Decision about playing the national anthem at Goshen College
The President’s Council has decided to accept 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. This decision will take effect in March, at the start of the Spring sports season. This decision was made after much prayerful deliberation over the past year and with input from the campus community and alumni. We believe it is the right decision for the college at this time.
We made this decision for several 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.
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 we are a college 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. We believe being faithful followers of Jesus calls us to regularly consider how to be a hospitable and diverse community.
We understand that some may perceive this decision as an accommodation to national custom and sports culture on a slippery slope of compromise. However, we see it as a small, discreet – though profound – step in the direction of positive civic engagement. We have reflected on former Goshen College President J. Lawrence Burkholder’s helpful perspective in 1977 as the campus debated whether to fly a U.S. flag or not (the decision was made to fly it, alongside a United Nations flag): “This is a problem we need to transcend,” he said. Making a fetish of the American flag, he pointed out, was to fall into the same trap as the ultrapatriot. “What really counts is what happens in our daily lives – how we spend our time and money and how we make the decisions of life.” These words still ring true today.
As we have made this decision, we continue to – more publicly, boldly and explicitly than ever – declare our commitment to Christ, to compassionate peacemaking, to servant leadership, to global citizenship, and to passionate learning. These core values are being integrated in new ways into our curriculum, student learning outcomes, hiring decisions, employment practices, and board orientation. They are being embedded in the deep structures of Goshen College like never before.
We are always in dialogue at Goshen College about important issues – as our recent Martin Luther King Jr. Study Day reflects – and 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 we have made a decision on this matter, we continue 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.
President Jim Brenneman and the President’s Council