ABC News reported this week that military contractor Trijicon, recently awarded a $660 million contract to provide rifle sights to the Marine Corps, has been placing “secret Bible codes” at the end of the serial numbers on its rifle sights. The serial numbers end with references to Bible passages such as JN8:12 (John 8:12) or 2COR4:6 (2 Corinthians 4:6). Apparently Trijicon has been placing Bible references on its rifle sights for years, though the U.S. military learned about the practice only recently. Religion Clause blogged about this story already, as there are obvious First Amendment questions raised by the placing of New Testament references on military equipment. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is protesting Trijicon’s practice and asking the military to remove the offending sights from its arsenal. (Somehow I don’t think the MRFF will be satisfied with the defense of the rifle sights offered by one Trijicon supporter in the ABC News report: “For those of you who aren’t Christians, well, you know, get over it.”)
Leaving aside the theological issues associated with putting New Testament verses on lethal weapons, the historical connections between conservative evangelicals and the military make this story almost wholly unsurprising. (In fact, a friend pointed out that Trijicon’s practice reminded him of the movie Saving Private Ryan, which portrayed sharpshooter Daniel Jackson reciting Psalms as he sighted his German targets.) Anne Loveland’s book American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military traces the growing influence of conservative evangelicals on the military throughout the post-WWII era. More recently, I talked with Matt Sutton about his current research, which reveals the influence certain generals wielded among evangelicals in the 1950s and 1960s. My own research examines how the Christian right trumpeted missile defense and the stockpiling of nuclear arms as a way of ensuring “peace through strength” in the early 1980s. And proselytizing at the Air Force Academy in recent years led to a lawsuit (later dismissed) and task force recommendations for officers and cadets to foster religious pluralism. Whatever the outcome of the Trijicon case, the historical connections between evangelicals and the military will remain strong.
I suppose another friend with whom I shared this story had the best response. If Trijicon knows its Bible so well, the company ought at least to use more appropriate passages on their weapons. How about: Psalm 58:6 ("Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O LORD, the fangs of the lions!”) or Psalm 21:12 (“For you will make them turn their backs when you aim at them with drawn bow.”)?