James Brenneman, J. Lawrence Burkholder and a new Mennonite theology of “loyal opposition” for Goshen College

crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
– Francis Scott Key, Start Spangled Banner, 1814

Happy 4th of July! The American Flag in Fireworks by Beverly & Pack, flicrk user walkadog

Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. Their press release frames the decision as an exciting new theological and socio-political adventure for the college. Make sure to read the press release especially the quotes from GC president James Breneman and the GC Presidential Council.

I should say up front that this issue is fairly new to me. I wasn’t much of an athlete, so the playing of the national anthem was not an issue for me growing up. For a thoughtful perspective on GC’s decision from someone who has thought about this all their life, read a Open Letter to GC from Britt Kaufmann, longtime Mennonite athlete, coach and GC alum.

I’m mainly interested in this decision because of the way it was rolled out as part of a broader vision emerging from GC President James Brenneman. See his recent sermon Brenneman calls for new ‘school of thought’ at Goshen of positive engagement in the world.

What right has one to prophesy, without accepting responsibility for decision-making, management and accountability? – J. Lawrence Burkholder as quoted by James Brenneman

Based on the GC press release, the message seems to be, through the text and accompanying photos, that Brenneman hopes to take GC in the path inspired by ethicist and former GC president J. Lawrence Burkholder. That is the Mennonite tradition of institution building and a focus on working from within the system. In the anthem release, Brenneman calls this approach that of the "loyal oppostion".

Wikipedia defines "Loyal opposition" as dissent "while maintaining loyalty to the source of the government’s power." In the UK, where the term was coined, that meant the Queen. When Brenneman uses this term, what source of the US governmet’s power is he pledging loyalty to? The largest military in the world? It’s economic hegemony?

To understand where Brenneman is headed requires a closer look at J. Lawrence Burkholder. Burkholder’s vision flows out of a focus on the "sea of moral ambiguity" as Perry Bush describes it in his article "The Political Education of Vietnam Christian Service, 1954-1975". Bush references the story I often heard Burkholder tell of the time while working in China when he forced frantic refugees off a plane while the pilot held a gun to their heads so that the plane could take off. For Burkholder, this story was the starting point for an Anabaptist ethical framework based on political compromise and accomodation rather then sectarian idealism.

I respect Burkholder’s critique of idealism and his recognition of the need to engage with moral ambiguity. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern of leaders of Mennonite institutions citing Burkholder’s work as they move their organizations towards the mainstream and away from distintive Anabaptist ways of being. In a chapter in Building Communities of Compassion: Mennonite Mutual Aid in Theory and Practice, GC Professor Keith Graber Miller writes about how former Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA) president Howard Brenneman met regularly with Burkholder for breakfast as he gradual took MMA from being a mutual aid organization to being just another insurance and investment firm with Mennonites as a target market. For more on this see Peacewashing MMA.

Brenneman’s distinctive take on the Burkholderian path is to compromise and accomodate while in the name of prophetic critique. The Goshen College press release quotes the President’s council saying that play them anthem will "opens up new possibilities for members of the Goshen College community to publicly offer prophetic critique". That’s some serious Mennonite doublespeak, unless the GC administration has in mind some sort of court prophet role along the lines of Jim Wallis. Aside from Nathan, there aren’t a whole lot of positive biblical models for this. In fairness to Brenneman he does mention the need for "dissent standing outside the systems of the world" but he uses the loaded term "naysayers" to describe this school of thought.

Rather then trying to frame this decision as a new socio-theological adventure, I think they would be better off if they just acknowledged that this decision reflects the increasing number of non-Mennonite students at the college and specifically the fact that the athletic teams (aside from soccer) are mostly non-Mennonite. Simply saying that a majority of athletes want this change and that this decision reflects their wishes (as I have heard may be the case) would be a much less disturbing approach.

P.S. This article in the Record, the GC campus newspaper, offers a few student perspectives from the GC campus.

Rather then trying to invent and defend a new Mennonite socio-theological concept of “loyal oppostion”, I think GC would be better off if they just acknowledged that this decision reflects the increasing number of non-Mennonite students at the college and specifically the fact that the athletic teams (aside from soccer) are mostly non-Mennonite. Simply saying that a majority of athletes want this change and that this decision reflects there wishes (as I have heard is the case) would be a much less disturbing approach.

1/27/2010 Edit: removed “follow the path boldly forged by Mennonite schools like Bluffton University and Bethel College” from first sentence after concerns were raised by AlanS (see below).

2/15/2010 Update: There is now a on-line petition where you can express your opposition to Goshen College’s choice to play the anthem and a Facebook group opposing Goshen’s decision.

2/22/2010 Update: The Associated Press covers the the decision by Goshen College and the New York Times and Washington Post ran the story on Saturday, along with many other outlets (link to Google News search).

Comments (51)

  1. JeremyY

    Many thanks Tim for this response. I agree with you that Brenneman’s embrace of Burkholder is something to be deeply concerned about. There’s something about Brenneman’s argument that reminds me of arguments I’ve heard from Conservative Conference churches on why they should abandon historic Mennonite peace position — “evangelism,” “hospitality” and “relevancy.”

    I think one of issues among us Mennos on the progressive edge is that sometimes we decouple social justice / pacifism from Christian discipleship. Brenneman’s argument seems to go even father down that path.

  2. JeremyY

    I guess I should add that I’m concerned that Brenneman will decouple pacifism from social justice. The “positive engagement” with the world might require us to embrace a qualified pacifism or even a just war theory — you know, something that’s “effective” and “relevant.”

  3. Anthony

    The problem with Brenneman’s characterizing this question as one of “no” v. “yes” is that every no also is a yes and vice versa. Every choice to do something is simultaneously a choice not to do something else, and every choice not to do something entails a choice to do or value an alternative more highly. It is quite misleading to characterize John Howard Yoder’s approach as a big “no” to the world. It actually was a big “yes” to the Kingdom of God in all its full, radical otherness. Such a view allows for much “yes” work to be done in the world, and Mennonites around the world do it every day when they alleviate human suffering, speak up for human rights, and engage in the sort of relief work Burkholder apparently did. Working for justice and peace involves BOTH prophecy and “decision-making, management and accountability.” It also requires the sort of uncompromising focus on the Kingdom which Jesus taught us. The problem with flying the flag and playing the national anthem — especially at a time when so much American “Christianity” has become so un-prophetic — is not that it moves us from “no” to “yes,” but that it inches us toward “yeses” that are not of the Kingdom.

  4. Ted Houser

    Yesterday, a communications colleague pointed out that Goshen College recently adopted a new slogan, “Peace by Peace.” I feel compelled to acknowledge the irony that this slogan presents beside the choice to play the national anthem at sporting events. It seems that the school is missing an excellent educational opportunity to articulate what “Peace by Peace” means.

    The media attention from Fox news and others over the school’s refusal to play the national anthem was a golden invitation for Goshen to teach students and community members about peaceful alternatives to military and economic domination.

    By choosing instead to adopt the national anthem, Goshen is not only endorsing the powers and methods of the state, it is undermining its own claim to heal the world through peaceful alternatives.

    As an alum and constituent of the college, I’m quite confused by this mixed message. If playing war songs before sporting events is part of Goshen’s strategy for engaging “prophetic critique,” I suggest that the college rebrand itself with a slogan that better matches its actions as a community of prophets.

  5. JHK840

    “What right has one to prophesy, without accepting responsibility for decision-making, management and accountability?”

    This question strikes me as theologically confused. We prophecy because we are being obedient to our Lord, not because we have the “right” to do so. Moreover, we certainly don’t gain such a “right” on the basis of engaging in “decision-making, management, and accountability.” I am not a fan of separatism, either, but when Anabaptists who choose that path do so, I don’t think it somehow disqualifies them from speaking prophetically. Prophetic speech is prophetic because of its source — God — not because of the human speaking it. Prophecy is the Creator speaking to Creation — the ultimate “speaking Truth to Power.” What does that have to do with “rights?” Aren’t all creatures, at least all humans, called to be part of that? If one insists on using “rights” language (which is not a good idea), then that’s where it comes from.

    And other thing: who, exactly, is a “non-decision-maker,” and to whom are they supposed to be responsible? Does our responsibility to God to speak prophetically and advocate for peace and justice count? Is that not enough?

  6. ST

    I heard that GC is trying a certain conservative strategy during this rough financial period.

    As I understand it, the logic goes:
    Become more conservative in order to attract more students whose parents are conservative.
    conservative parents tend to be wealthier than liberal parents. therefore, those students will pay more tuition and GC will have to provide less financial aid.

    I am not sure if they are aware of how deeply this will affect the student body (from issues of demographics to student organizing, etc.) I’m sure some administration and faculty may be…but perhaps they feel like the student body will “make it through.”

    Money should not be the driving force behind political changes, though it often is.

    I don’t want to spread rumors or anything. It’s really too bad about the national anthem. Thanks for all y’alls thoughtful comments.

  7. Joseph P

    This is fascinating stuff that really zeros in on critical questions of how we live in the world.

    For starters, my alma mater is Bethel College. I am fully comfortable with the fact that we play the national anthem before sporting events and would not encourage the school to stop practicing that. At the same time, I have always fully affirmed Goshen College’s choice to not play the anthem.

    (As a side note, I don’t recall the anthem ever being played at a BC soccer game. At basketball and volleyball games it was typically just a cheap instrumental recording played haphazardly through the sound system.)

    (And another side note: I don’t view Bethel’s national anthem practices as representing a “path boldly forged.” And as far as I can tell,
    Goshen’s present decision has nothing to do with examples set by “Mennonite schools like Bluffton University and Bethel College”; Goshen is forging its own unique path and for that I commend Goshen.)

    To those who fear Goshen’s decision represents a decline into acquiescence, I would note a couple of things:

    1. Goshen did not cave to the public pressure that engulfed it about a year ago. They stood up for their tradition and took the time to review it thoughtfully. I was very impressed with how the school handled the media swarm regarding its tradition of not playing the anthem and regarded it as a positive witness.

    2. The current decision is that Goshen will play an instrumental version of the anthem. It strikes me as still being a pertinent prophetic stance to deliberately abstain from using the lyrics of the national anthem even while playing the tune.

    I will be quite interested to read Brenneman’s sermon that Tim linked to. I think there is a lot of validity in the concept of “loyal opposition.” But Tim is probably right that the decision really just boils down to there being a lot of non-Mennonite Goshen athletes. And here it’s worth remembering that Mennonite colleges are not meant to be pure embodiments of the Church. They are part church, part US academia, and I guess part National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

    I’ll pick one final opinion (of many that are perculating) to throw out here: the star-spangled banner lyrics are not as militaristic as they’re being made out to be. Yes, the poem by Francis Scott Key contains an implicit endorsement of the right to use military force for just causes, but primarily it is a depiction of how the author saw the flag waving at dawn, having survived a violent attack by the British military. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Star-Spangled_Banner) To Key, the sight of the flag in that moment was an inspirational sign of hope for the survival of his nation. I think it’s actually a gorgeous piece of poetry.

  8. AlanS

    Tim. Friend.
    First, understand that I am with you in the discomfort and the struggle of the main point of this discussion. Second, I also realize that what I am about to point out is slightly off topic but it is no less important and ultimately plays into your view about Goshen’s role, especially in comparison to other Mennonite colleges.

    I am deeply offended by your opening sentence, “Last week my alma mater, Goshen College, announced that it would follow the path boldly forged by Mennonite schools like Bluffton University and Bethel College and begin playing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events.”

    This statement clearly is a derogatory one towards both Bethel and Bluffton (especially considering the negative content of the rest of the article) and it is an ignorant one, uninformed of the larger traditions, history and status of Bethel and Bluffton. The implication that we are somehow more worldly, less Mennonite, less faithful, less politically active, less prophetic, or many other themes that you connect to in the rest of your article is unfair and uncalled for.

    I am a Bethel College grad and this is a statement that is representative of a the core problem of relationship between our Mennonite schools. Namely that there is an understood feeling of superiority for those loyal to one school or another. While this feeling exists to some extent within the former GC schools, it is more pointed and more hateful on the part of MC’s.

    Within the last year I have heard the comment said, “why would you want to go to Bethel, they’re not even Christian.” This is a level of antagonism that I have never heard express at Bethel about the other Mennonite Schools.

    While I genuinely hope that your comment was simply ignorant and without critical thought, I cannot let it pass. Quite frankly, what is more deeply disturbing is not even the comment itself but your obliviousness, which is somewhat representative of a larger pattern.

    As a fellow member of the YAR community I expect an apology.

  9. Karl S

    “What right has one to prophesy, without accepting responsibility for decision-making, management and accountability?”

    This statement reminds of an exchange between the late, great preacher William Sloane Coffin and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the Vietnam war. Coffin’s unrelenting prophetic critique of the war policy so exasperated Kissinger that he finally said something like, “If you’re so smart, why don’t you tell us what to do.” Coffin responded, “Mr. Secretary, my job is to say to you, ‘Let justice roll down like mighty waters.’ Your job is to get the plumbing in place.”

    Excellent critique Tim.

  10. z

    i’ve been attending a mennonite church since i was 16, am now 18 and am looking to possibly attend a mennonite college.

    sorry if this is off-topic, but it seems there’s been a lot of talk about mennonite schools and liberal arts colleges in general taking a more conservative bent recently.

    all of this is very disheartening to me, who is a progressive activist and amateur theologian.

    i’ve pretty much narrowed down my choices to emu and goshen and a few secular universities. i was wondering if anyone who knows could give me word about what the environment at emu is like? am i stupid for even considering a mennonite college? are there other decent progressive schools out there with good peace programs?

  11. Joseph P


    I too felt a slight slap in the face from the way Tim’s comment was worded. I expect though that it was unintentional.

    While I am definitely sensitive to these “GC/MC” dynamics within MCUSA and more often feel like former General Conference schools (Bethel, Bluffton) get a bad rap, I am uncomfortable with your comment about the feeling of superiority being “more pointed and more hateful on the part of MC’s.”

    In my personal experience I’ve never noticed any “hate” on the part of MC’s. Furthermore, this feels like a situation where one could easily be missing the “log in one’s own eye.”

    I look forward to sorting this out and appreciate that you brought it up. Although I would also urge sensititity to the fact that for a growing number of Mennonites, the MC/GC distinction is meaningless.

  12. TimN (Post author)

    AlanS, thanks for your honest sharing about how the remark about Bethel affected you. I can see how the comment unhelpfully feeds on stereotypes of Bluffton and Bethel. I meant it as a playful if pointed aside and clearly it failed at the former. I certainly didn’t do the research necessary to make any serious assessment of how Bethel and Bluffton made their decision to play the anthem.

    As often is the case, humor can be very tricky when all we have is words and no body language or tone of voice. I’m sorry that my comment hurt you. I admit my ignorance about the level of antagonism you describe coming from traditionally Old Mennonite (MC) schools towards General Conference (GC) schools. I’d be interested in hearing more about your experience of this some time if you’d like to share.

    I apologize for not thinking through the remark more carefully before I made it. I’ve gone ahead and removed it from this post and the version on As of Yet Untitled.

  13. TimN (Post author)


    Thanks for your question about Mennonite colleges. Despite my critique of the direction of the Goshen College administration, I still have a very good impression of the continuing high quality of the teaching faculty that I got to know during my time at Goshen College (1999-2003), especially in the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies department, Religion and History departments.

    During my time at Goshen, I saw clear ways in which progressive students were able to be a voice challenging the conservative drift of the administration. Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but I would hope that there is still a space for students with radical Anabaptist convictions to be active on campus. I know that when I chose Goshen I did so not just because of what I thought GC could offer me, but because of what I hoped I could contribute to building an active community of progressive activists on campus. Over my four years there, I feel like my own activism and commitment to radical Anabaptist values were very positively shaped and nurtured by the college community.

  14. AlanS

    (Both of these comments should be prefaced by the fact that I have a short time to reply fully and have more thought)

    -Tim, thank you for your reply and I look forward to fruitful exchanges in the future. As I have received grace freely it is also extended to you. Thanks.

    -Joseph, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of inter-collegiate relationships, most of which include a healthy dose of humility and humbleness and a lot of repentance on the part of every college involved. After some interesting conversations with people more aware than I, I have recently come to the realization that the comment of “they’re not Christian” is something leveled against former GC schools in a way that has never beedn leveled against the MC schools. “Fundamentalist”, “uber-conservative”, “not one of us”…but not a denial of even basic faith. Let me also be clear that the Bethel world has it’s sins to atone for as well, but they’re different in very real ways.

    There’s more to this but I have to run. Also, I’d be happy to talk about this more but I don’t want to hijack the discussion. This is about Goshens decision, after all.

    peace to ya’ll.

  15. Tim B

    I heard students at Goshen are going to fire guns in the air before all sporting events but the guns will be loaded with blanks…no actually violence will be intended.

  16. Jim Brenneman

    Tim, thanks for engaging these ideas. Makes me proud you are an alum! I’m delighted to see the energetic dialogue that has resulted from recent decisions at Goshen College around the national anthem. It reflects the profound tension that is intrinsic to the human condition — our relationship with God and our relationship with the world (we are in good company; the Bible embodies this tension as well). Like the larger Mennonite church, Goshen College has struggled to hold together these two schools of thought: one of prophetic critique and one of civic engagement. Both of these perspectives are within me, and I know that to accept either exclusively is to accept a half truth. My hope for Goshen College and the church is that we will continue to be challenged by this dialogue within each of us and between each other.

  17. TedM

    In reply to “z” especially, but to everyone else as well, I’d like to respond as a Goshen student.

    For me, the national anthem debate has been a sticky one because the student body is essentially a divided one (in my opinion). Recent decisions about athletic scholarships and advertising locally have increased (at least in my perception, I don’t have statistics) the non-Mennonite population. Especially among some athletic programs, the sector of the student population has disproportionate representation. These sports teams: basketball, softball, baseball, are the places from which the call for the anthem to be played came from. I, as a liberal pacifist who is uncomfortable with the national anthem nonetheless have found it hard to raise a stink about what is essentially someone else’s business. I have not attended even one event of any of the teams in question this year and so I feel I would be rude in pushing my heritage on someone who was recruited and wooed by current Goshen enrollment policies that may not emphasize this heritage.

    Despite the virulent call for the anthem, the rifts in the student body (which are overall a negative thing I think) have preserved the Goshen tradition of radical anabaptism and political engagement.
    While the college’s Peace by Peace slogan acknowledges this, I wonder how many visitors to our campus are given a short history of Mennonites and a summary of the student body’s political leanings. I was struck in a class with Keith Graber Miller last year when he told the story of overhearing a parent (of an incoming freshman) at Goshen’s opening weekend react with surprise at the Mennonite tone of the welcoming address.

    Perhaps the problem is not leaning towards conservatism, but false marketing.

    And “z,” you should still come to Goshen. It’s a great place with wonderful people and you will find a welcoming environment here.

    Ted M.

  18. TimN (Post author)

    Jim and Ted,

    Thanks to both of you for sharing a perspective from inside the Goshen College campus. It’s good to hear more about what this conversation looks like from within the campus and within yourselves. I hope the tensions you describe can be a source for creatively nurturing the prophetic imagination of the community.

  19. Andy Gingerich

    As the son of a MC Middleburian and a GC Newtonian, I’ve gotta say that the GC and MC history is real but the reality of the present division is moot. Most of us now are, for better or for worse (I think probably for worse) Americanized. We speak English, watch TV, have computers and eat frozen pizza. We have a lot more in common with each other presently (and other non-mennos) than we do a GCer or MCer 50 or 100 years ago. We are in fact integrated, if not corporately through MC USA, then collectively by youtube, perhaps more so in the case of the latter.

    Personally, I am not opposed to citizenship, or participation in politics, these are human endeavors that result from viewing yourself as a part of something larger, which is at the heart of our faith. The question to me is more specific to the meaning of the U.S. flag and the national anthem as symbols. Singing about ‘bombs bursting in air’ in defeat of our enemy is something that is irreconcilable with my faith, and therefore I cannot sing or honor that song. If our national anthem was America the Beautiful (I only know the first verse) then I might feel differently.

  20. Philipp

    Mr. Brenneman wrote: “Both of these perspectives are within me, and I know that to accept either exclusively is to accept a half truth. ”

    What in the world? (no pun intended): So… the world has half the truth, and the church has half the truth? And we are called to be in between to get as close to the whole truth as we can? This may be an attempt at thinking through the problem logically, but in my ears, it ends up being unfounded and bad ecclesiology. Anyone with me?

    I also don’t get how the national anthem, any national anthem, would be better and more singeable if it would have a sweet, cuddly text. Does that make national states, especially hegemonic ones like ours, more sweet and cuddly? Sounds very short sighted to me.

  21. AlanS

    Ok, so I’m back home from Pastors week and have some time to respond to a number of things in this discussion. Hopefully it doesn’t get too long winded. First things first. I am a Bethel grad, who played football, who grew up in a General Conference Church, who now works as a pastor in an MC church, both of which were/are in Central Kansas. All of these things are pertinent to my thoughts and perspectives. I’ll try to keep them organized. (oh, and when I use “GC” below, it means General Conference Mennonite Church, not Goshen College. I’ll use “Goshen” for that)

    1)In general on the topic of Bethel’s flying of the flag/singing the anthem. It’s important to understand that Bethel and Bluffton (as opposed to the MC colleges) were originally corporations of the town in which they were located. They were highly controlled by and had representation of the local Mennonite conference on their board, but also had local businessmen and the like. Thus, the flying of a flag and singing of the anthem has been there from the beginning and is representative of the default position of the school. It’s the MC schools which were owned by the church and thus were more separated from civic practice. Basically, Goshen is the only one making a statement by it’s practice around this issue.

    2) The GC/MC thing. The structural difference of the colleges noted above is a direct result of the core differences between MC’s and GC’s. I do recognize that the use of the MC/GC language has faded and doesn’t hold the same ethnic weight as it once did. But I would strongly disagree with Joseph (post 11) when he says that the distinction is meaningless. In my view, the differences in the MC and GC worldviews are at the core of many of our inter-institutional fights and prejudices. The MC/GC difference effects not only things like the flag and the anthem but it’s also the reason for things like the fact that Bethel and Bluffton have football programs and the other schools don’t, which greatly effects the character of all of the schools. The problem is that we just don’t have the language anymore to accurately describe those differences. Do people who grew up outside the traditional Mennonite church care about the buzzwords and catchphrases….no. Do the underlying concepts that those catchphrases represent effect those same people and their institutions even if they’re not aware of them….absolutely.

    3)As a football player at a Mennonite School that did sing the National Anthem and fly the flag (in various forms) I can attest to the fact that you can have a peace witness and still use those symbols. I have had many a conversation with other football players who have no idea why I wouldn’t pick a fight or fight back. The trouble I have with Goshen’s decision is the idea that by playing the anthem that they will facilitate more dialogue. That simply seems to be in conflict with itself. The current practice (of not playing it) puts Goshen at odds with the surrounding culture and forces the issue and thus creates opportunity for dialogue and witness. I simply don’t see how acculturating on this issue will raise any interest at all and facilitate dialogue. What’s more, the last couple of years have attested to the ability of the practice of not playing the anthem to bring the issue out in the open and even on to the national stage. I just don’t see Goshen getting on Fox News by choosing to play the National Anthem, whereas by not playing it they wound up on national television. What an amazing witness and opportunity Goshen has had in the last several years, and now you want to give that up?!

    4)The other question that I have in relation to Goshen’s decision is, “why now?” I can entertain and maybe even buy into all of the arguments for engagement that have been laid out, but I don’t understand what the precipitating factor is here. Maybe I missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be any situation that they’re responding to (or at least admitting to responding to) that would justify this move. And quite frankly, this move is antithetical enough to the Mennonite witness that there had better be a dang good reason for it other than, “we talked about it in committee and thought it would be a good idea”.


  22. AlanS

    Oh yeah and to “Z”. Seriously, if you’re looking for Mennonites who are progressive activists who come from a theological perspective, then you really need to check out Bethel. Bethel’s progressiveness and activeness is what sets it apart from the other Mennonite Schools. Bethel also has KIPCOR (Kansas Institue for Peace and Conflict Resolution). Taking peace and reconciliation seriously is kinda their whole reason for existing. Don’t get me wrong, Goshen and EMU have some great stuff and I’ve got kids from my church at both of them, but they’re definitely more on the conservative end of the Mennonite world. From you description of what you want, Bethel should be on your list. Maybe you’ve checked it off for some other reason, but it’s worth taking a second look at.

    Oh,and to be clear, by Bethel, I mean the Bethel college in Kansas. http://www.bethelks.edu. Don’t get that confused with the other Bethels out there, (say the one in Indiana)

  23. Joseph P


    Thanks for the helpful info regarding the original structural differences of the colleges.

    Regarding the GC/MC difference: clearly it does have meaning to me, I just get uneasy talking about issues that seem like they “shouldn’t” matter to me, especially issues that would baffle 1st generation Mennonites. I think you’re probably right though that the issue affects even those who aren’t aware of it and I would be eager to hear more from you about the core MC/GC differences and the “institutional fights and prejudices” they impact

    As for Goshen and the anthem, I look forward to seeing how the Goshen community sorts that out. I think the important thing for them will be coming to some sort of agreement on the meaning of their choice (whether the current one holds or is revoked). Brenneman offered a very sound Biblical/Anabaptist platform for the Goshen community to interpret this decision from, such that they could accomodate the people that are around and among them while still remaining unapologetically Anabaptist. Clearly many people were disgusted that he would try to “disguise” the decision in terms of peacemaking, but I think the point of all the theological talk was to enable Goshen to remain intentionally true to itself even while facing the inevitable compromise that comes with being in the world.

    And to the Z-man…my sense has long been that Goshen and Bethel (KS) are the most “progressive” of the Mennonite schools. I have many close friends who are alums of the other schools and they all have my admiration. I hope that someone will answer your question about the environment at EMU.

    I will add my voice to Alan’s and put in a huge plug for Bethel: it is an excellent school with a tremendous culture of critical thinking, theological inquiry, radical activism, and creativity. Bethel offers fewer majors than the other colleges and does not currently have any kind of specific “peacenjustice” major. This reflects recent budget cuts as well as attempts to streamline their academics and ensure that every major they offer has the utmost integrity.

    Goshen and EMU both have solid “peace” programs. I’ve heard great things about Goshen’s program and though I don’t know much about EMU’s undergrad program I like the change of emphasis implied in its new name: “Peacebuilding and Development.” In any case, you should talk to the professors to get a sense of things.

    I was among the last graduates in Bethel’s old “Global Peace and Justice Studies” major. While I would never trade my experience in that program for anything, I definitely became aware that one doesn’t need to major in “peace” in order to be an effective peacemaker. The broad effect of an undergrad liberal arts experience is the same no matter what your major. I have worked in three different fields since I graduated from college, none of which required a peace major but all of which utilized my educational background in various ways. If I really wanted to advance a career in peacemaking, I would look into Masters programs. You don’t need a specific undergrad degree to get into these programs. I understand that EMU’s grad program is top-notch (especially if you’re interested in Global issues). Fresno Pacific University is a Mennonite Brethren school that has a great grad program if you’re more interested in conflict mediation. Notre Dame, of course, also has a Masters peace program.

    Best of luck in your college search and in your academic career!

  24. Joseph P

    not that anyone’s paying attention to this thread anymore, but I should note that Bluffton and Bethel offer minors of “Peace and conflict studies” (Bluffton) and “Peace, justice, and conflict studies” (Bethel).

    Also, when I used the word “progressive” in the previous post (referring to Goshen and Bethel) I meant “liberal.”

    “Progressive” feels like a loaded term.

  25. victor

    If you listen carefully it seems there is another motive lurking in the background. This interview between the public figure that “outed” Goshen as Anabaptist raises the question of federal funding of the college. I think Brenneman and company realized that the cost of bad PR could ultimately include serious questions about federal funding. Is anyone ready to tell Anabaptist institutions that they shouldn’t accept the tax dollars extracted by the government at the threat of force? (http://townhall.com/MediaPlayer/AudioPlayer.aspx?ContentGuid=f3333d13-1689-4b17-9edb-8c4061c4c188)

    Even Brenneman argued against this decision just over a year ago (http://record.goshen.edu/2009/11/8187-jim-brenneman-on-why-gc-doesnt-play-the-national-anthem-at-sports-games). Burkholder is convenient cover for more foreplay with our DC-based Empire.

  26. JPR

    Victor, there is just nothing to convince me that singing/playing the national anthem is “more foreplay with our DC-based empire.”

    I know that Brenneman has changed his mind on the national anthem. That is one of the possible outcomes of discussion, dialogue, and discernment. However, where is the evidence behind your statement that the government would withhold financial aid from the school? That would not be constitutional, regardless of what Mike Galligar might say. Unless there is cold, hard evidence that finance was behind the decision, we cannot assume that Mr. Brenneman arrived at his conclusion in corruption.

    I guess I fail to see what the big deal about the national anthem is anyway. It is not an embrace of American imperialism, militarism, and social religion. It does not preclude the possibility that there are many other fine nations in the world. It most certainly does not portray the United States as infallible. If one sees only these things, then they would have every reason to oppose the anthem.

    When I stand for the national anthem, it is not in support of any of these things, but in solidarity with my neighbors and fellow countrymen, a reminder that though we might not always agree, we are one nation. It is a reminder to me and to them that my voice of dissent is also a valid American position, and that I, as a citizen, have a role to play in shaping my country’s direction.

  27. Joanne G.

    As always, great work, and great critique.
    I still ask myself, what is the role of church institutions? Like what Joseph P was saying, are they pure embodiments of the church, or half-church, half academy? While I tend to believe the latter, I don’t believe this means compromising the academy, or compromising the church. The national anthem compromises some core tenants of the Anabaptist faith, and forces those who feel opposed to it to open their mouth and insert their foot when they talk about Goshen being an Anabaptist institution, faithful to the teachings of the Mennonite Church.

    What Burkholder was discussing in regards to moral ambiguity isn’t the same as submitting to the empire. Burkholder, in his WWII years, spent significant time in an environment where the black-and-white piety and “right belief” system of the old MC church broke down. Idealism and self-righteousness can become idols and can impede us from authentic conversation with those whom we disagree. However, co-opting Burkholder as justification for giving in to the empire instead of maintaining an Anabaptist witness will certainly help you look respectable in the eyes of your donors, but as a GC alum, it doesn’t impress me. But having little money to donate to GC as a graduate student, this probably doesn’t cause Brenneman any sleepless nights.

    I’m not suggesting that one song gives way to a marriage of church and empire, but by setting this as the “norm,” Brenneman gives way to a slippery slope of nationalistic loyalty and ecclesiastical witness. What will be compromised next? Maybe that’s a far-fetched question, but if this is a new school of thought, then we can expect more of this kind acquiescence to external pressure. This is a violation of the church, not the academy, but an equal part of Goshen College all the same.

    This isn’t a new school of thought. There is nothing new about this rhetoric. In one chapel service, Brenneman seeks to forge a new identity for Goshen, one where we say “yes” and “amen” to dropping parts of our unique identity and witness, piece by piece. Not quite H.S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision, is it?

    Jesus lived a life of dissent, so did early Anabaptists. But then again, they didn’t have enrollment problems.

  28. Joseph P

    After reading Victor’s post I was reminded of how Hesston College came under fire in 2002 from the Kansas State Legislature for not flying a flag on campus. There were threats of denying eligibility to Hesston students for some sort of state tuition grant program. Hesston was able to resist this pressure from state politicians.

    Students at Bethel were very supportive of Hesston during this time. In fact, several Bethel students were campaigning heavily for Tom Thull, the Democrat challenger to the state seat long-held by Republican representative Garry Boston. Boston was one of the primary antagonists towards Hesston’s refusal to fly a flag.

    In an incident that remains monumental in the minds of many Bethel students, Garry Boston’s speech on Kansas state politics at a B.C. convocation (in 2002) degenerated into a whiny argument over the minute details of an encounter he had with a Hesston College representative (who happened to be in attendance) regarding the flag issue. The convocation ended with students swirling out of their seats in confusion and annoyance as Boston continued to bicker and as Andy Gingerich (of post 19) was standing up front saying, “If you want to vote for the other guy, talk to me!”

    Thull defeated Boston narrowly in the ensuing election. We like to think that Boston lost it right there in Bethel’s Kauffman Auditoreum that day; and then, in a small way, we can say that Bethel students helped protect Hesston’s right to not fly the flag, even as the stars and stripes waved on our own campus.

    Perhaps it can feel very “American” to protect someone’s right to be unpatriotic.

    What I like about the Goshen situation is that they set up a process and made a decision on their own terms (at least that’s how I see it from my distant vantage point). They even postponed the process on account of the media attention and pressure that was placed on them.

    Hesston was right to resist the pressure of Kansas legislators in 2002, just as Goshen was right to resist the social pressure they encountered last year.

    I can’t quite tell if it was Goshen’s “process” that was unsatisfactory for some many people or if it was the actual decision. From what I can tell, the process was very open and transparent (see the timeline of decision-making here… http://www.goshen.edu/news/pressarchive/01-22-10-national-anthem395/timeline.html).

    I see an interesting irony here. For many people, patriotism is primarily a faith in the systems and processes of our democracy, not specifically in the actual policy decisions that our government makes. Likewise, loyalty to a college could either involve faith in its processes or appreciation of its particular decisions.

    The expansive critical voice of Goshen’s Mennonite constituency against the playing of the anthem illustrates twice their assumption that loyalty to an institution requires appreciation for their every decision, not faith in their decision-making processes.

  29. JPR

    “Jesus lived a life of dissent, so did early Anabaptists. But then again they didn’t have enrollment problems.”

    A little trite, isn’t it? Didn’t Jesus say to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s? Didn’t Jesus say that if asked to carry a soldier’s armor, one ought to go the second mile? Didn’t Jesus command us, after loving the lord our God, to love our neighbors as ourselves? To me, these things all support neighborly, national, and ultimately global solidarity. If the national anthem is merely a symbol of national solidarity and citizenship. These ideas are not unholy. The national anthem is but one symbol for this solidarity.

    As for the early Anabaptists. We have truly made them into saints that they were not. Not all early Anabaptists were pacifist. (Muntzer, Hut, Münster, anyone?) What made them radical was not a statement against the nation-state, since the nation-state did not exist yet and borders were much more fluid. What made them radical was believers’ baptism and believers’ church. This is what separated them from Catholics and Lutherans, and also what separated them from the state at a time when church membership was state citizenship. Menno Simons’ influences on the Anabaptists after Münster, reminding them that the sword was beneath the ways of Christ and that only Christ himself could command them to bear arms in the event of the apocalypse, were both a source of radicalization and normalization for Anabaptists.

    Thereafter, it has been a matter of working within the state to maintain religious freedom, both from persecution and to abstain from the sword. Often, this has meant demonstrating loyalty to rulers in one form or another. To say, therefore, that singing the anthem is un-anabaptist is simply not true.

    I don’t mean to say that one cannot let conscience guide the decision to sing/play the national anthem and to fly the flag. If one cannot reconcile this with their faith, then one ought not do it. But one ought not condemn those who do.

    Joe–Great event! One quibble, though. I seem to remember Boston being on the other side of the flag issue. Jim Juhnke asked him for clarification of said issue and its development. The “Hesston College” keyword set him off on the Hesston College art instructor. The instructor had visited Boston’s office requesting permission to display Hesston College art in the capitol building. Boston treated him rudely, throwing his art in the trash and ultimately throwing him out of the office, threatening to call security. Boston called the instructor out and started bullying him during the convocation, and that’s what set things off. The outcome was the same. Bethel stood up for its fellow Mennonite institution, despite not necessarily seeing eye to eye with it on all things.

  30. Joanne G.

    We will just have to agree about the National Anthem being a “symbol of solidarity.” I do see your point, I just don’t agree. I also agree that we have made early Anabaptists out to be larger-than-life saints, and no, not all of them were pacifists. And yes, what made them radical was believers baptism, which went against the state, and against what was expected out of them as “citizens”. That was truly radical, and that was the only point I was trying to make. But not all Anabaptists “demonstrated loyalty to rulers in one form or another,” and they lost their lives for it. But before I go explaining myself into oblivion, this is a far cry from the present situation of simple song being played at the beginning of a few games.

    We all live in glass houses and throw stones, and I am not condemning anyone who sings or plays this song. But I don’t believe not playing it is being inhospitable, of breaking some sort of solidarity. We choose not to do a lot of things that we see even our dearest neighbors, friends, and family do, that doesn’t mean we’re alienating them. But then again, the church is always compromised, and Goshen is just one academic institution out of many imperfect institutions.

  31. JPR

    Joanne, I understand what you are saying, and for the most part I agree. Sorry to go off on the early Anabaptists, but their idealized, simplistic, mythologized form is invoked far too often in discussions. Just as they shaped their own path then, we have shaped our own paths since, and must continue to do so now, guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

    My major point, though, is that the flag and national anthem are symbols. With a few exceptions, symbols are, by their very nature, of mutable definition. It is the definition that one projects on the symbol that makes it either compatible with or contrary to a given institution’s mission.

    If, for example, Goshen is now embracing American militarism and imperialism, a meaning that some on the left and the right have ascribed to the national anthem, then this would be quite problematic to me. Given Brenneman’s statements on the matter, along with Goshen’s constituency and is heritage, this explanation is highly improbable.

    If one only sees American militarism and imperialism in the anthem, yet is playing it as a gesture of hospitality, then this, too, is problematic. This is slightly more likely from Brenneman’s remarks. It indicates a compromise of one’s own values to accommodate the comfort of others. While one ought to seek the comfort of others, compromising one’s own values to do so is wrong. So if one can see only militarism and imperialism in the national anthem, it makes sense to protest Goshen’s decision.

    However, Goshen could also be reframing the discussion. This is what I would suspect would be the most likely case, given Brenneman’s remarks. If Goshen is playing the anthem as a symbol of national solidarity and citizenship, then this would not be objectionable. As such, it would serve as a reminder, particularly to those outside the Goshen community, that ideals of peace and social justice–ideals driven by our faith in Christ–have a valid place among American ideals. If Goshen is truly reframing the discussion in such a way, then it would extend hospitality, but it would be claiming the symbol in such a way that would make it subject to the values of Goshen College, rather than in opposition to them.

  32. AlanS

    JPR, 3 thoughts.

    1) You can’t both discredit and then re-invoke the early Anabaptists to make your own points. For example: Post 31 “Sorry to go off on the early Anabaptists, but their idealized, simplistic, mythologized form is invoked far too often in discussions” and then the paragraph in post 29 “Not all early Anabaptists were pacifist…..”.

    2) Symbols matter. The Flag is a symbol. Communion is also a symbol. Yes, symbols only carry the meaning that we choose to ascribe to them. And I am all for the whole re-defining-the-meaning-of-the-flag-and-anthem thing, but the dominant interpretation of the meaning of the U.S. Flag and anthem is one of exclusive loyalty, militarism, and imperialism. It also carries other, more potentially positive meanings, but those are most certainly secondary to it’s role within the U.S. national religion. And seeing as Mennonites are not in a position to define the meaning of these particular symbols, then we must be very careful as to how we choose to use those symbols, not because of what we think they mean, but because of what they already mean to everyone else.

    3) The issue of allegiance. It is misguided to say that you can truly split your allegiance. Even Jesus says that No one can serve to masters. Matt 6:24 (sorry to proof text here, but I am a pastor. And yes I know he’s talking about money specifically but it still applies. Money was not only an economic symbol but a political one. Hence the whole ‘give to Caesar what is Caesars’ thing) The issue of the Flag and the Anthem is not just about the meaning of the particular symbol but also about what allegiances we choose to have. Yes, it’s one small step for the school, but it represents something much larger, both for those people who are against it and for those who are for it. This issue wouldn’t have received national attention in the last years if it the symbol of the Anthem and the Flag were meaningless. It’s precisely because they do have specific meaning and are so strongly tied to our allegiances that it matters how we use them.

  33. JPR

    1) By pointing out that some of the early Anabaptists were not pacifist, I am in no way contradicting my statement that we refer to the early Anabaptists in a far too simplistic manner. I am not really praising their participation in the Peasant’s War. I think my earlier writing makes this clear.

    2) I did not say “symbols do not matter.” I wrote that symbols are inherently mutable in definition.

    Anyone can define a symbol as he or she chooses. True, many tie the flag and militarism together. Were this the only way of seeing the flag, though, there would be no debate. As an American myself, I refuse to allow militant Americans to define the flag for me, just as I refuse to allow the religious right to define Christianity for me. I will not allow them make me march in line waving my flag, but I will not let them take my flag from me, either.

    There are myriad other aspects of being American that the flag also symbolizes that are neither imperial nor militant. We the People for one. Our military is neither the source of American authority nor the source of American freedom. Our military strength is not what sets us apart from dictatorships. America’s strength and distinction lies in its ideals of democracy, liberty, justice, and rule of law. Try as I might, I cannot find these ideals objectionable. There are plenty of Americans who think of these ideals in singing the national anthem.

    As for the anthem itself. I have stated elsewhere that I find the lyrics of the anthem and its war-time background to be problematic. Perhaps good alternatives would be “America the Beautiful” or “This Land is Your Land.” Perhaps this would be a “radical ascent?” It would certainly encourage discussions.

    3. I agree one cannot serve two masters. We must break with the state when the state acts against our conscience. This does not mean, however, that we cannot work with the state to accomplish goals that are compatible with our faith. Our faith must be the arbiter.

  34. CharlesB

    At first I agreed with TimN, my main problem with the decision to play the National Anthem was the idea that it is part of this “new school of thought” Burkholder style. I was much more comfortable with the idea that Goshen College has a growing and diverse student body and that the decision to play the National Anthem is a response to the needs and beliefs of the athletes. Yet the more I think about it, the more I like where Jim Brenneman is pointing us (even if I’m not a big fan these schools of though were characterized).

    Regardless the amount of discussion this decision has generated is impressive and it really gets to the heart of who Goshen is as an institution. Are we a manifestation of the church? Should our witness be pure?

    Goshen has a desire for diversity and a growing number of non-Mennonite students. The college can’t speak as an extension of the Mennonite church and speak for/represent all of its students. I believe that to do so would be to silence those non-Mennonites on campus.

    Goshen is struggling to find its voice. While I’m not a fan of how Jim Brenneman characterized this new school of thought in his speech, I think that it is a crucial first step to Goshen recognizing that we are not just a Mennonite institution. Jim realizes that our attempts to speak in a (supposedly) morally pure voice is silencing for many in the community and limits our engagement with the world. Goshen must find a way to honor its Mennonite heritage without silencing the rich and diverse opinions within the community. I think Jim is trying to do that. Well played, Jim.

  35. Matthew Keiser


    I have to take exception to just about everything you wrote. I’m not quite sure why you think that Goshen is “not just a Mennonite institution” any longer. Certainly there is a sizable minority of non-Mennonites on GC’s campus but Goshen’s own website specifically refers to itself as a “Mennonite College”:


    More importantly it is in fact a manifestation of the church; founded by the (old) Mennonite Church, built on and guided by Mennonite/Anabaptist principles, supported by and directly affilaited with MCUSA:


    and with a majority student population that either are Mennonite/Anabaptist or are drawn to the Mennonite distinctives of the college. How is it then that Goshen has essentially outgrown its Mennoniteness?

    If then it is a Mennonite institution what kind of logic is it to essentially deny their Mennonite distinctives, water-down their theology and witness to the world in order to give voice to a minority non-Mennonite population that may or may not feel silenced or to try and seek to engage with a world that plays by a different set of rules? Not that giving voice to dissent or culural engagement isn’t a good thing; it’s vital and necessary but wouldn’t it make more sense for Goshen to maintain their solidly Anabaptist identity, find ways to facilitate greater open dialogue and dissent and dare I say it…seek to win over the non-Mennoniite dissenters both on the campus and in the world with their counter-cultural ideas, their distinctive way of life and being church and their committment to Christ? How exactly does capitulation to the culture-at-large or a shedding and shredding of their Mennonite theology gain them respect and engagement with the world or with the non-Mennonites on their campus? What will be left to engage with? Once they’ve become like every other “Christian Liberal Arts College” what makes you think that anyone will want to engage with them at all? What differences, what unique ideas, what deep tradition will they bring to the table that will make the world curious, that will spark dialogue?

    As for Mr. Brenneman’s twisted “2 Schools of Thought” philospohy. While you don’t like the packaging of it you seem to swallow whole this dispicable and intellectually shallow idea of compromising values and doctrine in order to gain credibility, power and traction in the larger culture. The Brenneman/Burkholder philosophy is a direct repudiation of Bender, Hershberger, Yoder and Anabaptism in general. Moreover their “new” school of thought while perhaps novel for Goshen Mennonites is not exactly new, it’s simply a tired reiteration of the brothers Niebhur with the obligitory “Mennonitey” veneer that keeps them from being dismissed out-of-hand.

    One last thought, while the work of Bender, Hershberger and Yoder were obviously infuenced heavily by the Mennonite world in which they lived and moved and breathed; their work, especially that of Yoder, was Christocentric. We are this way, we believe this way, we live this way because we are essentially and primarily followers of Christ. Can the same be said for the Brenneman/Burkholder break? Is it Cristocentric, is it even bibliocentric? Except for some weak appeal to the Old Testament prophets it relies mainly on appeals to logic, expediency and some sense of “civic duty” that again comes less from Christ and more from Reinhold and Richard Niebhur.

  36. CharlesB

    Matthew Keiser,

    Thank you for your response.

    Goshen does claim to be a Mennonite college (thank you for pointing me to that) but as a recent alum I’m not entirely sure that gets to the root of who GC is or who they are becoming. Goshen was started by the Mennonite church as a place of higher learning for Mennonites and Goshen is still supported by and affiliated with the Mennonite church.

    However, Mennonites have not been attending Goshen (or any Mennonite college, I believe) in sustainable rates for quite some time. Mennonites, while a major constituency of Goshen College, are no longer the only one. To call non-Mennonites “a sizable minority” sounds dismissive to me, after all there are more non-Mennonites than men on campus (http://www.goshen.edu/aboutgc/diversity/). I do not believe that Goshen College can claim a pure Mennonite identity anymore nor do I believe that it should.

    That is not to say that Goshen is in no way Mennonite, that is certainly going too far and I’m sorry if it was overstated in my last post. I value the Mennonite voice of Goshen College, and I would mourn the loss of that identity. However that identity is not the sum of Goshen College nor the only thing of value there.

    The Goshen College I know was (and I believe still is) trying negotiate this complex identity balancing Mennonite heritage/identity/theology with the reality of an increasingly diverse student body. Goshen’s mission has expanded beyond the education of Mennonite youth to encompass those outside the Mennonite tradition as well. While this decision to play the national anthem before some sporting events does not reflect my faith, it does reflect someone’s. And I’m not entirely convinced that the decision is not opening up room for dialogue in ways that refraining hadn’t.

    Your concern of Goshen losing its Mennonite heritage is valid and something I share but your characterization of dialogue leaves much to be desired. First let me say that a major problem for non-Mennonites at Goshen is feeling like outsiders. Many leave because they feel excluded by insider Mennonite language, cultural references and theology. Too often Mennonite concerns and ideas dominate the discourse on campus to the exclusion of others.

    In playing the anthem before some sporting events the Goshen administration legitimizes (some) of these non-Mennonite folks’ presence and experience at the college. In addition this decision shows humility and the recognition of a view other than our own. Much of how you talked about dialogue sounded more like a persuasive speech, its one way with us “[seeking] to win over the non-Mennoniite dissenters.” However as all on this blog realize dialogue is two way and we must also open ourselves up to learning and change for dialogue to truly take place.

    So again I ask how can Goshen “find a way to honor its Mennonite heritage without silencing the rich and diverse opinions within the community?” Perhaps they can distance the decision to play then anthem from the college’s teaching position by placing the decision and implementation to play the anthem with the athletes. It’s a tricky question, but an important one that I think Goshen has been struggling with and should be made more explicit.

    As for the Brenneman/Burkholder philosophy, perhaps I did “swallow whole” their idea of engagement. Certainly I should real more Burkholder before I can speak intelligently about his thought. However I think Brenneman and Burkholder should be shown more respect than you gave them in the calling their ideas “despicable and intellectually shallow.” I also take issue with the idea that Anabaptist thought is found in its totality in Bender, Hershberger and Yoder.

    Finally, in my own experience working in DC as a policy advocate, I find that engagement with the government is important not because it gives me power, but because it empowers people to help others. Many of my organizations constituents would cease to provide services for those in need without government funding. I engage not for myself but for others. Engagement is important and I hope that with its new school of thought Goshen will help students explore creative and faithful ways for Christians to engage the world.

  37. Joseph P

    Thanks Charles and Matt for some good dialogue here.

    To me allowing the anthem to be played seems like a very small, sensible compromise for Mennonites to make in order to demonstrate to other students that they are equally valued on campus.

    I don’t know what it’s like at Goshen but I know that when I was at Bethel (KS) the non-Mennonite voice felt at least a little bit marginalized, even though Mennonites made up only 40% of the student body (much less than at Goshen).

    People talk about the anthem as if it waters down, compromises, even makes hypocrisy of everything else Goshen does in the name of Mennonite identity and peacemaking. I simply cannot understand this logic. Maybe if Jim Brenneman, John Roth, Joe Leichty, and others all faced the flag with their hands on their hearts, mouthing the words as the anthem played, then I would sense that Goshen’s peace witness is being compromised. Until then I foresee non-Mennonite Goshen athletes feeling more at home there and more receptive to the Mennonite-based teachings of Roth, Leichty, and others. Perhaps one of these students will eventually even think twice before putting their hand to their heart as the instrumental anthem plays over the land of the Mapleleaf.

    Also, I don’t see Brenneman rejecting Bender, Hershberger, and Yoder. His speech fully affirms their approach. He says he desires a “synthesis” between the culture of dissent and the culture of engagement. I don’t get why people think he’s going off the deep end in one direction. TimN says he uses the “loaded term ‘naysayers'” to describe the B/H/Y school of thought. He also uses the terms “prophets” and “non-conformists.” He says we need naysayers to “proclaim the radical “NO” to injustice.” That seems pretty affirming to me.

  38. TimN (Post author)


    I think Andy Alexis-Baker does a good job responding to your claims that the Anthem ritual is innocuous here:


    As far as the Brenneman/Burkholder “loyal opposition” position goes, I’ve already clearly explained above why find the “loyal” aspect of this very problematic.

    More importantly, we can already see the fruit of school of thought in organizations like Mennonite Mutual Aid. Their president Brenneman appropriate Burkholder’s ethical framework to justify institutional isomorphism. That is, when institutions move to become more like other institutions at the expense of their mission and vision. Mennonite Mutual Aid is much farther along this path then Goshen College…


    I agree that its very important to make non-Mennonite students feel welcome at GC, but seeing the anthem as a solution to this suggests a deep lack of imagination. It treats a symptom without doing anything to address the underlying relationship issues. More then likely, it will exacerbate the divisions, because non-Mennonite students will see opposition to the anthem as an attack on them.

    I wouldn’t call Burkholder and Brenneman despicable. I also don’t think that Bender, Hershberger and Yoder are the totality of Anabaptism. There’s a whole new generation of theologian/activists (Andy and Nekeisha Alexis-Baker for example) that are exploring the ways that Anabaptists can engage with the government and society in authentic ways that make it clear where our allegiance lies.

    At the very beginning of Anabaptism, it was a movement of radical evangelical social change activists. I’m hopeful that a new generation of Anabaptists are reviving those roots. But I’m deeply skeptical that a philosophy of “loyal opposition” that puts accommodation and compromise at the center will lead the way.

  39. CharlesB


    I’m sure there are other better ways to make non-Mennonite students at GC feel welcome and valued. One of those ways is to make explicit who the Mennonites are before we take their money so that folks know what they’re getting into. But one way is to let non-Mennonites live out their faith in ways authentic to who they are, not who we are.

    Any supposed divisions caused by this anthem decision should not be put on those non-Mennonites who want the anthem played. They feel like they’re being attacked because they are. Read through the comments on that petition:

    “The national anthem is a slap in the face for everything the Gospel stands for.”

    “I’m ashamed of this decision and the responsible parties.”

    “…As GC continues to sell its soul to the devil, might I suggest they consider the benefits of ROTC. And, I’m sure there might be some payoff on having recruiters on-site as students file into chapel each morning–at least 30 pieces of silver.”

    Or we could look to Andy Alexis-Baker in his piece on the anthem where the playing the anthem and other engagement with the world makes us “toadies and sycophants for the establishment.” (http://www.jesusradicals.com/goshen-college-hurts-the-church/)

    I guess I can’t get my head around the idea that we’re expecting an institution to be pure (especially an academic institution).

    As for your response about JB and JLB, I’m sorry if you thought I was attributing those to you. I was responding to Matthew Keiser, sorry if I was unclear.

    Anyways, thanks for responding Tim. I have appreciated your article and the discussion here because it has avoided attacking GC over the issue. Well played, Tim.

  40. Joseph P

    In Andy’s piece he says “the simple act of staying seated [while the anthem plays] communicates a powerful message…”

    He explains that federal law dictates proper etiquette for observing the anthem (standing, removing headwear, putting your hand to your heart, etc). To the best of my knowledge, no law says that any institution has to play the anthem at any time.

    Therefore, Goshen College’s old policy of not playing the anthem was a simple choice of preference: they preferred not to play the anthem (for reasons of theology and conscience) and so they didn’t. Now, with the anthem playing, every individual in attendance has the opportunity to essentially perform an act of civil disobedience by ignoring or defying the etiquette spelled out in law.

    Conclusion: individual protest is more radical than institutional protest.

    I doubt that it was Andy’s intention (since I know he’s one of the key protesters to Goshen’s decision) but his piece seems to support my logic that the real test will be in whether we see Brenneman, Roth, Leichty, and others observing the anthem according to protocol or not.

    I am unsure about his dramatic claims of the anthem’s ritualistic hold on our psyche; I will have to do some soul-searching on that one but for now I feel like the concern is overblown.

    By the way, is it not interesting that Andy’s piece refers to American patriotism as a “civil religion of blood sacrifice?” Isn’t “blood sacrifice” at the heart of most people’s understanding of Christianity?

    The more heretical I become in my Christian faith, the more hypocrisy I see in the deriding of civil religion. The Christian God can easily become an “idol” just blinding as the American flag. I can’t help but hear a sense of self-righteous superiority in the claim that our worship of “God” is better than their worship of the flag. I do have my own faith and belief in a power (a “God”) much higher than the American flag, however, that faith does not lead me to belittle the rituals of American patriots anymore more than it would have me belittle the rituals of any “bonafide” religion.


    Tim, yes, you already stated your objections to the Burkholder school of thought. My point was that I heard Brenneman saying he wants the Burkholder emphases to stand side-by-side (or in tension) with the Bender/Hershberger/Yoder emphases, not for one to take over the other.

  41. Graham Stewart


    Jason seems to draw on similar sources to this Stanley Hauerwas piece:


    Yes, of course, Christianity is based in part on blood sacrifice–the blood of Jesus and of the martyrs. Hauerwas explains why the sacrifice encompassed in the cross is incompatible with the sacrifices of war and of American civil religion.

    Christians affirm that Jesus is Lord. It is not clear to me that simply making a truth claim is hypocritical. Hauerwas and Alexis-Baker are not arguing that worship or sacrifice are bad–they are arguing against worshiping or sacrificing to unworthy idols.

  42. Graham Stewart

    Sorry, I meant to say *Andy*, not *Jason*.

  43. Joseph P

    Thanks for the link, Graham. Hopefully I’ll have time to read the article eventually.

    I fully affirm nonviolent interpretations of the Atonement. My comment about “blood sacrifice” did not have a ton of integrity. I acknowledge that Jesus’ blood sacrifice is quite different than say an American soldier’s blood sacrifice. But many Christians believe in the “substitutionary” theory of the atonement, in which an angry God, in response to our sinfulness, demands a violent sacrifice to be appeased. While this is still something different than American civil religion, it opens up many potential justifications for violence and is enough for me to throw up caution before lauding Christianity over civil relgion.

    Saying “Jesus is Lord” is one thing; saying “my belief system is right and yours is wrong” is quite another. Over and over again I hear people refer to the “idolatry” of the national anthem, or I hear people decry civil religion as if it’s self-explanatory why civil religion is evil and Christianity is good. I’ve seen enough good in my non-religious neighbors and enough sinfulness in my Christian brothers and sisters to get fed up with the kind of talk that presumes Christian superiority.

    Perhaps we demonstrate our allegiance to Christ best when we are quick to acknowledge the log in our own eye.

  44. David

    I think there is a deeper problem here than do you play the anthem. Why is a supposedly anabaptist college involved in the worldly practice of fielding sporting teams? Once you began down that slippery slope, the national anthem was inevitable.

  45. Aaron Kreider

    Tactics Advice
    I normally advocate moderate tactics that have relatively wide appeal but this is an interesting case where it would just take one or two students (or community members) burning an American flag, or planning to do so and sharing said plans with the public, to exert enough pressure on the college administration to change their position. A couple burnt flags and this issue could become ten times larger than it already is and completely mess up the administration’s hospitality to militarism message. This is especially funny because normally flag burning won’t change anything.

    That said – you might want to line up a good lawyer. I think flag burning is legally protected in theory, but practice is another story.

    I also think Goshen College will change its position in two years. In which case more radical action may not be a good idea. If I were a student (GC 1993-1997), I’d be doing something to show my disrespect for the flag and state.

  46. Aaron Kreider

    Don’t assume that non-mennonites support the flag. There are pacifists in every religion and pacifist atheists as well.

  47. Kevin

    My understanding is that the NCAAA required the playing of the anthem. Chosing NOT to play it results in some games not being played at those venues–including playoff and championship games. I seem to remember that this is why Bluffton started flying the flag and playing the anthem years back.

    I have to share, however, that I was at a football game at Bluffton this year, and they played a recording of the anthem. Everyone stood. No one in the home stands saluted or sang. I could hear the visitor’s stand across the field singing loud and clear. It was like Children of the Corn on our side. We stood as one and slowly turned toward the flag, but stood with hands at our sides in silence. It was a great way to make the point.

  48. Non Menno GC Athlete

    I am a GC Athlete, I came to GC as part of being educated with a Christ Centered Foundation as compared to not only public schools but many private and christian colleges. Although I am not a Mennonite I gladly understood what I was accepting when I came here. I and many fellow non-menno athletes, were and would have been fine, with keeping the tradition. Most of us grew up having little league games,etc. not having it played either. It basically as my Dad said started becoming part of the growing fan fare first local high schools, then down to junior high, little leagues and elementary schools many trying to mimic, out do or follow as the professional sports do. Most of just want to go and play our best for ourselves , our coaches , and are school. We also enjoy competing with other students from other schools. I think it may also had to do more with the way we are perceived from other schools. Which I believe most schools that are or were in are league or have competed against us, knew our stance and some of the reasons why. Of course as a non Mennonite, it does not bother me to say or listen to the national anthem, but it also did not bother me not to. I knew it meant Mennonites were not Unamerican, just as much as those who sang were war mongers. Once I knew the reasons, I did not bother me and most fellow athletes I know. Do I want it back? who am I to say, I just want to let you know that most non Mennonite athletes here did not want nor cared about the change, but there are of course some that did. Even my father who was a long-time veteran knew/knows and understood the reasons and respected, as we too are very religious and are proud and a privilege to learn and compete here and some day serve our fellow man and Christ our lord.

  49. Joseph P

    Thanks for taking the time to post this comment; it was encouraging to read.

    Even though I have written in support of the College’s decision to play the anthem, I have been deeply troubled by a perception of a growing cloud of ignorance and intolerance directed against the Mennonite aversion to nationalism, which seems to mimic trends that I’ve seen on a national scale, especially since the election of Barack Obama. People are starting to define in narrow terms what it means to be an American; some of us are “in” and some are “out.” These are the seeds of violent conflict and it’s worrisome to watch.

    “Non Menno GC Athlete,” your perspective, founded on tolerance and understanding, is the kind that needs to prevail all across the country if we truly hope to preserve and protect democracy.

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