The Common Good

Mennonite College Follows First Playing of National Anthem with St. Francis' Peace Prayer

From the beginning, I opposed Goshen's landmark decision to play the national anthem before select sporting events. To me, playing the anthem compromises Goshen's institutional values of compassionate peacemaking and global citizenship (values I hold, too). But I'm beginning to see how the national anthem discernment process has benefited me, the college, and the broader community.

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Before discussions began regarding Goshen College playing the national anthem, I confess that I didn't think too much about why I don't sing the anthem or put my hand over my heart -- movements that, for me, skirt too close to devotion (though I do remove my hat and stand). Although I said the pledge of allegiance every morning while in public elementary school, somewhere along the way, I stopped; I also stopped singing the national anthem at some point.

Thanks to Goshen College, I've now discerned why I don't pledge allegiance to the flag anymore or sing the national anthem. I've now engaged in more meaningful conversations -- especially with people who think differently -- on one's allegiances than I ever did before. And I can now more meaningfully articulate the reasons behind why it's so important for me to pledge allegiance to God over country.

Ultimately, the national anthem discernment process has taught me three lessons: how to engage in civil dialogue, celebrate our differences, and demonstrate biblical hospitality.

Even though I am still fervently opposed to showing allegiance to an earthly nation over the reign of God (and I believe the national anthem is a prime example), I acknowledge that not everyone interprets the national anthem like I do. In fact, I think such interpretive differences allow the body of Christ to come alive. Who am I, because of my beliefs, to deny someone else the same freedom I experience -- to articulate their interpretation of what it means to be patriotic Christians?

Goshen College President James E. Brenneman suggests three questions have emerged as we've engaged in civil dialogue:

  1. How should faithful Christians order their allegiances?
  2. How do we celebrate the freedoms and opportunities of this country and still challenge injustices that also exist in our midst?
  3. And how does a church college retain its historic peace heritage while welcoming an increasingly diverse student body from other traditions?

To the third question, Goshen College is made up of 55 percent Mennonites (and actively seeks people who aren't Mennonite). At the most basic level, playing the national anthem is an act of hospitality for Goshen College. I completely trust Brenneman when he said that he is "committed to retaining the best of what it means to be a Mennonite college, while opening the doors wider to all who share our core values." And I will hold him, and the entire community, to that. So while I believe the anthem compromises my value of being more-than-patriotic to this country, I've learned through civil dialogue why the anthem is an essential part of patriotism for many people (of faith or not).

As I've learned these differences, I'm excited to celebrate them. I wasn't in Goshen on March 23 as the anthem was played, followed by the peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, but I did watch it. The anthem isn't for me, even without lyrics. But St. Francis' prayer is for me. I thank God for these differences, because I believe that at the heart of peacemaking is the biblical concept of shalom -- God's peace -- which includes active listening, respect, and celebration.

Finally, I come to the question of hospitality. According to Jessica Rose, associated editor of "In Communion," a quarterly journal from Orthodox Christians, there are three definitions for biblical hospitality, including "hospitality which is built into our shared humanity, which welcomes the stranger for no other reason than this is what is required."

One of my favorite examples of such hospitality comes from Genesis 18, when the LORD appears to Abraham and Sarah. Three angels appear out of nowhere. Abraham and Sarah scramble to prepare food. The angels are prepared to tell their secret -- Sarah will bear a son. Imagine this: three angles sit down at a table, but a fourth place is empty. They're making room for me, for you.

The hospitality of Abraham and Sarah touches the best of what it means to show hospitality. So while I continue to oppose playing the national anthem, I affirm President Brenneman's perspective that "the anthem offers a welcoming gesture to many visiting our athletic events, rather than an immediate barrier to further opportunities for getting to know one another."

I look forward to ongoing civil dialogue, as I continue to make peace with the national anthem.

What do you think?

Sheldon C. Good is media assistant for Sojourners and a recent graduate of Goshen College.

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