Yesterday I wrote about a controversy that has erupted over the revelation that a Michigan-based company has engraved references to biblical passages on rifle scopes that were ordered by the U.S. military.
A reporter with the Detroit News saw that post and called me near the end of the day to get some of my thoughts about the matter.
I told him, "We have to remember that our struggle in the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan isn't just against terrorism. It's for the hearts and minds of the average people. If the average people in these countries get the impression that the United States is launching some type of new Crusade with the aim of converting population to Christianity, we're going to lose the hearts and minds."
Pretty straightforward, right?
I was shocked, however, to read the military's response to the matter. Air Force Maj. John Redfield, the spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, told the News, "This situation is not unlike the situation with U.S. currency. Are we going to stop using money because the bills have 'In God We Trust' on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they'll continue to be used."
Let's be clear: This situation is not like "In God We Trust" on the money. That "civil religion" affirmation – problematic as it may be from a church-state perspective – is not the same as a symbolic military embrace of one particular faith. When U.S. troops use weapons inscribed with passages from the New Testament, it's an endorsement of Christianity, and it sends the false message to the world that the United States is a Christian country.
Thankfully, some military officials seem to understand that there is a problem. Capt. Geraldine Carey, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told the Associated Press, "We are aware of the issue and are concerned with how this may be perceived." Carey said Marine Corps officials will meet with Trijicon to discuss the matter.
It's time for all branches of the military to get on the same page. As I told the News, the image of a "Christian" army armed with "Christian" weapons evokes a new Crusade. It is totally counterproductive to what we are trying to achieve in the Middle East, and it would be a mistake to dismiss this as a trifling matter.
Trijicon has violated the terms of its contract and must be held accountable for that. The sooner that is made clear to the company the better.