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. Bible Clown

    Fine with me, as long as you and the Muslims and Catholics have to sign Herman Cain's loyalty oath before holding office.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  2. Derek

    So let me get this straight....they think it should be cool that they have the choice/right not to participate or perform the national anthem without judgement...but people in their own communities are shunned for choosing to leave??.....i just look for some consistency folks...that's all, just some consistency

    June 27, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  3. Knucklehead

    All this talk of Anthems reminds me of Nazi Germany. They were always singing and saluting over there. Deutschland Uber Alles!!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  4. Chris M.

    Definition: A national anthem (also national hymn, song etc.) is a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation's government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people.
    And this conflicts with religion how???
    If you don't want to sing it...don't sing it...but let me and others sing it if we wish...that's America.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • USN

      Way to go....I have been saying that all morning. Where in the hell do they get anything religous about the anthem? It is the National Anthem not the National Prayer!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Daniel G. Clark

      "If you don't want to sing it...don't sing it...but let me and others sing it if we wish...that's America."

      Who's arguing with you, Chris? Nobody proposes not letting you sing. The controversy is about forcing others to sing if they choose not to. In this case, their choice is about a faith stance and historical tradition long predating the anthem and the nation.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  5. Natalie

    I believe whole heartedly in the seperation of Church and State. But there has never been a true seperation no matter how hard we try to make it so. I don't have any problem, whatsoever, with someone choosing NOT to recite the national anthem, just as have I no problem with someone choosing NOT to worship a God, in any form. We live in a country of freedoms and this is one of them. But then again I am a tree hugging liberal from the far left so I can see how my views are too open minded for some.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  6. Paul R.

    I'm a tolerant, liberal Democrat. My response to this guy is that if they don't want to sing the national anthem, get out of my country. NOW.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Bruce

      LOL you are neither tolerant nor are you liberal. You may, unfortunately, be a Democrat.

      The SSB is just a bad song. Deal with it. We need to change it.

      But if a private school wants to exercise its religious freedom and express the separation of their church from the state by not singing a ridiculously bad and poorly-chosen anthem because to do so would break that separation, then they have every right to do so. Indeed, it is freedoms like this that we as Americans have fought long and hard to provide them.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  7. sthomas0403

    This man is not saying that he doesn't believe in our country, our soldiers, their dedication or service. He's simply saying that man-led government (aka – "The Star Spangled Banner") has no place in a God-based college.

    This isn't that hard a concept to understand. I don't get why people are up in arms about it.

    Non-Christians scream the rafters down if there is anything remotely resembling prayer, God or religion in schools. Why would it be a problem to not have government in a school that is strictly for God? They don't recieve any monetary assistance from the government (I think) so why should the government have a place in their school? They don't break any laws or preach anti-government ideals.

    "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God the things that are God's" – Matthew 22:21

    Let the government have what belongs to the government and let God have what belongs to Him. Christians don't belong to the government the way others do. We don't even belong in this world. We have another home. So as a Christian, I urge ALL Christians to stay out of politics and government. That is not our fight. This college has the right of it, in my eyes and knowing the heart of God through His word, they're probably right in His eyes as well.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Paul R.

      I was never in the Service. But, many have given their lives for this country. If you don't want to acknowledge and celebrate that, than you don't belong here. It's very, very, simple.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  8. Patriotic Soldier

    And we wonder why the rest of the world hates us?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! maybe its because we cant even stand united with love for our own land.. i mean how can we get someone else to love and respect a place when our own dont do the same

    June 27, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Whether you like Obama or not, he's the President of the United States. Any loyal American would step between him and an assassin. I guess this guy is saying he'd only take a bullet for Jesus. We get it, Schloneger, you have a right to believe what you believe. But you are clearly a second-class citizen.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  9. John

    In America, you have the choice to sing the National Anthem or not. How refreshing is that! Freedom!!! Many have died to preserve this for you and the rest of us here in the United States.

    With that said, why would I want to hear your or anyone else's reason for not singing it? Don't agree and don't care to hear it!

    I also believe in Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah vs Happy Holidays!! If you don't like something, don't take part, allow others to live the way they decide and not be affected by your choices.

    Again, until we are forced to sing the National Anthem or say Happy Holidays... keep your thoughts to yourself and your own friends and don't try to justify your choices... we don't care to hear it!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  10. MTP

    You are free to sing or not to sing the national anthem. However, i'd advise you, whether you want to sing or not sing the national anthem, to be at least thankful that the country you live in offers that choice. According to you that freedom is granted by god. Yet not everyone on this earth has it. It's very easy to practice your faith when the country you live in allows it.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  11. Ed Diller

    Well done and thoughtfully written. Thanks Mark. This is important stuff.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  12. Rich

    What a bunch of ingrates. Freedom in this country was won with war. No question. The reason you can practice your religion freely (there was a great deal of horrific acts done in the early days of this country, but your lives are no longer at stake), was won by the same war. Your invisible friend might claim responsibility, but I can assure you the real blood and iron sown into this country is the reason you can opt not to sing our nations anthem. Try this same garbage in Iran, Russia, or China. You will probably be met with a little more than harsh words and concern.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  13. Jon

    What I find interesting is that so many people are upset about a point of view like this, but yet, when given the opportunity to sing the national anthem at their local events, they do not participate. I respect someone taking a stand and stating their beliefs. I do not respect the apathy that has gripped large portions of this nation.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  14. Patriotic Soldier

    Why cant everyone grow the ^%* up i mean seriously is it that hard to respect tradition and honor?I would invite everyone whom has has an issue with things like The Star Spangled Banner , and the Pledge of Allegience to go ahead and stop spending the Dollar, as it plainly says IN GOD WE TRUST on the back. But No of course not we only wanna make assanine comments and "stand for what we believe in" when it suits us.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      So you want us to stand and applaud, (to say nothing about trying to sing along with) the fiasco of Christina Aguilera butchering her own strange version of the National Anthem (Superbowl XLV) ?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. Don A. Lake

    Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's ........Don't you believe you owe the men & women who place their lives in jeopardy 'some' kind of tribute for the freedoms & country they have provided, rather than we're here and we don't have to do s***! All that ....well I got my religion didn't help the Jews during the Second World War, must be nice to be so above it all!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  16. Osama bin Laden

    durka durka

    June 27, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  17. Tgood

    For any American to say they don't believe in singing the National Anthemn ... shame on you! To all the comments supporting the military men and women for giving you the right to post articles like this with your freedom of speech, thank you! I am currently serving in the Army and it makes me proud that the majority still realizes that freedom isn't free! I am also from Northern Indiana, I live about 25 minutes away from this college, and I move that we cut all state and federal funding for this college (if there is any)... seperation of church and state.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  18. RAH

    MATTHEW 22:
    17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
    18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

    21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

    Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

    June 27, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  19. Berysax

    Stoopidest thing ever! Flag worshipping?!? U idiots need to pull the stick out your a$s, and remember where u can me from. Id!0ts and I'm am atheist. Pathetic, shamefull.....

    June 27, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  20. dennis

    This church and school's logic seems perfectly sound to me.

    And to those who get oh so excited about SYMBOLS like flags, pledges to governments, an anthem, etc.... I think you completely miss the point. Referencing that folks died for these symbols is completely misguided. Only a fool would sacrifice his life for a piece of cloth with a particular design on it. What these people died for is the CONCEPT of freedom, the commitment made to establish a place where people could live freely, where individuality was not trampled over or punished by the state. How do you then completely miss the point that people who then choose to march to theri own drummers are the EPITOME of this actual freedom, and that THIS is what countless numbers of our soldiers died to protect? But no, instead you get caught up on the thought of a flag, or a song. Way to completely not see the forest through the trees, folks.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Maurice

      Really, I thought that what many, if not most of our brave service members die for is CAPITALISM, no? That is in wars started by lobbyists bribing congress to get us into wars to keep corporate profits flowing. What a CONCEPT. I've personally known many members of the armed forces, and most told me they joined the military because of the excellent pay and benefits. Some even admitted that they did it to get to go into real combat and get to kill somebody. The ones who claim patriotism, god, freedom, democracy, etc. are usually the ones who know NOTHING about the world – very naive, and although they love to talk bible crap, how many have ever actually read much of the bible? Where in the bible does God/Jesus even mention America? No where.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Bob

      Most people are still primitive idol worshipers, and they'll never grow beyond that.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • USN

      Hi my name is Chris....now you have met somebody who joined the military to protect it from enemies both Foreign and Domestic. I did not join it for the pay check ( that was too funny) or to kill people. Not sure who your talking to if anyone at all, or your are just watching way too many movies. The military though not perfect is not the picture you tried painting it. And I have seen enough of the world and I TRULY LOVE MY COUNTRY, FLAG AND FAMILY. And have no problem with stopping anyone trying to take that away from me!!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:24 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.