As many of my readers know, I teach at a college with roots in the Anabaptist tradition. This tradition plays itself out in a variety of ways on campus, but perhaps none more obvious than the college’s decision not to fly an American flag. It is a longstanding Anabaptist belief that symbols of nationalism suggest a commitment to nation above God.
Messiah College does make some exceptions to this rule. As a member of the NCAA, it is required to display a flag at sporting events and play the national anthem before games. Only a small percentage of students come from strict Anabaptist churches.
Messiah has a loose and historic connection with a small denomination known as the Brethren in Christ. Theologically, the Brethren in Christ incorporates various strains of Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism.
Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana also has Anabaptist roots, but it is a much more self-identified Mennonite college than Messiah. Flag-flying and national anthem playing are largely frowned upon at Goshen. Yet recently the college decided that it would play an instrumental version of the Star Spangled Banner before certain sporting events. The decision was made for the following reasons:
- We believe that 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 playing the national anthem is one way that is commonly understood to express an allegiance to the nation of one’s citizenship. We have shown that in the past in a variety of other ways, such as flying a flag on campus, praying for all men and women serving our country, welcoming military veterans as students and employees, annually celebrating the U.S. Constitution, and encouraging voting.
- We believe playing the anthem in no way displaces any higher allegiances, including to the expansive understanding of Jesus – the ultimate peacemaker – loving all people of the world.
- We believe playing the anthem opens up new possibilities for members of the Goshen College community to publicly offer prophetic critique – if need be – as citizens in the loyal opposition on issues of deepest moral conviction, such as war, racism, and human rights abuses.
According to this article in Inside Higher Ed, the decision has been controversial among some students and alumni.