by Brian Gumm
First, to all those who have been following FWFS and are suddenly wondering who this "Brian Gumm" fellow is, let me do a short introduction. Doing so will not only clue you in to who I am but also help contextualize some of the comments I'll make below on the named topic. I'm a licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren, studying at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the Seminary as well as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. I've been following FWFS for about a month now and had recently put it up on the blogroll over at my blog: Restorative Theology. About three weeks ago, Nick mentioned that he wanted some more authors for this here blog and after a nice e-mail conversation I gladly agreed to contribute my voice. Now, with the 4th of July quickly approaching, we move on to the topic at hand...the national anthem! Yay! (Or boo?)
The Mennonites no longer hate America (from which the picture to the right was linked...no idea where that author got it from). There was almost an audible gasp on the campus here at Eastern Mennonite, and people all over the campus were registering, mostly, their discontent in various social arenas both temporal and digital. Facebook groups shot up both in favor of and against the decision, and I could watch as my Mennonite friends on Facebook fell into one of those two lines. The president of EMU even updated his statement on the matter and re-communicated it to the entire university community. This came in advance of EMU hosting a few NCAA Div-II basketball tournament games on campus, wherein the playing of the national anthem is an NCAA requirement. Even in the seminary classroom, in a believers church class this past spring this issue made for some stimulating discussion.
Meanwhile, in my Church of the Brethren circles, something entirely different was going on in respect to the national anthem. In my home district, the Northern Plains, my pastor's daughter has been singing the national anthem at sporting and civic events of all sorts for years now. From here in Virginia, I just got an e-mail from a recent Brethren EMS alum whose wife is competing in a national anthem singing contest, the winner of which would win money for their resident public school district. Quite a marked contrast from these two Christian movements that have historically shared much in common.
I need to offer a few provisos here. First, my personal stake in this is rife with ambivalence. I not only grew up singing the national anthem and not thinking twice to theologically question it, I also sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in high school all-state choir competitions...and it was my favorite song! Just the other day, I found myself quickly humming harmony to a recording of the anthem I heard while out and about in Harrisonburg. On the other hand, from my two years spent in a Mennonite institution of higher learning reading folks like John Howard Yoder, I've learned to have a healthy dose of theological and political skepticism about these exercises in national allegiance, celebration, and pride, not to mention their state-violence-legitimating undertones (sometimes not so "under").
My next proviso is linked to my being Brethren in a Mennonite institution of higher learning. My experience with Mennonites has been almost entirely academic (and only one school for two years) while my more-extensive Church of the Brethren experience has been almost entirely congregational. And not only congregational but limited to my home district, which represents only a small percentage of the denominational whole! (I vividly remember my schock at National Youth Conference in 1994 when the busses from Pennsylvania pulled up..and pulled up again...and kept pulling up, with a relative sea of youth pouring out of them.)
I'm assuming a mostly 1) Brethren and 2) academic audience here, so if that's safe let me ask the audience: Was the Goshen College thing on the radar? (Nice military analogy, right?) What was your Brethren upbringing like in relation to things like the national anthem?