Gunsights for God? What's the Big Deal?

Major defense contractor Trijicon has been at the center of some debate, lately. It seems that the company, whose late founder Glyn Bindon was a devout Christian, has for three decades been inscribing Bible verses on its products. (Well, just the references, really — like 2COR4:6.) The equipment is sold to governments such as the U.S., Great Britain, and New Zealand for use by their militaries, including the telescopic gunsights in question, which are attached to combat rifles. Company officials say they don’t publicize the practice and they have never received complaints about it before now. A defense spokesman said most soldiers & marines aren’t even aware of the references, as they are tacked onto the end of the stock number. But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims it has received several complaints from troops (who remain anonymous), both active-duty and retired.

Carbine rifle with sight

U.S. M-4 carbine rifle with Trijicon gunsight (AP: via Sydney Morning Herald)

The main concern is that the sights are used in Afghanistan and Iraq, because there is an official ban against proselytizing by troops while in country. A U.S. military spokesman assured that there was no violation of the ban, because the inscribed equipment stays with the troops who use them. But, others have admitted that sometimes the U.S. forces give (lend? sell?) combat rifles to their local allies. The MRFF warns that groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda can use the inscriptions as “proof” of Christian proselytizing and give their followers yet another reason to distrust and hate “the occupiers”. (The term “Crusades” often comes up.)

The latest news is that the Michigan-based contractor has agreed to stop the controversial practice and to remove all Biblical references from equipment at their factory. It will also provide 100 “modification kits” to the various military units, which will allow for removal of the “inappropriate” inscriptions.

My original reaction to this story was, “What’s the big deal?” Frankly, to make it a “separation of church and state” issue about “coded Bible references”, as some bloggers/commentators have also tried, was going a bit far, I thought. As for proselytizing, I suppose there is some truth to it, but only in that Bindon probably thought he was being faithful by helping to “spread God’s word.” (And, no, there is no such thing as a coerced conversion — at gunpoint or otherwise — in orthodox Christianity.) I strongly doubt that there is any real intent or effort by any of the governments who purchase the equipment to somehow convert Muslims into Christians, either using these inscriptions or anything else.

But, upon retrospection, I realized a couple things. First, let’s take the “Muslim” part out of the equation and assume that the Bible references were for the benefit of the troops issued the rifles. As well-intentioned as they originally were, the inscriptions themselves are probably not very effective, either as “comfort” or “witness”. As an evangelical Christian, I know God can use even the slightest thing to encourage a person or perhaps to “lead them to Jesus”. But, generally speaking, if the majority of troops don’t even notice the inscriptions or realize what they are, how effective can they be? So, to some of my fellow-Christians who may be concerned that removing the inscriptions is somehow striking a blow against Christianity or censoring God’s Word from the troops or “dissing Jesus” or any such thing,… don’t worry about it.

Second, I have to concede that knowledge of these inscriptions (especially now that it’s been in the news) could indeed be enough to incite accusations of Christian propaganda and proselytizing among both our Muslim allies and enemies in the Middle East & abroad. (Ironically, the enemy will use even the mere “appearance” and accusation of propaganda & proselytizing by us as propaganda itself to proselytize for their own extremist cause.) As the New Zealand defense minister, Wayne Mapp, said, “We all know of the religious tensions around this issue and it’s unwise to do anything that could be seen to raise tensions in an unnecessary way.” So, I am glad that the “removal kits” are being distributed and hope that this all soon becomes a non-issue.

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