July 5th, 2013
05:40 PM ET
Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement
By David R. Wheeler, special to CNN
(CNN) - Like many congregations, The Mennonite Worker Community of Minneapolis held a worship service and picnic this Fourth of July - but instead of extolling the virtues of America, they called attention to its faults.
The annual service is “a sort of anti-patriotic holiday,” says Mark Van Steenwyk, whose community focuses on simplicity, prayer and peacemaking. Singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is out. Reflecting on the contradictions between the gospel and the American Dream are in.
“We thank you, O God, for the good things we enjoy in our lives," reads a prayer the Mennonite community recites each year, "but lament that our abundance has brought destitution to sisters and brothers throughout the Earth.”
Anti-patriots like Van Steenwyk say their movement, which has grown more vocal in recent years, is simply an honest way to read – and live out – Jesus' teachings on nonviolence. But it's hard to look at groups like The Mennonite Community and not see an implicit criticism of God-and-country cheerleading by mainstream Christians and ripples of centuries-old church-state tensions.
Some anti-patriots come from pacifist Anabaptist traditions, such as the Mennonite Church. Others come from evangelical backgrounds but have rejected their counterparts' often unreserved patriotism and embraced liberal-leaning communities like Red Letter Christians and JesusRadicals.com.
They may differ on theological details, but they hold at least one belief in common: You cannot serve both God and country.
A Suspicion of the State
Anabaptists such as Mennonites and the Amish were persecuted by state churches in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, and their descendants bear a lasting suspicion of human authorities.
Many an Amish and Mennonite home keeps a copy of "The Martyr's Mirror," a book thick with testimonies of Anabaptists burned at the stake of orthodoxy. The book's subtitle refers to the martys as "defenseless Christians," a nod to Anabaptists' belief that when Jesus called on Christians to turn the other cheek, he was quite serious.
For that reason, Anabaptists historically do not participate in warfare — or celebrate military victories.
American Anabaptists have been fined or jailed for their pacifist beliefs during wartime. Four Hutterites died from harsh treatment while imprisoned as conscientious objectors during World War I, Bach says. Anabaptists didn’t receive official permission to perform alternative service until World War II.
READ MORE: Bolivia’s isolated Mennonite community
“Some members of Anabaptist groups today are more acculturated and celebrate patriotic holidays just like the rest of the nation,” says Jeff Bach, director of Elizabethtown College's Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. “None of the Anabaptist groups are anti-American. They are typically grateful for the religious freedom permitted in the United States.”
Still, in 2011, Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana, banned the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events because, according to the college’s president, the lyrics were too violent.
Serving `the King'
It may be difficult for some Americans to understand why their countrymen would disassociate themselves from patriotism. What’s the harm in celebrating Independence Day, anyway?
But nonpatriotic Christians believe the burden of proof should fall on the other side: Why should peace-loving believers celebrate a bloody revolution? And American history after 1776 isn’t exactly pacifistic either, Van Steenwyk says.
“It is easy to judge Islam for the actions of a relative few militants. Yet when millions of Americans — a vast majority of them claiming the Christian faith — were complicit with slavery, indigenous genocide, and continued economic exploitation, we suddenly see them as separate from our faith,” says Van Steenwyk.
Jesus called his followers to Christian service and humility, which are the opposite of nationalistic rituals performed on the Fourth of July, says David Swartz, author of “Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.”
“A heightened devotion to the nation can cause a lot of confusion abroad when people see claims of a Christian America alongside a long American history of slavery, economic inequality and overheated Hollywood sexuality and violence,” says Swartz.
Kurt Willems, who runs the progressive Christian blog Pangea, has also joined the rising nonpatriotic chorus. The Anabaptist from Seattle writes an annual post explaining why he no longer celebrates Independence Day.
“Each year I receive comments about how I should leave this country if I ‘hate’ it so much,” he says. “I love Americans, but I’m not willing to compromise my values as a servant of my only King, the nonviolent revolutionary — Jesus.”
Making Toby Keith Proud
Many Christians trace the latest wave of evangelical interest in pacifism to author and activist Shane Claiborne, who worked with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, ministered to Iraqis during the war in Iraq and now leads a Philadelphia community called The Simple Way.
“My philosophy on patriotic things would be: A love for the people of our country is not a bad thing, but why should love stop at the border?” says Claiborne.
There have been some nonpatriotic gatherings in major cities, such as the Los Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Mourn on the Fourth of July” peace march in 2008.
Still the nonpatriot movement remains small, and finding local communities can be challenging, Van Steenwyk says.
“Everyone knows that other folks think like them, but it isn’t like there are a lot of congregations that self-identify as being nonpatriotic.”
That’s especially true for evangelicals, who lead the country in patriotic fervor.
More than 80% of white evangelicals believe that God has granted the United States a "special role" in history, according to a survey released June 27 by the Public Religion Research Institute.
In a stat that would make Toby Keith proud, more than two-thirds of white evangelicals say they are "very proud" to be an American, outstripping every other religious group polled.
So it's not surprising that some conservative Christians find the nonpatriotic alliance of progressive evangelicals and Anabaptists troubling — even dangerous.
“All Christians everywhere are called to love and serve their nations,” says Mark Tooley, a president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a United Methodist.
READ MORE: Celebrating the Fourth of July
“The stance of some evangelical elites influenced by neo-Anabaptist beliefs is often one of ingratitude, and whining, while ignoring the teaching of the universal Church, which has always recognized the God-ordained vocation of the state, and the Christian’s calling to serve as responsible citizens,” he says.
Tooley also disagrees with the nonpatriotic Christians on about military force, which he says is required to maintain order worldwide. Nonpatriot Christians are naïve not to consider the ill effects should the United States abdicate military power, he says
“What would the alternatives be if the USA didn’t exist or withdrew from the world stage? Almost certainly a more dangerous, more anarchic, more repressive, less prosperous world with less opportunity for the poor to escape poverty,” Tooley argues.
No Middle Ground?
Some patriotic pastors argue for a middle way: honoring America without succumbing to chauvinism or ignoring the country's wrongs.
“Do I agree with every major policy of our government? No way,” says Kyle Vanover, pastor of Cyrus Chapel United Methodist Church in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. “But I’m proud to be an American, and I believe God has truly blessed this land.”
Van Steenwyk, however, says there is no middle ground.
Jesus’ identification with the poor, love of enemies, and refusal to take power are incompatible with the “entire political and economic system” of the United States, he says.
“Let’s face it — the Sermon on the Mount makes for lousy foreign or public policy. We can’t have it both ways.”
David R. Wheeler is a journalism professor and freelance writer living in Lexington, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter at: @David_R_Wheeler
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.
I can see it now.. two aliens from another planet visited earth thousands of years ago. One nudged the other and giggled, "You want to do the jesus/god thing here too?"
I'd like to think anyone who gets the opportunity to play around like that would at least try out different religious ideas each time. Then again, that could explain a lot...
"...aliens visited earth thousands of years ago..." and your handle is Realist?
christians are so annoying.. Wish they'd grow up and leave their fantasies behind.
it's not their fault they are so gullible. Consider the effects of telling children they are sinners? There is a fiery hell? This is basic brainwashing techniques. Reducing and creating fears. Dictators and religions behave the same.. Stalin, Meo, christian, muslim,, all destroyed human lives by controlling others.
And everything you just assumed about me is wrong. I was not told by my parents I'm a sinner (they weren't Christians). I have not been brainwashed. And I'm not controlled by others. Just thought you should know the real truth.
A strong dose of maturity would give you a boost. We are all humans...and we all face life's challenges in different ways. Christians base their thoughts on truths as taught by Jesus of Nazareth whose life on earth was not a fairy tale. Their beliefs extend from a 2000 yr old text and a tradition just as old. Their interpretations and views vary widely, but that does not erase the central tenets of their religion. Other religious and non-religious people have their texts and their heroes and, because none of us really know more than what we believe, we are all of us easily accused of "fairy tales" by another....or, seen another way, seeing and practicing life through our interpretations of what is right which, in this land, is our right. You may wish to judge your own "fairy tales" before you judge others'.
I'm a christian has even more fantasies.. How funny. You sound like a little kid in a tree house making up stories.
christian/muslim,, all the same. Each side believes they are the good and true one, the other one destroys..
You pretend like your "secular society" is good, and that all other societies destroy. You sound like a hypocrite.
Are you categorizing everybody that is a Christian the Same? Does not sound like a thinking man. I assure you there are Christians that can hold their own and then some through science, common sense and the Bible.
Van Steenwyk is always welcome (and free) to leave.
Or you could.
How harsh to tell someone to leave when they probably grew up here and have their family, friends and jobs here. Since when is someone not allowed to criticize their nation? That would sound like more of a cult or dictatorship–a nationalist one. Everyone has to think the same? Dictators do not allow criticism. Isn't free speech supposed to allow dissent? So, now it seems that those that speak out and allow others to speak out are more like the true Americans. Criticism doesn't mean that you hate your country or that you are criticizing everything and everyone in it.
"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." – Thomas Jefferson.
Obviously, some of us have forgotten that true patriots DO criticize their government, as they love their country and want it to improve. To suggest "love it or leave it" simply reflects ignorance of the views of our "Founding Fathers", IMHO.
Thanks for the discussion, y'all, Christians and non-Christians alike. I appreciate everyone volunteering their opinions, as I believe there can be no positive discourse (progress!) without opposing views.
If serving in the military is so horrible how is it the none of the Centurions mentioned in the bible are ever called out for being in the roman military by any of the disciples or even Jesus himself?
1) because so are not many other employments – the call is to all human beings, it is not possible to talk about potters, engineers, smiths, soldiers, etc.; 2) because this world is rotten anyway (so let the pagan Romans have it and be rotten in it if they so desire – read your Church fathers), Christians are to look towards the other kingdom, and leave material possessions and ambitions behind.
If Christians do this type of thing it's called anti patriotic.
When liberals do this type of thing it's compassionate activism.
These denominations call themselves anti-patriots. You seem to think this is a label others give them.
Keep Playing the Victim, next time read the article.
They were calling themselves anti-patriotic.
I don't label the Christians anything other than gullible.
But that is stating the obvious
Nope. Those interviewed never self-describe as "anti-patriot" but, at best "nonpatriotic." The author/editors put the label "anti-patriotic" on those interviewed.
"The annual service is “a sort of anti-patriotic holiday,” says Mark Van Steenwyk"
It seems clear enough to me. A short while later, he says:
"it isn’t like there are a lot of congregations that self-identify as being nonpatriotic.”
These are the only 2 self-descriptions in the article using either term.
It should not surprise that anyone with the label "christian" is a few cards short of a deck. They get their marching orders from a really squirlly book called the bible and a bunch of religious hucksters like billy graham who claim to know exactly what their "god" wants, needs or directs. If they ever had to think for themselves those temples of hate they call churches would become more useless than they already are.
Did you even read the article? Regardless of whether or not you agree with their approach or position, their main point it is to CRITICIZE, among other things, organized religion.
No middle ground = zealot
You're wrong, he's called Jesus:
‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth'.
You are wrong. SHe's called Luthien
""Keen, heart-piercing was her song as the song of the lark that rises from the gates of night and pours its voice among the dying stars, seeing the sun behind the walls of the world; and the song of Lúthien released the bonds of winter, and the frozen waters spoke, and flowers sprang from the cold earth where her feet had passed." – Page 165
The picture and the message does not jive with the date. At 80 degrees in the morning in Minneapolis, no one would be wearing hats, sweaters or down jackets. We do that up here at 20 degrees. These people would be in shorts. Moot point, I know, but still.
It takes CNN to draw a link between a small group of people doing this, and "an implicit criticism of God-and-country cheerleading by mainstream Christians". Thanks for contributing to the divisiveness in this country, CNN.
Once again, its not "CNN", its a christian blogger. A Blog. An opinion piece, written by one of your own. I'm sorry you have such difficulty in understanding this. Maybe you should explain to him that he isnt the correct sort of christian.
No one is more divisive to Christians than Christians themselves as they trot off to their respective churches this Sunday morning based on their splintered beliefs which has created thousands of denominations.
You don't like the message, so you shoot the messenger ?
Sneak an apple out of their orchard or a cup of milk from their cows, then they become as peaceful and loving as the Jihadists.
"jesus died for your sins" is a statement by idiots. That's because every day people die for causes if you're a soldier in any part
of the world.
When will people wake from the delusion of religion?
New International Version (NIV)
The Work of the Holy Spirit
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Me 1-1 : 1 Your book is made up.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of earth worms and an ozzy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."
From the book of Bilbo, 1:1
Religion is the number one way to tell yourself that you're better than everyone else. Nothing else can touch it.
Bingo. Thats why the ultra-religious get so worked up when someone else dares to believe something different. Its not just enough for them to have thier own delusions, they demand everyone else have them too.
its the other way around, people spread their contempt for God who is here among us. This is evidence of the sin nature.
@ Austin: Which god, Austin? There are thousands.
Austin, please provide proof of your god. or conversely, please prove that Zeus and Apollo do not exist and we'll use your method to prove your god does not exist. We're waiting.......
approach God with longing and endearing heart. can you approach God with doubt and contempt, complaint of a bitter heart, and experience the power of God.?
i don't know the answer, but do you uinderstand free will? put some heart felt, sensative time into seeking and prasing God
I do have proof, and yours can come from the seal of your faith, from the Holy Spirit. You seek the wrong proof.
Yes , I have it, it is a testimony to me from a sovereign God.
Your personal relationship has a flawed approach. Seek out the spririt, invite the spirit, tend to the spirit, prepare a time and place for the spirit, don't look to other people.
Physicists like Paul Davies and writings of von Neumann,as Wigner and Peierls to the conclude that not everything is just matter in motion, and that in particular there is something about the human mind that transcends matter and its laws. They are interesting (and not religion based). If you haven't noticed by now, people that profess God does not exist never present a logical alternative.
I have mnany different plausible alternatives. I couyld fill this blog, since there are an infinite number of possibilities since we do not know. To randomly jump to any of these possibilites and proclaim it to be truth is what is illogical and irrational, especially since we can look at the history of the world, the propensity for men to make up gods to explain man's own ignorance, and see where this idea of a god came from. There are many, many possibilities, and each of them has its own probability.
It is for example, more probable that we are inside of a giant speck of dust, on a pedal of a flower, being held in the trunk of an elephant named Horton than any gods having had anything to do with us. There reason it is MORE probable that Horton hears a who is correct as opposed to any gods, is simply for the fact that dust, flowers and elephants exist, while the evidence for any of the thousands of gods is non-existant, making the probability HIGHER for Horto, since we have at least a small basis for reality, something that the god stories lack..
Not necessarily. Some may do just that but not all. If you have very low self value you may do that. But if religion or better put spirituality has a wholesome impact on your life you love yourself and others as well. If we love we do not put others down.
I hate articles like this that insinuate that all Christians think like this. Anyone can call themselves a Christian, it doesn't mean they are one. Just going to church or being a member of a certain denomination doesn't make you a Christian either, anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car. A Christian is someone that believes Jesus died for his sins and that Jesus rose from the dead.
So they are only christians if you think so?
It isnt "CNN" that blogs this nonsense every Sunday. Its "christians". Even christians dont agree with christians.
Every Christian I know claims to be THE True Christian®. That's all that really matters. The rest of you will suffer in the eternal flames along with the rest of us Jews, atheists, Muslims, and wrong type of Christians.
So you are now becoming a bible spammer. What point is all that? Really? Repeating the same drivel from your magic book does not offer anything to its validity.
Stop with the spam, and get that help you so desperately need.
there were 112 reasons as to why the post was ignorant of God and the bible.
This is my favorite blog so far.
Yes, yes, the bible proves the bible. Its the sheeple mantra.
As a Mennonite this is the first time that I've ever seen an article in a major publication talk about our beliefs. As a minority denomination, I get sick and tired of hearing that all Christians fits in the evangelical southern bible belt stereotype. It is easy for the media to portray that narrative because they understand it better. If anything, the media typically portrays Christians as narrow minded, antisciense bigots who are more concerned about telling other people how to live their lives. It is difficult for the media to reconcile that there are actually differences in Christianity...and that is ok.
Why should peace-loving believers celebrate a bloody revolution? Because without that you would have no freedom to speech, religion or the space here on CNN to post such an article. Patriots, many of them Christians fought and died that you may be free to believe as you do.
Damn right! Just look to the north to Canada! No big bloody revolution, and it's an absolute Hell! I mean, if you're sick, or injured in an accident, you don't need health insurance to get treatment! And they allow g-ay people to get married – they have for years! Insanity! Gun deaths? Only a few!
Clearly a bloody revolution is required.
Dear Mennonite Worker Committee,
Some added 21st century nitty-gritty–
AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD--
Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)
"Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."
Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;
Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).
Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)(As do the Mennonites)
The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.
Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
"Reflecting on the contradictions between the gospel and the American Dream are in." – Insane-o-fundie.
Sane people rejoice in those ever widening differences. Why these sheeple can't understand that thier invisible superfriend has no more weight than the next guys invisible superfriend.
Has anybody noticed that it's the religious fundamentalists (of all faiths) not the governments that are the ones trying to destroy not only America but the entire world?
I'm really surprised CNN allowed you to post that, but hey free speach I suppose. Knock yourself out.
cnn does not allow free speech, note " awaiting moderation" on anything cnn dislikes
Mr. Scrodinger you nailed that.
You speak to your ignorance. Extremism goes to the deep end.
Fundamentalists have the old paths and mourn the loss in America.
The loss in Acknowledging and serving God, immorality and an ever hateful Government to Christians.
The salt lost its savor a long time ago.
Demonize, yet fundamentalists love America, but our passport is first the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here we have yet another anti-Christian article on the un-belief blog.
Never would they slander Islam.
Mennonites, just like anarchists, sodomites and liberals stand on this great soil and mock it, yet without the US Military, they would not be standing there as fools and they would be sprechen sie Duetche.
we are hearing the last squeals of dying religions. The faster they are dying the louder they become.
Soon they will be left behind in history as the volcano worshipers and witch's.
and will always be. you will be gone but God remains eternal
sounds like you haven't grown up yet. One thing for sure,, the more educated AND intelligent one it, the less likely they believe in primitive man's voodoo.
The god Zeus made it for 7,000 years. This one won't make it another 100. Sad it takes so long for many to grow up.
And when that happens, man will evolve into good and caring people.
given the opportunity man degenerates into its baser nature. Atheists given absolute power have brutally tortured and murdered more innocent people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries.
@ j: 100% agree! Just look at Hitler! Horrible mass murderer. Damn fine Catholic.
The atheists you are talking about did not kill BECAUSE they were atheists, unlike thoise who have killed in the name of your god.
The christians have been responsible for deaths for millenia. People such as your brother in Christ, Hitler. He killed BECAUSE of his belief in your christian god. Events like the Spanish inquisition, The Crisades, the foreign "missions" , where is was common practice, believe in Christ or die.
You will not find that among the atheist rulers. They killed for political power, not because of a belief in a god or not.
Someone has been lying to you, and you are choosing to believe the lies...well that is not surprising since it would appear that you likely believe in the bible, so you are practiced in believing lies and not questioning their validity.
Christianity has been one of the biggest problems mankind has ever faced. Do some real research and stop promoting lies such as in your post.
"More than 80% of white evangelicals believe that God has granted the United States a "special role" in history, according to a survey released June 27"
Yep. Lot's of Germans believed that too after 1933. And we all know how that worked out...
Germany has become one of the most successful countries on the planet.
If Americans would be truly honest with themselves, they would view our history with shame and repentance instead of pride and boastfulness! The world might be better off as well.
Most Americans throughout all of its history have wanted nothing more than to live quiet lives and do what they can to keep themselves and their loved ones happy and cared for. There is nothing to be ashamed of about that all.
The government is another matter altogether, but seeing as there has never been a point in history where the government was not comprised of the very small populace of exceptionally wealthy or influencial people, it doesn't represent America any more than any other country's government government is a true representation of the populace.
Ebony, its not america that is evil, it is the elite that have stolen this nation that are evil. Over 100 years of corruption have rendered our nation ajoke to forgen government and our own people. And now obama, whom I voted for, had said they or privacy its of little interest to him. this nation needs civil war, to take back this great nation from the 1%
Please show me any country, especially a powerful one like the US that has not behaved as shamefully as us. Every country has its warts.
America was built on, and continues to be based on, the exploitation of other people. The land was stolen from the indigenous peoples. The south base built by slave labour. The railways built by Chinese coolies. it goes on and on. today, the Walmart billions are built on the backs of people earning minimum wage.
If the educational system in this country didn't provide ajaxed, cloroxed and sanitized fairytale VERSIONS of American History, a lot more Americans might be aware of the truth and therefore capable of being ashamed of their ancestor's behavior. Truthfully I can only speak to the versions I was taught many years ago; but I'd be surprised if today's textbooks, at least in the lower grades where these ideas are formed, have become more honest and accurate.