Statement on U.S. Flag and National Anthem
The following statement outlines EMU’s position on the flying of the U.S. flag and playing of the national anthem as part of campus-sponsored events. In the case of events on campus that are hosted by outside organizations (such as local high schools renting an EMU facility or NCAA post-season play) the flying of the flag and playing of the anthem is determined by those organizations hosting the event.
A question occasionally asked of personnel at Eastern Mennonite University is, “Why does the university not display the U.S. flag on campus or play the national anthem at athletic events?” This statement offers an explanation for this practice.
This practice at EMU does not spring, as some claim, from ignorance but is rooted in deeply-held historical beliefs that God is ruler of all nations, not just ours, and that our allegiance to God as such transcends all nationalities, even our own.
Further, as followers of Jesus we are invited to join a visible fellowship of believers (the worldwide church) that knows no national boundaries. Consequently, for many of our members, it is a denial of our faith to pledge our allegiance to anyone or anything other than to Jesus. It is our response to the faith declaration of our baptismal vows, “Jesus is Lord.”
Because of this, we abstain from such symbolic acts as displaying the flag or singing a patriotic hymn that was made official as America’s national anthem as late as 1931. While the singing of Francis Scott Key’s chosen poetry as set to music has become a part of the popular culture, it is not mandated by law. We acknowledge that not all Christians agree with our practice. We do believe that diversity of opinion and practice are valuable within the larger Christian church.
We fully appreciate that at particular junctures in our nation’s history, feelings about patriotism run very deep. We are fortunate to live in a country where religious differences are tolerated and opportunities to dialog with civility are encouraged. We appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country and are especially grateful that our government allows many of our young people the status of conscientious objection to war, based on our understanding of Christ’s teachings.
Many religious practices, when implemented in daily life, inevitably have political implications even though rooted in biblical interpretation. The affirmation, “Jesus is Lord,” even in the New Testament era, was and is a political statement in the broadest sense of that word. It is a mistake, however, to suggest that EMU’s practice is primarily a political statement (as usually defined in a more narrow partisan sense) or anti-American in its intent.
We express our love of country by responding to those in need, offering 1-3 years of alternative service rather than military service, and providing international peacemaking efforts to reduce the need for violent actions.
As with many religious beliefs, we are regularly confronted by the reality of inadequate answers to complex questions. We acknowledge frequent failures to live up to the best of our intentions, and we recognize the human limitations of our search for faithfulness. We desire to avoid defensiveness about our beliefs or practices recognizing that some will disagree, often quite vigorously. One of the ironies of religious freedom is that we are encouraged to allow everyone to express their beliefs even when we vehemently disagree or don’t fully understand the other. Toleration is hardly meaningful if any religious group, simply because it is in the minority or often misunderstood, is forced to adopt practices with which it disagrees.
Individuals with additional questions are invited to contact the President’s Office at 540-432-4100.
Posted: May 2006