A recent story on the front page of the Wyoming Eagle-Tribune (“F.E. Warren removes Bible from memorial” August 1, 2018) began, “A new effort at inclusion recently came to F.E. Warren Air Force base, but not everyone is happy about it.”
Efforts at inclusion never make everyone happy, especially those who think it is good to exclude some folks.
The story tells of the decision to alter one of the symbols on POW/MIA memorial tables on the base. Replacing the Christian Bible is a more inclusive “POW/MIA Book of Faith.” And as the reporter noted, “not everyone is happy about it.”
One local Navy veteran is quoted. “The Bible designates all things for all people. It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re a Muslim or whatever.”
I have Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and some Christian friends who would be quite surprised to hear that. The Bible is not only a Christian text but it is a symbol of Christianity. Many Christians believe it is the theological underpinning of Christian exclusivity. It does make a difference whose holy book is chosen for such a memorial.
When you are a member of a decidedly large majority, as Christians in the military are, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are others who do not share your religious beliefs. You take it for granted to see the Bible displayed or to hear prayers lifted up in the name of Jesus at public events. But the U.S. military is so much more diverse. The largest category is, as among civilians, those with no religious preference. Among the rest are not only Christians but also Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, even Wiccans and atheists.
Their religious freedoms must be recognized and are not included in the display of a Bible alone.
The same Navy vet asserted the military buckled under pressure from the Military Religious Foundation. He said the decision to replace the Christian Bible with a book of faith “does nothing but degrade what we did and what our fathers did before.”
Actually, those who made the change “buckled” under pressure from the U.S. Constitution, the document whose promises to a free people are at stake every time our military goes to war.
What is the Military Religious Freedom Foundation? Unlike Trump’s religious freedom commission, which is designed to find ways to justify discrimination against non-Christians, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation seeks to make real the religious freedom protections enshrined in the Constitution.
The Foundation’s website describes its “Mission” as follows: “The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Their website includes an Air Force regulation, which reads in part, “Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.”
The key to religious freedom is, as the Air Force directive acknowledges, “respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.” That includes not insisting that your holy book be placed on the POW/MIA memorial table to the exclusion of others.
The WTE news article quotes a letter-to-the-editor writer who made the claim, “How can we expect our military to protect us from real threats when they take action like this after a marginalized group claims the presence of the Bible is oppressive.”
Throughout the history of this nation, every reform that made the U.S. military more inclusive has been met with an identical criticism. Those who opposed the racial integration of military units said it would weaken the military. When women were included, the same argument was made. Ditto when the military was opened to gays and lesbians.
And yet, through it all, the United States continues to have the strongest, most capable military force in the world.