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. Jake S

    People like you are the reason people are turned off to religions. Crazy views, weird and un American.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • Drito

      You couldn't be farther from the truth. The Pledge of Allegiance should not contain any reference to God. Our nation should be secular while at the same time protecting the rights of everyone to practice whatever religion they chose and their freedom of expression.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Alex

      God.. Simply doesnt exist.. there is absolutely no evidence to support the fact that he does.. However there are thousands of pieces of evidence that he doesnt... We are all afraid of death; its unnatural not to fear it. However, we shouldnt be living our lives based upon illusion. Communal experience is also not reliant on religion. Instead of church, go bowling, to the movies, to a rock concert, so on.. I dont see the reason in diluting ourselves with illogical nonsense like praying to a magical man in the sky...

      June 27, 2011 at 3:55 am |
  2. Mike

    Jose` can you see.....

    June 27, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  3. Rixides

    Mark Schloneger wrote, "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: "

    Which is easy enough to type stiing in your comfy study in the safety of Virginia. See how far your self-righteous blather gets you in Golan Heights or Iran.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Zee

      What's the Golan Heights got to do with it? that's a political issue not a religious one. Iran I can understand, to a certain degree, although there are Christian Iranians of different denominations. A more fitting reference would have been Saudi...now those guys go too far!

      June 27, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  4. brian

    its people like you that i cant stand, if it wasnt for men and women in uniform keeping this country free then you would be nothing you never would of had the opportunity to believe in your religion and to not sing the national anthem because it was written about war is one of the dumbest arguments ever, god may have given you freedom but it is the men and women in uniform that make sure you have it for your entire life, when you grow up and become an adult you might realize that wars are a necessary evil.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • Zee

      Sad but true!

      June 27, 2011 at 3:44 am |
    • Tim

      I'm on my way back from a year deployed, I say this with heart-felt conviction. People like this are free to practice their religion as they see fit. I would prefer they do it elsewhere though or actually participate in society in a meaningful way. Not the gross selfishness seen from the author of this article.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:54 am |
    • Brian

      It's pathetic people like you i can't stand...hypocrite

      June 27, 2011 at 4:02 am |
  5. Scott

    The demise of America!

    June 27, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  6. BR

    I think there is nothing wrong here. People in the USA have the right to sing the national anthem and the right to not sing the national anthem–even if it were not a religious issue, which it is here. Freedom of religion is sacrosanct here in the USA, and the Mennonite beliefs that preclude inclusion of the national anthem is perfectly acceptable here.

    Those of you who decry the Mennonite community for not being patriotic are being very narrow-minded. I don't believe participation in singing the national anthem in any way makes us patriotic any more than not singing it makes us non-patriotic. Patriotism can be exhibited in any number of ways. Your way may not necessarily be the same as another's, and that is part of what makes our country special in the first place. Recognition of the freedoms we enjoy is also part of displaying our patriotism.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Rick

      Well said!

      June 27, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  7. Religions are one big pile of dung

    All religions are one big pile of dung. Most ate it; some avoided; others accidentally stepped on!

    June 27, 2011 at 2:52 am |
    • Alla balla bing bong

      I totally agree with you my friend. Religion is the last great plague on mankind. More people have been slaughtered by religion than ww1, ww2, vietnam, Korea, civil war combined.. how messed up is that? the true evil is the church's that divide us

      June 27, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • Josef Coffey

      Yes! I agree! Religion destoys lives.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Jimbo

      Are you being serious? Our great nation that you speak of was founded because of our fore fathers' belief in God. Read some of their speaches. They make it known that they believed in God and that they would run our country with God being put first. Since that time, with each president has come a lesser appreciation of God, and with that we have seen our country go downhill with every passing year. Say what you want about seperation of church and state, but if we put God first in our country, the state will be fine.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  8. F U

    Unappreciative communist. This is America. We take pride in our country.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  9. Turnus

    Name one nation that was not founded out of, or as a result of, a war. You can't. Liberal democracy did not spring from the Earth. People died to get it. You enjoy it. Yet you would rather praise your Easter Bunny god than honor real sacrifice. You sir, are an embarassment.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  10. Nolan

    Whack jobs.... pure, simple-minded whack jobs. The end.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  11. White Knight

    Very interesting article, and very educational. Personally, I disagree with the mindset that we can only be allied to God *or* our country, but this article certainly helped me to better understand and appreciate your beliefs. I do think that those of us who have no problem singing the National Anthem or pledging allegiance to the American Flag can and should work harder to likewise have no problem with those who do have a problem with those things. In other (less confusing) words, I think we can and should be more open, accepting, and welcoming to people like yourself who practice differently things that I hold dear to my heart. Peace is a two-way street. How can we expect to have peace of any kind unless we swallow our pride, tame our emotions, and open our minds and hearts to each other? Again, thank you for this very enlightening article.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • Religions are one big pile of dung

      All religions are one big pile of dung. Most ate it; some avoided; others accidentally stepped on.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • Katie

      Very nicely stated

      June 27, 2011 at 2:53 am |
  12. Chris24

    I can't say I understand the writers position completely but I certainly do respect it. Thanks for sharing it. Best wishes.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  13. Cricket

    The practice of shunning is not biblical or something Jesus would advocate (I believe), yet the Anabaptists use this tool to punish and humiliate members who "sin" against their sect. How is this "Christian?"

    June 27, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  14. MP

    "Now don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

    June 27, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  15. Armored Knight

    Just like Jehova Witnesses who wont participate in the National Anthem, military service, or many other civic functions. This is not what God wants..and you spit in the faces of Americans that died so you can right this arrogant article in the name of Jesus. ..and the fact that you weaseled your way into CNN to explain yourself is a red flag in itself.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  16. Hiruu

    LOL...go form your religious state on some deserted island and you can swear to god, fool!

    June 27, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  17. K38

    I would say you are un-biblical. Jesus said "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's . and render unto God that which is God's.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • stokith

      When Jesus said that, he was referring to paying taxes. Mennonites – Im pretty sure – pay taxes and do everything else they are required to do in the countries in which they live. Jesus didn't say "You have to swear allegiance or sing the praises of your country." Just "Pay your taxes"

      June 27, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Hans

      There is some reason to believe that Caesar owns nothing. Jesus was constantly confounding with his answers, and this looks to be one of those cases. By rendering "that unto Caesar which is Caesars" and that "unto God which is God's" we give God everything and Caesar nothing.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  18. Matt

    “Nationalism’s chief symbol of faith and central object of worship is the flag,” stated author J. Paul Williams. The Encyclopedia Americana says: “The flag, like the cross, is sacred.” The flag is the symbol of the State. Therefore, bowing down to it or saluting it is a religious ceremony that gives reverence to the State. Such an act ascribes salvation to the State and does not harmonize with what the Bible says about idolatry.

    Because of their understanding of the Bible, many make a personal decision to refrain from participating in the flag salute and in the singing of patriotic songs.


    June 27, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  19. JY

    The reason why American is a great country is because our nation guarantee the liberty for each of our citiizens to practice their faith and their convictions, as long as those practices are not against the law of the land. The Mennonites have the right to practice their faith as they see fit and our country is the stronger for it. This is an example of America's strength and commitment to the values of freedom and liberty. This is not a sign of weakness. God bless the United States of America.

    June 27, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  20. Ryan Smith

    Our nation has made it's mistakes, but it is still the greatest nation on this earth. You could have been born in a hut in somalia, but instead, you've been blessed with freedom. Shouldn't you be thankful for this? Don't you understand how blessed you are? Why WOULDN'T you want to make this country a better place for your children?

    Pledging allegiance is a statement of devotion to do just that, to try and make this a better place to live. Thankfully, men and women were willing to do this over our 200 year history, if they had taken YOUR viewpoint, America would never have enjoyed the success that it has. Also, by adopting your viewpoint, you accept the fact that America's greatest days are beind it, which I refuse to believe. Do what you will, but while you "live and let live", I will strive to make this country better for my kids..... and for yours

    June 27, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • He's right.

      And considering that this is a religious blog, pledging allegiance to anything but God is a big no no. Just saying. It's in the ten commandments.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • Ryan Smith

      You take them to mean separate things, but they don't need to be.

      It's a pledge to uphold a set of ideals and these ideals are reinforced in the Christian Bible. They don't have to be mutually exclusive.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • He's right.

      considering that the Christian Bible states that all nations are in enmity with God, and that the KIngs and the Military leaders are all going to parish by his hand, I'd say it's not in the best interest of any so called Christian to pretend that they are not mutually exclusive. Again just saying.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:19 am |
    • Ryan Smith

      Perhaps you should point out to me where all nations are currently at emnity with God.....

      Show me where it says that, and I will forever hold my peace........

      We both know it doesn't say that at all, however, show me where it does and again, I will respectfully defer....

      I won't hold my breath 🙂

      June 27, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • He's right.

      Daniel 2:44
      Revelation 17.

      Enjoy 🙂

      June 27, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Ryan Smith

      Key word here: CURRENTLY

      Not talking about the "end times" here.....

      June 27, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • He's right.

      In that case refer to Matthew 24. These are the end times.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • Ryan Smith

      I know what it says about nations at Armageddon and such, however, that doesn't mean we should just say forget it!..lol... if so, there would have been no reason to care about America at all, ever!

      My point was that the Bible doesn't say that all nations are currently at emnity with God. I'm not argueing that the Bible says it will happen at some point in the future, only that the Bible doesn't say that it currently is that way.

      June 27, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • Ryan Smith

      In that case, prove to me that these are FOR SURE the end times...

      "No man knows the day or the hour"....

      We can guess that they are by deductive reasoning, however, you can't prove that they are for sure

      June 27, 2011 at 2:51 am |
    • He's right.

      The proof is the text found at Matthew 24. There is a difference between the end times, and The End. No one knows when the end will take place. The scriptures at Matthew 24 simply illustrate the sign that will that will take place before the conclusion of this system of things. It doesn't say how long that time will be, just that it indicates the pangs of distress that the earth will go through prior to it. No one can prove or say for certainty when Armaggedon will happen. One can only look at the scriptures and be watchful.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • He's right.

      2 timothy 3:1-7 is another passage that indicates "the last days". That is, the days that occur before the end, which no one knows the day or the hour.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:19 am |
    • He's right.

      1 thess 5:2,3 is another one. Something to do with Peace and Security will be a big red flag. Wouldn't want anything to do with that.

      June 27, 2011 at 3:22 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.