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. rgs

    While I agree with your right to worship and believe what you want, the national anthem is performed as a tribute to those who have fought and died to give you that right. Our founding fathers founded this country and died to give you that right, just as the troops that have died since the late 1700's have. As a retired soldier who has been there and seen many friends and comrades die, I think this does a doshonor to this country, and to those soldier who have died obver the last 230ish years.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  2. Justin H

    When I go to a ball game, I proudly stand and remove my cap or place my hand over my heart, and sing along with the national anthem. I am proud to be an American and I love the freedoms I enjoy as an American.

    That being said, I think rituals like singing the Anthem at every sporting event or reciting the Pledge every day in school, have the effect of making people forget the meaning of the words. When it becomes part of a routine, it loses the impact of the sentiment behind it. In fact, I highly doubt the average American even understand that the Star Spangled Banner is about the pride and hope inspired by seeing your banner still waving after a hard fought battle.

    Personally, I believe these things should be reserved for special occasions, not the routine of everyday life.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • UERI


      June 26, 2011 at 6:30 am |
  3. Kristin

    This article does not make the least bit of sense. After Paster Schloneger's unfocused attempt at an explanation, I am still not seeing the reasoning for the decision not to play the national anthem at sporting events. It just plain doesn't make sense. Well, it's not as if this school has any clout anyway. So sad and ridiculous.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • frmrma

      I guess a lot about the articles didn't make sense to you.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:24 am |
  4. Steve

    As a follow up, I think it would be interesting to find out if 'Goshen College' accepts one dime of federal funding.
    If so, it should be stricken immediately! All goverenment Aid to students attending this college should stop!
    We have no obligation to any of them! And truth be told, if said research were done... I believe you will find Hipocrite's at the root of this! They want seperation? Five it to them! take a stand, here and now!

    June 26, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • frmrma

      lol...all because they decided to play the anthem for one year (after not playing it for the first 116 years of their history), and then changed their mind and decided to not play it. Dude, you have a lot of anger in you. And I actually find your comments to be completely un-American. I suggest that next time you sing the anthem, you should also think about what our country is about and what our soldiers have died for.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  5. hesgonenextyear

    I didnt know that the Founding Fathers were for a Sodomocracy in the United States

    June 26, 2011 at 6:17 am |
  6. penel9

    I respect your position and your right to have it but I have to point out that in history all religions have been persecuted but all endure by Faith. I suppose we each belong to a "strange tribe", as you so oddly put yours. I believe my fundamental right to worship how I choose is allowed me by this Great Country and as an aside, I sing the Star Spangled Banner with pride and chills every single time.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:17 am |
  7. Chuck

    I like to eat my boogers.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:16 am |
  8. skewitall

    I am tiny, like super short. I am so tired of people treating me different cause of my size! I face discrimination on a daily basses! I want a flippin parade or a gd article like the mennonite’s had on CNN. What about me!

    June 26, 2011 at 6:16 am |
  9. Niclas

    I'm glad I read this letter, it made a lot of sense to me. I now have even more respect for the Mennonite (sp?) followers. Thank you.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:16 am |
  10. Mark S

    I am not a mennonite, but I am willing to respect their stance. Their position in no way diminishes the United States of America, nor the sacrifice made by millions to preserve their God given right to exercise religious freedom. What does diminsh our country is intolerance. How we treat others defines us as a nation. Let's treat them as friends.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • TomUSMC

      Screw you.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • frmrma

      Right back at you, jughead.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  11. Jason R.

    "I love my country, but I sing my loyalty and pledge my allegiance to Jesus alone." Since when does the national anthem have anything to do with loyalty or allegiance? The Star Spangled Banner isn't a pledge of loyalty or an oath taken with your hand on a holy book. If nothing else it's a simple reminder that the sporting event you are about to watch or partake in is brought to you by the soldiers of the country you live in, men and women who bled and died so that you could enjoy your life.

    If they don't want to play the anthem or sing it that's fine. But don't expect others to be happy about it.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:13 am |
    • frmrma

      No one seemed to care that they didn't play the anthem for the prior 116 years!

      June 26, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  12. Dr.Tong

    Do these cult wackos still practice shunning? The world doesn't need in more nutty religionists, or their PR spokesmen.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  13. Al

    I half to disagree with you and I think the Bible does as well Mathew 22:21 give to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are Gods.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • Dan

      You "half" to? It's always amusing when people quote the bible as if it were fact.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:18 am |
    • ramox

      Al, yes, the Bible does say that, but the way you're presenting it is out of context. Jesus was referring to the Pharisees' question when they tried to trick Him about was it lawful to give tribute to Ceasar, or not. I hate it when people quote the Bible out of context to try to prove or dis-prove a point. What you actually end up doing, is distroying any opportunity to actually share the Gospel with folks. Also, the Bible isn't there for little, trivial things like whether or not it's right or wrong to sing a nation's athem, which by the way, it JUST that, an ANTHEM. If you don't know what that is, look it up. It's a not a pledge and if you sing it, you're no less of a follower of Jesus Christ than someone who doesn't sing it, because they don't believe in it. Whatever.

      June 26, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  14. Bob Freely

    It's a free country there hypocrites.... Deal with it.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  15. Shanko

    God Bless You a lot!

    June 26, 2011 at 6:09 am |
  16. Kerry

    Would that all of us belonged to your "strange tribe," Pastor. I pray that someday all Christians, of whatever denomination, will take Jesus' nonviolence seriously. Thanks for your witness!

    June 26, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  17. Lucifer's Boyfriend

    I think I speak for millions when I say: Good for you, Jesus boy. Maybe you guys might want to move to Mexico.

    June 26, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  18. Jimmy N

    I think that if you are getting that technical in regards of christianity, then you should leave your tickets, the stadium, the hot dogs and "follow him" instead of arguing about playing or not an mp3 file

    June 26, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • SSDD

      uh, I quit reading when he said playing the anthem "confused them" , which dropped the ball on any higher education going on at the college. I just had a picture of college students and professors walking around in a dazed manner as the Natl' anthem played , books falling off desks, saliva dripping absent mindedly from mouths and heads boinking together as they passed in corridors.
      in the cafeteria forks are stuck into nostrils and fingers sawed off....
      A lone dean standing in the middle of the campus screaming at the students... Make it stop, make it stop,!!!!!! PLLLEAAASSSSSEEE make it stop... "" sob sob... crumples into a ball and sucks his thumb..
      but then i think i might be overexaggerating- much like the article.. so I quit.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • frmrma

      @SSDD – what confused him was that the college chose to start playing it even though they never had before in the school's 116 year history. Not that hard to understand.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:14 am |
  19. Ryan Tiedgen

    It's God and Country, not God or Country. They run parallel and you're silly little fruit-basket college needs to have some respect, and be thankful for your freedom to worship and learn however and whatever you want. You are absolutely disrespecting every person who fought for your mincy, whiny school to exist. At the end of the day, sure man, you can do whatever you want. It's America, right? But you are exclaiming publicly that you choose your faith INSTEAD OF America, and that makes you about as useful to this country as a guy in a cave in Afghanistan. And the rest of us, the ones who love this country regardless of how messed up it is or isn't at any given time, regardless of our faith, we don't take kindly to ungrateful folks slapping America in the face. I hope this publicity let's people know how terrible your values have become, and your school suffers greatly because of it.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • David

      USA! USA! Bomb everyone else!

      June 26, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • anno

      Why do people with traditional "christian" values often sound so intolerant and closed minded as you do Mr. Tiedgen? This is not the tolerance I read in the new testament. This school actually is nothing special. Jehovah Witnesses also have similar viewpoints about separation of church and state.

      June 26, 2011 at 6:11 am |
  20. Jay

    Oh and by the way I hope that this "college" does not get one cent of my tax money to help them in anyway.... You know gotta keep state and church apart. They better start passing that collection plate around those sports events to pay there bills and etc.

    June 26, 2011 at 5:57 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.