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No national anthem at Goshen, please

You may have already heard about Goshen College’s recent decision to start playing the national anthem at sporting events. And if you haven’t heard about the backlash against this move — quite understandable and right as Goshen is a premier Mennonite college.  Anyways, there’s now a petition being signed regarding this decision, and calling upon the College to reverse it. Please consider signing it, especially if you are a Mennonite. For those of us who care about curtailing the church’s capitulation to American nationalism we really cannot afford to lose the distinctive witness of the Mennonites.

The post explaining the petition is right on:

Acquiescing to a public ritual that glorifies the nation-state is an issue that affects more than the Goshen College community or the Mennonite Church. Indeed, when Christians glorify their nation over another, they chip away at ecumenical fellowship, making this an issue for all Christians seeking to be faithful to the only God worthy of glory and praise.


  1. Kampen wrote:

    They should sing 606 in the blue Mennonite Hymnal.

    Monday, February 15, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  2. Brad A. wrote:

    Thanks to Andy for drawing attention to this…

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink
  3. james wrote:

    How does singing the anthem “glorify the nation-state”? Do we glorify our wives in “singing their praises”? It’s not as if we are signing up for the draft but simply acknowledging our nations relative awesomeness, our shared history, our commitment to keeping the good thing going. Or something similarly benign.

    Now if they fly the jets overhead during the playing of it I think the pacifists should opt out, but otherwise must they deny any pride in their American identity? These same sporting events encourage tribalized team (even NATIONAL team) ways of grouping/cheering Does this “glorify Goshen”?

    Could Goshen college send someone to the Olympics, even for Belize let’s say?

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  4. Nathan wrote:

    It does not glorify the nation-state, but rather reaffirms the manifest destiny of it. It “Christianizes” the violence. It is an evil statement, and has no place in a Christian college or university–especially one openly committed to peace making.

    Maybe all of this sounds a tad melodramatic, so I’ll let the anthem speak for itself:

    O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
    Blest with victory 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!

    Compare this to the often quoted segment from The Politics of Jesus, the work that brought me, and so many others, toward the Mennonites in the first place:

    The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and the other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection.

    Side by side, they’re incompatible statements about God.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    To be fair, they don’t sing the part you quoted.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    But, also to be fair, the part sung is still pretty drenched in militarism. (“The rocket’s red glare…” etc.)

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  7. Nathan wrote:

    To be fair, it doesn’t matter. This is the underlying theology of the anthem, and you can’t dismiss that simply because the part sung is more innocuous.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Nathan wrote:

    I don’t mean to sound rude. I just think the text should be treated like any other–as a whole.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    I agree… so why make the (somewhat strained) case that a verse that isn’t even sung is what makes the song so objectionable?

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  10. Hill wrote:

    Phenomenologically, a single verse from a song is proposed to be sung. Making your case based on a verse from this song that isn’t even going to be sung just makes you look like you have a martyr complex. Your arguments about treating this “text as a whole” are equally absurd. There are lots of good reasons to resist this, but busting out a Yoder excerpt to critique a verse of the song that no one intends to sing isn’t helping anyone.

    It actually does matter. The people who don’t immediately agree with you need to be convinced, and your posture here just further marginalizes your position.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  11. Nathan wrote:

    Because the unsung verse provides the theological context for the sung verse, and it is above all the theology that is objectionable.

    I hardly see how it’s a “someone strained” case. It’s a song, not a verse. It’s a whole, not a part. It’s irresponsible, as an interpreter, to take the part out of the context of the whole.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    For my part, I’d never heard the unsung parts of the song before and I don’t really think they have much import to the matter. The parts normally sung are what trouble me.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  13. Nathan wrote:

    You are saying nothing at all.

    You’ve done nothing phenomenological. Believe me. If I have any claim at all, it’s to phenomenology, and obviously not theology.

    All are you doing is insulting me. At least tell me why I’m wrong–I need not always be wrong, and if my posture is “marginalizing” then I’d like to know why.

    I’m not interested in knowing what you think about my arguments unless you’re going to provide a substantial critique. That said, this is a blog comment thread, for a blog that isn’t my own, and I don’t need to have the loudest voice here or the most thorough response. These are basic, visceral reactions to something that I kind of care about, in the terms and concepts that are available to me right now.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  14. Nathan wrote:

    Excuse me, I meant I need not always be right.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  15. Brad A. wrote:

    James, you state: “It’s not as if we are signing up for the draft but simply acknowledging our nations relative awesomeness, our shared history, our commitment to keeping the good thing going. Or something similarly benign.”

    Can we honestly claim this if we are thinking critically? “Relative awesomeness” as compared to whom or what, and with what categories? Wealth? Power? Ease? Are these really appropriate measures of “awesomeness” from a Christian theological perspective? Are the American people happier than other peoples, or are they actually more anxious out of fear of losing what they have? And how might that anxiety then lead to violence?

    Whose shared history? White men? (Neo-)Liberal democrats (broad sense)? Reformed Christians? Again, what categories are at work here?

    And considering American militarism, which the others here have rightly pointed out in the anthem, can “keeping the good thing going” really be “benign”? Doesn’t it partly depend on the people for whom it is good?

    Those are just off-the-cuff questions, but I think they require some attention before many of us could accept the national anthem at a Mennonite college.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  16. Nathan wrote:

    Nevermind. I at least see how my posture could “further marginaliz[e] my position.” You’re right on that.

    In my defense, I was raised in the Episcopal church where every Independence Day the song was sung in full. For me, one verse has never been divorced from its whole.

    But obviously what’s at stake isn’t my experience of the song.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  17. Danny wrote:

    A phenomenology of the national anthem should get at the essence of the anthem as it is sung. The written, unsung anthem/poem is a different entity than the sung anthem. The anthem’s “original context” is not determinative of the anthem’s meaning, although it may be instructive in determining it. This does not refute Halden’s point, though. As sung, it does not encourage the appropriate and even necessary pride American Christians should feel regarding their country; it encourages militaristic idolatry.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  18. Hill wrote:

    I’m sorry for coming across in a harsh (and borderline incoherent) way. I’m kind of dizzy today. The only real point I would want to make is that, practically speaking, there are lots of well-meaning, faithful, peace-inclined Christians that simply don’t understand how the national anthem might not be consistent with the Christianity they espouse. It’s very easy to turn these people off with what they might initially perceive to be radicalism for it’s own sake. That’s why I think it’s important to deploy tools suitable to this task rather than pulling out the rhetorical big guns. More progress on this matter is likely to be made by a somewhat subtler approach. I think there are lots of potential sympathizers for whom the question of the appropriateness of the national anthem at a Christian institution simply hasn’t been asked. I retract all of my unfair criticisms.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  19. Brad A. wrote:

    Exactly what might this “necessary pride American Christians should feel” entail?

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  20. The Pontifical Anthem:
    “O Rome immortal of Martyrs and Saints,
    O immortal Rome, accept our praises:
    Glory in the heavens to God our Lord,
    And peace to men who love Christ!

    To You we come, Angelic Pastor,
    In You we see the gentle Redeemer,
    The Holy Heir of true and holy Faith;
    Comfort and refuge of those who believe and fight.

    Force and terror will not prevail,
    But Truth and Love will reign.”

    True, it’s no ’606,’ and it doesn’t read that well, but when sung by castrati around bonfires of heretics it can be quite stirring .

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink
  21. james wrote:

    Like Hill fears, I smell “radicalism for its own sake” which is why I bring up the Goshen athlete at the Olympic games or world championships (to avoid the Olympics ranting). I think the real problem is that pacifists want NO identification with the nation-state even if it is Belize. This is strange and theologically unnecessary.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
  22. Danny wrote:

    “Exactly what might this “necessary pride American Christians should feel” entail?”

    Something similar to to what Bonhoeffer’s pride in Germany entailed. Things that are, insofar as they are, are good.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Permalink
  23. mike w wrote:

    im a christian. I’m not american. I don’t want the last christian group that has resisted nationalistic violence to start singing an anthem thanks, where is the petition

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink
  24. Jonny Z wrote:

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 3:14 am | Permalink
  25. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I have to agree with Hill on the whole question of how we go about resisting this recent move. To simply say “this goes against everything Mennonites stand for” is not going to convince anyone of anything. The truth of the matter is that this recent news did not occur over night–there is a good deal of history to this decision. What this does show us is that the ghost of Reinhold Niebuhr still lurks in Mennonite circles. We need to interrogate the Niebuhrian assumptions at work here–the dualism of “withdrawal” or “responsibility” that persists as the general framework for folks like Brenneman and Burkholder before him.

    To suggest, as I fear Andy Alexis-Baker tends to do, that this decision is so obviously against the Mennonite tradition, is to ignore how deeply the Niebuhrian framework has shaped Mennonite identity. We need to be aware that this runs very very deep.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 8:28 am | Permalink
  26. Scott C wrote:

    I’m Mennonite and hadn’t heard of this. Even though I have friends with kids who play sports at Goshen. To some extent, I’m glad (that I hadn’t heard of it earlier) — there are other things we need to be talking about at church than the politics of singing the national anthem at Goshen games.

    I’m really, really, really uncomfortable with the fact that the president of the college “gave a chapel message in which he hoped to move Goshen from “a culture of dissent” to “a culture of assent.”” and “stated that the early Anabaptists who died resisting such things as military service, church/state union and jingoistic songs like the national anthem were “perfectionists” who were on the side of dissent rather than the institutions who could put their beliefs into wider practice. They were part of “dissent standing outside the systems of the world” and for this Brenneman derisively called them “naysayers.”” (

    I think I’m going to sign the petition now.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  27. Scott C wrote:

    At the same time, since MCUSA hasn’t taken a position on this (I’m not sure it should, just because I’m uncomfortable with top-down authority in my church), since there are other Mennonite colleges doing the same thing, and since this decision seems to be the result of a process of dialogue within the Goshen community (of which I am not a member; I’m not an alumnus of GC), while I disagree with the decision I think I would oppose outright condemnation of Goshen because of it. (The petition does not call for such condemnation). I think I can see things from the other side here — they’re trying to be “all things for all people”, and some Mennonites legitimately disagree with me about saying the pledge of allegiance, singing the anthem, etc. So I don’t like it, and I’ll sign the petition, but I wouldn’t call for a “shunning” of GC over this. (I don’t really like shunning.)

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  28. AndyAB wrote:


    Bluffton and Bethel, unlike Goshen College, are not actually owned by the Mennonite Church. they are “Mennonite affiliated” schools, but are not actually subject to the mennonite board of education. Those two schools are Incorporated by the towns their respective towns. not only that, but Goshen made its decision in the midst of two american wars, and a huge outcry in the goshen area about immigration. Most of the townfolks are not only patriots, but rabid racists who see the anthem as a kind of oath of loyalty that defines americans over against those immigrant brown skinned people. We’ve had cross burnings and more in the past few years around here.

    Moreover, the process Goshen went through was not really a dialogue. The Presidents council did everything the other side said they would not want done, including a prayer afterward. Most of us thought the thing was for show, to show the neighbors how much we care, and then we’d go back to our own thing. Most students and faculty, most Mennonite in the area are very much against this move. They woudl be okay with some kind of other song. I would personally suggest that we pass out Kazoos to everyone before the game and we can all play the anthem on the kazoos. wouldn’t that be awesome!

    this does not come out of nowhere. Brenneman is stuck in debates that were happening 50 years ago with his rhetoric of “yes” and “no.” Most Mennonites are nowhere near that debate. Now it is a matter of discernment, not a matter of whether we participate in things but how and when.

    Sigglekow is right about Neibuhr, but it is an old debate that is really not relevant to Mennonites any longer.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  29. AndyAB wrote:

    Oh, and thank you Halden for raising the issue here. the letter has been up a week…over 800 sigs so far.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  30. Halden wrote:

    Glad to hear it.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  31. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I guess I disagree with you on this. I’m not suggesting that the debate is the same as it was 30-50 years ago–obviously that’s not accurate. But, I do think that the repercussions of Niebuhr’s influence on 20th century Mennonite identity persists into the 21st century. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, whether consciously or not, many Mennonites continue to work within the Niebuhrian grid.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  32. AndyAB wrote:

    Brenneman and Burkholder being specimens one and two. Sure. But they are such a minority in this church. That is what is so outrageous about this. These administrators have went rogue and made a decision that has repercussions for us all. Brenneman admits in his speech that Yoder is the main influence among Mennonites.

    Most people in this area, one of the hubs of Mennonitedom, simply are already enmeshed in all sorts of activities in their communities, unlike 50 years ago when the debate was whether they should take library jobs because they were city jobs backed by evil tax dollars. That would not occur to any Mennonite that I know today. Not many MCUSA Mennonites question whether Mennonites should be on the goshen city council at all (Mennonites control the city council in Goshen). Some do. I would. But that is not necessarily Neibuhrian influence. It’s more Schleitheim or something.

    You would have to show where you think you a Neibuhr influence I guess. And then show that it is Neibuhr not some other past like Schleitheim.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  33. AndyAB wrote:

    RO: There is a new book out called “The New Yoder” in which Huebner and Dula argue that the old Neibuhr debate is dead. We are past it. it is in their introduction. Check it out sometime.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  34. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I have read their introduction to The New Yoder and I agree with them, but they aren’t talking about Mennonites–they’re talking about recent interpretations/appropriations of Yoder! That’s not at all what I’m talking about here, Andy. I’m talking about the Mennonite community at large (who outside of Goshen and AMBS aren’t really reading much of Yoder). Of course, I’m not suggesting that many Mennonites are reading Niebuhr either. My point is simply that Niebuhr’s influence isn’t easily overcome precisely because whether we know it or not Niebuhr has shaped a large part of contemporary Mennonite identity.

    Regarding the current situation, what we are seeing here with Brenneman is a whole host of mid-twentieth century debates reprised. What I find interesting is how Mennonites have responded to this–particularly on the Jesus Radicals site and the FB site–still operating within this grid, at least in part. In other words, I’m concerned that our response to this will simply play into and reprise the old debate and therefore there will be no progress made. Also, I actually don’t think Brenneman is capable of seeing outside the old Hershberger/Burkholder debate–so responses need to be aware of all this. That’s all I’m saying.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  35. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Stanley Hauerwas signed the Jesus Radicals letter today.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 10:55 am | Permalink

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