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Mennonite college backs away from national anthem ban

Mennonite college backs away from national anthem ban

Given all the other news right now not many people have been following the story this week that Goshen College, a small historically Mennonite college decided to ban the playing of the US national anthem because it was “too violent”.

The story was covered by the AP on Tuesday. The leaders of the move to ban the playing of the anthem explained their reasoning and described how they garnered over 1,500 signatures in an essay posted on Ekklesia.

But late yesterday came this news:

“In a Facebook message posted Wednesday afternoon, Indiana’s Goshen College distanced itself from rumors that it had “banned” the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” at sports games because the lyrics were “violent.”

“Goshen College HAS NOT ‘banned’ the National Anthem. The Board HAS asked President James E. Brenneman to find an alternative to playing the Star-Spangled Banner that fits with sports tradition,” the message clarified.

Additionally, the school denied that violence was the reasoning for their decision. Instead, it stated the board found the music to be “too divisive” and said that it compromised the college’s vision.”

From here.

What do you think? Right decision? Right to back away? It’s an interesting line of thought for Episcopalians, being as we come from a tradition where the mother province is an active participant in the government.


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Lionel Deimel

“The Star Spangled Banner” does a fine job of capturing a moment of history. It is less successful at capturing the essence of America, which would be a real plus for a national anthem. I can see why the Goshen College folks are, at best, ambivalent.

For a contest, I wrote a candidate for a national anthem. It may not be the perfect song, but I think it strikes some more relevant notes. Take a look at “Out of Many, One” and see what you think.

rosemary hannah

None of this would seem odd in the UK I think. I cannot imagine any Episcopal church in Scotland having a national flag in it (although that is particularly true up here, where Union Jack/Saltire would be a debatable point) although flags do enter churches with Scouts, etc. Nationalistic songs are of course sung at sporting matches where, say, England plays Scotland … but not at local matches. But I cannot imagine it would raise eyebrows if a religious college chose to sing something else.


As a Goshen College alumnus and former Mennonite, I have more than a passing interest in this topic. The decision to play the anthem (albeit without words) at athletic events was controversial and poorly communicated.

When I was a student in the 1970s, we debated the legitimacy of flying the American flag on campus. The Mennonite Church in which I was raised was deeply committed to pacifism. Men of the church had faced persecution and court martial in the US during World War I for refusing to serve in the military. For many students and alumni, last year’s decision to play the national anthem seemed to be more an attempt to broaden the college’s appeal beyond its traditional constituency than a principled decision based on its core values and mission, a marketing ploy to broaden their appeal to potential students and contributors.

For Episcopalians, such a debate may seem odd. On the other hand, I recently had a lengthy interchange with a rector who was being criticized for his decision to remove the American flag from the nave of his church and I know that similar controversies have taken place in other Episcopal churches.

The tragedy for Goshen College is that a longstanding tradition, consistent with its history and core values, once abandoned, has now put it in the middle of America’s culture wars and political controversy.

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