No Star Spangled Banner at Goshen College

In February 2010, we did a post on Goshen College’s decision to play the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events.  You may recall that Goshen is a Mennonite college and Mennonites have historically been both pacifist and opposed to public displays of nationalism.  Yet, back in February, the college concluded that playing the Star Spangled Banner before games was OK 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.

It now appears that the Goshen administration has changed its mind.  Yesterday the college issued a press release stating that it will no longer play the Star Spangled Banner before games and will look for an “alternative to playing the Star-Spangled Banner that fits with sports tradition, that honors country and that resonates with Goshen College’s core values and respects the views of diverse constituencies.”

Goshen should be applauded for remaining true to its roots, but this decision by the college Board of Directors also seems to present a small roadblock for president James Brenneman’s attempt to make the Mennonite college appealing to students of other Christian faith traditions.  (Or at least this is how I read the press release).

Here is a taste:

The Board expressed a strong commitment to advancing with President Brenneman the vision for Goshen College to be an influential 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 concluded that continuing to play the national anthem compromised the ability of college constituents to advance the vision together.

“The Board has a diversity of views on this issue as reflected throughout the process of considering the anthem,” said Rick Stiffney of Goshen, the chair of the Board. “The Board itself struggled with 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.

“We recognize that some people may not be satisfied with this decision, but we believe it is the right one for Goshen College. We also believe this decision will enable the college and the board to move forward and prepare with joy for the 2011-2012 academic year.”

Responding to the decision, President Brenneman said, “I am convinced that Goshen College is on a challenging and rewarding journey toward becoming a more diverse institution that serves an increasingly diverse community. I am hopeful that this resolution will help Goshen College move forward together, and focus on finding new ways to welcome students from our local and regional community.”

Carlos Romero, executive director of the Mennonite Education Agency and an ex-officio member of the Board, affirmed the decision and the message he said it will communicate to the college’s constituents, Mennonite Church USA members and other people of faith.

“Goshen College has been and remains a ministry of Mennonite Church USA with an enduring peace tradition,” Romero said. “The Board’s decision reflects a belief that faith and honoring country can co-exist without disturbing higher allegiances to God and that Goshen College will become increasingly diverse and will welcome diverse viewpoints.”

Romero also commended the Board, President Brenneman and the President’s Council for carefully studying, discussing and prayerfully deciding the anthem issue. “The willingness to listen and learn from one another has indeed modeled a process to the wider church and community about how to engage difficult issues. In today’s polarized culture, that is indeed an important gift,” he said.