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. Grace

    If someone pledges their allegiance to a country, is he responsible for the actions that he is ordered to do? What about the American soldiers who enforced the atrocities against the Indians? What about the loyal Germans who were ordered to carry out the evil deeds in Hitler's day? Or the loyal Russians in Stalin's Day? No government is Christian and all have carried out evil in some respect. Is it such a wonder that some choose not to pledge their loyalty to ANY country?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Zelda

      Grace, you are lost. If the government does evil, individuals must disobey it. That's what Christianity taught Britain and thus America.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Zelda

      Citizens normally have loyalty to one's own nation for the blood ties and mutual ideal and safety(security) of life. If the nation or government becomes bad, you either flee or revolt.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • chief

      re zelda,,, are you completely mad? came to this country to do what? massecre indians, enslave the blacks? oh yeah, i would assume that your catholic, i forget the common catholic thoughts of that day were the indians and blacks had no soul....

      June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  2. Dan

    So, I take it that you do not own an American Patriot's Bible?

    Me either...

    Sad piece of idolatry that is.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  3. MennoKnight

    You have the right to remain silent (and avoid criticism) but if you give up that right and exercise your freedom of speech you will be publicly chastised and accused of being everything from anti-American to a bigot, a fascist and will be told to get out of the country.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  4. Grace

    If someone pledges their allegiance to a country, is he responsible for the actions that he is ordered to do? What about the American soldiers who enforced the atrocities against the Indians? What about the loyal Germans who were ordered to carry out the evil deeds in Hitler's day? Or the loyal Russians in Stalin's Day? No government is Christian and all have carried out evil in some respect. Is it such a wonder that some choose not to pledge their loyalty to ANY country?
    Once a person chooses a political side to rally for, he gives up the freedom to treat ALL men in the world as created equal.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  5. Lamont Cranston

    What freedoms? To report to the government when we take large amounts of cash out of the bank, highly regulated businesses, reporting our income every year to the government, constant war, military-style police who are happy to steal your property, and lying politicians who scratch each others back at our expense.

    If freedom is so great, how about the US actually trying it.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Dave

      If this country is so horrible, you're more than welcome to leave.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  6. V. S.

    While I appreciate Mr. Schloneger's opinion & view point, he certainly DOES NOT speak for every Mennonite. I grew up in a Mennonite community, went to a Mennonite High School, & attended a Mennonite University (for a few semesters). I was also a proud member of the Army National Guard for 6 years. I proudly stand up for the national anthem! I believe that as an Anabaptist we should be a little more grateful to be in a country that doesn't persecute us for having which ever faith we choose to believe in. It sincerely disappoints me when others of my faith don't show respect for the privilege to have been born in this country and all the freedoms that allows them to have. As we are coming up on a very special holiday this fourth of July, I would encourage all people to really reflect on what it means to be not only a Christian, but also an American. If you don't want to sing along to the national anthem, I recommend that you still stand & instead, say a prayer for those soldiers overseas & those at home & thank them for the history of the armed forces that allow you to have your personal religious beliefs. God bless America!

    June 28, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • SS

      And exactly where does the author state that he doesn't stand up out of respect when the anthem is played?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Jon Smith

      Live and let live. Let those Mennonites stand or not stand, pray or not pray, pledge or not pledge, as they see fit, without your interference or stated opinions. They've believed this way long before we came along, and will believe that way long after we're gone. They're hurting no one with their peaceful beliefs.
      Those of us who have served in the military do not need the unflinching admiration and thanks of every single citizen for our sacrifice. That wasn't why most of us served.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  7. John C

    The Mennonites are one of the few truly Christian denominations who don't believe in "kill a brown person for Jesus". Maybe if more Christians actually read their New Testaments, we'd have fewer wars, less death and give up on State Worship once and for all.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  8. Joe

    So these people believe THEIR imaginary deity would be mad if he found out they were singing the anthem? Wow. New levels of psychosis.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:51 am |
  9. CSAcitizen

    You sound like you stand for what the CSA (Confederate States of America) nation stands for. WE do not allow a "Pledge" (vow; worship) to an idol (flag). WE have our National Pledge but it is not a Communist one like the US's is, and we have our own National Anthem also – Dixie. The US was never a Christian Nation – it was and still is Unitarian, which is NOT Christian. But the CSA nation has always proudly been Christian Nation. This land has always been two nations and cultures, just as the Founders established this land to be – most today do not realize this as that history was burned and re-written and fabricated to how all are taught in the govt schools for the past 150 years.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  10. Ghân-buri-Ghân

    They sound like cannon-fodder. Let's make them volunteer for a suicide mission. No songs needed. They'd love it.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  11. RockLibertyWarrior

    Alright I usually don't even comment on these boards but these idiotic comments from supposed "patriots" are making me see red. I am sick and tired of the old Con-servative canard "you wouldn't have your freedoms if somebody hadn't shed blood for them". They think its smart and they think it shuts you up, it doesn't. Some guy going over into the country he has no business being in blowing away foreigners isn't protecting my freedom, he is protecting the establishments interests. There was no weapons of mass destruction, why are we in Libya? Some of you people think its great we're bringing "freedom" to the world yet how many dictatorships have we supported because it was in our interest? I support the troops alright, I support them to get the hell out of places we have no business being in. Another one "Love it or leave it", so if I disagree with you I should just leave, yeah very American of you, don't you believe in freedom speech? you guys always shout about freedom yet believe somebody should just "take off" if they have a contrary opinion. Your a bunch small minded hypocrites which is the reason why I left the hard right neo con state worshipping churches behind, Jesus said "Turn the other cheek" this is your faith people, shouldn't you follow it? Me on the other hand, I believe the only reason to use violence is when somebody is directly threatening you, not our foreign policy of the 3rd grade play ground "He said something bad about me WAH! WAH! WAH!" Grow up and get a brain, you people aren't real Christians admit you worship the false idolatry of the state, a bomb wrapped in a flag, your faith is just a shield for your actions.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Rock on, Warrior

      nice post.
      it would be good to see more posts from you here, but if you have better things to do that's okay too.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • chief

      well put

      June 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  12. Fascist Nation

    Makes me want to become a Mennonite.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:06 am |
  13. Melissa

    I doubt if you even read these comments but if you, you have your right to practice what you believe to be right. But I am every bit as much a Christian as you are and I choose to sing it and teach my children to sing. God is first, above all but He is the one who put the leaders in charge and He is the one who set up the countries. If I hurt my fellow man because I am an American and he is not, that is sin. But by recogizing that God has made America great in no way violates the teachings of our precious Lord and Saviour.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • mom

      Actually, you are a little confused about the actions of God and man. Men create national borders, usually arbitrarily based on natural resources. Humans elect leaders who are entirely human and that is why they should be distrusted and closely regulated and questioned. God is the author of life and the creator of the Universe. This gives us humans no right or authority to intentionally kill, injure or damage, not to mention lie or steal.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Lamont Cranston

      Since we have terrible leaders and we are nearly bankrupt, it must be a reflection of what God thinks of the US.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  14. Zelda

    God far above my home country, my family, myself – the true American thing.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. Jeremy H.

    Mark, Thank you! Over the past 5-6 years I have migrated from a typical republican conservative patriotic American Christian to a nearly (still evolving) full-fledged Christ centered libertarian pacifist. I could never quite explain in enough detail to convince my friends of what I believe, and more importantly, why I feel this way. You have captured and expressed my thoughts so much better than I even could in my own mind! Bravo!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  16. Vooch

    Great courage !

    Thank you for your faith

    June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  17. Luke

    Reading through the comments, many have said something to the effect of "Mennonites wouldn't have these freedoms if it weren't for the sacrifice people have made in wars, so they should honor those wars." While it is true that we (Mennonites) are very blessed to live in a country where we aren't very persecuted for our beliefs, we as a people held these beliefs long before the USA came to be, and indeed were willing to be killed for holding these beliefs. It isn't war that has made us free, but Christ.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • mom

      Very well said! The truth has set us free!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • Dave

      I'm quite curious of how many of you are truly willing to die for it now? Not a pompous, empty claim, but as these soldiers following orders from such a corrupt and untrustable government are. I support freedom of speech, but just as I support YOUR freedom of speech, do you actually support my differing opinion and MY freedom of speech? Attacking with words in a malicious manner is not loving your fellow man as God intended. And I see a lot of these self-proclaimed Mennonites and Christians that feel obligated and justified in their malicious replies and attacks against a differing opinion, just as others have done to them. Hypocrites are all factions and denominations...including mennonites.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  18. James Black


    June 27, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • ...

      Umm Don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse button so we can get rid of this troll.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  19. Jim Lehman

    Way to go! I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. Thanks for speaking up on CNN.
    Jim Lehman

    June 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  20. Marie Kidman


    June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • on behalf of everyone

      please stop posting this

      June 28, 2011 at 3:31 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.