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. Luke

    It's interesting, the vitriol directed at a man of God by fellow "Christians" who seem to believe that dropping bombs, killing people and saluting flags are What Jesus Would Do. BTW, I'm an American, and no American soldier has died for my freedom in the 38 years I've been alive.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • John Z

      Dear Luke,
      First of all Im not Christian. Second, your an idiot. Lastly, the song was written for the American Revolution and not for the last 38 years of yor accidental existence. WWJD? Jesus would high five me and slap your face for not using yor brain!

      June 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  2. John Z

    These people are tools! Someone please explain to this moron that the song is to remember the sacrifices that were made in order for him to even have a problem with the song being played anywhere! Listen to the words and stop worrying about who sings and how it is sung. You should all feel extremely lucky to even have an opportunity to waste your worthless brains thinking about this when you have contributed nothing for the right to!. Lastly, This imbilcile and most of you who defend him would be the first to run and hide and not think twice about bailing on your country and the FREEDOMS that the men fought for in this song! I hope that tastes good -John Zarbock

    June 28, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Luke

      No John, clearly you are not a Christian, the State is what you worship.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • JW

      Which of my freedoms have you fought for?

      June 28, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  3. manyfaucets

    I certainly would support the idea of separating church and state but I still can't fathom how the Star Spangled Banner has anything to do with that. I think that these nut cases represent the other side of the same coin that tries to ram Christianity down our throats via the government. Jesus... get over it.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  4. Doug

    You can have religion and faith and pledge allegiance to your country. The most famous person to have difficulty with his duty as a soldier and his faith was SGT Alvin York. He overcame the difficulty and so can you.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. nezhmet

    These religious sects do not help the world.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  6. Noizee

    I say open up war making to the "free market". After all, what could be more American? The mongers get to present their proposals to people who would invest in it and they would have to compete for money to fund their wars. The investors would be the only ones taking the loss if things don't go well. (Except, of course the people of the poor regions they intend to invade.) They could recruit their own forces and train their own units for the "missions". Perhaps THAT would curb people rushing off to declare unnecessary military actions using taxpayer military infrastructure. We seem to be trending this way anyhow with the likes of Xe (aka Blackwater) and others.
    This would, of course, be completely apart from actual defense of our nation.
    However, international laws would have to be applied and perhaps refocused to ensure "humanitarian" compliance during the actions. So, if some religious bunch of folks wants to wage a war to uphold their beliefs, let them pay for it on their own. No more back room nods of accent by our government to idealogues looking to boost funding for their religious crusades.
    Ultimate separation of church and state.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Dan

    Letting go of the need we feel to pledge allegiance... and sing patriotic songs at the socially normal, and traditional times... is a hard grip to break. I admit, there is a tug on my heart to do so... but, when I because a Christian, there are many tugs on my heart that I have chosen to avoid when I declared allegiance to Christ.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Dan

      When I *became*

      June 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  8. Active duty

    Great quote from Mill. While I can definitely sympathize with both of the above comments, and would dearly like to see more of my fellow citizens serve their country (in any capacity, not just in uniform), please remember that we serve to preserve the rights of all to maintain their own opinions and live good productive lives that are respectful of the rights of others. If we still had conscription, I'd be all for having Mennonites serve as conscientious objectors in the Army (as were many medics in WW2) or some other form of federal service. Since the draft is gone, as volunteers we have the privelege of serving and defending the rights of the rest to say and think whatever they want. But please keep it civil. This pastor is making a very reasonable point, and desires only to serve and love and cherish everyone, American, enemy, soldier, and civilian alike. Is that really so hard to comprehend? So what if Jesus is more important ot him than the flag? I don't care about that at all. Try to remember those who cry out for peace want to keep service men and women from having to fight and kill and maybe die - they may not be succeeding, but they are a legitimate voice of moderation. We'd do well to respect them, if not necessarily agree.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  9. Dee

    I'm a Christian, but I also am thankful to live in this free country. I sing the National Anthem and will continue to do so. I see no reason to take my freedom for granted by shunning my citizenship privileges.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  10. Doyle Beard

    pledging allegiance to our country is the way we honor our men and women in the military who have hepled us to be able to practice freedom of our religion. Not a thing wrong with honoring them as long as it does not contradict our religious belief. Get a life Mark.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  11. Christalone

    it always amuses me to see the rabid, Pavlovian reactions of those who don't dare think for themselves to the opinions expressed by those who do. I am not a Mennonite, but I am a Christ-loving Christian and I say this pastor speaks the absolute truth. I find it odd and ironic that the mass of the most mindlessly "patriotic" among us also happen to comprise the majority of our church-attending Christians. Virtually ALL of which passionately claim to be pro-life when it comes to choosing whom to send to congress. At the same time they'll not tolerate any candidate that doesn't assure them of his willingness, eagerness to take us "over there" and kill as many of "them" as is necessary to "defend" America. Defend us from what? What the American military is engaged in all over the world is NOT defense, it's offense. And who gets killed and maimed? Innocent people. We call it collateral damage because it sounds a lot nicer than 'slaughtering a lot of common, ordinary, similar-to-me-and-you, people who haven't done anything to us'. Benjamin Franklin is quoted saying, "Where liberty dwells, that's my country" I doubt that current America would be ol' Ben's country if he were alive today. I'm afraid what I see today in my fellow American believers is some sort of package deal: one must worship the state and Jesus to be a 'real' Christian (probably in that order too). Once upon one Christmas a long time ago , in a brief moment of clarity and sanity, World War I German and British soldiers recognized the ridiculous tragedy of Christian brother killing Christian brother in name of God and Country at the behest of cowardly politicians and bureaucrats and climbed out of their foxholes and embraced each other and shared a Christmas "feast" with meager rations shared with each and all. Excuse me (and the good Mennonite pastor here) if I believe the church has lost its way when the congregation simultaneously supports – with prayers and dollars- sending missionaries to save souls AND soldiers to take lives. Bizarre and hypocritical, to say the least. As for me and my house I will serve The Lord and I WILL NOT EVER swear loyalty to ANY nation or group that DEMANDS it! (that should be a good sign that it is time to realign)

    June 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Considerthis

      You make an interesting point, yet I was always under the impression that the Star Spangled Banner was more of a song about our origins, rather than our current viewpoint. "Rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air" more an alliteration to what happened during our revolution. I would wonder, had this revolution not happened, what situation we would all be in. Would this pastor still have the freedom to voice his opinion? Would you still be able to post what you did? Can you say with the utmost certainty that you would have any freedoms at all? My guess you would still be angry, yet with different reasonings. Ironically, anyone has the freedom to sing this anthem or not, and that freedom has been bought with blood, like it or not. I for one do not relish in the deaths of those past, but respect what they did. Even if I don't believe in how they went about it.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  12. Golden_Snidget

    Good for you! I wish more people had the conviction to stand up for their faith as you do. I may not be a Mennonite, but I support many of your beliefs. I think this country needs to focus on the greater issues of civility, non-violence, separation of church and state, and conviction in one's beliefs.

    Paying the national debt is not our biggest problem. The biggest problem is that many people don't value other human lives because they think or believe something diffenent from themselves. People feel the need to fight or argue, rather than learn and understand. But If we cannot learn about another human being's way of life, then at least show respect.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  13. Rob Deppert

    This is what freesom looks like. I am still amazed that there are people that are telling you to leave. Praise god for seperation of Church and State. I notice that the polticians that are most likely to praise freesom in their speeches are the first to be for laws that destroy liberty.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  14. darjen

    Right on. I am not Mennonite, but I have to say they do have a straight head on their shoulders. If more Christians were like them, they would actually believe in the bible and love their enemies instead of bombing the crap outta them.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  15. JEN


    June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • JW

      I know with my voice people would consider it more disrespectful if I did sing

      June 28, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  16. James

    Does the strict separation of church and state adhered to by Goshen College mean that the college and its students accept no financial aid from the federal government?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • JW

      The people who attend and work for Goshen Colleges as well as its graduates pay taxes just like everyone else. If you say that they should not receive funds because of their beliefs then you should say that they dont have to pay taxes

      June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • get real!

      agreed! If they are anti country, then they shouldn't reap the country's benefits. I pay taxes but don't want to support this school.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Dan

      Good question. Though, I certainly believe a person can "reap the benefits" of an establishment (government or otherwise), without devoting his whole heart in allegiance to it. I shop where I shop and I receive the benefit as a customer of the low prices, as well as some degree of customer service. I certainly don't have to pledge my allegiance to that facility. And, if that establishment decides to do something that I believe is wrong... do I continue to do business with them?

      If the government wants to give me things... I will decide which ones I will accept, and which ones I will not. I am certainly not going to pledge my heart and soul to a country that I have no way of knowing what it is doing at all times, and most certainly don't agree with at many known times. That would be a very foolish for a Christian to do. Sadly, I know many fellow Christians who have no problem doing so.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  17. missPWNAGE

    Crazy goon... what is happening to this country?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  18. JW

    The Mennonite Central Committee has hundreds of volunteers overseas, including places such as Iraq. Mennonites donate millions of dollars to help these people. To say that just because Mennonites never shoot anybody they are parasites and do nothing to help is grossly inaccurate.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  19. Mike


    June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  20. wardog

    "Go ye therefore, and bomb all Muslims, baptizing them in napalm courtesy of Israel, the U.S. and NATO.
    Teaching them to bow to your zionist masters, whatsoever Israel has commanded: and lo , Moloch is with you alway, even unto the bowels of Hell." Hagee 28:19 & 20

    This is the "Christian" zionist Great Commission.

    "My" government sent me to SE Asia to kill people who had not attacked us nor even threatened us. The same lies use then are told today with different names of those we are supposed to hate. NO-ONE can call himself Christian OR patriot who supports what "our" government is doing around the world.

    Those who say "love it or leave it" need to do some serious study. Turn off Blimpaugh, Scammity and Bunk and learn the truth.

    Don't speak of freedom as we no longer have any! So I ask: What DO we fight for?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • LC 231

      have you tried living in any other country where they tell you howmany kids to have, what profession you will go into, and where you will live, if you can take out a loan, what dr top go to???
      You are still not free? people like you SHOULD leave!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Tim

      You're absolutely right, wardog. The federal government forces me to help pay for illegal, immoral wars either by making me pay direct taxes at gunpoint or by destroying my savings via inflating the currency base so as it will, eventually, be worthless. Government, any government, can have not moral legitimacy so long as it is is based on and supported by the threat or actual employment of violence. Men submit themselves to many types of governance. They join voluntary associations such as churches, and clubs that set their own rules for membership, and that membership is usually conditional on the members following a set of rules. Also, people everywhere daily participate in voluntary transactions with each other when they engage in commerce and subject themselves to the rules of businesses. All of that is based on people deciding for themselves who they want to associate with and what rules they are willing to submit to in order to participate in those associations. On the other hand most of what people call Government is based, entirely, on the idea that it is right to initiate, or threaten to initiate violence in order to coerce people into following rules that they do not agree with and paying for the costs of enforcing those rules on themselves and others.

      Though I do not share their world view, I've got a lot of respect for the folks at Goshen College, both for their stand against the tide of mindless nationalism and their willingness to admit a mistake after the buckled to popular demand and shelved their beliefs for a year. We all falter sometimes, but those who are willing to step back on the right path and once again defend their faith are worthy of respect and support.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Active duty

      LC 231: You are proving his point. Good job. BTW, most of the world isn't the way you describe it - you would know that if you actually bothered to go anywhere and learn anything. Let go of your prejudice - stop listening to the propaganda and go see the world. You'll see our version of freedom differently, both the good and the bad.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92
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.