Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Goshen, Indiana, has recently reversed a 116 year-old policy and will now play the national anthem before sporting events. Goshen College president Jim Brenneman said, "Playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College's practices primarily because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem's militaristic language."
But now things are different. "We believe this is the right decision for the college at this time. Playing 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.... We believe being faithful followers of Jesus calls us to regularly consider how to be a hospitable and diverse community." (See article on college website.)
It is significant that a pacifist institution would now celebrate "the rockets' red glare, the bomb bursting in air" in the name of cultural diversity. It leads me to wonder.... what would Jesus sing? Would he proudly hail the broad stripes and bright stars gallantly streaming o'er the ramparts through the perilous fight?
After hearing so many national anthems played at the recent Winter Olympics, it makes me wonder if Mennonites in China would now sing the Chinese Communist national anthem or Mennonites in Iran sing the Iranian national anthem. Or is it just the American anthem that is now compatible with Anabaptist convictions?
Personally I have no problem with the American national anthem. I sing it proudly and pledge my allegiance to the flag and all that patriotic stuff. But then again, I am not a pacifist. I believe there is a need to fight just wars in a fallen world.
But I greatly value the testimony of the Anabaptist tradition that challenges me to question the limits of my patriotism. I admire their faithful adherence to a gospel of nonviolence. I would hate to see their prophetic voice compromised in the name of cultural inclusiveness.
So I will stand with the crowd, remove my cap, and sing of "the land of the free and the home of the brave." But I am saddened that there is no longer a Christian college that challenges my patriotism and makes me wonder if Jesus would sing along with me. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."