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. dolph watts

    You can't have it both ways. You may love the continent or the land you work on, but you can't love your country if you don't believe in borders. It sounds great and so religious, but if you aren't willing to fight for your country and your rights, then the 'true freedom' that comes from God is likely to be a short lived blessing. I have great respect for the faith that the amish and menonite communities demonstrate in their daily lives, but I have no respect for someone that so gratuitiously lives off the sacrifice of others and then goes on to criticize the sacrifice of those others that make their lifestyle possible. If they truly believe that 'true freedom' comes only from God, then I suggest they come over here to Afghanistan and demonstrate it for the less than tolerant Moslems instead of basking in the freedom of America – paid for in blood, and not any of theirs, while criticizing the choices of those patriots that paid that price for them as well as all Americans. I truly believe in the freedom of religion, it is one of the reasons I serve and I believe in the freedom of political speech, but for those of you that choose to not participate in the rest of society, please make your non-participation complete and shut up.

    November 25, 2012 at 6:14 am |
    • Jeff

      Mennonites actually are over in Afghanistan. Many are working to help build healthy communities. It seems that you operate with the idea the violence can somehow create a lasting peace. And you're ignorant if you think America has somehow faithfully protected all of its citizens. Christians have been around long before the United States.

      May 15, 2013 at 1:01 am |
  2. Leigha

    Off course subnircbisg to the rss feed will get you some of my updates but it does not get you everything.I have other terrific blogs and a fantastic newsletter, PLUS I reserve a lot of things just for my subscribers.To make sure you don92t miss out you should subscribe to my FREE newsletter.There should be a sign up box in the sidebar 979797->

    September 9, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  3. J.W

    There are Mennonites in other countries besides the United States.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  4. R. California

    To seek peace above all else is a noble pursuit and should be sought by all mankind, but even the ancient Israelites, the chosen people of God to whom God repeatedly swore to defend (which he did according to their righteousness), even they were required to take up arms to defend themselves against their enemies. To enjoy the freedoms secured by the blood shed by others without sharing or endorsing their sacrifice (vis a vis the singing of the national anthem) is hypocritical and in my opinion entirely contrary to the doctrine of Jesus Christ. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) If the Savior of the world was required to give up his life to free us from sin, why should a group of people that profess to follow Him believe they can avoid the reproachable, but all too often necessary requirement to defend their freedom, even "with rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air"? To sing the national anthem is not to endorse violence or bloodshed, but to vocally show our support for those who risk their lives so we don't have to.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Jeff

      Talk about twisting the gospel message around. The scripture you quote says nothing about killing someone to lay down one's life. Jesus apparently carried enough about obeying the Father that he didn't resist his own death. And in Phillipians it says, he was obedient to death, even death on a cross." Do you even know that most Christian leaders taught nonviolence up until Constantine made it a state religion?

      May 15, 2013 at 1:07 am |
    • Athy

      Do you realize you're responding to a post that's about a year old?

      May 15, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  5. Kareem

    That’s the whole point of being an American. Your community has the freedom to play or not play our National Anthem. To further develop that we "didn't go far enough" is the event of playing or not playing the Star Spangled Banner may not have derived so much attention. We all like to promote freedom and quote our founding practices, but criticizing a freedom of any kind that is within the boundaries of our law is a retreat from liberty.

    July 2, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  6. steve19

    While I appreciate the writer's comments and his standing by his convictions, I do not see any contradictions or problems with multi-allegiances. On the contrary, I think that the Bible encourages it. Like the writer, I, too, am a Christian, and my allegiance to Christ is first and foremost. He is #1 with me and has my devotion above all. But that does not preclude my loyalty, or my allegiance, if you will, to my wife and my children, my country, my friends, my place of work, or even something of as little importance as a recreational sports team that I might play on. I realize that, other than God, any person or organization is fallible and will make mistakes, but that does not mean that I cannot or should not have a qualified allegiance to them. Allegiance (other than to God, who is perfect) need not be blind or forever binding. It does not mean that I have to agree with everything that they do. Quite the opposite; loyalty demands that I gently and humbly point out to my colleague when they have gone off a good path and that they do the same for me. When I say the pledge of allegiance, or sing the national anthem, this is what is in my heart and I think in the heart of many Americans. And having pledged that allegiance or having celebrated my country, I have in no way diminished my ultimate allegiance, which is to God.

    July 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • LC

      You, my friend, are wrong in your theology. You 'think' that the Bible encourages.... actually the Bible is the exact opposite.
      Matthews 6: 24 tells us that we cannot have two masters . This is the most obvious example, but there are many more. If you want to strengthen your faith, I recommend you dive into the Bible and see what it has to say (not commentaries, not sermons, the Bible). Peace.

      November 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  7. andrewburns76

    How nice for the author and those like him not to have to "believe" in the ugliness of "the rockets red glare" or the concept of a republic. Yet, you sure don't seem to have a problem living your life enjoying the benefits delivered to you by those that protect your country. No doubt you call them sinners while you enjoy the fruits of their "sins." Do you not see the irony and hypocrisy? No matter, you can sit there on your high horse and pass judgement to your little hearts content, we all know what you really are – cowards.

    July 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  8. betweenathensandjerusalem

    Reblogged this on Between Athens and Jerusalem.

    July 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  9. Pt8685

    Weird. The author totally misunderstands the purpose of the anthem.

    The flag is a metaphor for America. It's 'broad stripes and bright stars' are symbols of our heritage (13 colonies) and our present republic (50 states). We remain unified and free even through great trial, adversity, and war ('the rickets red glare, the bombs bursting in air'). The song is a statement of solidarity and perseverance, and also a rallying cry to the world that says we will always be here to stand for justice and liberty. The same Justice and liberty God calls on us to witness to the world.

    I'd Ike to think that if the author thought more deeply about this symbolism, he might reinstate the singing of the anthem at his events.

    July 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jeff

      Doesn't sound like metaphor to me....sounds like the United States defending itself against the British during the War of 1812. While that's all well and good, I find it ironic that the "enemy" in the song is now one of the US strongest allies.

      May 15, 2013 at 1:14 am |
  10. Flamespeak

    When you say the pledge of allegiance, you don't pledge your allegiance to the country of the USA, you pledge it to the 'flag of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands'. I don't know what that means to you, but to me it means I pledge to ideal that the USA is supposed to represent. The idea that a land should exist where people are free to be themselves, to believe what they want to believe, and to unite with the common ideal that freedom is the most sacred right that humans have. It is the idea that we are not bound to a country by birth, but we are bound to it because we believe in the people united there, people that would face any and all threats to themselves and others in order to keep this land free from oppression, free from tyrany, and free from personal manipulation from factors both foreign and domestic.

    The Star-Spangled Banner is a song that epitomizes the very soul of that belief. It is the telling of a stubborn and bullheaded nation that never wavers in its ideals and concepts, despite great and terrible forces telling them to do so. One should never pledge allegiance to country simply because you are in the boundries of the nation, you should pledge allegiance to the dream, the hope that, one day, that nation will show what it means to truly be great. Is the USA a great representation of the idea it tries to put forth? Not yet. It has done much to showcase how truly wonderful it can be over its existence, but it has yet to acheive the staggeringly high goal it set for itself. We must do all that we can to ensure that dream becomes a reality, not because we are obligated to, not because we are told to do so, but because we choose to do so, and we choose do so because it is simply the right thing to do.

    July 1, 2012 at 4:24 am |
  11. Pam

    I am not Mennonite, but have felt this same way when pledging my allegiance to the flag and this great country that I love. My allegiance is to the triune God. I could leave this country, although it would be hard. We could change the flag, although it would feel strange. But I cannot renounce my faith in God and my allegiance to Him. I am so glad to read of someone else who feels the same way!

    December 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Seema

      Since teen years the #1 prime books to received my depeest respect were/are personal memoirs thus I say cheers to Shirley for her dreams taking form in the announcement of receiving a publisher's contract. Side note From 1996 2011 some of my most exciting days of the year are leading folks (all ages, male/female of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds) as I coach, teach, and coordinate Heritage Watchers, a nine session series meeting the 1st Thursday of each month. Similar to Weight Watchers, we are a support group since history/heritage is usually one of the last things most people hold as a personal priority. We are detectives as far too many heirlooms (early cookbooks, letters, diaries, photographs) are stashed in dirty attics, fallen down wood sheds, and even in old pig pens as their owners say who cares about that old stuff . Heritage Watchers honors family roots: Its a spiritual journey, a discovery of genograms and birthmarks, a healing time with seasons of hope and change. Last of all, of the 20-25 teaching papers per each session, this is my #1 prime favorite release I created back in 1996 and these lines clearly hold a similar rhythm I feel coming from Shirley. (May God bless her and someday, someway may her memoir writings deeply bless her back home circles.)Family Memories: Why Our Stories Are Unknown to Many of Us. Turn of the 2Oth century Mennonites of Lancaster County were not deliberate about storytelling. While these women and men worked hard at developing bigger, finer farms they seldom preserved personal thoughts, feelings, and family stories. A variety of factors exist.1. Belief that storytelling was a waste of time/frivolous. It didn't make any money. It was better to work with one's hands than reflect or think too much. 2. Formation of close, closed ethnic circles. Stories were to be received by in house osmosis NOT from published family writings.3. Fear of gossip, inaccuracies, and judgment.4. Urge to be a pious humble people. To tell good feelings/accomplishments could promote pride. True humility did not promote museums or personal publications.5. Experience with painful times caused denial of past. Talking about it makes it worse. 6. Desire to look good by preserving the family name.

      September 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  12. Skippy

    Do what you want. It's a free country and it's free because of the "bombs bursting in air and the rockets red glare". Also, those bombs and rockets are how you are able to practice any religion you want. So do what you want but "DON'T FORGET" your freedom didn't come for free.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Jeff

      Slappy, Mennonites have a longer memory than you. We were practicing our faith long before it was "free." Mennonites were persecuted for it – and still are in some parts of the world. Freedom of religion was a Mennonite idea long before it was an American one. And we did die for it...we just never killed for it (save for Munster...those exceptions to the rule).

      May 15, 2013 at 1:19 am |
  13. EMJ

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am also a christian, served most of my adult life in the US Army, patriotic, but believe that God is the only person to whom I should pledge allegiance. I cannot pledge allegiance to any country that make laws that are contrary to the God's word. This does not mean that I do not love this country. I do and I'll fight for it to protect my freedom to speak the word. Nevertheless, it is not a christian nation as many believe. It was not founded on christian princiiples but on religiious beliefs about God. When you view and treat another human as 1/3 human, enslave another human being, and think that you are superior to another ethnic group, then it cannot be claimed that it was founded on godly principles.

    July 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  14. DaleH

    This is now the second writing you have done that I have read. The first was about saluting the flag. I LOVE THIS!!!!! There is only ONE kingdom we should be focusing on as believers: the Kingdom of God! Thank you for saying this! I am glad to be an American, but my allegiance, heart, mind, and soul belong to God alone, and not to a country made by the hands of men. God, please soon, thy kingdom come!

    July 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  15. wwsd

    the amish considered the menonites to liberal and broke away

    July 21, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  16. abdul

    so far so good! i didn't hear Denver's KBPI employees enter the Mennonite Church in Waynesboro, Virginia and playing " THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER" on a bugle and trumpets as it happened with Colorado Mosque in response to Mahmoud Abdul- Rauf's refusal to stand for the National anthem

    July 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Andy

    We don't care about your faith or your reasons for not singing the national anthem. That's the beauty of this country. Shut your yap and consider yourself lucky!

    July 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Jeff

      haha, oh Andy. Way to relativize this whole conversation. Why even bother writing something about a post you supposedly don't care about?

      May 15, 2013 at 1:15 am |
  18. God

    Religion is psychotic. The End.

    July 20, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  19. Andrew

    Is it just me, or did everyone miss the hidden message? The only reason Nidal Malik did what he did was that he held his faith above his country, and above his fellow soldiers. Same situation here, and this frank sincere testimony is, frankly, scary. The fact that other people think this much devotion is exemplary, is even more scary.

    July 20, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • Mish

      It is rather frightening, but it also depends on what you interpret as your "faith" – if your faith includes killing innocents, or even killing fellow soldiers who are not engaged in a way with Muslims, but with extremists – yeah, you're a nutjob. If your faith includes non-violence while holding your Christianity as the "nation" you belong to, above constantly shifting country lines, boundaries and political ideologies your home nation can comprise of, I have a bit more sympathy . I am descended from Quakers, Huguenots and Mennonites – people who had to flee their mother countries to survive in an foreign land. My mother's family comprises of Mennonites who escaped religious and political persecution in Russia. They had lived there for decades, but the political landscape turned against them – would you vow allegiance to a political system that believes you are better off dead? That's where Mennonites are "coming from". Nations are NOT forever – they fall and change. It is our IDEALS and fighting non-violently for those ideals that can make nations continue to be equal and humane, and it doesn't have to be nationalist in nature – it can be humanist instead. Personally I'd like to take religion out of the equation entirely, and just be humanist, but that is where Mennonites find their cohesive unifier – let them continue to do so, if at the end of the day, it makes them better people. If only all religions took "non-violence" so seriously as a tenant of their faith.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  20. Scott715

    Sorry Mark, as much as I am a very strong supporter of the seperation of chuch and state the two are not as completely inseperable as you want to pretend they are. If you don't believe me move your little tribe to Saudi Arabia and see how it goes. The idea of national borders you sneer at are the same borders that protect your right to pretend they don't exist. Anyway. Even if borders are an artifical political construct they are demonstratably more real than your imaginary friend Jesus. And please tell me what "freedom" comes from God? He demands unquestioning obidience to his most capricious whim, and condems anyone for even seeking proof of his actual existence. Where is there room for freedom anywhere in Christianity? Free will? What a choice. Grovel before the invisible man or burn in a lake of fire, what a great choice!

    July 16, 2011 at 6:11 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.