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. sportswatch

    The Goshen baseball team won 4 games all season and lost their last 12 in a row.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      What's your point?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      I don't think he thought that through. LOL!

      June 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  2. Paul Nay

    I repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at public events the way I learned it in school, in pretty much the same words the Christian Socialist (yup!) minister Francis Bellamy wrote almost 120 years ago. He would have had to word equality in there along with justice, except that the racial beliefs and practices of his fellow Americans made it a lie. As someone has already pointed out, "under God" was added in the 50s during the Red-scare years and I consider it an insult to all Americans who aren't monotheists. As for the National Anthem: how many of you can recite the other three stanzas – especially the third?

    June 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • hasc

      We sang all the verses in the 4th grade. It turned us into war-mongering, anti-semitic, racist zealots.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  3. denise walsh

    shame on u, u have given god no glory in all this ,this was for u not anyone else. u got attention if u want to stand out then stand out by giving the gospel and not what u think of a song.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Those who can't spell "you" and who refer to anthems as "songs", give god no glory either.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  4. systemyou

    bring the troops home, invest in our on country, become a great country again without thinking every other country should be like the US, and then....sing sing sing.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  5. Ian

    He talks of physical borders between countries, but how does he address the bloody ideological borders between the varying religion that have result in as much, if not more bloodshed?

    June 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Kyle

      Mennonites are pacifists you moron.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      What Kyle said.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  6. J.D.

    Let me dispel the absurd myth that Mennonites don't pay taxes. We pay taxes, we vote and we run for public office. Do some research!

    June 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Earnán

      You are freeloaders who hide behind those who defend this country.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      Earwax, those who pay taxes are not free-loaders. Invading sovereign nations on flimsy pretexts and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians while teetering on bankruptcy isn't "defense".

      June 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • hasc

      You should send a mission to a country where you would be shot for NOT singing their national anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Tia

      But if you run for public office, don't you have to take an oath? I'm pretty sure public officials don't take an oath to Jesus or God so you would either be taking an oath that you don't really believe in or going against your belief that you should only swear an oath to God.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  7. vk

    i don't understand at all why one would play a national anthem before an event at a college. where i come from the national anthem is only played before an athletic event when the national team is playing. makes no sense to me to play it if only teams from the us are involved.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • frank

      Because you can't have freedom without being compelled by a horde of Wal-Mart shopping idiots to sing a mediocre song.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  8. Gunnie

    I beleive in their right to live and worship as they choose.....many have stood up for that.....can you stand up face to face and live your faith.... but CNN sucks

    June 26, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  9. believer

    Interesting that separation of church and state for them was to keep the influence of the government out of the church, not to keep the influence of the church out of the government.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  10. Micook

    We have gay people getting married but people who refuse to honor their country!

    June 26, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  11. JLP

    The anthem is a result of attacks on us by the British and speak of endurance and courage in the face of death.To see the anthem as a war mongering tool is wrong. If you elect not to sing it, that is your right. You will let others defend your right,but are unwilling to do your part.You do come from a strange tribe.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Leon

      That is what we call being a hypocrite

      June 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  12. Dave

    How do Mennonites react when Al-Qaeda, Iran, and the Taliban speak of a "Muslim nation" rather than individual Muslim countries?

    Seems to me that this sauce ought to be as tasty on the goose as it is on the gander.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  13. Sperm Donor

    Sing it proud America.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      Proud of what. I am ashamed of the regime building industrial military complex supported by NATO attacking the sovereignty of nations killing millions and displacing millions in the last 20 years around the world all in the name of empire expansion and gathering precious resources. It's sad. A nation of killers and enslavers. Yip. Sing for the regime. What are you going to sing? Just lies.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • hasc

      Dee! Are you referring to the Obama Administration?

      June 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  14. David

    Hey Omega,
    Our anthem is about us being attacked and bombarded. The attack and bombardment of the flag above our fort is an analogy for the attacking forces attacking our liberty and republic. We were the ones being bombed you idiot. You obviously know nothing about this country.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • omega

      Dont know anything about our country do I? Our National Anthem is about the battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. It was a wars between the US and the Brittish Empire Which was started by us because the Brittish supported the Native americans in their fight against US expansion in THEIR land. In short we were invading them. Not quite what you though it was im sure.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Fort McHenry ...in Baltimore a city that the British called a "Den of Pirates". The battle was because of basically un-restrained Privateering or Pirating.

      But, then how many folks can claim they know the true start of any war. Give any special interest and you will find a different reason for a war.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  15. Sir Craig

    When I started reading this, my first reaction was to simply shrug and say, "Yippee, another cult who feels the need to try and stand out from all the other ones." But as I read further, I started seeing comments like "(W)e recognize only one Christian nation" and nonsense about holy nations bound together by faith in a myth versus "man-made, blood soaked borders", and then I started getting mad. The topper came with this last bit of idiocy in the middle: "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."

    Enough. Your freedom has been bought countless times by the blood of brave service men and women, not by a myth. Reading this tripe, I can only think of your particular cult as being a more polite version of the Westboro Baptist Church. "Strange tribe"? You are beyond strange: You're lame.

    Whether or not you choose to show support or compassion for the real, factual sacrifices of all those men and women who have given you the rare opportunity to celebrate your fantasies free of government hassle is up to you, but don't even begin to THINK a martyr on a stick was responsible for it. If anything, your freedom was guaranteed DESPITE your beliefs. If you don't think so, look at all the various Dominionist factions who would love to see a theocracy installed and see how long your little cult would last in that scenario.

    By the way, I assume your little school of lower learning pays its taxes. Otherwise, how are you getting your government-run services taken care of, like sewage, roadwork, etc? You want to feel like you're above the secular government and its "blood soaked borders," fine. Fend for yourself. Be your own little Vatican City and let us see how long you last.


    June 26, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      No one has died outside Amerika in a major conflict the last 60 years for America's freedom. This is the lie. The boys are fighting for a paycheck. Freedom is really enslavement. We are financial slaves allowed to keep just enough to live on. The rest goes for taxes and banker interest on cars, homes, and education. You are a slave. There is no freedom. It all a lie.
      The bankers win. Paper and ink or better yet digital dollars created out of nothing and you now have a monthly payment for a house, car, credit card, or education. This is the evil we have been served since 1913. You are a slave. The bankers trump the gov. Study on Youtube who the Federal Reserve ownership. Follow the money. It seems to end with Barclays.
      Who controls Barclays? Who owns the controlling interests in the US big banks? Yep...you are a slave. There is no freedom. Your house can be taken from you at anytime. Your bank account can be taken from you at anytime with even a false accusation. You can be arrested at anytime for a false cause. You are a slave.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      @ Dee Doodles:

      Oh, my mistake. I was under the impression the United States was slightly older than 60 years. Thank you for correcting me. Also, thank you for the conspiracy lesson regarding banks and such.

      You obviously have no idea what actual slavery is or you wouldn't have made such a bizarre statement. (Case in point: You've typed this ridiculous piece of noise, yet I am guessing you won't be arrested for it any time soon.) Get back on your meds, ASAP.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Name*Dbqdawg

    Keep the women in dresses and funny hats
    Put this one down as a cult also
    Is there ONE true religion out there?!?
    The five hundred responses mean the answer is NO.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • mennoj

      So mennonites are cult because they don't think you need to sing the national anthem? Because they want peace and don't agree with war? You should probably learn more about mennonites before labeling them a cult.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • hasc

      Wow! Haiku in lieu of the National Anthem. What a concept.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  17. Dee Doodles

    This is not a Republic. The Republic is dead. No one in the last 60 years has fought for Americas freedom on foreign soil.
    The regime is building an empire and gathering resources throughout the world. There are no freedom fighting soldiers. The fighters are just hired guns earning a paycheck. If they did not have this job most would be unemployed. It's sad. And some call it patriotism. Killing millions of innocent women, children, and men in places like Iraq. Using eyes in the sky to drone kill "suspected terrorists". Since when does a nation of freedom loving people attack others in their sovereign nation in their homes and kill them in the name of freedom. People who could not even afford a gun or a ticket to America. This is sick. Our leaders are criminal. Many should be tried for treason.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      So what is the weather like today out there in Berkley California ... 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • omega

      "Since when does a nation of freedom loving people attack others in their sovereign nation in their homes and kill them in the name of freedom."

      When these same people travel to our county and kill thousands of inocent civillions who have done nothing to harm them. Sure there is colateral damage, inocent people are harmed and that is regretable, but they are not the targets. The terrorists activly seek out civilion targets all around the world, even in their own countries. This must be stopped. The cost will be great, but the cost of doing nothing will be far greater.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      @ omega
      Wake up. Are we still kiilling Germans. When does it end? It's ten years later and we are still killing hundreds in their own country. We kill "suspected terrorists". Since when do you drone someone who is "suspected"? That's just criminal. Most children realize this is evil. You must be brain washed.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  18. omega

    Our national antem is an ode to war. its no wonder most of the world sees us as a war mongering country, aside from the fact that we tend to get involve in wars that have nothing to do with us, we stockpile weapons yet do little to protect our own borders, we activly attempt to enforce human rights laws in other countries yet have a long history human rights violations, we always sing an ode to war at sollem occasions and public events. It needs to be changed.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Nan

      This is the most marvelous article on this philosophical premise I have read...My husband and I "stand" silently during both the pledge and the singing of the anthem...We are in our seventies...Thank you for this!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  19. Marie Kidman



    June 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Dee Doodles

      Yes, I listened. It's not that good. Just saying.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  20. Mr Rogers

    I was just looking at CNN's list of featured articles. They truly represent the biggest news stories of the day. Thank you CNN! (sigh)

    June 26, 2011 at 5:19 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.