GOSHEN, Ind. – A small Christian college with ties to the Mennonite Church has decided to stop playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events after some complained the song’s images of war and the military undermined the school’s pacifist message.
Goshen College announced Monday that its board of directors instructed President Jim Brenneman to find an alternative to the national anthem “that fits with sports tradition, that honors country, that resonates with our core values and that respects the views of diverse constituencies.”
The 1,000-student college has only been playing the national anthem for a year. In March 2010, it began playing an instrumental version, followed by a peace prayer, before games and other events. The school said at the time it would review the practice after a year.
Rick Stiffney, chairman of the school’s board of directors, said the decision to stop playing the song was difficult because board members had “significant differences and conflicting perspectives.”
“So this decision was not easy and took many hours of discernment and prayer. Our resolution represents our best effort to find a path of wisdom that we could endorse together,” he said. “We recognize that some people may not be satisfied with this decision, but we believe it is the right one for Goshen College.”
Chemistry professor Douglas Schirch, who had opposed the playing of the national anthem, said he is pleased.
“Not because I don’t respect my country, but because the college should only use that type of ritual to honor God,” he said.
The board said in its resolution that it is committed to advancing Brenneman’s vision for Goshen College to be recognized as a leader in liberal arts education with a “growing capacity to serve a theologically, politically, racially and ethnically diverse constituency both within and beyond the Mennonite church.”
The board said continuing to play the national anthem compromises its ability to advance that vision.
When the college changed its policy to begin playing the anthem, Brenneman said it did so in an effort to make students and visitors outside the faith feel more welcome. He said some students have strong feelings about pacifism, while others have loved ones who have served in the military and embrace patriotic causes.
When the national anthem was first played before a baseball game last March, Brenneman read a statement saying he was 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.”
The decision upset some at the school and led to the creation of the Facebook group “Against Goshen College Playing National Anthem.”
Art professor John Blosser told The Goshen News that there is much national pride at the school but that most people aren’t going to blindly accept what the country does. He said any time there is a symbol seen as either one way or another, people tend to feel strongly about it.
“But I think there’s not a lack of national respect and love of this culture and country, and I think there are nuanced approaches to that,” he said.
Goshen resident Scott DeVoe, who was watching a youth soccer game on campus, said he found the decision disrespectful.
“I live in America, it’s our national anthem, I want to hear it,” DeVoe said. “We live in America, it’s part of America. You go to a ball game, you stand up, you take your hat off, they play the national anthem.”