“Jesus Rifles” and the Trijicon Sword Drill

Trijicon, the now-infamous maker of high quality gun sights, has been accused of illegally “proselytizing” for adding Bible references to the weapon sights it provided to the US military.  The initial accusation has already been discussed, as has Trijicon’s voluntary offer to remove the inscriptions.

The term proselytize carries a negative stigma and is frequently misused, as it has been in this case.  An astute letter to the editor at the Stars and Stripes notes that it would likely take more than 6 characters “to convert” someone from or to a faith, as the definition of proselytize indicates.

Still, the accusations of “conversion by Bible reference” have been largely based on the presence of New Testament references to Jesus Christ on Trijicon’s sights.  However, not a single major news outlet asked why Trijicon selected the specific verses they did.  It would appear most, if not all, made the assumption that Trijicon was picking “Jesus verses” for the ineptly worded purpose of “proselytizing”–an assessment supported by news organizations generally paraphrasing only the “Jesus” part of the relevant verses, as well as the popularity of the inaccurate and perjorative term “Jesus rifle” that resulted.  However, an elementary web search reveals that is not the case.  If one considers all of the verses that Trijicon has selected, it puts their “intent” in a whole new light. 

In many children’s Sunday Schools and Bible schools, young attendees were introduced to something known as “Sword Drills.”  The children’s Bibles were their swords (a reference to Ephesians 6:17).  While the rules may have varied slightly, the basic concept went like this:

The children held their Bibles at arms length by the binding.  An adult leader would call out a Bible reference, repeat it several times, and then say “charge!” or something similar to tell the children to quickly find the verse in their Bibles.  The first one to do so stood and began reading it.

One common purpose of Sword Drills was to teach the structure of the Bible; that is, the order and placement of the books that make up the Bible.  Another was to highlight a concept using a variety of verses.  After the leader had the children find several verses, they would often be asked what the common theme (or more frequently, the common word) was in each one.

Trijicon’s verses, as a group, are an interesting twist on the traditional children’s game.  This article was almost turned into a “Sword Drill”–which would have required readers to do the research themselves–but people’s time (and attention) limitations are understood.  Therefore, the verse that corresponds with each reference is included below.

Two primary verses were cited in most articles on the Trijicon “scandal:”

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

However, as explained in a prior article, Trijicon has used several more verses on its various products over the years. Wikipedia, reliable source that it is, has already generated a list of some others and the internet references that substantiate them.  Besides the two above, they include:

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 5:5
You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

2 Peter 1:19
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Revelation 21:23
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

These were all New Testament references, which matched the most common accusation that Trijicon was putting New Testament verse references on its sights.  That statement isn’t entirely true, however, as previously noted.  More accurately, Trijicon put Bible references on its sights.  The last reference in Wikipedia is from the Old Testament, not the New:

Isaiah 60:1
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

(Isaiah 60:1 is also visible on one of the rotating graphics on the background of the Trijicon homepage.)  At an internet forum on guns, a Trijicon owner said his sight contained another Old Testament reference:

Psalm 112:4
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Finally, an article at the Military Times didn’t talk about another reference, but the accompanying photo showed an ACOG 6×48 sight on an M240 machine gun with the following reference:

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

It is entirely possible that there are other similar references on other Trijicon products.

Now, intrepid Sunday School student, what is the common word in each of the verses?

Don’t overthink it–the simple answer is more often the correct one…

The common word is light.

Why did Trijicon choose that theme?  It would be interesting to go on a theological diversion about how Jesus Christ is “the Light,” but that requires a degree of interpretation that exceeds the simplicity of the choices.  Think easier, not harder.

What products does Trijicon make?  And how do those products work?

The Trijicon website says (emphasis added):

Glyn [Bindon, the founder of Trijicon] began developing his own ideas for self-illuminated sights…

Those night sights became the basis for [a] company that grew quickly through its constant experimentation with innovative optics…Glyn’s next product was…the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG)…The integration of an effective fiber optics system set the ACOG apart from all other rifle scopes…

Trijicon, Inc. has led the industry in the development of superior any-light aiming systems since the company’s founding in 1981.

Trijicon “merge[d] fiber optic illumination” and weapon optics.  The root concept of Trijicon’s products–one of the primary things that set them apart as premiere sights–was their unique use of light and light enhancement technology.

A company whose core technologies are light and light enhancement chose to put references to Bible verses about “light” on its products.

Based on the very evident commonality shown above, it would appear that Trijicon chose verses that used words with a tie-in to its products. The company’s connection of the verses was clever, not “converting;” it was subtle, not surreptitious.  Even the company’s own public statement claimed no malicious intent; Trijicon said the references were a “part of our faith and our belief in service to our country.”

Taken in aggregate, it’s also difficult to see how one could accuse Trijicon of trying to “proselytize” anyone.  How does a reference to a verse about a “gracious and compassionate and righteous man” convert anyone to anything?

Notwithstanding the false accusations, Trijicon’s decision to end the practice on military-bound sights was a wise one on several levels.  It is disappointing, however, that a grossly inaccurate and vitriolic public “scandal,” in which people of import accepted baseless accusations without question or independent research, was the impetus to this outcome.

This incident displayed the typical hypersensitivity of the US military to anything regarding Christianity, and the military’s proclivity to react to the critics without defending (or even acknowledging) relevant virtues.  While Americans were cautioned about “jumping to conclusions” about a man who shouted “Allahu Akbar” and killed unarmed men and women, the mere presence of references to Bible verses resulted in “jumping to conclusions” of attempts to convert–even if some of the verses are shared by more than one religion.

When this story first “broke,” many seemed to assume the worst.  The whole story–the truth–is far simpler and far less “sensational” than it was made out to be.

Any Sunday School student could have told you that.