Questions/Answers: The National Anthem at Goshen College
What did Goshen College decide regarding the national anthem?
The President’s Council accepted the recommendation of the National Anthem Task Force to play an instrumental version of the Star-Spangled Banner before select sports events on campus, followed by prayer.
When will the decision take effect?
At the start of the spring sports season, with the first time that both the baseball and softball games are happening at home on the same day -- March 23.
Why did the President’s Council decide that the anthem should be played?
The President’s Council stated that they believe 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.
- 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.
- In no way displaces any higher allegiances, including to the expansive understanding of Jesus – the ultimate peacemaker – loving all people of the world.
- 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.
Is the decision consistent with the college’s long-held position of putting God before national and patriotic allegiances?
Yes. One of the greatest U.S. freedoms is that we can express our faith and love of country in different ways, and we recognize that Christians differ in how to do that. Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices primarily because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language. Although Goshen College is owned by Mennonite Church USA, we have a diverse student body that comes from 40 different Christian denominations, several world religions, 35 states and 25 countries and all races and ethnicities. The college believes being faithful followers of Jesus calls us to regularly consider how to be a hospitable and diverse community.
Is the college changing its commitment to peace?
Absolutely not. As the President’s Council made this decision, the college community continues to – more publicly, boldly and explicitly – declare its commitment to Christ, to compassionate peacemaking, to servant leadership, to global citizenship and to passionate learning. Its “Culture for Service” remains as strong as ever. These core values are being integrated in new ways into the college’s curriculum, student learning outcomes, hiring decisions, employment practices and board orientation. They also are being embedded in the deep structures of Goshen College.
What did the anthem task force propose?
To allow the practice of using an instrumental version of the national anthem prior to Goshen College varsity sporting events.
Did students, faculty, and staff have the opportunity to provide feedback?
Yes. This decision was made after prayerful deliberation and with input from the campus community over several months.
Why change now?
Did the national media attention about the anthem last year prompt the anthem proposal?
Goshen College has wrestled with this historic practice for many years, but has decided now is the time to make a change at the recommendation of the task force. The change was in no way prompted by media coverage, but it did delay the timing of the conversation.
Will the anthem be played before all varsity sports events?
An instrumental version of the anthem will be played prior to games where it is culturally routine, as determined by the Athletic Department. This will include at least basketball, baseball and softball games.
Will a U.S. flag be present?
Yes. A U.S. flag will be placed on the court or by the field for the duration of each competition that the anthem will be played.
Will people who attend sports events be required to stand for the playing of the anthem?
Spectators will be asked to respectfully stand during the playing of the anthem and the prayer. They will be free to show their support/respect at whatever level they feel comfortable (such as simply standing silently, singing the words, placing a hand over their heart, etc).
Is this matter a big deal for the college?
The college handled the issue in a way that allowed students, faculty and staff to engage at any level they wanted or to ignore the issue entirely. We know this is a very important issue for some on both sides of the issue, but does not matter to others. However, given the significance of this change in practice, we chose to encourage engagement from the campus community.
Did the college consider alternatives, such as playing America the Beautiful?
Yes, but alternatives were not accepted by the task force, nor by the President’s Council. America the Beautiful was played before basketball games several years ago on a trial basis, but feedback and complaints were similar to playing no song.
Will a prayer be said after the anthem is played?
Yes, the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi will be read.
What do other Mennonite colleges/universities do about the national anthem and the U.S. flag?
There are different practices at Mennonite colleges/universities when it comes to flying the flag, playing the national anthem and other patriotic observances. Some fly the U.S. flag and sing or play the national anthem. Some fly the flag but don't play the anthem. A few do neither.
Was the Goshen College Board of Directors involved in making this decision?
The President’s Council has the authority to make this decision. As part of that process, board members were invited to provide feedback. They also engaged the decision at their mid-February quarterly meeting and developed a statement.
What is the official position of Mennonite Church USA on the playing of the national anthem at Mennonite colleges?
Mennonite Church USA has not taken an official position on this issue.
Will there be further conversations about faith and patriotism?
Yes. Goshen College is always in dialogue about important issues and we strive to do so respectfully. This is part of being an institution of higher education, but even more so because we are a college committed to making peace in all of its forms – with ourselves, with each other, with the world, and with God. Though the President Council has made a decision on this matter, it continues to welcome dialogue as a campus, as a community and as a church about how to be more faithful as citizens of this world and God’s Kingdom. To learn more, read the statement by the college's Board of Directors.
—Goshen College President’s Council, January 2010 (updated 3.10.10)