Mennonite Pastor Backs College Ban of 'Star Spangled Banner'

Believe in allegiance to Christ rather than country.

They want to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but they will not sing about it.

A Mennonite pastor from Waynesboro, Va., is catching the media’s attention this week by reviving his religion’s belief to ban the “Star Spangled Banner” from athletic events – or anywhere else for that matter.

Mark Schloneger , pastor of Springdale Mennonite Church, wrote a letter this week voicing his objections to America’s national anthem and to explain why a college in Indiana has banned the song.

Mennonites firmly believe the lyrics in the Star Spangled Banner violate their pacifist ideals. They firmly believe that an individual’s allegiance should be to Christ rather than country.

Schloneger was interviewed by CNN on Thursday, just as our nation is gearing up to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, parades, barbecues, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions, political speeches and of course, the Star Spangled Banner.

After much debate, Goshen College, a Mennonite college in Indiana and Schloneger’s alma mater, banned the national anthem from all sporting events for a second time this week.

Schloneger writes about the fact that Goshen College began playing the Star-Spangled Banner only last year, but after a “thoughtful, thorough, prayerful period of listening, learning and discerning."

The college board said this week that playing the song “compromises our ability” to pursue the school’s vision, according to the order issued by the college board.

Goshen, which is operated as a ministry of Mennonite Church USA, had banned the anthem for decades, but in February 2010 approved the playing of an instrumental version.

“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,” Schloneger wrote in his letter.

“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," the letter states.

Schloneger basically goes on to explain and promote the college’s decision 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.”

Mennonites are a branch of the Christian church, with roots going back to the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

The Mennonite church emphasizes service to others as an important way of expressing one's faith. A large number of Mennonites spend part of their lives working as missionaries or volunteers helping those in need.

John Roth, a Goshen College history professor, said in a recent interview that Mennonites have historically avoided the song because its lyrics describe using war and military might to defend the country.

"The link between the national anthem and the military identity of the nation is made very explicit," Roth said.

Schloneger’s comments in the letter about the national anthem are rather straight forward, according to analysts and others who have listened to his beliefs.

“I am not sure why this pastor or the Mennonites in general would continue to object to a historical song that promotes celebration and freedom,” said Dr. Landry Nichols, a retired pastor from New Orleans, La.

“It is that freedom we are blessed with that allows us to worship in the way we believe. The song, to me, is about inspiration.”

Schloneger is specific about the actual lyrics in the song as he comments that, “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.”

The pastor admits in the letter that the Mennonites or “tribe” is “strange and sometimes it’s hard to be strange.”

His commentary ends with some convictions about the country. “…we have no 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," he wrote.

Today large Mennonite populations can be found in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas, although Mennonites live in all parts of the United States and the world.

Did you know?

At 7 a.m. on September 13, 1814, the British bombardment of Ft. McHenry began. The bombardment continued for 25 hours, with the British firing rockets across the sky.

Francis Scott Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes watched the battle with apprehension. They knew that as long as the shelling continued, Fort McHenry had not surrendered. But, long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. Judging Baltimore as being too costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat.

In the predawn darkness, Key waited for the sight that would end his anxiety: the joyous sight of Gen. Armistead's great flag blowing in the breeze. When daylight came, Key spotted the huge flag waving above the Ft. McHenry.

Thrilled by the sight of the flag and the knowledge that the fort had not fallen, Key took a letter from his pocket, and began to write some verses on the back of it. Later, after the British fleet had withdrawn, Key checked into a Baltimore hotel, and completed his poem on the defense of Fort McHenry. He then sent it to a printer for duplication on handbills, and within a few days the poem was put to the music of an old English song. Both the new song and the flag became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In October of that year, a Baltimore actor sang Key's new song in a public performance and called it "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Although the song was immediately popular, it remained just one of several patriotic airs until it was officially named our national anthem by Congress in 1931.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Here are the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner:

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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