Jesus Rifles Redux

NBC has resurrected the “Jesus Rifles” story of 2010, reporting that some three years after the Pentagon began removing a “Bible code” stamped on rifle sights manufactured by Michigan company Trijicon, the job of erasing the Scripture references remains unfinished.

The article entitled “No fix for ‘Jesus rifles’ deploying to Afghanistan” is not what one would call balanced. It is written with a high degree of moral dudgeon and a breathless enthusiasm not merited by the underlying story. And, it is really rather shoddy reporting.

Here is how NBC starts off the story:

When the so-called “Jesus rifle” came to light in Jan. 2010, it sparked constitutional and security concerns, and a maelstrom of media coverage. The Pentagon ordered the removal of the secret code referring to Bible passages that the manufacturer had inscribed on the scopes of the standard issue rifles carried by U.S. soldiers into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly three years later — despite the military’s assertion that is making “good progress” — the code remains on many rifles deploying to Afghanistan, which some soldiers argue is endangering their lives by reinforcing suspicions that the United States is waging a crusade against Muslims.

“I honestly believe that this is a dangerous situation. It literally could be a matter of life and death for a soldier if he fell into the wrong hands,” said an Army officer who spoke to NBC News from Fort Hood, Texas. “The fact that combatant commanders are not following (rules set by Department of Defense) commanders is very disturbing to me.”

The story is framed along these lines. Trijicon bad, Army slow, anonymous sources good. The unnamed Army officer at Fort Hood (who by his words appears to be from one of the non-combatant branches) offers his opinion, followed by comments from the omnipresent Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

When the story first came out in 2010, Weinstein told ABC News the sights would be a provocation to militant Islamists:

It allows the Mujahedeen, the Taliban, al Qaeda and the insurrectionists and jihadists to claim they’re being shot by Jesus rifles … Coded biblical inscriptions play into the hands of “those who are calling this a Crusade” … We’re emboldening an enemy.

The passage of time has not softened Weinstein’s views.  He told NBC last week:

“It’s constitutionally noxious,” said foundation president Mikey Weinstein. “It’s an embarrassment and makes us look exactly like the tenth incarnation of the crusades which launches 8 million new jihadist recruiting videos.”

The story is rounded out with the information the Army is working on erasing the Bible codes. Trijicon has no comment to make, while the anonymous Fort Hood officer gets one more chance to speak.

The article uses the phrase “Bible codes” to describe the markings.  What is a Bible code? What message has been encoded? If these are Bible codes, it would have been helpful if NBC could provide a key to their meaning.  Instead the network states the markings are “codes that point to passages in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Corinthians and Revelation.” It does not give examples of these codes.

A Military Times article from 2010 gives some examples of these codes:

In one example, an inscription included “JN8:12,” a reference to John 8:12, a Christian gospel passage: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The inscription on another optic includes “2COR4:6,” which refers to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament: “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.”

A Wikipedia article lists other passages of Scripture reportedly used by Trijicom, while the photo accompanying the article in the Military Times shows a gun sight with the inscription: PSA27:1.

Psalm 27:1 in the Book of Common Prayer reads: “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom then shall I fear?/The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”

NBC seems remarkably incurious about these Bible codes. What was Trijicom’s purpose in embossing references to passages from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament? And, why these particular passages from Scripture? Why is John 3:16 not present, while John 8:12 is present? NBC does not tell us, and appears not to have asked Trijicom this question.

I have no inside knowledge as to why Trijicom chose these passages, but I would note that each passage has the theme of “light”.  “I am the light of the world”; “… commanded the light to shine out of darkness”; “the Lord is my light …”. A quick read of the Wikipedia page shows the theme of light in each of the Jesus Rifle codes. Not to get all Dan Brownish or anything, but perhaps an optics company owned by devout Christians whose products use light enhanced technologies was engaged in an inside joke — a Sunday School pun?

In addition to failing to ask questions about the Bible codes, the NBC article treats the assertions of Mikey Weinstein uncritically. Almost three years after the news of the Jesus Rifles were splashed across the internet, what evidence is there that al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other assorted Islamist radicals are outraged by Trijicom’s actions? Where are these millions of jihadists called to arms against America because of this gun sight? Surely after three years there would be some evidence, somewhere that this is a problem — and by evidence I do not mean the politically correct cringing of armchair officers or stateside non combatant Army officers.

The article starts off with references to “constitutional and security concerns” yet offers no evidence that these concerns appear anywhere other than in the minds of those disposed to think badly of religion.  The bottom line is NBC appears to have made up its mind about what sort of story it wanted to write and then slotted in the facts to support its argument.  This is called an editorial.There is a story to be written about the Jesus Rifle. This silly, silly story however is not it.

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  • John M.

    I also noted the magical appearing & disappearing scare quote around “Jesus rifle.” They stopped scare quoting it at the very end of the story, which struck me as very odd, because if ever a term needed scare quoting, it would seem like it would be “Jesus rifle”. I have never edited anything more prestigious than my High School newspaper, but I wouldn’t let the term “Jesus rifle” stand in a news article except in a direct quote. Find a better way to describe it.

    -John

  • sari

    Missing from the story are other possible reasons to remove references to NT verses. Apart from the possibility that it might endanger the life of a service person deployed to certain Muslim countries, an unproven assertion, non-Christian service people might find it offensive. Not dangerous, but a clear affront to their particular faith and a suggestion that government is, indeed, endorsing one religion to the exclusion of others.

    • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

      I basically agree, and it would have been cool to hear some voices from the front lines about these coded Bible verses. How many find them offensive versus comforting? How many don’t care? Are any finding offense in the effort to remove them? The only evidence is from Weinstein, whose organization is a magnet only for those who complain. He cites (unsubstantiated) 2800 complaints – but what if there have been 10,000 affirmations? The article also cites the fact that some of these rifles are being used by local recruits — we don’t want to give offense, but was any offense taken?

      I’m also a little uncomfortable with weapons being too closely associated with Christianity. I do support the notions of a right to defense and of participating in a just war, and insofar as weapons are used in those ways for the cause of justice, they can be dedicated religiously in some fashion, just like any other devices. And our soldiers deserve to have sources of comfort in their efforts. On the other hand, Christian soldiers have to keep in mind that, according to that faith, Jesus suffered and died for the guy they’re lining up in their “Jesus rifle” sights as much as he died for them. It’s an awful responsibility. And that dimension — which could easily work to the author’s overall intent — is also absent from the article.

      • sari

        Authentic Bio,
        Church-state separation was ignored entirely by the author. Nor do the numbers of yeas/nays really matter, if that’s the core issue. Individual soldiers can copy and carry whatever verses comfort them; Bible verses need not be embedded in instruments of war.

  • Steve Newark

    Who cheaply believe any “non-christian people” would go looking for a “gospel code” before slitting the throat of captured enemy?

    • Evanston2

      Exactly. The offended people are the press, not Muslims who already presume that we are Christians. The presence of a code that they cannot even decipher will not affect their behavior one iota. The entire premise is ludicrous. Only journalists would bother to sell it. Career military like myself find our contempt for the media reinforced by their yawning at the clear violations of our mores by our enemy and ever-desperate search to vilify American soldiers who do anything other than make a YouTube rap video. As polls show, the media continues to reach ever lower lows, sales of print media continue their precipitous decline, and online people can increasingly reach blogs and honest-to-goodness eyewitness testimony and video. A while back GetReligion posted an article about whether folks still consult major media. The comments were universally positive, though cautious, and seemed to come from media professionals or wanna-be’s. I’ve never posed as a media member here but interacted with public affairs matters during my USMC career and our greatest hope always was to have no story. The PAO’s, in my mind, were always telling the Command that coverage is good and then brown-nosing journalists in hopes of joining them some day in a second career. For those of us who actually did the job, the maxim “All publicity is good publicity” was 100% untrue: we knew that even the slightest negative inference would be blamed on us, not the PAO. So again, we tried to make interviews as boring as possible and be as uncooperative as practicable. It worked. As reflected in this story, there is simply no common sense coverage nor neutral coverage, media sensationalism demands that national defense be controversial and all of us to never preach but, ironically, act like perfect saints at all times. It is beyond silly, rather it is insane. Journalists do “get” religion: they have a religion with precepts that match those of a doomsday cult. Out of touch with reality and passive/aggressive vis-a-vis those who are trying to protect them from their own belief system.

  • The Old Bill

    The light angle is worth exploring. Trijicon optics use both fiber optics and radioactive tritium to illuminate the scope’s reticle. An illuminated optical sight is a HUGE plus. Much combat occurs in low-light or no-light conditions. It is extremely difficult to see iron sights at night. To the grunt, the thing that matters is that he can aim his weapon and deliver accurate fire. Period. The Marine Corps fitted its rifles with Trijicon ACOG sights because they enabled the rifleman to be more effective. Exclamation point. The “Bible code” is irrelevant.

    For more info on the sights;
    http://www.trijicon.com/na_en/products/product1.php?id=ACOG

    As for putting the soldier in danger because of “Bible code,” does the reporter know how silly it sounds? The enemy is trying to kill you. He will blow you up, he will shoot you, he will hit you over the head with a club. Stop worrying about making him angry at you. He’s already angry. Get serious. Take care of business. This is war. Does NBC know that? If you’re concerned about offending the enemy, you’ve already lost. Pull the troops out and send them home. You’re not serious and you’re just playing with their lives.

    As for the non-combatant Ft. Hood officer, his name wouldn’t be Maj. Hassan, would it?

    • sari

      TOB,
      The piece lacked nuance and missed/glossed over/ignored some important points,, but I think it’s unfair to disregard the feelings on men on the ground -and- comments that GWB made early on: “This Crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take awhile”. Like jihad, crusade has very specific connotations. As to modifying equipment to give our service people an advantage, during WWII, Jewish recruits were given the option to omit their religious preference on their dogtags; if captured, they would not be singled out for “special treatment” by the Nazis. So there is precedent, but it’s unclear whether or not the verses are really as incendiary to the Iraqis, Afgans, etc. as the reporters presume.

      • The Old Bill

        Sari,
        Good point, but the object of a war is to win. If it’s not, don’t get in it. Incidentally, and perhaps backing up what you wrote, a neighbor of mine years ago was a B-17 crewman in WWII. His plane was shot down and the crew was forced to bail out. He was fished out of the sea by a German ship and tended to by a German navy doctor. The doctor noticed his Star of David and quickly and apologetically removed it from his neck. The doctor told him in good English that it would be better for him in the POW hospital and camp if they didn’t know he was Jewish. My neighbor said the doctor treated him and the other captured Americans well.

        AuthenticBioethics, I agree with getting weaponry too close to religion. Remember when the Navy wanted to name a destroyer (IIRC) “Corpus Christi?” Yes, I know it was named after the city, but still, I cringed.

        • sari

          Bill,
          In addition to *winning*, the goal might be further refined to reflect the desire for a better or worse ending (e.g., the Allies’ treatment of Germany after WWI set the stage for WWII). One issue, ignored AFAIK by the author, pertains more to how our own service people might perceive what looks an awful lot like government endorsement of religion and how that perception colors their feelings towards the country they’re laying down their lives to protect.

          Another unanswered question: how did the meaning of the lettering come to light? Are the scopes issued independent of the rifles and the user required to register the serial number? It’s not real obvious, especially to people raised in other traditions.

  • Harris

    Having known the owner of the company (now deceased) and some of his family, I would suggest that some part of this might be rising from more of a Reformed theological perspective, a sort of claiming of the “square inch” of the gunsight for Christ.

    The other side of the story is at least as interesting: how does one be a Christian while making a weapon? I am in thorough agreement that some one should have talked with the owners of Trijicom.

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  • The Old Bill

    Sari,

    A agree with your point about the bad effects of the foolish treatment of Germany after WWI. But before you can be wise and magnanimous in victory, you have to win the war. And a grunt is unlikely to think much about post war magnanimity. He wants to do his job and live to go home. I wonder how many ever noticed the “Bible code.” I’m betting any who were offended quickly came up with a ribald variation which is something soldiers are very good at.

    I don’t have a paper trail, so I don’t know the exact procurement process for this, but I’ll take a stab at a reasonable explanation. Various branches have chosen different models based on what they deem best for typical missions. The model in question is the Trijicon ACOG, a rugged and reliable piece of gear. I don’t know what the specs called for regarding serial numbers, but the Pentagon loves numbers.

    The rifles are separate units and are of varied ages. The current M-4 rifle is a compact version of the M-16 the army adopted in 1963. The rifle has change a little; the ammunition has changed a little, but the big revolution has been in optics and batteries.

    A weapon might wear several different sights in its life. If you look at a photo of a modern soldier’s rifle, you’ll see all manner of gizmos mounted on it: optical, thermal, infrared and telescopic sights, lights, lasers, IR illuminators, toaster ovens, cappuccino makers… you name it. All are mounted on rails and can be quickly removed or replaced in the field. (Sometimes they work loose and fall off all by themselves.)

    A soldier is issued a weapon which may or may not have a sight mounted. (I’m guessing it would be.) He is responsible for it. He might be issued a sight or an upgraded sight at a different time and be responsible for that. It is not uncommon for a soldier to remember the serial number of his rifle long after he has left the service. I suspect the same connection would not be made to his optics, but I could be wrong.

  • The Owl

    This emotional topic along with other events that “moved us” helped inspire us to write “Jesus Rifle” the music video by “Andrea Speaks” youtube http://youtu.be/39ozwEBMFg4. As far as the future of these codes, we feel whatever is best for our troops should be done. Some troops may find comfort, some may feel endangered, some may feel religiously awkward. We want our troops to have what they need to function, but above all be safe. Thanks

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