Thursday, December 30, 2010


There's a spot in Indiana, where the leafy Maple grows
It's the dear and glorious parkside, where the Elkhart River flows
'Tis a spot we love most dearly, 'Tis a spot we'll cherish long
After youth and strength have faded, and this world has heard our song

Goshen College, Ever Singing
To our motto we'll be true
Honor to our Master bringing
Alma Mater, we love you

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

We recently received the Fall/Winter Issue of the Goshen College Bulletin, and one of the features was excerpted portions of a conversation between Goshen College President Jim Brenneman and Shane Claiborne, one of the leaders in the new monasticism, Christian communities dedicated to hospitality, communal living, serving the poor and living the Gospel.  The conversation centered on the College's decision to play the National Anthem prior to sporting events.  Some of you no doubt recollect the controversy surrounding this decision, and the national attention that it brought to the college. e.g. the New York Times piece, a blurb on MSNBC and other media, and alumni responses, such as Goshen College Gets [Civil] Religion.

It was really nice to read a thoughtful presentation of the Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective and vision for the unique witness of an historic peace church in America today - unfortunately it came from Shane and not Jim.  I will readily admit that I do not know all of the subtle and not-so-subtle forces that weighed on the President's decision, but the public statements seem quite gratuitous.  Appealing to "welcoming" and "hospitality" appear disingenuous.  Compare the lyrics of the Alma Mater and the National Anthem, and tell me which conveys the message of an institution of higher learning committed to the understanding of the Gospel in the Mennonite tradition?  Which affirms Culture for Service?  Which offers Honor to the Master and which offers honor to a nationalistic symbol?

There are those who have voiced enthusiastic approval for the President's decision, there are those who are indifferent, and there are those who do not support the decision.  If indeed, this action is done in the name of welcoming, what other actions might the college want to consider?  No pork or beef in deference to those who consider such to be unclean/unholy?  No meat or animal products to satisfy the vegan?  No Christian symbols so as not to offend the atheists, Muslims, and Jewish folks?  No zippers to honor the Amish?

Of course I am being a bit overly cynical, but I do have to give consideration to the adage "Follow the money."  There obviously was pressure coming from somewhere - many of the locals have long pressured the college to fly the US flag on campus, and no doubt railed against the fact that the Anthem was not a part of the sporting event tradition at GC.  What is not obvious to me is what has been gained by making this decision.  It would appear that the good will generated primarily among non-Anabaptist folks is equaled by the disappointment of those of us who have respected and supported the college's tradition of not conflating Anabaptist Christianity with the myth of America, the Christian Nation.

I fondly remember the days when the hysteria of each Maple Leaf basketball game would completely subside as the crowd all stood to sing the GC Alma Mater.  I could not find any video of this unique tradition and public witness, but here is a video with the Alma Mater being sung in the background.  Voice your opinion in the poll at the very bottom of the blog page.


Stan said...

Here's the letter I sent to Brenneman:

Dear President Brenneman,

Although my faith background is not Mennonite, I have always admired the Mennonite emphasis on peace. I wish the denomination that I am affiliated with, which once had such an emphasis in one of its branches, had nurtured the flame instead of letting it slowly be snuffed out.

So it is with great sadness that I read about Goshen's decision to play the national anthem at its sporting events. I understand the rationale to accommodate visitors outside the Mennonite faith. But it appears to this outsider that the decision to play the anthem, even without the words, diminishes your light that should be shining brightly on the hill.


Dr. J. Stanley Warford
24360 Baxter Drive
Malibu, CA 90265

Dr S said...

Stan - thanks for sharing your letter, to which I can only say Amen!

Jackie said...

I couldn't agree more. how SAD. I must say... as I was reading this I had to remember the cross on the hill in Malibu.... Why isn't the light shining on it again? Oh that's right... neighbors were offended. What ever happened to, "this little of mine, I'm gonna let it shine... let it SHINE, let it SHINE..." ?


Dr S said...

Jackie B-? - thanks for the reminder about the Phillips Theme Tower and the lighted cross that never got lit. I believe that this will be the subject of an upcoming blog! dr s

Anonymous said...

Or does Goshen sing the anthem to psychologically condition young “Mennonites” to abandon their peace witness?

anna said...

I grew up on the GC campus and saw alot of controversial issues come and go throughout the years....the first campus dance, gay and lesbian social clubs, various women's issues and policy changes as the years went by. I always felt these were natural growing pains to accommodate the needs of our people, if I may phrase it that way. This strikes me as something very different. External pressures as opposed to internal streching. I don't think there are any Mennonites saying- "hey, I want to sing to the flag...we need to grow in this way". And hey, uncle-on a lighter note- I have no problem making vegans feel more comfortable on campus, it's the people who rationalize war I'm not so excited to welcome.

Dr S said...

Right on Anna. In the 60's, we recognized the significant difference between dancing to the Corrupters in the Union and protesting the American War in Vietnam. Also, during my four years at GC, two of my roommates were gay, and both are dead due to AIDS. Had GC's current attitude toward gays been present in the 60's, I believe that Jim and Eric would still be alive. Regarding the state and the military, we can certainly be welcoming without compromising core beliefs or diluting witness to the state and world.