By John Kline
Years of discussion over whether or not to play the national anthem before Goshen College sporting events has ended with the decision to play the anthem before some games.
The decision was announced Friday. Beginning in March an instrumental version of the anthem will be played before sporting events selected by the athletic department.
Students learned about the decision in the morning, and were talking about it on campus.
“I think it’s a good compromise for them to please the people on both sides of the issue, visiting students and athletes,” said Nick Good, a senior from Pennsylvania.
The college has had a long tradition of not playing the anthem at sporting events due to its affiliation with the Mennonite church. But debate about the tradition has been ongoing at the school for the better part of a decade.
Michelle Miller, a senior from Ohio, said she liked the tradition. “It seems like an OK way to please people, but I kind of liked Goshen trying to be intentional about not supporting things. If we’re playing the national anthem, does that mean we’re supporting the war, and different things like that?”
The debate over the anthem came to a head in the fall of 2008 when the decision not to play the anthem at a GC women’s basketball game caused an attendee to contact numerous local and national media outlets in protest.
Within days, more than 300 phone calls and e-mails were received by the college, both in support and opposition to the practice. The public’s involvement caused college officials to postpone discussions about examining the anthem policy until tempers had cooled.
In the spring of 2009, the President’s Council formed a national anthem task force made up of students, faculty, and administrators to once again examine the issue and develop a recommendation.
Following several draft attempts and numerous on-campus meetings and feedback sessions, a final proposal was drafted by the task force in the fall of 2009 and submitted to the President’s Council for consideration.
According to the proposal, the school will “allow the practice of using an instrumental version of the national anthem prior to Goshen College varsity sporting events. Spectators would not be asked to ‘honor’ or ‘give allegiance’ but simply be invited to respectfully stand during the playing of the national anthem.”
The proposal goes on to note that attendees would be free to show whatever form of respect they chose, from standing silently to singing the words and placing a hand over their hearts.
It is this proposal that was accepted by the President’s Council on Friday.
“One of the greatest U.S. freedoms is that we can express our faith and love of country in different ways, and we recognize that Christians differ in how to do that,” Goshen College President James Brenneman said of the decision. “We believe this is the right decision for the college at this time. Playing the anthem offers a welcoming gesture to many visiting our athletic events, rather than an immediate barrier to further opportunities for getting to know one another.”
According to Brenneman, one of the major concerns among the Mennonite community about playing the national anthem has been that it places love for country above love for God — a belief that appears to be changing at GC.
“We believe playing the anthem in no way displaces any higher allegiances, including to the expansive understanding of Jesus — the ultimate peacemaker — loving all people of the world,” Brenneman said.
The President’s Council members echoed Brenneman’s comments in a recent statement announcing their acceptance of the proposal.
“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,” the council stated. “As we made this decision, we continue to — more publicly, boldly and explicitly than ever — declare our commitment to Christ, to compassionate peacemaking, to servant leadership, to global citizenship and to passionate learning.”
According to Bill Born, vice president for student life and dean of students at Goshen College, the anthem will be played only for certain sports, with the final decision on exactly which sports will be included falling to the college’s athletic department.
“That decision will be made by the athletic department under the oversight of our athletic director,” Born said. “Now for clarification. It won’t be played at select events for certain programs. If we choose to play it at an event, (such as baseball games) it will be played at each event of that program.”
In the end, Natalie Harman, a sophomore from Harrisonburg, Va., believes the change in policy will not change the view of anabaptist students.
“It’s kind of a little thing in the big scheme of all the things we have to worry about.
“Yeah, it’s kind of disappointing to hear that they caved, but it’s not really that big of an issue in the long run. I mean we’re still going to be Goshen College. We’re still going to be pacifists.”