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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. Julie

    Well Pastor S – aren't you just Ever So Special.
    I'm American Baptist. My denomination also arose from the Anabaptists. We also believe in the separation of church and state. However we don't really feel the need to stand on some self-righteous ceremony that really amounts to just getting up in other peoples faces for the sake of religious pride. Singing the anthem or saying the pledge is just part of being American – not part of being a Christian. Separation y'know?
    Not that I especially care what you choose to do with regard to this – it's a harmless vanity on your part. I'm no flag-waver myself.
    However – I do wonder if your rather sanctimonius mewling about separation of church and state carries over when you all vote – or do you vote your religion instead of what's good and fair and tolerant for all citizens?
    Or maybe you don't vote – by the logic you presented in this essay, that too must be an affront to your sect.
    Stop flattering yourself with notions of being a menber of some strange and unique tribe. You are just a child of God like all the rest of us, sir.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Simon

      Oooh it's a "my religion is better than your religion" fight!
      LOL at both of you

      June 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  2. ass

    IIF YOU CANT SING THE AMERICAN ANTHEM GET THE HELL OUT OF THE COUNTRY, I DONT GIVE A DAM WHAT YOUR RELIGION IS THIS IS AMERICA SO DONT LIKE IT GET THE HELL OUT WE HAD MANY PEOPLE DIE FOR THIS COUNTRY AND THIS WAS WHAT THEY BELIEVED AND I WILL HONER THEM BAY SINGING IT PROUDLY. SO GET THE HELL OUT OF AMERICA.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Simon

      Your userid says it all.
      Bunch of patriotic baloney.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Just Love Them Rubes!

      You do know that they word "name" refers to you, right?

      It's kind of early to be that liquored up, ass.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Your sick to worship a country. Christians don't hate a America. We just refuse to worship false god's. That is sing the national anthem and pledging allegiance to a flag is idolatry. We serve one God.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Joseph Smith Loses a Debate With A Chicken

      Nice use of the English language, chrisn

      June 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Clint

    Religious people think non-religious people all need to "see the light" and non-religious people think all religious people need to "wake up and see reality".

    All I am going to say is that maybe people should step back and look at both arguments with a little common sense. The idea that's the least crazy will win out every time.

    Facts are facts, fiction is fiction. Beyond that, some people should do some research about history. Now that the russians are no longer a threat to convert everyone to communist-atheism (as if they ever were...), there is no reason to keep "under god" in the pledge or to keep the national motto as "in god we trust".

    My father fought in WWII. He and the rest of the "greatest generation" seem to haev done very well without "under god" or "in god we trust". Eventually they will go away, and every American will be allowed to have "freedom and justice for all", not just the believers.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Reid

      Ironic that you would name the Greatest Generation of WWII as doing fine without God. It's pretty widely accepted that they were the last generation to widely EMBRACE Judeo-Christian values. It was the following generation – the Greatest Generation's children – that, as a group, began to embrace other values.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  4. Sperm donor

    I sing it loud and proud.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Simon

      20 brownie points for you.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • jack stifman

      christianity is no more than a speculative fiction. blind faith is used to avoid the trauma of due diligence. it is a true lack of intelligence that has people believe in myth. too bad for them.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  5. Dee Doodles

    Welcome to Amerika. Please keep pledging alliance to the regime.

    CNN minutes ago ... "95 year old woman required to remove adult diaper by TSA" for seach before boarding jet.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Shinea

      That would be shocking in comparison, if the Chinese didn't arrest people for religious views and speaking about the government. Or North Korea, allowing millions of peasants to die of hunger while the leaders grow fat and shop at expensive stores in the west. Or Africans, killing and raping innocent civilians and ... but I guess you have your own priorities.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      Shinea
      2011 American economic policy created the inflation in world food prices through devaluing the dollar to the point where 1,000's have died in the Middle East revolution. Yes, the start was a open air merchant in Tunisa setting his body on fire in protest of high food prices. Amerika and the bankers through control of the reserve fiat currency of the world are causing most of the suffering, starvation, poverty, and war in this world the last 80 years. Your turn is coming as the fiat dollar devalues you into poverty in Amerika. Keep pledging.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  6. el tio cosa

    Mr. Schloneger;
    Why did you not cite Bible scripture to back up your beliefs?

    Don't Mennonites use the Bible to explain what they believe?

    2 Timothy 3:16 . . .All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness. . .

    June 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Joy

      What if the so-called gods in the Bible were aliens from another planet who used religion to rule over humans so that we fear them and don't misbehave?

      June 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  7. Parkerman

    I really respect the Mennoites and the Amish for the pure nature of their beliefs, however, they are free to practice their belief because of people who fought and died to make a free nation where you are free to practice whatever religion you wish as long as it does not go against human rights and the laws of our land. Would it hurt them to pay a little omage to the country that gave them that right.

    June 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Wrong Parkman. They are free to practice their belief because God is able to raise them from the dead. Why do you think the Apostles were free to serve God while being persecuted? They knew that death would come but God will raise them from the dead. Christians have always been free to worship God. Cowards run and look to the military to protect their so called rights to worship. Christians who look to the military for religious freedom are cowards. They don't really believe in the life to come. They are afraid of persecution.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  8. Mohamed Zadeh

    Don't even know the words or wan't to.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Parkerman

      Then please leave our country.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Shinea

      No problem, we don't know the words to yours either ... except for the part about killing unbelievers which you guys keep speaking the loudest, over and over. We don't like that part.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • mohamed Zadeh

      I'm not leaving this is my home and you will respect it.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  9. Fingal

    He had me until "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."

    Forgetting the irony of the fact that most of the world's wars are caused by religious differences. I firmly believe that to be part of a society or country requires at least some buy in to it's legitimacy. I'm not saying that you can't criticize the country, but you have to "recognize" that the nation exists and that you as a member of that society have some responsibility for making it a better place to live.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Simon

      Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do.....

      June 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Clint

      I like the original version better, imagine all the people, living life in peace (because of lack of religion). Call the man what you wnat, but he knew the real feal.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Simon

      I believe the original says both. Imagine no religion AND no countries.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Forrest Gump: (voice-over) Some years later, that nice young man from England was on his way home to see his little boy and was signing some autographs. For no particular reason at all, somebody shot him.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  10. Brett

    Could not agree more! God and politics are meant to be mixed. I give my allegiance to God not a government.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  11. art

    Do the Mennonites believe in benefiting from other people's labor? Until now I didn't think they did. But since they are free to practice their religion because and only because others have sacrificed for their freedom, they sure seem to be ingrates. I just lost respect for them. Oh, and by the way, didn't Jesus say that his followers should in fact follow the laws of the nation they live in? Just saying.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Simon

      I'm pretty sure jesus broke a lot of the laws of his time

      June 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Lenny

      I don't remember a law that requires the national anthem before sports events.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  12. Mohamed Zadeh

    America is free if you don't sing the anthem who cares.

    BTW Please don't forget to vote for Obama in 2012.

    Peace

    June 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hey Zadeh .... We are still in :

      Iraq

      Afghanistan.... a place that he contacted Cheny and G.W. for advice on.

      and Guantanamo is still housing Muslim prisoners without a speedy trial.

      ...and now we are in Lybia and with a president who just re-approved the Patriot Act.

      wait ... Obama extended George Walker Bush's Patriot Act

      Vote for Obama, ..... Extend the G.W. Bush's administration for a record breaking 16 YEARS !!!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Rodney

      You know, Zadeh, I can TOTALLY see you hacking some infidel's head off with a butcher knife.

      No proof of that, it's just that your tone reminds me of the guys screaming "Allahu Ackbar" as the sawed Nicholas Berg's head off...

      June 27, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  13. Surthurfurd

    I wonder how many here know that the Pledge was written by a "Christian Socialist?"

    June 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Simon

    This post is worth repeating:
    -------------------
    By Wooze

    Once again, I'm stunned by the intolerance of people who post here. The Mennonite church is not a cult, and it is not obscure. If you're from the midwest, you undoubtedly know about the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren, all Anabaptist denominations that have lived in the U.S. for many years and are an integral part of the culture here.

    And they're not ungrateful to live in the US. They simply have strong beliefs about the separation of church and state ... beliefs that they died for in Europe and which make the US a place of sanctuary.

    I'm not even a Christian (much less a member of an Anabaptist denomination), so I have no dog in this hunt. Moreover, I sing the anthem (and recite the pledge, without reference to God). But it is my choice to show my patriotism that way ... and by voting in every election. One of the reasons I love this country so much is that I get to *choose* to do those things and am not forced. I sing the anthem with pride precisely because we all have the freedom of conscience that Goshen College and the author of the essay are exerting by declining to sing the anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  15. Billy

    If this article were about an Islamic school, and the author said he didn't want to sing the national anthem because he is a devout Muslim, Glenn Beck and the Fox News folks would be pooping out squirrels left and right. Where's the faux outrage over this on Faux News?

    June 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Simon

      Truth.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hey Dudes this is CNN's Belief Blog.

      FoxNews does stories such as Delta Airline partners possibly not allowing Jews on flights that might connect through Saudi Arabia. ... You know something that yall' Athiest would love to have fun with.

      But no... The Belief Blog is on a constant anti-traditional Christian path for now.

      Yall might not trust there is a God but trust in things such as decent reporting is why FoxNews is number one.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Simon

      LOL at Fox news and decent reporting in the same sentence.

      June 26, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  16. bbnx

    Boring story. Not interested in hearing why anyone doesn't sing the Star Spangled Banner. If you don't, you should leave. No debate. "Faith" has nothing to do with it....... Go away little man, you annoy me.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Simon

      So we should force people to sing the national anthem or make them leave.
      That is laughable.

      June 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • JK

      If being annoying were reason to have someone go away, you'd be long gone.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  17. Sifu Natalie Kravetz

    Regardless of the potential outcomes of refusal to engage in the slaughter of innocents, such slaughter is entirely anathema to the teachings of Jesus. The teachings that can be reliably ascribed to him are quite clear: You are already one with God, therefore, love one another, be kind, do not take advantage of those less fortunate than yourself, be a responsible steward of the Earth. Nowhere does Jesus teach that violence, war, injuring others in order to gets one's desired outcome are acceptable behaviors. He did, however, encourage his followers to give up all of their possessions and follow him. So, if you wish to be a Christian who actually follows Jesus' deeds as well as his words, perhaps a bit less avarice, warmongering and telling those who do follow his deeds and words that they should go live somewhere else is in order. Instead, try following his example by becoming quiet and finding God in that silence. Your life, and the lives of those around you will become richer and more loving, and you will miraculously lose the burning need to tell others how wrong they are, and more importantly, how right you are.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  18. hillbilleter

    I guess patriotism isn't fashionable right now. But when it's more than a fashion statement, that's when you'll see tears in a patriot's eyes as they belt out their national anthem all the way from their marrow.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Ah, Those Modern Patriots

      "Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about." Mark Twain

      "Never was patriot yet, but was a fool." John Dryden

      "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" Samuel Johnson

      June 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  19. David Platinumstein

    O! 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 through the perilous fight,
    O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
    And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
    O! 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, O! 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.

    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
    Blest with vict’ry 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 2:47 pm |
    • Let's Start Ball Games With Better Songs!

      Louie Louie, oh no
      Me gotta go
      Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
      Louie Louie, oh baby
      Me gotta go

      Fine little girl waits for me
      Catch a ship across the sea
      Sail that ship about, all alone
      Never know if I make it home

      Louie Louie, oh no
      Me gotta go
      Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
      Louie Louie, oh baby
      Me gotta go

      Three nights and days I sail the sea
      Think of girl, constantly
      On that ship, I dream she's there
      I smell the rose in her hair.

      Louie Louie, oh no
      Me gotta go
      Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
      Louie Louie, oh baby
      Me gotta go

      Okay, let's give it to 'em, right now!

      See Jamaica, the moon above
      It won't be long, me see me love
      Take her in my arms again
      Tell her I'll never leave again

      Louie Louie, oh no
      Me gotta go
      Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
      Louie Louie, oh baby
      Me gotta go

      Let's take it on outa here now
      Let's go!!

      June 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  20. Wooze

    Once again, I'm stunned by the intolerance of people who post here. The Mennonite church is not a cult, and it is not obscure. If you're from the midwest, you undoubtedly know about the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren, all Anabaptist denominations that have lived in the U.S. for many years and are an integral part of the culture here.

    And they're not ungrateful to live in the US. They simply have strong beliefs about the separation of church and state ... beliefs that they died for in Europe and which make the US a place of sanctuary.

    I'm not even a Christian (much less a member of an Anabaptist denomination), so I have no dog in this hunt. Moreover, I sing the anthem (and recite the pledge, without reference to God). But it is my choice to show my patriotism that way ... and by voting in every election. One of the reasons I love this country so much is that I get to *choose* to do those things and am not forced. I sing the anthem with pride precisely because we all have the freedom of conscience that Goshen College and the author of the essay are exerting by declining to sing the anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • bbnx

      Mennonites = Cult. next topic?

      June 26, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Prometheus

      AREE

      June 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
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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.

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