Dear President Jim Brenneman and the President’s Council:
The news about your decision of playing the national anthem at Goshen College came to me as a big surprise. The Japanese Christian Newspaper of the United Church of Japan recently reported your decision, which gave lots of Japanese Christians a shock and disappointment. As you may know, Christians in Japan do not sing the national anthem. Christian schools don’t sing it either. We have been criticized a lot because of not singing it. However, we think that the criticism is proof that Christians in Japan have been trying to walk the way of Jesus Christ who was persecuted because of his living faithful to God.
The Japanese national anthem is related to the emperor worship. He had been divine before the end of the Pacific War. I sang it when a child. When we sang, we prayed that his reign might bring the prosperity to Japan and that his reign may continue forever. We wanted to die for the emperor and for our country during the war. Indeed, this national anthem is a kind of idolatry. Since my conversion, I have stopped singing it. My conviction is that any national anthem of nationalism and war is idolatry.
Recently the Japanese ministry of education has been forcing every school and every teacher to sing it in commencement and entrance ceremonies. Some teachers, including Christians, refuse to sing it, and they are punished because of it. They are often degraded. They have taken the matter to court, but to no avail so far. I have been with these teachers against the enforcement. I have been encouraging them not to stand up and sing it, even though they are ordered to. I have been encouraging them not to pledge allegiance to the national flag, either. Singing and worshiping the flag are related to nationalism. The Right Wing wants to change article 9 of the constitution which forbids Japan to engage in any warfare to solve international problems. You say playing the anthem offers a welcoming gesture, but to me playing it is equivalent to singing it.
When I act as a peacemaker, I ask God to give me strength to do it. And I feel I am sent by God for this mission. And I have often been encouraged to think that many of the Goshen College alumni have been peacemakers in Christ and that they don’t sing the American national anthem. I have been very proud of Goshen College. I know you have been criticized a lot because of your faithful witness to God. But when we are faithful to God, we are likely to be criticized. I learned this while studying at Goshen College Biblical Seminary. I learned it from Anabaptism, too.
I sincerely hope you will reconsider your decision and stop singing it at the college. And it will encourage us Japanese Christians to continue resisting the enforcement to sing the Japanese national anthem.