In the explanation of its decision Monday to stop playing "The Star Spangled Banner" at select campus sporting events, the Goshen College Board of Directors described how focused it is on its vision of being a leader in liberal arts education and serving theological, political, racial and ethnic diversity both inside and outside the Mennonite church.
The decision to begin playing an instrumental version of the anthem, followed by a prayer for peace, before athletic events was made in January 2010 at the recommendation of the President’s Council headed by GC President James Brenneman. It was put into practice in March 2010 before a baseball game. Reporters from the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times were even on hand to chronicle the event.
Once it was over, there seemed to be a collective sigh of, "That was it?" The umpire yelled, "play ball," the media circus packed up its tent and that was that. The Goshen News believed at the time — and still does — that GC’s decision to begin playing the national anthem was an honorable gesture that helped ease some of the strains of yesteryear between a college with pacifist ideals and a broader community proud of its sons and daughters serving in the United States military.
That olive branch has essentially been yanked back by the board of directors and packed away.
"It is the Board’s judgment," the board’s recent decision statement read, "that continuing to play the national anthem compromises our ability to advance the vision together. As a result, the President should find an alternative to playing the National Anthem that fits with sports tradition, that honors country, that resonates with our core values and that respects the views of diverse constituencies."
We know the leaders at Goshen College are well within their constitutional rights to either play the anthem or not play the anthem. It’s their ship and they can sail it in whatever direction they choose. Still, we are disappointed that a system that seemed to be well thought-out and working will sink into a sea of discord.