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. I bet...

    they have no problem or conflict of their religious principles to enjoy their tax exempt status that a church enjoys.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      I bet they're taxed, just like you and I, and unlike you or I, they do not collect (for the most part) social security, unemployment or welfare benefits, as they believe in being self sufficient.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  2. wikiIeaks

    I actually agreed to almost everything he said. Except freedom looking like a cross. And I'm sure they don't use God's name (Psalms 83:18). But wow, someone else who doesn't put a man made nation before God. More people should feel the same. Stop hating others because they come from somewhere else.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      But actually, the freedoms we experience are due largely to the way certain nations are set up. So they provide much good. And all christians should pay taxes and obey the law. And the only time we go against the law of the land is when that contradicts God's law.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  3. Chris

    Because you are communist.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      No, they are not communist and communist is not a bad word.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  4. Dave C

    They seem to have forgotten that a secular government makes it possible for them to practice their faith without persecution or state interference.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • John Richardson

      No, they seem to be among the very few remembering it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Dr. Cream

      What John said.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • John W

      Dave C seems to have forgotten that historically Anabaptists willlingly suffered martyrdom for their beliefs under repressive Kings and monarchs. Just as early Christians willingly suffered martyrdom under Rome. And many Christians of diverse persuasions willing suffered for their faith under Lenin, Stalin and Mao. They believed that loyalty to God trumped loyalty to monarch or country. Why should living in a democracy change this?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • UncleSim

      What John and John W said. And everything Dr Cream says too.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  5. elo

    No one can remember the words anyway. The national anthem should be America The Beautiful.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Nope, that one has the "g-word" prominently in it.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Peabody Wimperstein

      I don't know the words to that one either.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Singing Bob ! ! !

      It's easy! It goes like this:

      La la la la la la la
      la la la la la la
      La la la la la la la
      la la la la la la

      That's also the words to the anthem.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  6. Fine With Me

    Great most Mennonites don't vote either. As long as they keep their deified imaginary friends out of politics, and are respectful when the anthem is played, good for them to sticking to their guns. Wish more religions did.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  7. UncleSim

    Kevin is an American totalitarian. For him, everything that comes out of DC is made of pure gold, and anyone who questions such official truths is a political heretic, deserving of the wrath of those who pretend to honor freedom. If he learned his ways from his ancestors, we can trust that they were the oppressors the Mennonites (and other free-thinking peoples) have fled.

    Kev, I am not a Mennonite, but I respect them. I am a veteran, and if you want a fight, I'll hand you your ass, buddy. This is EXACTLY the kind of freedom of both thought and speech I signed up to defend. Your BS rhetoric is wholly un-American, and you should be ashamed for opening your mouth on this topic.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Go, UncleSim, go!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Kelsey

      UNCLESIM!!!!!!!!!! We could use a few more like you in this country.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  8. Melissa

    OMG. If you don't want to act as though you're part of this country, then leave it. No more idiotic religious excuses.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • UncleSim

      So, you'd rather have a nation filled with singing pretenders, than actual believers in freedom? With a nation like that, who will ever defend your rights for you, Melissa?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  9. Ben

    Here's an idea: How about all you flag burning, "I don't sing the national anthem/pledge allegiance" types take your lofty ideas/ideals and leave my wonderful country and find a better place to espouse your crap. You could all hang out together and spend your time impressing each other about how much you despise the U.S. The rest of us will greatly appreciate the one and only sacrifice you will ever make to something other than yourself.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • frank

      If you don't vote, you have no right to complain!!!!!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Apocatequil

    glad those freaks tend to stick to themselves.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Well, I think it's okay to have dual loyalties like between church and state or between two nation states (I am Korean American and love both South Korea and America but cheer for both teams, although I cheer for South Korea over America all the time when the two are against each other in economic trade wars or sports) but as long as I'm not DIS-loyal to the US, it's cool.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I worry about people like you a lot more than I worry about people like the Mennonites.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  12. Bret

    I suggest that Mark Schloneger move to that "holy nation", wherever it may be, and GTFO of these United States. There is no room for mixed loyalties. Either you are an American or not.

    Sing the "Star Spangled Banner" or leave, you a**hole.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Kevin

      Well, I think it's okay to have dual loyalties (I am Korean American and love both South Korea and America) but as long as I'm not DIS-loyal to the US, it's cool.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • UncleSim

      So what is a 'real' American, Bret? Someone who thinks and acts exactly as you do?

      All you haters sound like Frank Burns – "Unless we all conform, unless we follow our leaders blindly, there is no possible way we can remain free"... Does that about cover it, for you?

      Well, I am a veteran, I served 6 years, including 2 trips to the sandbox. I sure didn't do it to defend your right to criticize someone who loves America enough to live and thrive here. There's actually a pretty good chance these Mennonites own a lot more American land than you do... so while you're singing away, they're actually working on improving America, working its land, helping their American neighbors, and making their piece of America an even better place.

      Can you imagine those things, or does your hatred of non-singers prevent other thoughts from being considered? Who is the more patriotic now, the one who actually serves their fellow Americans, or the one who attacks them for their differences?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  13. believer

    Any objections to having the band play it but not feature a vocalist

    June 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Kevin

      The words are very important and give the meaning to the song. Otherwise, it's just notes.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • UncleSim

      I think its the ritualism they're actually objecting to, not the song. Therefore it wouldn't matter if there is a vocalist or not.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  14. kirk


    June 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  15. steve709

    Mark, what have YOU ever done, in YOUR life, to make you feel that the national anthem is, somehow, BENEATH YOU! Thank GOD that the first responders on 9 11 weren't as EDUMACATED as Y'ALL! They would have probably been sittin' behind a keyboard, like you, rather than saving people who were in danger.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • taxpayer

      Just so you know many Jehovah's Witnesses serve as Fireman, and many died in 9/11. However we don't say the National Anthem, yet we do these jobs out of love for our fellowman. To imply that saying the National Anthem is what makes people good citizens, and what drives people to help others is just words, is rediculous.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  16. PDT484NMA

    The National Anthem is not a song of worship, or even a song that pledges loyalty to country. It tells a story, of the valiant and brave soldiers who refused to surrender during the bombardment of Fort McHenry (I think I got that correct). I therefore do not understand how singing it compromises in any way one's religious beliefs.

    June 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • UncleSim

      Well, they obviously don't have a problem with singing the song, as they did it for a year. They seem to have a problem with its ritualization... singing it before EVERY sporting event. It is the ritualization of the singing that makes it religious.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  17. Pitboss

    So how did you guys handle the draft, historically speaking? Do your sons not fight for their country? I am Christian and I too prefer more peace and less war. But I would give my life for the freedoms which you and I both enjoy, and I hold in highest estem those who have done so before me and are still doing so daily.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Nick

      Historically, anabaptists are some of the most dedicated pacifists the world has ever seen. Agree wit their beiefs or not, it's still something to see men and woman burned and drowned because they refuse to fight back. In America this radical pacifism has led Mennonites Sometimes to court for avoiding the draft. To answer your question, no they don't serve.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Joshua

      what you're saying isn't that you will give your life to protect liberty but instead you are willing to take life to protect your liberty.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Jules

      I dated a Mennonite once and we were talking about the wars and what he would do if hypothetically there was a draft again. He said he would be proud to serve the U.S. but as a conscientious objector in a non-combat capacity.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • UncleSim

      Our freedoms are at least as much defended by those who survived the attacks on their freedoms, as those who died in their defense. To limit all patriotic respect to some dead caste, or the definition of 'defenders of freedom' to American soldiers seems overly simplistic. Every time anyone resists violence of any kind, imho, they are defending freedom. Things like the draft are unjust because it is rightly seen as involuntary servitude, which is a form of violence against the individual deprived of their freedom to abstain. So, their resistance to the draft, in reality, is a living defense of freedom. As respect that, as both a christian and a veteran.

      June 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      How does a Christian not know Christ? They aren't called to kill their enemy but to love their enemy.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  18. Kevin

    This guy is so UNpatriotic, that he needs to get expelled from the country.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  19. RightturnClyde

    My ultimate wish for all of you dissenters and non-participating privilege expecting lazy liberals is that the U.S> government gives you a life of leisure in the south seas (Midway Island) and provide you with placards and fishing poles so you can protest while you catch your own dinner. You can live happily in a commune and you can share and share-alike and practice what you preach .. but that there are no round trip tickets. You go - you stay - you can call it Haight Ashbury west.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Dolores

      And that has what to do with this article?

      June 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Kevin

      Totally agree RightturnClyde. These dissenters are like bad little kids, who want all the privileges but none of the responsibilities/duties of being an American and a part of American society.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • rizzo

      Sounds like a plan, where do I sign up? Can I bring a couple cows? I like seafood but sometimes a guy just needs a good burger...

      Anyhow, way to stick to your principles, Goshen, I'm behind you 100%!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • eltrip

      sounds like someon either did not read the article or do not know what mennonites are.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Midway Island is in the North Pacific. How stirringly patriotic of you not to know that.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • frank

      A jingoist who doesn't know basic WWII history. Awesome!

      June 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  20. Franque

    It's not even a good song.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:50 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.