Click here to view in a gallery.
GOSHEN - Goshen College's decision to not play the national anthem before sporting events has raised eyebrows across the country, with national media outlets picking up the story and their patrons responding both to the college and on various news sites.
The college first began playing an instrumental version of the Star Spangled Banner in March 2010 with the plan to review the decision this summer. The college's announcement last Monday to look for an alternative to the national anthem to play before sports has been met with a mix of responses.
Public relations director Richard Aguirre said that by the end of the week, the school had received several hundred phone calls and hundreds of e-mails from the Goshen College community, Mennonite Church USA members, local residents and people from across the U.S.
"Among our core constituents," he said, "there have been e-mails and calls supporting and opposing the decision. It appears the majority of phone calls and e-mails from outside Indiana have expressed opposition to the Board's decision. We have engaged with many of the people who have called or sent e-mails and have appreciated the feedback and the opportunity to explain the decision."
On internet news articles and the college's Facebook site, many people have called the college's decision anti-American and unpatriotic.
Professors of religion and history though, say the decision stays in line with the school's and Mennonite's beliefs.
"Mennonites date back to the Reformation and have a long history of coming into tension with political authorities, because of an insistence on a stance of pacifism in particular," said Candy Gunther Brown, associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Bloomington.
"Historically, the Mennonites have taken a lot of heat," she said. "They were frequently martyred because of this very position. This has not been a popular stance through history."
Don Kraybill, professor at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, explained that Mennonites believe that their primary allegiance is to God's world-wide kingdom, he said, and that "the kingdom of God supersedes earthly kingdoms."
Eastern Mennonite University, a Mennonite college in Harrisonburg, Va., acknowledges on its website that those are the reasons it doesn't sing or play the national anthem before sporting events or fly a U.S. flag on campus.
Hesston College in Newton, Kan., also does not play the anthem on campus. It does fly a U.S. flag, alongside flags from about 50 other countries, in its dining hall, according to Marathana Prothro, director of marketing and communications for the school. The flags represent the home countries of current students and alumni.
Some other Mennonite schools though, such as Bethel College in Newton, Kan., fly the flag and sing the anthem. Lori Livengood, vice president for marketing and communications at Bethel, said that the flag has flown on Bethel's campus since 1890.
"However, while we will worship no other above our God, we will continue to praise him for the blessings He bestows upon us, not the least of which is the freedom allowed us by living in the United States of America," Livengood said.
Mennonites have varied views on how church and state should interact, but Steve Nolt, professor of Mennonite history at Goshen College, said that Mennonites have historically taken a different view of patriotism from most others.
"We are grateful for the privileges that exist in the United States and we don't hate the country," he said. "We support the country but we don't think the only way you can express patriotism is through support of the military."
During wartime, Mennonites often turn to alternative service.
Nolt said that during World War II, about 4,000 Mennonite conscientious objectors were sent to understaffed state mental hospitals. When they left those service locations, many had the conviction that there were better ways to help mental health patients and began developing other mental health facilities. In Goshen, Nolt said, a group began Oaklawn, which continues to serve the area's mental health needs.
Of course, the reactions to Goshen College's decision are not the first time Mennonites have received backlash for their lack of overt patriotism.
Nolt said during World War I, public schools in West Liberty, Ohio, had made saluting the flag mandatory. A Mennonite teacher was fired for not participating and several Mennonite students were harassed by other teachers and sent home from school. Some of those students then went to Goshen College's high school division, which it had at the time.
Also during that war, many Kansas Mennonites were harassed for not purchasing war bonds. Mennonites across the country who did not join the military in the war were often imprisoned with varying degrees of treatment.
"Goshen College has never been anti-American," Nolt said. "You could argue that the degree to which Mennonites today, perhaps more often today, critique U.S. government policy than, say, may have been the case in 1910, a hundred years ago, is evidence that Mennonites feel more of an interest in and a responsibility for their country. If you had no critique at all of your government, it would suggest you didn't have any interest in or see any connection between yourself and the government."
That was the case around 100 years ago, Nolt said, when Mennonites were more sectarian.
Goshen College clarified via its Facebook page that a reason the board of directors asked President James Brenneman to seek an alternative to the anthem for sporting events was because the decision to play the anthem had "become too divisive and compromised the college's and its constituency's ability to advance the college's vision together."
Nolt agreed. "Not playing the anthem in the past maybe seemed exclusive," he said, "but it seems clear that playing the anthem has been divisive in another way."
As far as the group's patriotism, David Weaver-Zercher, professor of American religious history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., said that Mennonites are patriotic in the sense that they want the country to thrive or prosper.
"If the definition of patriotism is giving allegiance to one nation over all others or giving allegiance without question," he said, "certainly they aren't patriotic in that regard."