And they that wasted us

Do the faithful need a new National Anthem?

By Martha Woodroof, 09:34 PM ET, 07/02/2011

Oh what a patriotic tempest a small Anabaptist Indiana teapot of a college has provoked:

Goshen College Board of Directors ask for alternative to playing the national anthem

GOSHEN, Ind. — The Goshen College Board of Directors announced today that it has asked President James E. Brenneman to find an alternative to playing the Star-Spangled Banner that fits with sports tradition, that honors country and that resonates with Goshen College’s core values and respects the views of diverse constituencies. …


Mark Schlonger, pastor of Springdale Mennonite Church in Waynesboro, Virginia, wrote a thoughtful support of Goshen College’s decision for CNN’s blog My Faith, in which he said,

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.

His point appears to be that Anabaptists, as Christians, really try to do as Jesus did, so singing a song glorifying violence makes a lot of them uncomfortable. But Mr. Scholonger also points out that not singing the The Star Spangled Banner does not make you un-American; you are not required to glorify war to be an American patriot.

His essay touched off a “fire storm” of comments, many of which seemed to consider patriotism, militarism and Christianity almost interchangeable concepts.

For example, one comment:

Texan … I thought the cross was blood-soaked. And that we were bought with a price. Spiritual freedom came at a price and physical freedom does too.

It does seem to me that “The Star Spangled Banner,” encourages such confusion. It should represent, after all, the essence of America as a song. And the country it lionizes is a nation of warriors, carrying big sticks and stomping enemies. That’s it. Nothing else about America rates glorification in our national anthem.

I’m not a Mennonite or even a Christian. In fact, I’m not religious at all. But I am a person of faith, who is a huge fan of Jesus. His message was, whether we like to admit it or not, was pretty darn pacifistic. He talked a lot about turning other cheeks and loving enemies. If we really follow Jesus, it seems pretty clear that we shouldn’t be glorifying the resolution of struggle with clubs. All the violence in Jesus’ life was perpetrated by the bad guys, not by him. Except, of course, for turning over a few tables.

It strikes me as bizarre when American Christians conflate love of Jesus, love of country, and a kind of “bring ‘em on” aggressive militarism. (See: Milbank/Loeb account of 2003 Bush taunt) So on this most patriotic of holidays, as we Americans celebrate who and what we are, might it not be time for all us persons of faith to take a good long listen to our national anthem? Is it really an appropriate national hymn for a country that is predominantly Christian?

This essay is a feature of Faith Unboxed, an ongoing, civil, respectful conversation about faith. I invite you to participate by sharing your own ideas and experiences (either here or on the website), rather than by denigrating the ideas and experiences of others. or or

Painting by Michael Caines, “Little Lamb of the GOP,” from his Perfect Happiness series. or or

Note:   The title of this post is taken from Psalm 137:3 (KJV).  “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song ; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

– Monsieur d’Nalgar

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    • Mike Nunn on July 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    As for me I vote for Woody Guthrie — This land is your land, this land is my land.

  1. Some verses to that song you don’t normally hear:

    There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
    Sign was painted, it said private property;
    But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
    This land was made for you and me.

    As I went walking I saw a sign there
    And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
    But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
    That side was made for you and me.

    Nobody living can ever stop me,
    As I go walking that freedom highway;
    Nobody living can ever make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.

    In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
    By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
    As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
    Is this land made for you and me?

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