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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. As Long

    As long as we live in a world where it needs religious fanatics/weirdos to tell good from bad we have a problem.
    Hint: You do NOT need to belong to an odd cult or ominous religion to come to the conclusion that violence, war etc. is BAD.
    It's actually sad that it NEEDS belonging to some weird religious group to voice such an opinion, as if it would need a legitimation backed up by jesus (or god etc.)..otherwise someone (allegedly) is unable to condemn war, violence

    June 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • AModernLocke

      I agree. Its is like when socialist scream that we all should share. Why should we let them tell us what is good and bad?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Amy

      Locke, you're right. Who is to say that having access to medical care is good or bad? Or making sure people have food is a good thing? Those socialists, we get ya every time.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  2. AModernLocke

    "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."

    I suppose this is the same push for socialism that we keep hearing from left leaning churches. The first thing that these people should realize is that social compacts form societies but the nature of the compact determines the nature of the society itself. An agreement to share certain spiritual beliefs that are common to those who entered into the compact is a religion where only those in the compact are obligated to practice that faith. Budist exist in different compacts but civil society is a different compact with different rules designed to protect property and life of each member. Its a capatalist society that provides the right of other social compacts to exist since the authority of the civil society compact ends at preserving life and property. Imagine if the civil compact determined what spiritual beliefs each person would have. That would interfere with a religion's ability to practice its own beliefs since that organization's rules would be in direct conflict with the rules of civil society.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  3. janson kopp

    The national anthem should be sung on the 4th of july. What is the connection of sports games and the anthem in the first place?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Charlie

      Indoctrination.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  4. Rob

    So you wont respect your country enough to sing the anthem. Huh. Seems like your religion is rather un American. It seems to me that you should try to make it up to America some other way, maybe you could just pay more tax.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Pooua

      Respect has nothing to do with their decision. Mennonites have been around for centuries, and this is what they believe. If they don't want to sing, then why must they?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Amy

      Agreed Pooua. Rob you're kind of bossy.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • bobby

      I've known mennonites to serve more often than almost any other group of people. http://mds.mennonite.net/

      June 27, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  5. ED

    This guy is a terd, I wish he had to fight for religious freedom as past generations have done for him. He would cry and run like the little sissy he is.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • GAH!

      The Anabaptist paid for their beliefs long ago, when they were tortured to death for not converting.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Ben I

      he already stated he is a minnonite not a Anabaptist....also the anabaptists were in central europe when calvin and luther hunted them down back in the 1500's or so....this has nothing to do with america. with your comparison you might as well be asking for 40 acres and a mule or something

      i do not understand this at all, if America is providing the religous freedom that your ancestors so desperately LACKED...then why not celebrate the country providing them too you...your people should be proud to sing our national anthem every single day and put their hands over the hearts without hesitation or evasion.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Chris

      You mean like that little sissy that Jesus was?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Ben I

      @ chris...elaborate please. otherwise it is just insulting and in poor taste.

      and to the original post i do not understand what your saying....we as a nation have never taken the battle field for religious freedom...never once have fought a battle for another country impeding on our peoples right to pray to whoever.

      so like so many comments on here it is empty and you are speaking with your heart and not your brain.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Chris

      Sorry, typing may not denote the sarcasm in my previous comment. Ed figures that not to fight for freedom is like a crying sissy. Jesus did not fight and bought us all freedom from sin. He was no crying sissy. It's easier to fight than to turn the other cheek. I have plenty of experience in this concept and it builds friends out of enemies.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  6. Amy

    The majority of people responding are missing the point. Annoying. I disagree with the author of this piece. I love my country immensely and Jesus; I don't believe the two contradict each other. However a lot of the public are being unfair and mean. The man was just explaining in the least argumentative way possible how his beliefs cause his actions to go against the norm of society. Everyone just needs to calm down. This doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate living in a "free" country or that Christianity is evil. Oh my ignorant fellow country people, even though you're annoying and dumb, you have a right to be here just as much as the author of this article does.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Mike D

      that's cause your a pseudo-christian, like 99.9% of then, and christianity and jesus makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Details, schmetails.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Amy

      I know.That feeling good and loving others is so overrated.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Mike D

      Yeah, those would be my picks if I were in the Jesus cafeteria 😀

      June 27, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Amy

      Here's the kicker: Per my beliefs, I can't judge, you only God can; I'm just as imperfect as you therefore I'm cool with whatever people believe.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Mike D

      ya know, I'm starting to like you :). that's pretty cool. I don't think christianity is necessary for that, but cool nonetheless.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  7. Ben I

    why, are people so quick to throw away everything that made america american.......them not singing the national anthem just as he said in his article many alumni faculty and students diasagreed with is just another example of the disrespect that continues today. it really is frustrating that the country that provides the religous freedom that keeps you from getting burned at the stake and drowned for not changing your convictions, you turn around now and crap on in 2011 after 116 years of being american?????????????????????? it really is an outrage to me...but what do i expect today....

    June 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Chris

      Yea, young people these days. If it were only like the good ol' days. When slave labor was cheap, we could just erradicate the native population that stood in the way of progress, women would mind their own business and do as they were told. Ahh, the perfect founding of a perfect country.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • GAH!

      Um... The State only exists through the common consent of the governed. A state that exists only through subjugation of the general populace is not legitimate. Perhaps you should listen to the pacifist; you need his lesson.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Pooua

      Goshin University sung the national anthem for only 1 year out of its 116 year history. They aren't showing disrespect by going back to their 115 years of tradition.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  8. Mike D

    To sum up, most of these religious fanatics on here are in a their own little pampered bubble, with no real perspective about how they got in this cozy little bubble. America came out of armed revolution, as with every other government in existence. Our freedoms were fought for, and peace cannot exist without the threat of violence. So if this is about anti-violence, then your naivety knows no bounds. There will always be some people out there who want more. It's a violent, scary world filled with greedy people. Such is human nature, and such is the state of affairs on this Earth. Try explaining that.
    Though on the other hand, for all the blindly pro-military people on here, not many of our military involvements in the past several decades have involved our american freedom whatsoever. That's the propaganda machine at work in this country, and in every country. We're not fighting for freedom hardly, we're fighting for American interests and capitalism. But I whole heartedly feel that American freedoms are precious, and our country's history and what it stands for should not be undermined.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Amy

      You should read up on a man named Gandhi. Most people haven't heard about him. Don't feel bad that you've been out of the loop.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Mike D

      good one. Name one other example.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Amy

      Martin Luther King. He was't that big of deal. He just believed in non-violence and was the leader of the civil rights movement. But ya know, it's whatever

      June 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Mike D

      @amy : I didn't say social change couldn't come about through non-violence. I was talking about the establishment of governments! Get your facts straight plz

      June 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Amy

      Puhhh lease. Diva.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Mike D

      Exactly

      June 27, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Mike D

      It's a heck of a lot easier to change a law than change a government, but just like with the Bible and history, don't worry about the details :p

      June 27, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Amy

      Two Things: 1. The Bible shouldn't be taken literally. 2. I just re-read your original comment. Are you a member of the NRA?

      June 27, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Mike D

      @Amy : The NRA? Heck no. I'm an anti-violent person in a violent world. Think John Lennon Imagine. And yes, he mention "no religion too"

      And the bible shouldn't be taken literally? What should it be taken as then?

      June 27, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  9. Joseph Smith

    It has nothing to do with god. Has anyone taken a look at our currency? You have no problem with spending something that says " in God we Trust". The point is that it is a tradition. I consider myself a more spiritual person, but I have no problem saying the pledge of singing the Nation Anthem. I know it's about Tradition and not trying to convert people to Christianity.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Amy

      Please tell me you're Morman.

      June 27, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • mop

      I would say a lot of people have a problem with "In God we Trust" on our money, it was added to our in 1954 I believe to help push an agenda (feel free to look it all up).

      BTW, This is America, and not liking "In God we Trust" is perfectly American, not wanting to sing the Anthem is also just as American, just because it doesn't make you happy and you want to voice your opinion about it makes you just as much an American as well.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  10. Dalton

    This has to be a right-wing quandary, doesn't it? On one hand, these are decent, white, hard-working and God-fearing people that the Tea Party types should love. On the other hand, they don't what to participate in the constant flag waving and war warship that is so prevalent. So what to do? Love 'em or hate 'em?

    June 26, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Terry

      These people are pus-ys plain and simple just like you.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Pooua

      I don't see any reason that the Right Wing couldn't accept Mennonites. Pacifism isn't forbidden. However, the Mennonite groups I've known don't vote and don't take part in politics, beyond making appeals for tolerance or requests for freedom. So, it isn't like the Mennonites are going to join any political party. So, your question is moot.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Ben I

      this makes absolutely no sense and is pointless. very weak stab at that political party.

      i consider myself a moderate who leans to the right b/c of my christian values, but with that being said it is refreshing to see that the tea party at least stands for something. what do the republican and democratic parties really stand for today???? absolutely nothing more than saying if you are a southern person or a christian vote republican and if you are a northern person or free love everybody get along kind of person vote democrat......no its crap.

      half the people who say they are republican and democrat have no clue what they are really standing for...at least 3/5's of them get most of the party's moral compass confused or flat out wrong....at least the tea party has the gumption to say we are this and believe in that...whether they are "right" or "wrong" is really not important b/c how our america is now compared to just 20 years ago is completely different and virtually everything morally that people thought was wrong then...is right now....

      if you believe our founding fathers are resting easy, and our ww1 and ww2 vets are at peace with how our country is shaping itself today you are truly truly a small person.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Dalton

      Terry, you have a way with words. Whatever you think of me, whatever you think of the author of this piece, neither of us are going anywhere. At least he put some thought into what he had to say before he wrote it.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  11. Ted

    While I respect this man's belief, this just another example of our country getting soft. If you look at history all great civilizations ended after generations get softer and more complacent. It's not wrong it's just human nature.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • GAH!

      Uh... Long time ago, the Anabaptists were asked by the state to answer a simple question: Convert or Die? Most chose Die. Rejection of the State's authority is a long tradition of Anabaptists; long before the United States existed.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Chris

      Ted, often the great empires lost out because they over stretched themselves with military conflict and conquest. So much so that they were stretched too thin and couldn't maintain their greed and colapsed. At least with the Roman and British Empires. Maybe they were too hard?

      June 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Nancy

      Many complacent people sing the national anthem. Singing a symbolic song at baseball games is easy to do. The writer shows courage and strength of conviction. Let's save our outrage for truly outrageous actions.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  12. Pooua

    I appreciate the explanation. I've attended several services at several Mennonite places of worship, as I looked for an alternative to my own upbringing as an Independent Baptist. I don't agree with the Mennonite's refusal to take part in any governmental offices or functions, but I appreciate their conscientiousness. It does not bother me that they choose not to sing the national anthem in their school. It does bother me that they have no answer for maintaining society other than everyone adopting a pacifistic, non-offensive life. This is only one area of wrong-headedness that runs through the Anabaptist strain, and must result in occasional catastrophic breakdowns, both within their groups and in society in general.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  13. Lol

    There is no god !!!!!!!!!!

    June 26, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  14. Grant Walter

    I dont understand why so many people are hating on him for writing this article. He is not imposing his beliefs on anyone, he is simply saying what he believes and why, a freedom that our country is blessed to have. Sounds kinda cheesy I know, but I just hear the lyrics to that song Where Is The Love? by the Black Eyed Peas. Fostering hate does not do any good, it just makes people more hateful.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  15. Dan

    Blood soaked boarders? I agree that "Man" has gone too far, however those blood soaked boarders were fought by men who gave their lives so that we could have religious freedom. I can't help but think if no one fought Hitler, how many would have died for their "beliefs".

    June 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Dan

      I don't think asking to honor a coutry and people who died for your religous freedom too much to ask for.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • ian

      Ignoring Godwin's Law for a moment – you're forgetting that the USA was content to ignore Hitler until after Pearl Harbor caused it to join in WWII. Most of Europe considers WWII to have started in 1939...

      June 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  16. Chris

    Thanks for the article! 100% agreement! As a Christian I want to see our country succeed and prosper but not at the expense of my morals. There are a lot of ways to rid the world of evil without killing people. In fact, in the long run, turning the other cheek will be a better road to peace than killing the "enemy". Every Iraqi and Afghan person we kill just makes another family want to return the favor to us. Turning the other cheek is painful in the short term, and takes an extra measure of spiritual discipline but it's better in the long run. I know from experience.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  17. fantasticiquattro

    "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."

    Fine. Move to Saudi Arabia. We will see how much freedom your "cross" grants you there.

    I think such an act would show us how sincere Mr. Schloneger is in his belief that freedom comes from a unseen God.

    It is my belief that the national anthem is a totally unnecessary ritual that serves no real purpose. We as Americans do not need to prove or display our love of country. To think that we do is eerily similar to Nazi or Communist thinking. The same holds for the pledge of the allegiance.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  18. CQ Florida

    Jehovah Witnesses believe the same thing. Mennonites aren't the only ones that follow the bible like real Christians should. But you are right, it is rare.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Chris

      Thanks for the positive comment, now you just have to follow the Bible alone, instead of the Watchtower 🙂

      June 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Mike D

      @CQFlorida : I agree that most Christians are non-christians essentially, and I do give props to people who try to follow their religion to a T, instead of the cafeteria style hippocrits, and the religious offshoots. though I don't think it's possible to be a true christian, to be honest. The religion goes way too much against human nature, though it's certainly a nice ideal, however unattainable.
      And Chris makes a good point, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  19. Joe

    If it wasn't for the nation that flag stands for Mennonites probably would have been exterminated by now... shame they don't believe in it.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Chris

      They tried to exterminate the Christians in the early Church but because of their determination, they just got stronger. You can't kill love brother!

      June 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Pooua

      If it weren't for nations using lethal force to protect Mennonites from harm, the Mennonites would have gone the way of the Albigensians. No group of people on this Planet has ever survived contact with outsiders without the eventual use of lethal force in their defense. Those who had no weapons are either extinct or so well hidden they might as well be extinct.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Chris

      Pooua, The Christians in the early church continually died for following Jesus' teachings of love and non-violence. After 300 years of this they spread all over the known world while being killed for their faith. It's when they got all mixed up in the worldly governments that they lost their flavor. Started rellying on the worlds military and were seduced by power and wealth.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  20. demogal

    I don't sing it either. It's too hard to sing. Plus I find it too militaristic. I think "American the Beautiful" should be our national anthem.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Andacar

      Frankly I agree, though no doubt my opinion makes me a disloyal tovarooch. The main problem I've always had with The Star Spangled banner is that it never once mentions the word America in it. It also asks a question that never gets answered.

      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
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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.

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