Dear Goshen College students, faculty and administrators:
We write from East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, in Lancaster, Penn., a congregation with many Goshen College students, graduates and supporters.
With sadness, we write about Goshen’s recent decision to allow the national anthem to be played at its sporting events. We urge you to reconsider that decision, because we believe it is inconsistent with the mission of the college.
What is Goshen College’s mission?
Goshen College’s mission, in the words of its mission statement, is to transmit, enrich, enlarge and embody the Anabaptist-Mennonite vision of the church as a community of faith by developing informed, articulate, sensitive, responsible Christian disciples.
We believe in that mission. That is why we support Goshen College.
We do not support Goshen College primarily because of its academic or athletic programs. Other colleges may be closer, cheaper, or better. We do not support Goshen College because of nominal affiliation with the Mennonite Church. We support Goshen College because of its distinctive mission.
What should Goshen College do to accommodate valued members of the campus community who do not subscribe to this mission?
We recognize that some Goshen students and employees may have little commitment to the distinctive mission of the College. While they may have come to Goshen College for other reasons, they are now valued members of the College community. We hope the College welcomes and values them, regardless of background and belief, but that welcome must not jeopardize the College’s mission.
We understand that the College President and other administrators are responsible to advance the mission of the College. If a student or employee undermines that mission, we look to the College President to act.
Would playing the national anthem at sporting events on campus undermine the mission of the College?
The anthem is a kind of hymn, with religious overtones. “The Star Spangled Banner” invokes adoration for the United States, irrespective of its policies. Such tribalism, without evidence of strong concern for justice, compassion and the rest of the world, seems counter to the teachings and spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, the words of the anthem celebrate warfare: “Bombs bursting in air” as “proof” that the flag yet waves over the “home of the brave.” We believe Jesus called his followers to be brave peacemakers, even and especially when the effort is not deemed effective in terms of body counts or bombs bursting.
With its core values, Goshen College aspires to teach good citizenship. But good citizenship does not require that we exalt war. Good citizenship does not require that we support all of our government’s policies.
We do not urge disrespect for those who sing the national anthem. At professional ballgames, we may stand respectfully when the anthem plays. Some of us may sing along in such settings. Nevertheless, we believe that playing the national anthem on Goshen’s campus, even at a basketball game, sends a discordant message that undermines the College’s distinctive mission. If some perceive the College’s distinctive mission as disrespectful or inhospitable, the College needs to better communicate, not undermine, its distinctiveness.
What about getting to “Yes and Amen!”?
Last month, in a college chapel, President Brenneman advocated for a new school of thought at Goshen College. He argued that, alongside the “culture of dissent” that has characterized Goshen College in the past, the College needs a spirit of “radical engagement” with the world—an attitude of saying “Yes and Amen!” instead of “No,” all the time. He offered, as an example, the decision of former college president J. L. Burkholder to fly the U.S. flag on campus:
“So it was that at the height of the Vietnam War, when he and students rightfully protested the war, he also had the United Nations and American flag raised on campus for the first time as an open door for active engagement with the community.”
The timing of President Brennemen’s talk appears to be an attempt to justify playing the national anthem on campus as well.
We say “Yes and Amen!” to President Brenneman’s call for engagement with the community, activism, and working within the system to promote positive social change. But how does playing the national anthem at sporting events on campus open a door for engagement with the community? Instead, playing the anthem seems to be dodging engagement. If everybody else plays the national anthem before basketball games, going along with the trend does not promote engagement about positive change.
Earlier, when Goshen College chose not to play the national anthem at sporting events, the college said “Yes and Amen!” to different values than those expressed in the national anthem and in much of popular culture. If some Goshen athletes, visitors, or employees did not understand this, the College failed to communicate, failed to engage.
We regret the necessity to write this letter. We urge you to embrace and advance the College’s distinctive mission in a world that greatly needs the valuable distinctives Goshen can offer.
Sincerely, The Undersigned Members and Congregants of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church
Marilou Adams, Yovanna Bontrager, Peter Eash-Scott, Rachel Eash-Scott, Dirk Eitzen, Berry Friesen, Sharon Friesen, Donna Haun, Roger Haun, Marlin Hershey, Jean Kilheffer Hess, Laura Kanagy, Matthew King, Harley Kooker, Kate Kooker, Elvin Kraybill, Esther Kraybill, Penn Miller, Reuben Miller, Elton Moshier, Don Nyce, Faye Nyce, Anne Roth, Jay Roth, Holly Scott, Sue Shirk, Sue Waterfield, Dan Weinhold, Patrick Weybright, Rebecca Weybright, Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, Marlisa Yoder- Bontrager, Dawn Zook, Larry Zook