Since the decision to play the national anthem at some sporting events, a group of concerned faculty and staff has been meeting periodically to consider a response. In the interest of open communication, we informed the academic dean and president about our meetings, and some had personal conversations with members of the President’s Council (P.C.).
We shared a written response and proposal with the P.C . in a meeting on Feb. 17. They affirmed that our document was in the spirit of dialogue that the P.C. hopes to see whenever difficult issues arise. We were also asked good questions about our intentions and goals. We then sent our final document to the President’s Council, which is planning to respond by March 11.
Our group, which has gradually grown, is now sharing our work with the wider campus community for several reasons. We wish to respond, through publicizing our action, to the outpouring of concern from alumni and friends outside Goshen College, who fear that this change is a symbol that the institution is moving away from its commitment to education from an Anabaptist faith perspective. We also believe that public representation of the process has not fully conveyed the significant concern expressed in various campus venues once all faculty, staff and students were aware of this potential change in practice. We hope this preface and letter give witness to the loyal dissent present on campus. Finally, we hope to model a form of respectful and engaged debate, rooted in the non-violence Jesus taught us.
One of our concerns with publishing this document has been the potential for increased polarization. Because of this we debated either signing as a generic group of “faculty and staff colleagues” or including the signatures of approximately 30 individuals involved so far in our email and in-person conversations. We also considered soliciting signatures from all on campus who wanted to add their support. Ultimately we decided that this document has the most integrity with a core group of signers, recognizing that not all faculty and staff who may have wanted to sign were able to do so. We invite people who wish to affirm this document, or have other ideas, to send these to firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 19, 2010
To the Goshen College President’s Council:
We submit this proposal in response to the recent announcement that the national anthem will be played at Goshen College athletic events. We are deeply saddened by this decision and believe it is in significant tension with our Anabaptist identity and core values of Christ-centeredness, compassionate peacemaking, global citizenship, servant leadership and passionate learning.
As faculty and staff we express our love for our country in varied ways and are grateful for the freedom to do so. We acknowledge that the athletic department has borne the burden of explaining the college’s historic peace position to visitors and to students from a variety of backgrounds. We also appreciate the recruitment and mentoring of students that takes place in the athletic department for the benefit of the entire campus. We share in the desire to be hospitable to our campus guests as well as to our entire student body.
We respect the President Council’s role in setting policy and recognize the complexities surrounding any difficult issue. We appreciate recent acknowledgment from the P.C. and Board of Overseers that the decision-making process could have been improved.
Although some of us signing this letter feel strongly that the decision should be reversed, we wish to focus our energies on balancing this new practice with ways we can engage others around our core values and “peace by peace” distinctive. Toward this end we ask you to entertain the following proposal:
1. Include a written statement explaining the college’s peace stance in the printed programs for athletic events where the anthem is played.
The President Council’s statement, published in the Jan. 22, 2010 press release, states: “Playing the anthem opens up new possibilities for members of the Goshen College community to publicly offer prophetic critique – if need be – as citizens in the loyal opposition on issues of deepest moral conviction, such as war, racism, and human rights abuses.” Students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters of Goshen College will respond to the playing of the anthem in different ways. We hope these responses will be respectful, yet we foresee that some guests may perceive certain acts of “prophetic critique” negatively. A written statement would provide helpful background about our historical and denominational framework. It could also invite further conversation. We suggest the following as one possibility:
Visitors to Goshen College may notice that we do the pre-game national anthem ceremony a little differently than most schools. This arises from longstanding Mennonite convictions that allegiance to a particular country can too easily interfere with the allegiance that Christians owe only to God. In accordance with this conviction, Goshen College did not play the national anthem at all until 2010. We changed our practice in that year as a gesture of hospitality to our guests and to honor the wishes of some student-athletes from other religious traditions. We continue to strive to keep Christ’s teachings, and in particular his teaching on peace, foremost in our lives. We are thankful for religious freedom, respect different viewpoints, and welcome all opportunities to share in open dialogue.
2. Follow the instrumental version of the national anthem with a consistent verbal ritual to provide clear witness to Goshen College’s allegiance to Christ and commitment to pacifism.
We are uncomfortable with the idea of following the anthem with commonplace prayer in that it may suggest that God sanctions nationalism. Additionally, a ritual as full of meaning as the national anthem should be paired with another meaningful ritual, in the same way that the flying of the American flag on campus is accompanied by the flying of the United Nations flag. This pairing would also respond to President Brenneman’s recent call for a synthesis of engagement and dissent at Goshen College.
A number of possible verbal rituals have been suggested, including a reading of the Beatitudes, the Prayer of St. Francis, and the Lord’s Prayer. We urge the President’s Council to test openly and widely its preferred option before implementation.
In addition to the above proposal, we strongly affirm the Board of Overseers’ recent call for structured dialogue and prayerful discernment around differing viewpoints, and their plan to review this decision in June 2011. We also support President Brenneman’s call for vigorous engagement about nationalism and patriotism, our Anabaptist theology and core values, and new ways of engaging the culture around us. We ask for a comprehensive and transparent plan that provides opportunities for all who care deeply about Goshen College to participate in this dialogue and discernment: faculty, staff, students, alums and constituents from diverse backgrounds.
We call on the leadership, faculty, staff and students of Goshen College, and we pledge ourselves, to live into our core values more fully and to embed them deeply into curriculum, decision-making and policy formation at Goshen College so that they continue to be central to who we are.
Our love for and loyalty to the College has motivated us in this action, and we will encourage Goshen College alumni and donors to maintain their support.
Kathy Meyer Reimer
Anne Meyer Byler
John D. Roth
Karl S. Shelly
Keith Graber Miller
John Ross Buschert
Jan Bender Shetler
Paul Meyer Reimer
Linda Schlabach Miller
Cynthia Good Kaufmann