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. umopapisdn


    June 27, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Skeeve

      I wish the rest of the World had your problems people. If all you, including the administration of this so-called "college" do not understand how completely irrelevant this whole discussion is than I feel very sorry for this country.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:20 am |
  2. MONTE

    Very well spoken, much better than I will do here. If you are living, worshiping, have freedom speech, freedom of movement and untold other rights by living under the umbrella of life as an American citizen you should be ashamed of yourself. Luckily, you are living under a system that allows you to believe and act (within reason) the way you want. I believe in Jesus Christ and praise him, as I do the same for my country. By your reasoning, since Jesus is the only source of your beliefs I feel sorry for your man-made parents and children as they are no more special than your neighbor.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  3. old guy who drinks and smokes

    Remove their 501 (3) C status watch how fast they sing the National Anthem

    June 27, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  4. Mark

    So, basically you have decided to give the men and women who faught for the very freedom that you recognize today the bird. You would have not had the rights you have today to do what you want had these people given their rights. This is the reason why people like you should not have the right to vote .... No honor.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Mark

      Any by rights, I mean the men and women in the past who gave up their rights to live in volunteering or being drafted into the service of our country to ensure we can live in freedom. Again, if you don't want these rights then your organization should pay full Federal taxes and not be considered a charitable organization.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  5. Carter Conrad

    Your position is well thought out and soundly based on basic message of Christ that we are all neighbors and are commanded to first love our neighbors as ourselves. My son is currently serving the Army in Afghanistan, and I respect his decision to do so, but I have long though that a true bleiever in Christ would almost have to be, by necessity, a conscientious objector.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  6. Debra

    I firmly believe if you cant serve your county that you cant say anything in how things go. My husband is active duty army and I think of how many times (after 20 years) he's served his country and little or recognition to be able to make a stand such as yours. Its ridiculous. In the real world, we have to daily to deal with things that make us feel uncomfortable. However, when the for Fathers designed our county "it was considered one nation under God." I'm not sure how much I believe in God...but that is the way it is, deal with it!

    June 27, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • News Flash

      So Debra, what unit did you serve in ?

      June 27, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Dewbert50

      "One nation under God" was a line added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s, really as a way to differentiate ourselves from a communist, secular Russia. The Founding Fathers didn't even write the Pledge.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Edwin

      News Flash,

      If you don't think families of military serve time, too, then you don't know much about service and sacrifice.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Come on Now

      I thought it was ONE WORLD under God!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • News Flash

      Agree. My point is that men, and only men, are still required to register for the Selective Service System, at age 18, or loose many Federal benefits, (student loans etc), while women demand equal rights without equal responsibilities.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  7. Sambo Pete

    Folks, look at the history of the Mennonites and then I think you will be glad they don't sing the National Anthem with us. They've never paid their dues to this Nation. They were against the American Revolution and failed to significantly support the Nation's involvement in the World Wars. These buggers want our freedoms and are damn adapt at using their unearned freedoms, but again, don't pay their dues well enough to be full citizens. Let them sing Camp Town Ladies instead, do-da!

    June 27, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  8. JFISH

    Thank you founding fathers for giving us freedom from Religion

    June 27, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • Edwin

      If the founding fathers were alive today, the republican party would call them anti-American.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  9. Sambo Pete

    Folks, look at the history of the Mennonites and then I think you will be glad they don't sing the National Anthem with us. They've never paid their dues to this Nation. There were against the American Revolution and failed to significantly support the Nation's involvement in the World Wars. These buggers want our freedoms and are damn adapt at using their unearned freedoms, but again, don't pay their dues well enough to be full citizens. Let them sing Camp Town Ladies instead, do-da!

    June 27, 2011 at 6:55 am |
  10. Chuck Steak

    In what ways do you love your country? How do you show it?

    June 27, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  11. Smokey

    I think that it is a bad sign, so many Mennonites posting comments on the internet. I for one feel that the spiritual implications of today's online technology are deeply disturbing. I question whether it is truly possible to both follow God and use the internet. In order to live a really righteous lifestyle we ought to abandon this technological idolatry and turn out faces to the Lord.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • jVT

      Buuuut, you are using it.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  12. Danielle

    I really don't care why you don't sing the Star Bangled Banner.

    June 27, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  13. Marie Kidman


    June 27, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  14. Jonathan Bell

    Mennonites are no crazier than those following any religion. I am a Humanist Atheist. People of my 'persuasion' have also been persecuted for centuries. I do not sing the national anthem because of the 'bombs bursting in air.' I am also a pacifist. But I like the mennonite reverend and the responders to his on line sermon love my country and believe strongly in the freedoms it affords us. My anger in this is at CNN for allowing a full sermon to be seen around the world on its powerfully influential site. The reverends sermons ought to have been edited down to its core expressions of belief–no more. I have rarely seen the word 'jesus' used so frequently on any public news service! Shame on CNN for trampling on my beliefs so excessively. Although not directly to the point, I add that for many years I have hoped for a new national anthem, Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My land." I think it would make our community of free people freer.

    June 27, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • News Flash

      Maybe CNN assumes that people can think for themselves ?
      I also would go out of my way to avoid an unnecessary conflict, however I respectfully suggest a cure for your pacifism would be a good pop to your nose. As a former pacifist who has experienced a physical attack, I think most pacifists are such simply because they live in an ordered society where others mostly, (the police and the military), see to it they can live in their ivory towers. There ARE bad people out there, and they ARE going to try to do violence to you and others. The failure to recognize that is simply short-sighted stupidity.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • WIth Friends Like Atheists

      Much evil has been done in the name of religion, but far more in the name of utopian atheism, from Hitler to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot, the slaughter has been beyond bestial. So let's just acknowledge that humans have great capacity for evil and it will manifest no matter what the culture, creed or faith – the question is whether one joins in, allows it to happen, or sacrifices in order to confront it.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Jeremy

    I've thought about the pledge of allegiance in this way, but never the National Anthem. It's interesting to hear you say that you'll pledge your allegiance to only one Nation: The Christian Nation. I like that. I've served in the military and spent my time activated after 9/11 and I am a complete patriot at heart, but I understand where you're coming from. I sometimes have difficulties saying the pledge in the morning with my students for a couple reasons. 1) Young students don't know what they're saying. They don't understand to what they're pledging their allegiance. They could be pledging to never eat ketchup on a hot dog, but they wouldn't know. and 2) Sometimes I feel like a droid standing in line every single day to let "someone" know that I still care for the United States.
    I care about my country. I care for, and worry, about the troops and their families just as others cared for and worried about me and my family when it was my turn. I want justice for the lives lost and I am ok with the way we are going about getting that justice.
    I am not ok, however, with knocking a guy down because of his religious beliefs. What do you say to the muslim soldiers who kneel and pray to the same God to whom Bin Laden prayed? The rights and freedoms given to EVERYONE in this country give the right to not sing the anthem, or say the pledge, or put your hand on your heart during the anthem, or whatever nonsense symbols we put on showing our patriotism. They are the same rights and freedoms that allow you to post your negative, demeaning comments towards a man who is steadfast in his faith.
    Sing or not, whatever you believe in. No side is better than their side.

    June 27, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • Russell Bantin

      Well said...

      June 27, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • A-man

      Understanding his stance and agreeing with it is one thing but there comes a time when people need to realize that we're showing the world we don't give a damn about our own country. Americans are so tied up in 'me me me me me' that they don't stop and think that there could be a bigger picture. Showing a small token of respect, shoulder to shoulder with your peers is not only a great way to build a bond to the idea of what this country stands for but it bonds you to the person on your left, right, front and back. Nothing is more fulfilling than working together with other folks towards a common goal. But that crap has been lost and it's all about kissing the minorities butts these days and not offending anyone. If you don't care enough about this country to respect it, get the hell out!

      June 27, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Ken

      Muslim God is the same God as the Christians and Jews by the way. Nice post though.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:17 am |
  16. Lila

    Just another arrogant narcissistic religious group. Me, My beliefs, me, me. God forbid any of these people ever care about the community outside of their own little world.

    June 27, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • Russell Bantin

      Protect the rights of the individual and you protect the rights of all...

      June 27, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • Herby Sagues

      Well, it only makes sense that way. I never understood those that believe in a religion "half way". If you do believe that there's an all powerful, personal God that watches you and will punish you for your "sins" acordign to some definition in a book, then it is really stupid not to act as a slave of that God and that book, and to put that above anything else.
      Religious extremism and narcissism make much more sense than social religion. Of course, neither of them makes much sense to begin with.

      June 27, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • A-man


      June 27, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  17. Ted M.

    This group of believers wants the primacy of their religious values to trump all the secular laws of the nation within their religious group's "community", yet many of these religious values violate secular law as a matter of course.
    These religious values do not trump our secular laws. When you inject a religious legal system into our secular legal system, any differences will likely create conflict that cannot be resolved without giving supremacy to one legal system over the other.
    Our First amendment protects us against religious values/laws that we do not share, and it gives supremacy to secular law over religious law.
    To paraphrase the 1st Amend., "No secular law should ever be made that gives an advantage to any religion. That includes all general and particular religious values / laws. Nor should any law be made that restricts the "free" expression of any religion."
    Notice that the second part does not cancel out the first. Expression of a religion is not deemed to be secular in nature nor is it implied that all religious expression be given free rein. The Constltution is still Supreme Law here. If it wasn't, the Constltution wouldn't mean anything at all in the face of so many opposing religious values / laws. It has supremacy at all times, no matter what the religion. There must be equality under the law for everyone. This is a secular

    But as secular law (the Constltution) is already given supremacy, laws cannot take any notice of a religion that might be put to a disadvantage or advantage by any secular legal means whatsoever. To do so would also nullify the Constltution and so does not have any legal significance in secular law. Secular laws must be made regardless of the religious consequences other then the very narrowly drawn window of free, non-secular expression of religion.
    Secular expression of religion must conform to secular law.
    That is the equal freedom we have under the law to express religion in this country. It is not an anything-goes secular arena of law, it is a legal area open to all that conforms with all secular laws.
    To interject religious values into secular law is to violate the Equal Rights protections available under the First Amendment.
    Religious values violate secular intent.
    Equal rights means religious values are barred from the secular legal system, otherwise the Constltution means nothing and there is no secular law.
    To usurp the supremacy of the Constltution by religious values / laws is to violate the very foundations of our country, our laws, and our equal rights. For example, having a religious enclave where our nation's secular laws are not given supremacy, like these religious "communities", is a declaration of criminality. They say the secular laws don't trump their religious laws inside their religious "boundaries", yet those are not boundaries that subordinate our national laws.
    Our laws cannot give special consideration to any religion. There are no boundaries that can keep out the laws of our nation within our borders where our secular, national laws become null or void.
    Equality of the law means it goes everywhere, even inside religious buildings.
    Violating secular law for religious reasons is not a legal excuse that is supported by the First Amendment in any way, shape, or form.
    No religious community, place, person, group, area, etc. has the right to violate secular law at any time barring situations in secular "extremis". Religious "extremis" has no legal standing in secular law.

    This is hard to stop, but I must go elsewhere.
    If anyone would like to review this and point out any legal points I may have missed or gotten wrong, please feel free to post about it. I will check back tomorrow to see who had the best ideas and arguments!

    June 27, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • Ted M.

      I already see a few errors. I posted too quickly I guess. Apologies to all.

      June 27, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • TedMIsEvil

      Ted M, you suck as well. yes you do. you suck alot. at life.

      June 27, 2011 at 6:07 am |
    • Russell Bantin

      YOu said "Equal rights means religious values are barred from the secular legal system"... clarify... give example...

      June 27, 2011 at 6:16 am |
    • Smokey

      That is a real generous paraphrasing, if not so generous as that of the U.S. Supreme Court. Is basic reading comprehension so difficult?

      June 27, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Jim Foxvog

      Ted, which secular laws are being violated by religious values here?

      June 27, 2011 at 6:39 am |
    • Believer

      Nice rant....did you read the article? he was exercising his right NOT to sing. Christians are taught to obey laws. However, we must uphold Christ. Yes, our religion trumps everything, as we must obey God's laws first. Generally those in authority appreciate those that obey the ten commandments, etc! Get real....when was the last time a Mennonite or Amish made headlines as a terrorist or druggie?

      June 27, 2011 at 6:41 am |
    • Edlane

      TedMisEvil, what makes me upset and angry is people who think 'A LOT' is spelt 'ALOT', its two words not one!

      June 27, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • H.Goossen

      What is the big deal? All of life is religious... we believe... Do we need some sugested proof? No one "knows" what the basic "1" is. We have been told and we believed. We have no idea what a vitamin is, what it chemically looks like... but we believed because we were convincingly told.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:03 am |
    • Dewbert50

      Religion divides, it does not unite.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  18. William

    I am sorry, but this country affords you such great freedoms as to be able to express your faith (however misguided it may be) without persecution. Show some respect! While you have the freedom to not sing the anthem, do not expect your views to be respected by any other decent citizen. Just like the WBC, you guys are a bunch of crazies who's opinion does not matter, but have no shortage of wind with which you blow your ridiculous horns.

    June 27, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • DaLe

      So the country protects one from persecution, as long as taxes are paid? Mafias call that hush money I think. One thing I kind of like though is the free executions and free funerals since many families don't have the money for euthanasia or funerals.

      June 27, 2011 at 5:19 am |
    • Believer

      William....he IS showing respect....respect for what he believes....to be honest the Mennonites reflect more true American values than most Americans. He is standing up for what he believes, although often ridiculed, mocked and made fun of. Sort of like America was when we fought the revolution. I am not Mennonite but I can respect their stand.

      June 27, 2011 at 6:45 am |
  19. Ted M.

    So is most of the problem is, yet again, simply people's tendencies toward identifying with a group and actively projecting their group "values" in such a way that conflicts are sure to arise, at least for those groups that have values that are not realistic enough to avoid this common problem.
    As religious values are not realistic and have no rational basis, they can have no primacy over realistic and rational values when dealing with the real world and should therefore be considered null and void when making real-world decisions.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • EMW

      Do you accept federal funding, do your students receive Federal Student Aid? Do you live under the freedom of the Banner "America"–have thousands of young men and women died for this freedom? Then sing the Damm National Anthem.

      June 27, 2011 at 5:22 am |
  20. steve

    Grew up mennonite but family is half mennonite have baptist. One half menno other very strong military/navy. So i never offically entered the mennonite faith just grew up in it. As a son of officer/govt workers I felt ashamed of my mennonite friends here in goshen. I am not a goshen college student but i know alot of alums and went to highschool with many of them. For us that are outside of the faith Id like you to know that Goshen College doesnt speak for the whole town of Goshen, Indiana. Infact most of the town considers GC a joke. The students in the highschools dont even consider GC for a choice of colleges after highschool cause the school is not respected by them. My family is conservative mennonite so they are republican leaning. Most of my mennonite friends who went to GC are liberal left. We try not to bring up politics but i voiced my opinion and instantly was ganged up on by the left leaning liberals. So i know im not mennonite. Im actually leaving the area in a year going down to Georgia to get away from this little liberal town. Im ashamed GC tries to speak for the town. Wish they would leave the church. They are only mennonite in name only. They are really more of a liberal arts college WAY Left. Just please dont wrap all goshen, indiana citizens in with this school. Thanks.

    June 27, 2011 at 3:37 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.