Every Thursday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

Among all the wonderful promises Jesus gave His church perhaps the most difficult to understand and accept is the promise of persecution. But there it is, in John 15:20. If they persecuted Christ, the world will certainly persecute His church. And Christ has been faithful to that promise, as church history shows.

Despite the long and varied persecution which the global church has suffered, some Christians, at least the evangelical American variety, still have a hard time sorting out what persecution looks like for their lives. And if Joel Osteen provides one extreme conception of persecution and the church in the US, one which teaches that Christ is able to give us Your Best Life Now!, then the American Evangelical self-made Martyr is the opposite extreme.

Image: Dshalock® Libertarian Emperor of America via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This fact was brought to my attention this week by a popular story “broke” by FOX News’ Todd Starnes, reporting that the US Army was removing Bible verses from the scopes of some of their rifles. People were furious, a lot of people.

Starnes’ original report, which has already been shared 30 thousand times on Facebook alone, is fairly straight forward reporting: “The U.S. Army is directing troops to remove a Bible inscription that a vendor etched into the serial numbers of weapon scopes, Fox News has learned.” Although he remains primarily factual, the implication that this action by the Army is an example of their attack on Christian is impossible to ignore. Starnes ends his piece with a quote from a Christian solider who is tired of the military’s concern with political correctness:

“It blows my mind,” the solider said. “It doesn’t help the Army do its mission to take off a biblical reference.” The soldier, who is a Christian, said he had to comply so “someone doesn’t get offended.” “We have classes on equal opportunity – things that are clearly irrelevant to our mission – which is to kill the enemy.”

Billy Hallowell at The Blaze picked up the story and made explicit what Starnes suggested obliquely:

Questions surrounding purported attacks on faith in the United States military continue to abound. Over the past few years, many critics have decried perceived attempts to remove Judeo-Christian values from the ranks. A new report claiming that the Army has mandated that troops remove Bible inscriptions from their weapon scopes will likely only add to the debate.

Later, Hallowell calls the story “unbelievable on the surface.” But what, exactly, is unbelievable? The story was then picked up by the usual far right blogs: WorldNetDaily, American Thinker, etc. Which is not surprising as they tend to publish anything that could be interpreted as persecution of conservatives or Christians.

What troubled me most was when notable Christian public figure and author of the very popular biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxes posted a link to The Blaze‘s coverage of this on Twitter and Facebook with the message: “I’m sorry to say that this sounds like something right out of my Bonhoeffer book…”


How exactly does this parallel what took place in Germany? How is it similar to the subtle infringements upon freedoms and subtle increases in oppression which led to the totalitarian Nazi regime? Unfortunately, he didn’t answer when I asked him to elaborate, but based on the spin of the Blaze article and the tone of his post, Metaxes wants to claim that by removing Bible verses from military scopes the US government is in some way trying to oppress Christianity.

Many people echoed his sentiment in reply to his Tweet and Facebook posts and in the comments of these various news reports, lamenting that our nation is on a moral decline because God is being removed from everything, that the freedom of religion is at risk, and angrily mocking the Obama administration and what they perceive to be its war on evangelicals.

Let me pause here and be clear that I think there is a valid conversation that we need to have about the Obama Administration’s posture toward Christians that do not embrace his politics, particularly in regard to the HHS Mandate. But this story is something else entirely.

The misguided outrage over the removal of Bible verses on military scopes reveals how deeply US evangelicals have become blind to our privilege. The focus here is almost entirely on the Army removing the verses, when we ought to be asking ourselves why we think they would be appropriate in the first place.

The answer for many of us, I suspect, is that we fundamentally see the US as our Christian Nation. It is fitting for our military to adorn itself with references to the Bible, because the US Army is a Christian Army. But that is simply not true. The US Army is the US Army. And while many of its members are Christian, and the majority of the citizens it fights for may be Christian, and the country might have been “founded on Christian principles,” the Army is not in any meaningful way a “Christian” Army.

So then, why does it matter if the secular military removes obscure references to the Bible from their scopes? It shouldn’t, unless we are so sensitive to persecution, so attracted to a narrative of victimhood, that we will decry any diminishment of Christian privilege in the US–no matter how justified.

And it is justified in this case:

1. Nothing would please Jihadists more than to be able to use these scopes as evidence that the US is actually fighting a Christian war against Islam, rather than a war against terrorists. What a great way to recruit young Muslims for martyrdom: show them proof that the US is in a holy war against them and their families and way of life. In that light, all of a sudden terrorism might seem less radical.

2. The Word of God has no place on the weapons of a secular State which sets its own standards and policies for who deserves to die.

3. According to Starnes’ report, the inclusion of the verses was in violation of the military’s contract with Trijicon, the manufacturer. And in fact, this isn’t the first time Trijicon has been in the news for etching verses on its scopes sold to the US military.

4. The verses are a really lame and tacky use of Scripture. They are contextless and hidden in a serial number.

Next time Todd Starnes or anyone else tries to convince you that the US is persecuting Christians and purging Christ from our country, get some perspective. Visit Voice of the Martyrs and remember that actual  persecution of Christians is taking place globally right now. And then visit a group like Amnesty International and be reminded that all over the world people–people made in the Image of God–are being abused, tortured, and killed.

Most of all, remember that it is your citizenship that is in heaven, not the Army’s.


  1. I figure that heaven is celebrating that we are removing the words of scriptures from weapons used to kill our enemies (instead of loving them).

  2. I can’t get up in arms (oops!) about this one either way, but if I run the evaluation on the merits, I come down thinking it’s probably well within the military’s authority to make that call, and that it’s fine for someone to complain about how that came down, and that it’s not something we should add to the “pretty much just martyrdom, only, y’know, without the dying” list. Appreciate your sifting the issues here, Alan.

  3. Much ado about nothing. First of all, both scripture sightings reference Jesus as the light of the world. As such, they may be statements of faith by the manufacturer, but they posit no moral assessment, good or bad, upon the use of the equipment in question. As such, it becomes a branding or trademark issue, at best. If the company did not register the marks as trade marks, then the army is perfectly within its right to ask that the marks be removed, since such marks did not fall within the specifications of the equipment.

    To my thinking, the references are too cryptic to be of any reasonable help in evangelism, and, consequently, are a waste of effort. On the other hand, if some religious statement was to be inferred as to the use of the equipment, then we have stepped into the no-fly zone of Christianity–playing God. God has said that obeying governments is our duty because he put them there. He has also said that he reserves the right of vengeance upon evil doers. However, one should be careful of where one points that finger, since all people everywhere are guilty of evil.

    I really don’t think that was the intention. I think some people don’t want to be guilty of hiding the light under a bushel basket. This may be a covert way of letting the light shine. But, it’s too covert to be of any good. In the mean time, it once again takes the focus off true persecutions. And it does point out a growing issue of concern in Christian circles that we are trying to fight a spiritual war for hearts with secular methods. Laws don’t change people, they only curb their actions. The government is in the law business to affect an orderly society. It is not in the Gospel business. The reason so many laws are necessary is that no one is preaching the Gospel anymore. And now, my own cryptic quote: Galatians 5:22-23.
    “do you think of fighting fire with fire, the water of the Word is what you desire”

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