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. Jupiter79

    What about when Jesus said render unto caeser what is caeser's and unto god what is god's? Did Jesus himself recognize that there are earthly dominions run by secular powers? Nobody is saying worship the Flag or the US, but to obey its laws, and work to make it stronger and better. If you are religious, most likely you respect and desire social order in the form of good government since not everyone will be of your faith, while at the same time believing that earthly dominions will eventually pass away when judgment comes.

    Finally, separation of church and state does not mean keeping religion or the religious out of politics, from what i understand, it meant that no religion would be held up by the government as "The Church." If we really seek to diversify and enlighten ourselves, then religious as well as non-religious peoples should be welcomed in government.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • ertheedman

      Jupiter – did you know that Mennonites and other pacifists served this country by working in jobs that were vacated by those in the military, They built roads, tested dairy herds, they built portions of the blue ridge parkway, just to name a very few projects. We still do serve this country. Long after the Feds have left the people affected by Katrina the Mennonites are still there, still building, still working to restore peole lives. Some of the first people on sight after this springs tornados in the south, were Mennonites. I will never denegrate a person who chooses to serve in the military, but there are more ways to serve this country (or the people in this country) then joining the military.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  2. joey

    nobody tells me what to do, not even me !

    June 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  3. Consultofactus

    There is a cult of Christianity that I call "hippie cult Jesus". They profess belief in a tri-une God, but forget that belief when it comes to Jesus. You see as a true Christian I believe Jesus is just as present in the God Head as is God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus too, is the Alpha and Omega. So Jesus was present when David killed Goliath, beheaded him and left his body to the birds of the field (I Samuel). Yes, Jesus commands you to love your enemy but doesn't command you to do so by making yourself a willing victim for every tyrant that comes your way.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      You just messed that all up. Then you added to Jesus words. Jesus said to love your enemies. What don't you understand about that? Jesus could have killed his attackers but he prayed for mercy on them. Paul was beheaded. We are called to suffer persecution unto death. Don't be a coward. Be ready to die for the Kingdom of Heaven. We don't use weapons of this world.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Chris

      As a "real Christian" (which means follower of Jesus), I thought you would understand when Jesus said that he came to bring a new covenant. The new covenant means love your enemy, not kill them. It's harder to be a man of peace than a man of violence, but it's worth it.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  4. Hepsy

    Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
    Mark 12:17

    June 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Mei

      Good point Hepsy. As a Catholic, I respect the country I live in and will sing the national anthem. I won't condone laws that say immoral practices are good, because THAT would go against my Faith. But honoring your country does not dishonor God. Jesus certainly understood the world and its divisions.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      He meant taxes. Taxes can be used for the benefit of all. Jesus was not telling his disciples to worship idol gods like a country or nationalism.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  5. Aaron

    As a recent graduate of Goshen College I am disappointed in the ways that people have come down upon a choice that we have been making since our founding in 1894. As an American citizen I pay taxes and abide by all of the laws that everyone else does. Exercising my freedom of choice and religion is something I appreciate. By not playing a wartime song before our sporting events does not make us any less American than anyone else. Goshen College is a great school where I built lifelong friendships and learned important life values that I will carry forever. I appreciate this pastor sharing the both intelligent and informative points on the issue.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      God Bless you Aaron. As a Christian, I stand in support of you and Goshen.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  6. Carl

    If you pledge your allegiance to Jesus alone, then you should renounce your citizenship and go live with him in his country – Palenstine.
    This is only the ranting of yet another religious extremist kook. There is absolutely not one iota of difference between you and your beliefs and that of the Taleban.
    To have faith is a respectable thing – but you religious self-righteous types need to understand that this is an article of FAITH and not rational FACT. You believe in something that in all statistical probability is not true, and in which there is ZERO physical evidence or proof of any kind. There is as much proof of the ressurection as there is Zeus flinging lighting bolts from Mount Olympus,
    Therefore you MUST respect the laws of reality, allegiance to country, etc. that the rest of us live by

    June 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Chris

      The Taliban believe in killing people in the name of Allah, this Pastor believes in loving people in the name of Jesus. How exactly is that the same belief system? It sounds like the opposite to me. Just wondering.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • LivingInOhio

      I find it interesting that these Mennonites are making a free and legal decision to not sing the national anthem in a country that gives them that choice but then you tell them they MUST do things the way you think they should. I don't know about the rest of the readers, but you sound more like the Taliban than they do. As the articles author mentioned, Mennonites support the separation of church and state which is not in ANY way what the Taliban want. They want to impose Sharia law. I wish people would read and think a little bit more before spouting their hate.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Carl hates Christians! That's okay Carl. We still love you.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Jeremy.

      The very foundations of the country to which we pledge allegiance is rooted in the belief of free speech. Therefore, I am fine with this individual deciding to not say the pledge. A law does not exist requiring a born citizen to say the pledge of allegiance to be granted their citizenship. As far as there being no proof of God, I suppose that depends on what you mean by proof. If you mean a tangible being with white robes and a voice like James Earl Jones then yes, I suppose you would be correct that there is no God. I have seen many convincing proofs that a omnipotent being could actually exist. As far as statistic probability goes, God isn't any less likely of an outcome than spontaneous evolution or the creation of something from nothing. Finally, Jesus himself didn't say his country was Israel or Palestine. Rather, his own countrymen handed him over to the Romans to be killed because he wasn't patriotic and would not throw the yoke of Rome off of his country. They charged him with sedition and treason that even Pilate (A historically bloodthirsty ruler) found no evidence of. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world and his followers didn't truly belong to it either.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  7. Ken

    As for the article, I'm not a religous scholar nor in any way shape or form an expert on the Bible or Jesus, but I do not remember him preaching against, nor prohibiting any of his followers from becoming citizens of any country and following they're laws and practices (provided they are not contrary to his teachings.) In the US, you are allowed to not sing the National Anthem, pray, or not pray as you like, and live your life as you wish provided it does not interfre with anyone else's individual rights. That's what those described in the words of the Star Spangled Banner have fought and died to protect FOR YOU.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Chris

      John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

      June 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose


      This pastor is not violating any laws. I'm not what point your trying to make but Jesus did teach against worshiping idol gods like nations. Pledging allegiance to a flag and singing the national anthem is idolatry.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  8. TigiOma

    GwT: Doesn't Jesus get grilled by the Church Elders about taxes? His reponse, "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Pretty clearly, he thought the taxes were Caesar's (government) & if Caesar (government) wants it back, give it back. Not QUITE sure what the 1st Amendment has to do with not paying your taxes. Guess if their house catches on fire they don't get the fire department..no taxes paid...no services for you...

    June 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  9. Don Beyeler

    You couldn't have stated it much better! Thanks for being courageous in these days when dissent for some is a sign of being unpatriotic. "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism" as stated by one of my mentors – Professor Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment. ... Is good to hear from the pastor of the former Kindig Church (Springdale). Shalom

    June 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  10. The Selfish Gene ...Simmons

    Why I think we should be talking the economy and future of this country over who sings what and why? I don't care.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Doc

      All I have to say about the seperation of Church and State is that if you strongly believe that, then stop taking Federal funds to prop up your failing church. Pay your own way, then sing what you want.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  11. Zelda

    I hope Mennonites remember every Christian has civil responsibility to influence the nation to keep godly laws and upright custom as its citizen.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Ethan

      This comment makes me sick.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      A M E N !

      June 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Ethan

      "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

      June 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • LivingInOhio

      Um, I think the Mennonites would agree more with Ethan. Recall the part of the article where the author mentions Anabaptists being persecuted by both Catholic and Protestant Christians alike using the powers of the state. The Taliban believe they have Godly laws too and will do some pretty terrible things to you if you don't obey. Separation of church and state is critical to freedom of religion. Folks, the First Amendment wasn't written by a bunch of atheists.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  12. Kanelle

    I don't think a GAME should be a situation in which our national pride should be displayed anyways. I believe it should be during the 4th of July, Memorial day, during a vet's funeral, offical functions of state (to remind certain politically stationed individuals why they are in office) and other such occasions. It's sending out the wrong message to impressionable people that these GAME players are the best of society when basically their glorified Chess pieces who give nothing back except some entertainment (and occasionally some time with charity work, usually for the tax breaks though). In my eyes it somehow cheapens what those songs mean.

    My viewpoint of religion and government is the same however. Religion has no place in government because quite frankly it should be kept on a higher level. Government is allowed to be changed... a religious text and such should not be. If a religious text started to be the defining backing to any government politicans (among others) would in fact twist the religion to fit their viewpoints. Just look at the middle east. Look at the dozens and dozens of diffrent Christian religious secs out there. That's what Henry the 8th did. He twisted it to his view and many many people died later on because of the wars that were sparked because of it.

    In other words if you believe in "Thou shall not kill" then don't support the death penalty but don't go around expecting people to carve the words in public buildings on tax payers money.

    At least that's my two cents.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Ken

      Kanelle, the Code of the National Anthem, set forth by Congress, that the National Anthem be performed prior to the start of public gatherings, such as meetings, ceremonies, concerts, sporting events, etc. As a musician, I play the National Anthem prior to any and all of my public concerts and appearances at sporting events.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Kanelle

      *shrug* Just because it's in a code somewhere doesn't lessen my feelings that it cheapens the meaning behind the songs. It just doesn't feel right to have it before a game where a large group of men compete for money (and that is what they are doing in the long run).

      I just feel that those songs should be reserved for situations in which we actually think about the people that have died and/or dedicated their lives to something alittle more meaningful then giving another a concussion.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  13. Mike

    As a practicing Mennonite of over 20 years I find his expression of refusing to sing our National Anthem regrettable and confusing. The more liberal elements of the Mennonite church have long been associated with not only anti Americanism, but feminism, gender neutral Bibles, and other liberal causes as well. This happen when we think too much of ourselves and regard what we do before God as being more important than it is. There is nothing in the commonly sung first verse of the Star Spangled Banner that remotely could be construed to be in conflict with Mennonite beliefs. It is true that this is a religion with a world view, but that view is made possible because freedoms gained from our American perspective.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • D1

      This is exactly why we left the Mennonite church over 20 years ago. These liberal ideas took over the church and we didn't want any part of it. To the Mennonite people – these liberal professors and pastors are not smarter than you, they just think they are. They're just liberals.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Your not a Mennonite. Mennonites don't worship countries. They love God too much for that.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Doc

      Freedom of religion is not free either, at least not in the US. Many US citizens paid for your freedom with their lives and to not acknowledge that is stupid. I understand your confusion as the rest of the US is confused also. It is okay to beileve your religion will set you free as long as no one forgets that true freedom comes from the blood of heroes.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose


      Your wrong. Jesus paid for Christians freedom to serve God. Christians have been free to serve God since Jesus resurrection. We are free to serve him in every country. Why? We don't fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. God is able to raise us from the dead. Real Christians will worship God and die, unarmed, serving him. Cowards run to the military for protection. Real Christians worship God and will die when attacked for doing so. Apostle Paul died this way.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Don Beyeler

      Mike, you remind me so much of the younger group of Mennonites without conscription hanging over your heads these days and the threat of being drafted into the terribly destructive, ungodly Vietnam War. You buy into the "fortress America", "city on a hill" concept and can't quite separate your Mennonite thought from "God and Country" idolatry. That's part of what the Reformation was about and the Anabaptist movement. (I myself was baptized in a little Mennonite congregation 50 years ago where one of the deacons in the church during the Civil War (Jacob Hildebrand by name whose diary is published) supported 3 sons that fought in the War. His son, Gideon, was killed by friendly fire 9 days before the signing at Appomattox.) Sorry, Mike, I love being a progressive/liberal/moderate. It's a badge of courage for me. I think that being tolerate of others (liberal), deeply care for the "poor, the widows, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised" (liberal), cringe at the cruelty imposed on others (liberal), not at all anti-American but believe that God loves all peoples, nations, races equally (liberal). Try not again to put down "liberal" because you don't understand. That is what Jesus was in my definition. So we're thinking too much of ourselves, am I hearing you right? I'll try my best to forgive you for buying into what appears to me to be deeply disturbing non-biblical anti-poor, pro-wealthy greediness so encompassing the conservative right religious and politically oriented in American today. It would be well for you conservatives to repent like the rest of us.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • ertheedman

      Mike – pacifism has been a central tennet for Mennonites since our beginning. It is not a liberal or conservative idea. that is putting a 21st century political stamp on something that is far beyond labels. Pacifism is so cental to our faith since the beginning many people have died because of it. It is so central I am not sure one can be a Mennonite without being a pacifist.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  14. Zelda

    Mennonites are great people. Salt of the earth. Along with the Amish, they should to be protected in USA. Personally, I won't join these denominations because though they may be able to protect the Jews, they won't be able to fight against Nazis. Serveing the same Jesus, we have different priorities and roles. Christian denominations, the authentic Christian ones, have different beautiful strength like different brothers in the same family. We learn from each other.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • ChrisnSanJose

      Brothers in the same family? What Jesus are you reading about? Jesus doesn't advocate violence. Jesus tells us to be ready to die. Why do you think Paul was willingly beheaded? He wasn't a coward. Quit being a coward by hiding behind a worldy military. Be a man in Christ and suffer persecution, even unto death. Christ lived that example.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Chris

      Man, ChrisnSanJose is bringing it on! No holding back there! Sounds like the truth to me brother, I'd just say it a little softer 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • LivingInOhio

      @ChrisNSanJose, WRT violence I am curious to know how Mennonites disregard the armies raised by God in the Old Testament and the description of tribulations in Revelation? I would say that the Bible itself is not always for the faint of heart and the vengeance of God is not something to be taken likely. You say that Jesus doesn't support violence, but yet Jesus says that He and the Father are one. I think it is clear that Jesus is certainly telling us as individuals to push for peace and to be peaceful in our ways, but I would say it is also clear that God at times felt that there was a need for violence. What happened to the Egyptians at the Crossing of the Red Sea for example?

      June 26, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  15. Marie Kidman


    June 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  16. Zelda

    I believe Anabaptists contributed for faster conclusion to establishment of freedom of conscience in the entire world thus the spread of the Kingdom of God(Christianity). Death of saints is precious to God.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • frank

      How unfortunate you're not a saint.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Zelda

      Frank, anyone who genuinely believe in Jesus is positionally saint. You can be one if you give up your evil stupidity and trust in Jesus God's Son for salvation and start a new life.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Chris

      Zelda, saints don't call people stupid. Most of the time.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  17. Greg

    I went to a mennonite college (EMU). I grew up baptist. The mennonites are a confusing group. The are really good at taking care of there own and really try to follow there faith. The problem is they interpret everything in the favor. They are quick to boycott the military, american flags, and national anthems. They will be the first one to use and tax break and take advantage of any farm subsidy they can get. You can't have it both ways.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • GwT

      Yes, you can. Read the First Amendment.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • David

      Sounds like they would be great allies for the illegal mexicants who want the nation anthem and the US Flags removed from our schools.
      All while on public assisted housing, food stamps, WIC, free schools, and school meals. When they are not citizens or have paid a dime in taxes for the services they use.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • TigiOma

      GwT: Doesn't Jesus get grilled by the Church Elders about taxes? His reponse, "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Pretty clearly, he thought the taxes (money) were Caesar's (government) & if Caesar (government) wants it back, give it back. Not QUITE sure what the 1st Amendment has to do with not paying your taxes. Guess if their house catches on fire they don't get the fire department..no taxes paid...no services for you...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Chris

      Mennonites pay their share in taxes, believe me. No one is saying don't pay taxes (although it pains me to pay for our grossly oversized military). Jesus said pay taxes because that's the governments money. I believe he was saying let the government have their money but that's not your Kingdom. Let them do what they want, as for you and your household, follow the Lord.

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

    I feel sorry for Anabaptists. There are many errorneous ways to die for conviction or kill people for wrong reasons everywhere, espcially when religion is intertwined with nationalism or politics. There are certain doctrines Christians must die for, but not every minor doctrine.

    June 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  19. Marsha L. Wilson

    Great article. And may I remind us all that when Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics that the melody he had in mind was a British drinking song with original lyrics toa Greek God who had a fetish for women and wine. Yet another reason that Christians might want to reconsider the melody as a pledge to "God and Country." http://www.colonialmusic.org/Resource/Anacreon.htm

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Ken

      Marsha, if you dig a little deeper you would discover that at the time FS Key wrote the lyrics, there wern't a lot of music composers around. Probably due to the fact that there were few schools of music and pianos were expensive and didn't travel well. It was common pratice to use and reuse familiar music and pair it with new words. The fact is, the music used for the Star Spangled Banner had been used numerous times before in all sorts of songs. It's funny how critics always come back to the British drinking song, just ONE of it's previous uses.

      June 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  20. John

    oh... AND I also feel anyone who changes the National Anthem in order to "make it their own" should be fined steeply!

    June 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • David

      You would love it here in SE Florida...

      The illegals mexicants here are trying to get the US Flag removed along with the US pledge of allegiance from the schools, and have it replaced with the mexicant pledge.

      I went into the front office of the elementary school, and they had to find someone to speak English, I think they finally had to pull a teacher out of a class. Everyone in the front office only spoke spanish. And yes, it s was a Florida Public school...

      June 26, 2011 at 9:38 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.