Is the Military Supposed to Burn Bibles?

Last May, dozens of Afghan language Bibles sent to a soldier in Afghanistan were confiscated and then destroyed by fire because the command believed the Bibles were intended to proselytize Muslims, which is a violation of military rules and Afghan law.   A Pentagon spokesman said the act was a “force protection” measure to preclude Afghans from perceiving the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims, which could lead to a violent anti-American reaction.

Two weeks ago, the year-old Bible burning incident was resurrected by three journalists who corroborated to attack evangelical Christians for using the military to advance their religious views. This episode demonstrates four disturbing phenomena: a double standard, a one way cultural and religious bias, political correctness, and the antagonizing of many of our best albeit evangelical Christian soldiers.

The Pentagon acknowledged that a filmmaker was allowed “…onto Bagram [air base, Afghanistan] last May [2008] to shoot footage of religious sessions involving troops.”  At one of the sessions “…a participant displayed Bibles translated into Dari and Pashto that had been sent to him by his church back home.  After a discussion of how or if they should be distributed, the chaplain running the service reaffirmed General Order Number 1 [a military order prohibiting “Proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice”] and the Bibles were not distributed and were confiscated.”  Apparently, the chaplain burned the Bibles with the camp’s daily garbage.

Fast forward to 2009 and the filmmaker, Brian Hughes, allowed Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, to view his work-in-progress documentary.  At the time, Sharlet was working on an article that would appear in the May 12 edition of Harper’s Magazine, “Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military." Sharlet includes some of Hughes’ material in his article.

Sharlet’s article seeks to discredit evangelical Christians serving in the military by accusing them of “a quiet coup within the armed forces” and says these believers “see themselves not as subversives, but as spirit warriors — ‘ambassadors for Christ in uniform.’”

The article features Michael Weinstein, the president of Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a rabid anti-evangelical, who sees himself as the constitutional conscience of the military and uses lawsuits and media appearances to advance his cause. Weinstein says, “This country is facing a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the religious rights of our armed forces members.”  He calls this “soul rape.”

Sharlet’s article caught the attention of James Bay, an Al Jazeerra (AJ) reporter.  Bay contacted filmmaker Hughes, who agreed to produce a broadcast segment for Al Jazeerra from his documentary film.  
Al Jazeerra is a television network headquartered in Doha, Qatar which is mostly funded by grants from the Emir of Qatar.  The station is the dominant channel in the Arab world and gained worldwide attention following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when it broadcast video statements by Osama bin Laden justifying the attacks and Muslims dancing in the streets celebrating the deaths of over 3,000 Americans.  It is also known for showing videos of masked terrorists beheading Western hostages in Iraq.  

The AJ video based on Hughes’ film from Bagram “…was irresponsible and dangerous journalism sensationalizing year-old footage of a religious service for U.S. soldiers … inferring that troops are evangelizing Afghans,” said Army Colonel Gregory Julian, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan.  The report features the Bible study group with the Afghan language Bibles stacked on the floor and a discussion about the proselytizing prohibition.  Then it shows a chaplain telling his soldier congregants they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for Him [Christ].”  

AJ reporter Bay presents the video as evidence that the U.S. Army supports proselytizing Afghans for Jesus.  He states the line where evangelism ends and proselytizing begins may not be clear but concludes “distributing Bibles is seen by many as crossing that line.”

AJ’s website reports that some of the soldiers who appeared in the video were reprimanded.

This incident demonstrates a number of disturbing phenomena.

First, the Bibles were burned rather than returned.  Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Wright said “The decision was made that it was a ‘force protection’ measure to throw them [Bibles] away, because, if they did get out, it could be perceived by Afghans that the U.S. Government or the U.S. military was trying to convert Muslims.”  Wright indicated troops at posts in war zones are required to burn their trash.

Why desecrate the Christians’ holy book?  Would it not have been better to return the Bibles to the church and avoided the controversy?  

There’s not a chaplain or commander in the armed forces that would dare burn a stack of Korans, Islam’s holy book. They would be terrified by the predictable reaction. The logical conclusion is that burning Bibles is okay because law-abiding Christians are not going to threaten to slit throats over insults to their religion. Neither will they instigate rebellion by unruly mobs as Muslim Imams and terrorist groups do.

Second, cultural and religious sensitivity is all one way.  For the privilege of spending our blood and treasure in Muslim deserts, American soldiers are expected to abandon or deny their Christian teachings, crosses and Bibles.  

We must remind the world that Islam is the one organized religion that repudiates freedom of religion — that requires infidels to be sentenced to death.  Those who convert from the Muslim faith continue to be killed in every Muslim nation in the world as is demanded in the Koran.

The one-way sensitivity clearly violates our soldier’s First Amendment rights. Most of our troops are Christians, and many would choose to share their good news faith even among Muslims. It is reprehensible to demoralize and alienate them while asking them to risk their lives for their country.

Third, political correctness is unbecoming to our military. None of this self-flagellation will turn off the hatred and animosity towards the “infidel” and is perceived as a sign of U.S. weakness that only encourages the enemy to press harder. This animosity has been nurtured since birth among many Muslims who were taught by their hate-filled madrassa education system.

The Pentagon’s cultural sensitivities toward the Muslim culture morphed into the “force protection” argument used in this case.  This is the same mentality that demands our servicewomen to sport abayas (black head to toe robes) when in Saudi Arabia. Why do we apologize for being who we are?

Finally, we have arguably the finest military in the world and yet critics say that Evangelical Christians fill our all-volunteer ranks disproportionately. What’s wrong with that picture?    

America is a great nation because it demonstrates Christian charity.  Muzzling Christian soldiers and burning their Bibles may be what the military is ordered to do but that’s unbecoming of a great nation and will not make America safer or Muslims more tolerant of us.