Jesus Radicals replace flags, present petition

Around twenty people marched to Goshen College last Monday to present a petition against the decision to play the anthem to President Brenneman and to replace the college’s U.S. and United Nations flags with “more inclusive symbols.”

Initially, 12 people met at Rogers Park in Goshen as a part of the Jesus is Lord! Post Easter Pilgrimage and Celebration, organized by the Jesus Radicals, and began the walk to the college, gaining others as they traveled. In front, the group held a white flag with a light blue outline of the Angus Dei—Latin for “Lamb of God,” often pictured as a lamb with a cross.

The group crossed onto campus a little before noon, singing hymns as they neared the flagpoles.

After a prayer and scripture reading, several of the members approached the flagpoles and lowered the U.S. flag and folded it. They then attached and raised the Agnus Dei flag in place of the U.S. flag and proceeded to replace the U.N. flag with a flag featuring a photo of the world.

After folding the U.N. flag, careful that it or the U.S. flag did not touch the ground, Andy Alexis-Baker, a Jesus Radicals leader, David Jost, a junior, and Josh Miller, a sophomore, took the flags, along with their online petition, to President Brenneman’s office. The rest of the group remained outside to pray for the college.

Over 1,260 people have signed the petition, named “Resistance to the national anthem at Goshen College,” on the Jesus Radicals Web site.

Betty Schrag, administrative assistant to the president, said that President Brenneman was on a family vacation that had been planned months in advance. She said she would give the petition to him when he returned. She also gave the group a letter the president had written for the occasion.

Later, Alexis-Baker read the letter aloud to the group. In it, President Brenneman welcomed them to campus and said they’re thoughts on the decision would be taken into account.

Also Monday, the Jesus Radicals organized “a virtual pilgrimage” for those who could not join the group on campus by e-mailing those on the college board of directors and President Brenneman with their thoughts. Alexis-Baker said hard copies of the petition complete with the signatures had been mailed to all the directors on the board.

Jim Histand, vice president for finance, said that the U.S. and U.N. flags were put back up later on in the afternoon. The Agnus Dei and world flag will be sent back to the Jesus Radicals.

Histand noted that the group did not have permission to remove the flags.

Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion, thought the protest was carried out in a respectful way.

“It’s not just about the singing of the song,” he said. “It’s about civil religion… and the flag is an appropriate symbol for that.”

He also said he appreciated that the administration did not try to prevent the demonstration.

The group included some Mennonites and some from other denominations, and some from outside the area—a few had come from Milwaukee, Wis. and Chicago, Ill. One man wore a red shirt with the image of John Howard Yoder blended with the traditional Che t-shirt image.

David Cramer, an adjunct professor at Bethel College, Mishawaka, said he had no direct connection to Goshen College, but that it was Goshen’s witness of not playing the anthem that “drew him into the Mennonite and Anabaptist worldview.” After growing up in the Missionary church, he said he now identifies as a Mennonite.

“I’m here more to express solidarity with Goshen’s historical Anabaptist history,” he said.

Unlike the premiere playing of the instrumental anthem at Goshen College, Monday’s event did not bring in much media. Alexis-Baker said he did not alert the secular media of the events, believing that “it’s an internal church discussion” and that the media attention does not give the administration “space to overturn the decision.”

He also said that the Jesus Radicals plan to continue to allow signatures on their online petition. As for himself, Alexis-Baker said that he would to attend Goshen baseball and softball games.

“I’m going to continue to sit during the anthem,” he said, adding that he has really enjoyed the conversations with students and others during the games.

Goshen announced their decision to play an instrumental version of the anthem before particular sporting events in January. In February, the President’s council announced that they confirmed the decision, but would review in June 2011.

Written by Marlys Weaver

Marlys E. Weaver is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief of The Record. She grew up living and working on a Guernsey farm and has worked at Maple City Market as a sales staff member and newsletter editor, and on an organic coffee farm in Peru, giving her a well-rounded interest in food and agriculture. She has also reported for "The Farmers' Exchange," "The Elkhart Truth," "The South Bend Tribune," and collaborated on a story on msnbc.com.

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