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. Darren

    And meanwhile, the Atheists just sit back and laugh at the squabbling theists.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:40 am |
  2. leftover

    Most "patriots" in the U.S. couldn't recite the lyrics to the anthem, much less demonstrate any knowledge of its origins. Just as most "Christians" in the U.S. couldn't recite The Ten Commandments or tell you why Ananias and Sapphira "gave up the ghost." They just adorn themselves with the labels like they were fine clothes and jewelry and mimic their favorite icon without any real knowledge of what it means to be a Patriot or a Christian. Not so with the Mennonites I have encountered. I don't think the pastor gives a very good account of the Anabaptist tradition or Mennonite history in the U.S.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • Rodney

      B'B'B'Boooooring... go play in the woods. or help an old lady cross the street its good for yeee

      June 26, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  3. Bob Ramos

    When presented by the question, "Who do we owe alligence to, Ceasar or God." Jesus asked for a coin. When given one. he asked, whose face is on one side. They replied God. He then asked whose face was on the other side. They replied Ceasar. Then Jesus said, "Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's and render unto God what is God's." Further, he taught that His Kingdom was not of this world. With all of that, why cannot these folks understand that what is being asked for is to honor a right that men/women have bled for and died for.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Paul

      Wow Bob, you got that story completely wrong, but point taken.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • Rodney

      Let me be 100% honest when saying that I could care less about this conversation at all, I'm 23 I just got out of the army I hate my life and I hat 90% of the people I encounter. Is this my fault? Is this just the way I perceive. Too bad I wish this to be true. I see what I see on a daily basis. People caring for all the wrong things. Wanting acceptance from the "cool" "attractive" parties. When all you want deep in side is acceptance for you. For all the others that want more, with a greedy mentality I wish you death, Quick certain death. You may picture a fat, lonely, depressed man, when in reality I'm actually 100 times more socially acceptable than the lot of you. Fu-ck you if you don't put others 49% before yourself and keep that last 51% for you. If you don't get what I mean Fu-ck you..

      June 26, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • Rob

      Rodney. You are justified to feel the way you feel. You are alsio correct about this greedy wicked world. The Christian life should have nothing to do with this greedy world and its evil corrupt governments. Look to the Jesus of the scriptures (not the Jesus of our greedy churches) and you will find peace.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • Brian

      Rodney...Man you need some therapy a BJ and some time off...not neccesarily in that order. I would get some help otherwise you are a few days away from biting a bullet.... Go get laid and take a walk in the park or something....you are screaming out for help on a blog where no one hears your pain....go walk in the sun and try and relax....call your parents an old friend anything....

      June 26, 2011 at 6:07 am |
    • Rodney

      Rob, for this man seek no faith. Faith had stripped me of who I was and what I was to be.. How many nights can a man pray his soul to a "god" that can't bare to show his face, let alone help the weak, prey the wicked..

      June 26, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  4. felixblock

    rather than by man-made, blood-soaked borders.
    I am a jew, probably agnostic, meaning that I do not know. However your sentence above, I heartily agree with.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:31 am |
    • Brian

      Proclaiming yourself a Jew first and then saying you are Agnostic are two different things...Which is it? If you Mother finds out you are so going to have to read the Torah for a month.

      June 26, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  5. dano973

    If you are a college and don't want to play our anthem, that's fine. But if you adhere to 'the separation of church and state' to that same degree, you should be willing to denounce any tax incentives or gov't grants you receive as well. Otherwise be greatful you have a country (the land within whose borders you live not your church) that supports your autonomy. Many countries would not put up with your Christian Taliban mentalities. Hypocracy knows no denomination folks.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • kimmi

      I so agree with you, and even if one person in that school uses any kind of federal or state funding they should be a shamed of themselves.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:36 am |
    • matt123456789

      So if you are saying they should not accept any tax incentives or subsidies, I guess by the same logic they should not have to pay any taxes either? Wow, good one. I guess they should be ashamed to be paying taxes. SIlly comments.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Rob

      dano973 I agree. I want nothing to do with our governments and I want none of their money or incentives. My wealth comes not from cesar but from Christ. He gives me all I need. I don't nee anything from governments that are working against the commandments of Christ. Patriosm is IDOLOTRY.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:11 am |
  6. bill

    Goshen College accepts federal funding! So much for separation of church and state, huh?

    When you stop feeding off the government teat, then tell us about the pledge of allegiance.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • BJ

      Correction, nowhere in the article did I read that Goshen College or Mennonites are anarchists....

      June 26, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  7. Hotdog11

    I can appreciate you wanting to live your values. If our country all became Mennonites and took that line of thought America would cease to exist in about 30 days. (Choose one of many), Group X, Country Y or Religion Z would rush to take control of this country and force the people to their standards, values and religion. Probably not what you want. You fail to appreciate the true heroics of our Countries Founding Father's insight to establish a Country so great on principles never before held in leadership that American Values and Culture gave you the privledge to establish your ogranization to the standards you now enjoy. Understand our Country had growing pains, but we are all better off because of America is "Land of the Brave, Home of the Free".

    June 26, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • Fianna

      Hey Hotdog, if you're going to quote it, get it right. We're the land of the free and the home of the brave. If you're going to wack on people for not being patriotic enough, why not try actually learning the words to the song in question before you question someone else's patriotism.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  8. James

    You are correct. Our Spirit Essence is purely Divine. We all carry the Divine...all of us, all of us, all of us. Our goal is to return to "the Garden" by living as One on this "planet of distress" and polarities (Anne Katherine Emmerich's words...look her up). May God bless you for your Holy Words and your courage to write them.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:27 am |
    • Hmmm

      And may the flying spaghetti monster bless you too. Unless, you don't believe in him. In which case, he will fry in boiling hot tomato sauce for all of eternity. Because he loves you!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  9. trueamerican2012

    Oh boy! Another sect of fundamentalist whackjobs...

    They're no better than the Taliban...

    June 26, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • BJ

      These are your neighbors and countrymen, not terrorists or your enemies. Get a grip.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • freethinker

      Interesting – the man provides a remarkably compelling dissertation about his belief and it's application in this respect, and that's your answer? Whatever happened to freedom to worship as you wish – is that OK as long as it conforms to your extremely narrow, biased and generally uninformed view? He made no attack on you – however, his dissenting voice has made you realize that the flag you wrap yourself in not only covers your eyes and ears of reason, but has long deprived your brain of the oxygen necessary for logic, balance and compassion.

      Land of the free – indeed. One could get the impression that your values are based on a premise so thin and groundless that you can only cast aspersions at people different from you. Some would call that bigotry...

      June 26, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • Leo

      You are right. These are OUR Fundamentalists. Aren't ours great? Peaceful, loving, apolitical, pacifists. Do not compare our Fundamentalists with other countries' Fundamentalists.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  10. tyshon

    U are a jerk

    June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  11. Christian B

    Its sad for me to see that in the name of god some people are refusing to pay a little respect for to the contry and its flag.
    I am Israeli and this bad thing is happening here also. In few years you"ll see groups of americans that will deny the flag also and all of this in the name of GOD
    But the"ll continue to recieve money from the goverment.......
    Sad...very sad

    June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Rob

      As a follower of Christ I say you are the sad one. Your churches have supported every war in the Name of Christ. You mainstream christians are murders who know nothing about Jesus. Patriotism is IDOLOTRY.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • matt123456789

      "But the"ll continue to recieve money from the goverment......."

      And they will continue paying taxes to the government......

      June 26, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  12. Seidan1

    Great, while we're at this separation of church and state thing lets get rid of the words "under god" from the Pledge of Allegiance and the words "in god we trust" from our currency.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • Hmmm

      That's actually a great idea.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:24 am |
    • jimmy the freak

      You've got my vote!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • Shaman

      The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August of 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister. Bellamy was a Christian Socialist who expressed the ideas of his cousin, Edward Bellamy (author of "Looking Backward" and "Equality"). The Pledge was first published in "The Youth's Campaign". Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. He prepared a program for Columbus Day in 1892 and structured it around a flag raising ceremony and his Pledge.

      His original Pledge read as follows: 'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' He considered placing the word, 'equality,' in his Pledge, but knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. [ * 'to' added in October, 1892. ]

      June 26, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • dano973

      Maybe you should both go live in China... they have a pretty good 'separation of church and state' thing going.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Shaman

      From 1923 onward, there were some changes made to the Pledge that Bellamy protested (but no one seemed to care). In 1954, after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, Congress added the words, 'under God,' to the Pledge. The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. That would not have pleased Bellamy, according to his granddaughter.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • BJ

      You have your debit and credit cards, right? Go check the back and front of them a few times just to make sure all of your plastic "money" is completely God free. Then let me know if you feel better.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  13. Chris

    Oh, so its bad to remove God from the pledge of the allegiance, but its ok to remove the national anthem from a religious campus? I don't care if you think your religion is unique and can do whatever it pleases; nowadays, treating your religion like a country is ridiculous.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • BJ

      These are the kind of thoughts that are so completely wrong, and completely ignorant, about religion that lead to religious persecution time and time again throughout history.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:36 am |
  14. Andy

    Jesus said "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you". Mennonites and Amish, at least some, do that. I for one would have difficulty loving my enemy while shooting him and sending him straight to hell–which is why I have walked away from the "God and country" approach to Christianity several years ago.

    Mennonites are among the countries most productive citizens and do indeed pay taxes. This productivity is due in part to the fact that many Mennonites eschew entertainment as a form of worldliness. If you look at charitable organizations, you will find Mennonite organizations near the top in terms of the percentage of the money that actually goes to the field (and size, for that matter).

    Whether you like to admit it or not, the “freedoms” we like to talk about are gifts of God. They were won at least as much by hard work, organization, diligence, integrity and industry as by military prowess. Learn a lesson from Sodom, who’s sins were “pride, and fullness of bread, and abundance of leisure, neither did they strengthen the hands of the poor and needy”—if only ten righteous had been in those cities, they would have been spared God’s judgment.

    Mennonites pray for our country, for its peace, prosperity, and leadership, and yes Godliness.

    Many Mennonites consider themselves to be “ambassadors for Christ” who therefore cannot take more than an advisory role in the running of our country. When you see an exodus or persecution of Mennonites and Amish and other Godly people, then flee to the mountains, for God’s Judgment is at hand.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • Hmmm

      oooohhh nurseeee..........

      June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  15. patriot

    if you dont want to sing the national anthem, then get out to this beloved country

    June 26, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Bob

      Get out of the country because they won't sing a song we've all heard 10000 times? Harsh.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:24 am |
    • Rob

      A typical ignorant response. If you dont want to live by gods churches standardsthen you should get out of the country. All governments are evil tools of satan. We are now seeing how they are moving fast to desatroy the poor, support the rich and introduce every evil lifestyle that god opposes.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Rob

      A patriot or just another American war monger murder?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • David

      Patriot, these people are loyal to GOD before COUNTRY. Something you cannot understand?

      June 26, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • Get Out

      I can't sing because of throat cancer caused by serving my country. So I don't want to sing, but you want me to leave?
      Why don't you leave? I served to make sure I had freedom of choice. I didn't serve just so some Nazi-wannabe's could make a big deal out of someone not saying the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the National Anthem.
      Take your puny fascist ass and get out of my country!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:27 am |
    • Slash

      Blind patriotism is just as dangerous as blind faith.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:33 am |
    • StreetJustice

      Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, but, at other times and places, the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. [p641] As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, US Supreme Court, 1943.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:37 am |
    • Jon Potter

      I am sick and tired of anyone or group who refuses to assimilate in America. We have a flag, a pledge of allegiance, and; we have a national anthem. If you chose not to learn them, are not proud of them, refuse to partipate in any one of them-get out of OUR country.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  16. Rob

    Finally a church gets it. We must be no part of the political world. Eventually the worlds governments will turn on the churches and reveal themselves to be the enemy of god. Seperation of church and state is for the good of the church...so that we are not involoved in satans governments. Good for you for not being involved with our evil immoral ungodly governments.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • dano973

      Rob, America is just about the only govenrment on the planet that allows churches the autonomy they enjoy. Try this in Russia or China. My family came here 300 years ago because they were Protestant and were kicked out of France (which was Catholic). Ask them how they feel about America? They would and your families would have been killed in Europe like so many. So the country that people seeking religious freedom founded, is now the 'evil' country you wish to abandon...explain please.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:39 am |
    • Rob

      dano973 America allows freedom FOR NOW> Sooon the whole world will turn against the true followers of christ,...thos who do not follow the beast – the greed , immorality, and general evil. Gay marriage is a plague. So NY state is an enemy of God.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:55 am |
  17. Herp Derp

    You know in most rational countries when you talk to yourself on a constant basis they put you in a mental facility...

    June 26, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • Heep O

      What countries are those? It sure ain't this one.

      June 26, 2011 at 5:31 am |
    • Herp Derp

      Hence why I said rational....

      June 26, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  18. Kyle

    You know, you are right. Many countries financially support college programs, or students (generally from their country) to attend. And ANY program or person who receives money for their education SHOULD show some appreciation to the person/people/country that provided it. Every politician in the US belongs to a religion or believes in a god, so your claim is simply wrong, deceitful, or ignorant, and I'm betting you're not THAT ignorant.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  19. Al

    So basically you're saying F you to the people who came up with, defended, and died for the ideals of this country. The ideals that allow you to practice your beliefs freely. Guess what, F you too.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  20. SpasticSpork

    and i believe Jesus said "pay ceasar's things to ceasar and god's thing to god so thats a seperation of church and state

    June 26, 2011 at 5:16 am |
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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.