Last week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) found out that all four branches of the military have now revoked permission from Holman Bible Publishers, a subsidiary of LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, to use the official U.S. armed forces branch emblems on their military Bibles.
Much has already been made of this story by FOX News and other Christian news outlets, such as Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. And, since this story is red meat for the likes of FOX, et. al., and it now appears that it won’t be going away any time soon, I want to clear up a few things.
As expected, MRFF is being grossly and deliberately misrepresented as an atheist organization whose aim is to rid the military of all Bibles and all religion. This is ridiculous. MRFF is not an atheist organization. In fact, 96% of MRFF’s 28,000 clients are Christians — Catholics and mainline Protestants who are not considered to be the right kind of Christians or Christian enough by the fundamentalists.
MRFF is only fighting a particular subset of Christians — the fundamentalists and dominionists who see the U.S. military as a “mission field” for their evangelism and proselytizing. To these Christians, the military provides an endless supply of young men and women who they can prey upon and turn into “government-paid missionaries for Christ,” typically targeting them when they are worn down by training and at their most vulnerable, with the approval and aid of their fundamentalist brethren in the military itself.
Before getting to the military Bible issue, I want you to watch a little video. The first part of this video is a collection of clips showing military chaplains and some of the many fundamentalist parachurch ministries that operate freely within the military clearly stating what their real mission is. The last few clips show the mission of these chaplains and parachurch ministries being put into practice in Afghanistan. (The ranks and positions identifying the individuals in this video are the ranks and positions they held at the time the clips were filmed.)
What does any of this have to do with the Holman military Bibles? Well, going beyond the obvious church/state separation issue of the government endorsing religious books by allowing the use of official U.S. military emblems on them, the Holman Bibles contain a lengthy section of essays and contact information promoting the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OCF), an organization of about 15,000 military officers, ranging from cadets at the military academies to 3-star generals, with chapters on virtually every military base worldwide, who think the real duty of a U.S. military officer is to raise up “a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, these Bibles are a recruiting tool for the OCF and, with the official military emblems on them, were a government endorsement of the OCF mission.
U.S. military regulations prohibit the endorsement of non-federal entities. The OCF is a non-federal entity that not only condones the mission of parachurch ministries and fundamentalist military chaplains who seek to turn the military into a force of “government-paid missionaries,” like those seen in the above video, but actually has that same mission itself.
MRFF has probably received more complaints about these particular Bibles, which are displayed and sold in all the base exchanges and other stores on military bases, than any other single issue. The reasons for individual complaints have varied. Some have been strictly about the constitutional issue of official military emblems on Bibles. Some have been because of the manner in which these Bibles are displayed in the exchanges, often being placed right next to books that are denigrating to other religions, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, and in some cases being placed in sections of military training books, as if the Bible is considered to be part of military training. Many of the complaints coming from Christians have been that the military wasn’t only unconstitutionally endorsing Christianity, but endorsing only a particular brand of Christianity that they, as Christians, do not subscribe to.
Although this is an issue that MRFF has been working on for quite some time, the military is now claiming that its revocation of permission for Holman Bible Publishers to use the military emblems on the Bibles had nothing to do with religion, and is merely the result of a revamping of its trademark licensing programs. But this explanation is pretty hard to believe.
The first is that the purpose of the revamping of the military’s trademark licensing program was to expand the licensing of military trademarks into the retail sector. Under a 2004 act of Congress, each of the military’s branches was given the authority to create its own trademark licensing office and earn revenue through the licensing their branch’s trademarks to manufacturers of toys, clothing, and many other commercial products. The manufacturers pay royalties on the use of military logos and emblems, with the proceeds being used to fund Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs. There has been no explanation from the military as to exactly how this expanding of its licensing program could possibly have led to the Holman military Bibles suddenly being deemed ineligible and having their license, approved in 2003, revoked. But the military wants the official story to be that the revoking of Holman’s license had nothing at all to do with religion or complaints about these Bibles. The recent revamping of their licensing programs just seems to be nothing more than a convenient coincidence.
The documents obtained by MRFF in response to a FOIA request submitted in June 2011, three months before the first of the military branches suddenly decided to revoke the license held by Holman Bibles for over eight years, show that AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs the BXs, PXs, and other stores on military bases) was clearly concerned about the complaints about the Holman Bibles, with emails as early as June 6, 2011 from AAFES to Lifeway saying that these Bibles had “become a hot issue,” and referencing and linking to a June 2, 2011 article on MRFF’s website as the reason they were becoming a hot issue. The article referenced by AAFES was an email from a MRFF client, an active duty JAG officer, about the use of the military emblems on these Bibles. In the article from FOX News, it sounds like the military had already decided to stop the use of the military emblems on the Bibles prior to being contacted by MRFF, but this is simply not true.
But, whatever the reason for the military’s decision to disallow the use of official military emblems on these Bibles, the right thing has finally been done, which is all that matters. And, despite any erroneous claims you might see or hear that MRFF is trying to prevent service members from buying Bibles, or that Holman can’t sell their Bibles on military bases anymore, service members will absolutely still be able to buy these Bibles in their BXs and PXs just as they have for the past eight years. They will just no longer have the official military emblems on them, as they never should have in the first place.