GOSHEN, Ind. — For more than a century, there was no playing of The Star-Spangled Banner at Goshen College — a small Christian college with ties to the Mennonite Church. That's about to change.
For the first time in the school's history, Goshen College will play an instrumental version of the national anthem before many campus sporting events.
The decision to reverse the ban on the anthem is aimed at making students and visitors outside the faith feel more welcome, but it has roiled some at the 1,000-student college who feel the song undermines the church's pacifist message and puts love for country above love for God.
Since college president Jim Brenneman announced the decision in January, about 900 people have joined the Facebook group "Against Goshen College Playing National Anthem," hundreds have signed an online petition protesting the move and letters sent to administrators and the campus newspaper have overwhelmingly voiced opposition to the change.
John Roth, a Goshen College history professor, said Mennonites have historically avoided the song because its lyrics describe using war and military might to defend the country.
"The link between the national anthem and the military identity of the nation is made very explicit," Roth said.
Mennonites, whose church is rooted in a 16th-century movement in Europe known as Anabaptism, also believe singing a "hymn of allegiance" like the national anthem implies a deeper loyalty to country rather than to God, Roth said. However, Mennonite Church USA — which represents the largest and most mainstream group of Mennonites in the U.S. — does not specifically prohibit the anthem.
Freshman baseball player Mike Milligan, a Catholic, says students and athletes can choose how much they want to participate. About 45 percent of Goshen students are not Mennonite.
"I don't think that everyone has to show their respect, but we need to at least have the choice to show our respect," said Milligan, who started a Facebook group in favor of the decision. It has more than 200 members.