Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In defense of Goshen College

This should be fun, today being Flag Day and all.

Goshen College, a Mennonite college just up the road from where we live, has decided to not play the Star Spangled Banner, aka the National Anthem, before sporting events held at the school. Needless to say, this is going over like a lead balloon.

Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana, has become a target of public outrage over its decision to ban the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events because it conflicts with the school's core values.

“We recognize that some people may not be satisfied with this decision, but we believe it is the right one for Goshen College,” Ricky Stiffney, chairman of the college’s board of directors, said in a written statement. “The board has a diversity of views on this issue as reflected through the process of considering the anthem.”

According to an online fact sheet on the issue, the college noted: “Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”
No doubt this is fodder for many a commentator. One can only imagine the feigned outrage this will stir up from Bill O’Reilly or perhaps Glenn Beck. I got a kick out of this reasonable comment from a local politician:

Goshen City Councilman Harland Lantz told Fox News Radio that the decision is “anti-American.”

“It really hurts,” he said. “(The national anthem) is the American way.”

“Instead of living here in Goshen, they should go down and live in Cuba or Iran,” he said. “Then have them come back and see if their attitude has changed.”
Nothing more anti-American than free speech and religious liberty! Deport 'em all! That’ll learn ‘em! Love her or leave her! See I thought freedom of expression, especially free speech and freedom of religion, was the American way. Should we only permit freedom of religion for those groups that sing the National Anthem? Anybody who chooses not to engage in this sort of political speech should be deported to Cuba or Iran until they learn their lesson?

So what? Here is what. I think that Goshen is on the right side of this issue for a couple of reasons.

First, Goshen College is a Mennonite school and as such has a specific and intentional peace message. As this article points out, Mennonites have long history of separation from state, Mennonites and all mainstream Anabaptists have always held to this sort of position. The Schleitheim Confession, which is about as close as you are going to get for a unifying Anabaptist confession speaks quite clearly regarding the Anabaptist view of the state, specifically the sword and the magistrate. Anabaptists have long eschewed entanglements with the secular government, seeing such as a dangerous blurring of the lines that has had disastrous effects for virtually the entire history of the church. The long line of Anabaptists martyred by the unholy union of church and state in Europe speaks to the wisdom of their position.

Second and more importantly I think this is the proper position for any Christian institution or organization. Let me be blunt (because that so unusual for me):

I do not think that any Christian churches, organizations, parachurch ministries, colleges, etc. should sing the American National Anthem (or any other national song), pledge allegiance to a flag, sing songs in praise of America, place American flags in their buildings or engage in any sort of celebration of American military actions as part of their gatherings.

In Romans 13 we are called to submit to whichever governing authorities God has placed over us. Whether that means you are a first century Christian under the oppressive regime of Rome or a 20th century German living under Nazism or whether it means that you are a Christian who lives in America (even under a Democratic President). Romans 13 does not mean that we are required or even encouraged to exalt the nation we happen to live in over any other nation much less sing songs in its praise or swear oaths to its flag or worst of all kill others at its behest. Singing the national anthem before sporting events is a lovely tradition but the last time I checked it was not a condition of citizenship or a legal requirement. If you want to argue that American Christians should sing the national anthem, think about what that would mean to Christians today and throughout the ages that God placed in less pleasant countries.

It is not only perfectly appropriate as a Mennonite school for Goshen to decline to play the Star Spangled Banner, it is quite possibly inappropriate for any Christian college to play the national anthem.

What say you? Is this a principled stand on the part of Goshen College? A choice example of lib’ral political correctness run amok? The right and proper position of all Christian groups?


Anonymous said...

From Pentecost to todays date followers of Christ have been persecuted for their faith mainly for the following reasons:

1) In obedience to Christ they would not pledge their allegiance to any man or entity other than the LORD Jesus Christ, first Rome and then Romes lesser successors.

2) In obedience to Christ they would not kill in the name of Rome or Romes lesser successors.

3) They loved their enemies, turned the other cheek, the would not cast stones at those caught in sin, they would not judge others, they would not seek venegeance upon others in obedience to Christ etc.

There is a religion that uses Christian terminology that does not require you to be obedient to Christ's commands and it is a very prevalent religion here in the United States and if you belong to that religion, you will be left alone.

If you however follow Christ people will hate you and treat you with suspicion. Even though Christ followers do not pledge allegiance to a flag our pledge of allegiance to Christ and His peaceable Kingdom is no physical threat to them or the flag they serve.

-Mike Hutchison

Aussie John said...


I, for one, agree with you.

The prime allegiance of the Body of Christ being to her Lord and Master, means that all habitual, blind, unthinking allegiances are, at least limiting, and even destructive, of that prime allegiance.

We have one King and belong to one Kingdom, our earthly abode is important, but secondary.

Bean said...

From what I understand Goshen College never sung the national anthem up until a year ago, they then decided to give it a try for one year and review to see if they wished to continue with it or go back to not singing it. No one seemed to mind all the years they didn't sing it, but do mind because they are staying true to their beliefs??? At least Goshen College has the gumption to stick to their beliefs, unfortunately many other Christian colleges and universities have opted to be politically correct and have watered down their Christian beliefs so that they can cater to all, and in doing so totally lose purpose.

Fred Shope said...

I'm with you. We Christians who are also American citizens forget that our allegiance is to be given to the King. I stopped pledging allegiance to the flag a while ago, and have left "worship" services where the only thing being worshiped is America.

Arthur Sido said...

Well my readership must have changed dramatically, I expected a bunch of comments calling me names! Thanks for the comments!


It seems sometimes that we think that the church as we understand it in America is how it has always been but the history of God's people throughout the years looks quite different. Not being able to display the Ten Commandments on public land isn't persecution, being arrested and reviled for refusing to place loaylty to Christ beneath loyalty to country certainly is.


I think you are right, you have been in the area longer than I have. I applaud Goshen for holding fast to their historical roots.


You mean you don't sing the Star Spangled Banner in Australia?!


It never used to bother me but when our hymnals are full of patriotic songs and we display American flags on the platform, I think something has gone terrible wrong,

Aussie John said...


My reply to your post was ambiguous. to say the least.

It seemed to imply "we" Aussies have one King and one Kingdom. Far from it!

Wish it were so!

Did you think we were one of the states who flew the Star Strangled Hammer? :)