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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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.
They are now declared as Persona Non-Grata!
Well, at least you had the balls to put your name to it. now, when I feel the need to express my opinion, I can truly say, "MARK, you're an a hole!'. You live in the land of milk and honey, but you feel the need to express, through FREEDOM OF SPEECH, that your beliefs are more important than our NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why don't you go to the local BIKER BAR and say that. OR the TEAMSTERS meeting. You wouldn't DREAM of doing that, but your wussy self feels free to do it via keyboard, in a national forum. effin' sissy.
And I'll opine that my personal beliefs are far more important than ANY national anthem. And you are nothing more than a garden variety internet tough guy.
Are you serial? How can the celebration of freedom which the Anthem supposedly represents possibly be more important than the actual freedom it celebrates?
We allow too many groups of disrespectful cowards to live in our country without having to pay their dues. Too many have sacrificed too much for some college D-Bag profs to decide not to let people choose to sing, or not to sing, their national anthem. I agree with the Mexico relocation plan but Canada might be better. It should be played at all public gatherings.
As long as you pay taxes, you pay "dues".
Can't believe how much disrespect this article's d-bag author has for our country by saying the National Anthem is not important to him. If he doesn't like our country, then he can get out. The door will hit him in his rear.
Every people needs something to bind them together. For countries it's flags or songs or cultures. Luckily, you choose to live in a country that protects your right to church and state even when you refuse to bind with that country. You are like a child that bites then hides behind his mom's skirt. You are very lucky indeed to have found a country that will not only let you bite, but demands that you have the right to do so. In return, you stick your tongue out. Do as you please...but I do not think you should get one penny of tax payer money...yet your college certainly takes the tax free advantage of a religious establishment. Shame.
Extremely well written post, Ginamero. This "pastor" is nothing but an unpatriotic coward who does not truly care about being American.
My husband and I would die to protect someone's belief to worship how they choose. We love this country and feel very blessed to be here. When I sing the national anthem, I feel very proud to wear our nation's uniform in military service to protect those who live in it's borders and to promote freedom and democracy around the world. I cannot think of a higher calling than to serve those around me for the protection in honor of our families, our children and our God. I don't like war or blood soaked borders. However, I know that evil exist and like David of old, I believe we are to fight evil in all it's forms.
David of old ?
2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.
3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hitt'ite?"
4 David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.
Bathsheba then turns up pregnant etc etc.
14 Now in the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
15 He had written in the letter, saying, "Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die."
MHamilton, thank you for serving, along with your husband.
For all of us: Look around your authority to Jesus. Give honor and respect where it is due ... but always remember Jesus. He is in charge.
I've honestly never understood why we sing the anthem before sporting events. It's just weird and has nothing to do with anything going on in that stadium.
"We sing anthem cause of what it stands for which is to allow athletes get paid a fortune cause of simple simply and demand."
What a great, impossibly integral reason to have pride in one's country. (Not to mention the complete lack of grammar skills shown in your post.) If I were one to sing the National Anthem, your horrific ideas would cause me to immediately stop.
All these negative comments. Sheesh!
One of the things I've noticed with conservative/evangel christians is that they're so called patriotism boarders and passes into the realm of Nationalism. If people decide to say the pledge or not, sing the national anthem or not, is entirely up to them.
It should never be forced, period!
Here's a good reason not to sing the national anthem: you can't sing. Seriously, you have to have a pretty good range in order to sing the national anthem prettily. In its original key it goes really high, but if its transposed down at all it goes really low.
Today's Lesson: In America, you'd better be a Christian and you'd better sing the National Anthem, but if you are a Christian, then it's also okay not to sing it, oh, and, Liberals are lazy and sip lattes.
Thank you, CNN, for another in a long line of illuminating and totally relevant articles.
Jerry Falwell put forth the thought, around 2001 or so, after 9-11, that if you're Christian, you're patriotic and if your patriotic, well the reverse is true too. I think this is when the Nationalism of conservative Christianity began to rear its ugly head.
Well, Ron – you can always take comfort (as I do) in the knowledge that Jerry Falwell burns with the rest of the demagogues.
Mennonites- too much inbreeding
I'd much rather live among the Mennonites than any of your kin. As far as inbreeding goes, they're not the ones living in trailers.
Obviously, you did not bother to read the referenced information.
Seriously the greatest nation in the world that LETS you decide to sing the national anthem or not among other great things.. If people here posting don't like what this counrty is about then leave, I hear Mexico is nice around this time if you don't mind the gun shots overhead. We sing anthem cause of what it stands for which is to allow athletes get paid a fortune cause of simple simply and demand. We sing the anthem cause it allows a church in Waynesboro, Virginia decide whether or not to use the national anthem in their college... quit your whinning sheesh cause in the grand things of things this is the best country on the map..
Let us be adults, Democracy is not perfect form of Government and Democracy means you can agree to dis agree am I right, If some one does not want to sign it his or her or her choice, who are we to disagree ? Let us not be communist
What? So you vehemently support the singing of praises to rockets red glare, but the gunshots of Mexico are intolerably fearsome?
You seem to represent the 'wussification' of America more than anyone. If Americans exercising their freedoms offend you, perhaps it is YOU who should move to a less-free country.
Wuss, I agree this is a great nation and it's only proper that the Waynesboro church can choose to sing the anthem or not. I don't care. I wouldn't judge a person's love of country by that standard or flying an American flag or any other standard than what they do to contribute. I get that the Mennonites have ways to contribute in lieu of military service. And yet I wonder, if I lived in Virginia in the same county as Waynesboro, and the military needed so many people from my county to go to war, and my son was called up because pastor Schloneger's son got a religious exemption because of his 'strange tribe's" beliefs, how would I feel about that? How would the pastor feel about that (other than the good feeling he gets because his son doesn't have to go to war)?
"...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." – I can't imagine how the Mennonites could profess that and not feel ashamed. They aschew "blood soaked borders", but sure as hell love to live in them. In fact, they left Europe to get inside of them! The Mennonites just sound like users. They want to enjoy the privileges of the club without paying the membersip dues.
People live within "blood-soaked boarders" regardless of what country they're in.
I could agree with that. I am not religious, but I find it hilarious when religious dogma/doctorine is thought out to such ridiculous extents as this. It is absurdity at its best. Sorry if I offended religious folks. I have nothing against religion, it is just funny to see some ridiculous thoguht processes that lead people to even more ridiculous conclusions. If there is a god do you think he cares about anything this petty as whether or not his followers sing a national anthem or not? CNN blows my mind with stupid articles like this on its front page.
@Charles: I believe the issues stems more from a view of allegiance. Many people take this concept very seriously, and believe pledging allegiance to anything other than God is problematic. (i.e.: worshiping the created/creation over the creator.) I understand this concept is a bit foreign to much of our wester culture, and I have to wonder if that is more of a problem than a blessing. I also have to wonder if there is a growing confusion in this nation between patriotism and nationalism.
Your understanding of history seems flawed. We had no national borders when they emigrated here. Penn's woods was a colony of England, which tolerated these religious beliefs in its immigrants, who make up much of our Pennsylvania history. Surely you're not arguing that the England that welcomed these people is more free and tolerant than the USA that superseded it? If so, wouldn't that indicate a serious trend toward LESS freedom and tolerance?
We only even sing the first of four verses. The fourth verse:
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!
I find it odd that the Mennonites don't sing that portion, at least. However, how ironic is it that a persecuted religion finds a home here where it can be 'safe', and doesn't honor how that safety came to be? While I don't believe in their faith, I feel everyone should have freedom of religion, but they should honor how that freedom came to be. Seems a bit ungrateful to me to set up shop in a country just because you can, then give them the middle finger and not honor the lives of everyone that secured the freedoms you embrace and enjoy.
If there was any verse that could demonstrate how the national anthem presents the connection between church and state that the Mennonites are uncomfortable with, it's that verse.
Lies all lies.
Every religion has its quirky aspects that make it stand out, often because of some special interpretation of some bit of scripture. The Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays, and so on. How do the Mennonites deal with the fact that they have the freedom to refuse to participate in war because of the sacrifices of others? Beats me. I would feel uncomfortable. I would think that instead of watching others put themselves in harms way to protect the Mennonites' religious values, they would be more comfortable in a country in which everybody's religious beliefs were respected and there was never a risk of war. Instead of an easy rationalization of why you refuse to sing a song, how about one where you explain how your life is more valuable than mine, neighbor.
Let's make one thing clear: Freedom is won by struggle, and those struggles are by no means only those wars the government choose to wage. Martin Luther King Jr did more for freedom in America with his non-violent actions than any 100 generals can claim to have done in the decades since.
Good point John. MLK put his butt on the line and lost it. Are the Mennonites doing the same? I really don't know.
Oh, my goodness.
Too many of the comments on here are so smug and self-assured that their (and ONLY their) position is correct and that there are simply no other possibilities. Which is incorrect. That being said, if one has the convictions to believe in what they believe and do so constantly and with great joy, then more power to you.
Just don't foist it upon me. I don't care what you believe.
If this guy doesn't want to sing the National Anthem, then so be it. His choice. Likewise, for those that do stand and sing, then to be that, as well.
If you cannot independently and apart from anyone else's opinion do what you believe, then you really don't believe it in the first place. Seriously. You are simply pretending.
I don't mean that in a negative tone as some other comments have. I mean I truly don't care. If this is what this small group of people wants to do, who really cares? That should be a note to CNN...why should they care and foist it upon us?
CNN deliberately put this article on the front page knowing the backlash and animosity it would generate.
You are partly correct. CNN knew how many clicks it would generate. Advertising clicks. That's all.
why is it played at any athletic event at all? what does the making of millions and millions of dollars for professional athletes (and making money off athletes at the college level) have to do with our nation? other than the fact that the most pointless things make a lot of money in this country ...