Goshen College’s Star-Spangled Problem

At first glance, Goshen College’s decision to scrap the national anthem at sporting events due to the anthem’s violent lyrics might appear to be yet another case of anti-American liberal godlessness. But actually, this time, what’s at work is the conservative Anabaptist theology undergirding this private Christian college affiliated with the historically pacifist Mennonite Church USA.

According to Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of the Mennonite intentional
community Missio Dei and one of the editors at JesusRadicals.com, Mennonites have traditionally avoided any demonstrations of nationalism. He says:

Mennonites have a 500 year history of refraining from oaths, pledges, or any other form of submission to a government. This, for the most part, comes from the conviction that allegiance to Jesus doesn’t give room for allegiance to a State. It isn’t that Goshen’s decision is a liberal one. From 1894 to 2010, they didn’t play the anthem at all.

However, last year, Goshen started playing the anthem as a sort of conciliatory experiment. And, even then, it was only an instrumental version followed by a reading of the Prayer of St. Francis. As a result, Jesus Radicals (a network of Christian anarchists who publish JesusRadicals.com and host an annual conference) organized Goshen students and called for a petition to protest this decision. Then, after playing the national anthem for six months, Goshen stopped it, a decision made in large part to Jesus Radicals’ advocacy efforts.

Since this reversal, outlets such as Fox News have responded to this “Star Spangled Snub” by soliciting feedback from notable Christian authorities such as Nick Jonas.

Guess it’s time to cue up Nick’s “Dear God” for an extra sugary helping of praise and patriotism—separation of church and state be damned.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).