Who Would Jesus Shoot?

The U.S. military has specific rules prohibiting proselytization of any religious faith in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to prevent charges that America is engaged in religious crusade against Muslims.  It has been recently discovered, however, that Biblical references are inscribed on optical gun sights used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sights are made by Michigan-based Trijicon, well known amongst firearms enthusiasts (including this author) for their glow-in-the dark tritium sights.  The inscriptions are subtle.  "JN8:12" is a reference to John 8:12: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’"  "2COR4:6" is a reference to the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

The blogosphere and media have dubbed these inscriptions as "Jesus codes" and the guns as "Jesus rifles."  And while it’s interesting to ponder, "What would Jesus say?" the more important issue is what, if anything, should the U.S. military do?

The U.S. Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) received an email from a soldier (presumably Muslim) who wrote:

  • Many soldiers know of them and are very confused as to why they are there and what it is supposed to mean.
  • Everyone is worried that if they were captured in combat that the enemy would use the Bible quotes against them in captivity or some other form of propaganda.

According to MMRF President Mikey Weinstein (a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a registered Republican, and a legal counsel in the Reagan Administration), "I don’t have to wonder for a nanosecond how the American public would react if citations from the Koran were being inscribed onto these U.S. armed forces gunsights instead of New Testament citations."

According to Trijicon, the company has a longstanding practice of engraving references to Biblical scriptures on its products – begun nearly 30 years ago by Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian from South Africa who was killed in a plane crash in 2003.  Tom Munson, the company’s director of sales and marketing, said, "We don’t publicize this.  It’s not something we make a big deal out of.  But when asked, we say, ‘Yes, it’s there.’"

This is not a case of political correctness run amok.  As a private company, Trijicon has every right to put whatever inscriptions it wants on its products.  And the reality is that the vast majority of consumers purchase Trijicon sights and optics for their performance and quality, not because of the inscriptions.  But Trijicon’s business decision now has real policy implications for the United States.  So as a consumer that can dictate the exact specifications down to the smallest detail of the product it is buying (Trijicon has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army), the U.S. military can choose to specify that the products it procures from Trijicon be different than what is sold to other customers.  Trijicon may be a company that believes "America is great when its people are good" and that "this goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals," but with annual revenue estimated at $9-10 million it has 660 million reasons to deliver a product without "Jesus codes" to the U.S. military.

Speaking to the Turkish Parliament last April, President Obama declared, "The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam."  He reiterated that proclamation at Cairo University in June. We are, however, engaged in two different military operations in Muslim countries – Iraq and Afghanistan.  Having weapons with Biblical references certainly creates the impression that those weapons have religious significance and are being used for religious purposes, i.e., for Christians to kill Muslims.  Indeed, the situation is reminiscent of some of Lt. Gen. William Boykin’s (deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and war-fighting support in the Bush administration and an evangelical Christian) controversial remarks implying we were in a religious war against Islam:

  • "I knew that my God was a real God, and his [a Muslim fighter in Somalia] was an idol."
  • "The enemy [Islamic extremists] is a spiritual enemy.  He’s called the principality of darkness.  The enemy is a guy called Satan."

There may not be any specific prohibition against Trijicon’s practice of displaying its religious faith on its products in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) – the rules that govern how the Department of Defense and other agencies procure goods and services.  Army acquisition experts will have to determine whether Trijicon has violated any procurement regulations.  But even if there is no legal infraction, the U.S. military should not be tone deaf to the fact that overt Christian messages on weapons of war perpetuates the belief that the America is waging a holy war against Muslims.

It’s already bad enough that U.S. interventionist policies in Iraq and Afghanistan hand Islamic extremists easy fodder to make America a target for Muslim hatred and terrorism.  It would be dumb and dumber to knowingly continue to use so-called "Jesus rifles."

Author: Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
Policy Institute
, an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. Peña is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.