around and prayed all day and hoped the English would free them out of the goodness of their hearts, but if they did that we would be English slaves today. God tells us to pray for the things we need, and then also to go and do our best to make them happen, and he will help us achieve our goals. The church and the state are two separate things, and we should treat them as such, but I still have a great deal of respect for my country and I will continue to sing the National Anthem in remembrance of all those who died to protect us from the English.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Tal0203

      My applause, Professor!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      So we wanted freedom from England but we made slaves of African's. What sense are you making? None.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • bob

      Slaves of the UK today... like Canada & Australia? Well thought-out & researched post.

      Protect us? How much protection did you support for the tens of millions of Natives & Africans killed for your idea of freedom, which includes genocide & slavery?

      June 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Scott

      I haven't made slaves of any Africans. Have you?

      June 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Brynhildr

      Very Well Said!

      June 26, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  17. God

    Yawn. I don't care if you sing it or not. I don't care what religion you are. You just wanted to be in the news....

    June 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Jesus

      Yeah, what He said!

      June 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  18. hulamama

    A lot of blood has been shed to give you the right and priviledge to NOT sing the National Anthem but without that blood you wouldn't be able to sing anything !

    June 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Really? Are you serious? Please find a bible and read it. Jesus gave his life and didn't revile. We are to follow his example. Death is the way to overcome evil. Jesus could have destroyed every sinful person that did him wrong but he didn't. Why? to teach us that we don't overcome evil with evil. Why do you think the most of the Apostles died as martyrs? We are not called to fight evil with evil.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  19. BillyBob117

    After what the muslims are doing to this country, what that private college does is really nothing in comparison--

    June 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm |

    talk about killing your enemys in war, GOD himself ordered the destruction of evil people during wars. i see no difference in us defending our country against evil which by the way, was founded on Christian faith.

    June 26, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • MMR

      perhaps, but who are you to determine what/who is 'evil'. . . and our country was based on more than just the conservative right wing type of hate and prejudicial christianity. . .

      June 26, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Mike

      Without making the noise, they will be just forgotten.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • TheXian

      The country was founded by deists, who believe God has no interaction with the world beyond the point of creating it or keeping it in existence metaphysically. That means none of the founding father (yes, none) were Christians as the idea of Jesus is God working in the world. While the majority of the populous was Christian, the founders of our nation were not.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:07 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.