At most American colleges, hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting events is a regular feature of campus life, like getting shut out of the psychology lecture you needed or seeing pledges humiliated during fraternity rush. But at Goshen College, a Mennonite school in Indiana with a historical emphasis on pacifism, the tradition was not hearing the national anthem.In spring 2010, that tradition changed when the anthem was played at a baseball game. Only now it has changed back. The fight over the anthem — at a college that teaches not fighting — raises the question of how to reconcile the feelings of minorities with those of the prevailing culture. At Goshen, the minorities are athletes, and the prevailing culture is pacifist. It’s like a photographic negative of the America most of us know.
Goshen was founded in 1894, but intercollegiate sports began only in 1957. From the beginning, nobody made a big deal out of skipping the anthem. It just was not sung. It is, after all, about a military battle (“bombs bursting in air,” etc.), and some Mennonites believe that any expression of patriotism, placing love of country above love of God, risks idolatry. Countries rise and fall; the message of Jesus is supposed to be eternal. Some Mennonite colleges play the anthem, but at Goshen they just played the game.
The solution? “America the Beautiful” will be played before Goshen’s basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball games. It’s not a pacifist’s ideal song — skim the full lyrics and you will find the suspicious “liberating strife,” as well as the “patriot dream.” But no rocket’s red glare, no bombs, and nothing like Verse 3 of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with its “havoc of war.” A workable compromise, it seems.
Play ball and praise America, Maple Leafs!