The Bible and the Military: A Veterans Day Exclusive Report
A special report on the trends revealed in the State of the Bible 2021 regarding stress, Bible use, and more among our U.S. Military
On August 31, 2021, the longest war in American history came to an end. Although the 20-year war in Afghanistan divided the public politically, we shouldn’t allow it to color our respect for nor minimize the sacrifice of those who served and continue to serve. Our nation’s Military members have volunteered to defend the United States with everything—up to and including their lives. The path they’ve chosen involves incredible mental, physical, and emotional pressures that can be spiritually draining. That’s why this Veterans Day, we are releasing special data that highlight our Military members’ need for the Bible in times of fear, separation, and stress. And we’re inviting you to be part of bringing God’s Word to our Troops.
Background on Our Work
American Bible Society proudly serves the U.S. Military, providing chaplains with Bible resources to meet the needs of Service members, Veterans, and their families. In fact, since 1817, we have provided more than 60,000,000 Bible resources at no charge to our nation’s Troops and their families. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that God’s Word can make in combatting fear and providing comfort.
Our annual State of the Bible research is designed to track cultural trends in the U.S. regarding spirituality and Scripture engagement. It offers insight into what Americans across the board think about the Bible, faith, and the Church. Because we obtain a representative sample of all American adults, members of the Armed Services and Military family members are included. They do, however, represent a small portion of the overall sample, so the findings we’re reporting today should be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, the data point to important trends among those who serve our country, so we’re sharing Military-specific findings from State of the Bible 2021 to help you better understand challenges and ministry opportunities for our Military today.
High Stress, Low Hope in the Military
U.S. Armed Service members carry unique burdens. In addition to the obvious stressors of deployment, injury, loss, and trauma, they also navigate the quieter pressures of frequent relocation, separation from family, and reintegration into society after service. As a result, our study suggests that Military members typically experience more stress than the average American civilian. This fact is important because stress is not only an indicator of day-to-day contentment but is also connected to an individual’s overall level of flourishing. To put numbers on it, Stress Scale scores were significantly higher among those we surveyed who were Active Duty (M = 21.6) and in the National Guard/Reserves (M = 20.6), compared to those who have no connection to the Military (M = 13.2).
In times of stress, our Armed Service members are also often separated from their loved ones and have little agency over their lives’ direction. They’re commanded to train, deploy, work, fight, and retreat. The Hope Scale we used for our research measures a respondent’s perception of their ability to personally act to bring about a preferred future. Perhaps because members of the Military voluntarily yield personal control of their lives, our data suggest that they have relatively low levels of hope. Service members on Active Duty and in the National Guard/Reserves that we surveyed had lower Hope levels (M = 14.8; M = 13.8) than the general population (M = 15.5).
Importantly, the data indicate that family members of those serving in the Military have even lower levels of Hope (M = 13.6) overall. Just as our Military members lack agency to control deployments, etc., their families too are forced to live with heightened uncertainty and even fear. It’s critical then that we also consider the enduring sacrifice of the spouses, parents, and children of our Military members and Veterans.
The bad news is that the data suggest our Military are struggling to maintain hope and to see beyond their current circumstances. The good news is that we know how to help. We’ve found that, generally, Scripture engagement mediates the effects of stress and creates a spiritual environment in which hope can flourish. In God’s Word, we meet Jesus, and he brings us “strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.” That’s why we are encouraged that our research also suggests many U.S. Military members are turning to the Bible.
U.S. Military Members Open to the Bible
Perhaps one of the most interesting findings suggested by our Military data this year is that Armed Services personnel are more likely than civilians to engage deeply with the Bible. While one-quarter of the American public is Scripture Engaged** (25%), three in ten of the Armed Service members we surveyed fell into this category (31%). One-third (33%) of the Active Duty personnel and the National Guard/Reserves members (32%) we surveyed are Scripture Engaged. It’s no surprise that there are many believers in the Military. Statistics from the Department of Defense show that approximately 40 percent of Active Duty personnel identify as evangelical Christians. But there’s more to understanding faith than self-identification (see chapter 7 of our State of the Bible 2021 report for more on this). Tracking our Military members’ Bible-reading interest has implications for the tools we and others provide to help Service members, Veterans, and their families access and apply God’s Word.
Two-thirds of our Military respondents this year were Bible Users* (67%). This includes 61 percent of Veterans, 67 percent of Retired Military, 77 percent of those in the National Guard or Reserves, and 83 percent of Active Duty members. These percentages are similar to what we found in an in-depth study of our Military that we reported in State of the Bible 2020. We found then that seven in ten Service members identified as Christians and around 33 percent of them read the Bible at least once a week.
For those who were already Christians, the data suggest an increased reliance on God’s Word through the increased difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bible Use increased throughout the pandemic for Practicing Christians in the Military, except for those who are now retired from the Military. Bible Use stayed the same for Non-Practicing Christians.
American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry is committed to providing Military-specific resources to help all who are searching find strength and comfort in the God of the Bible. Thankfully, 85 percent of the Military households we surveyed own a Bible. The data suggest that Armed Service members who read the Bible have no significant preference between digital and print Bibles (51% print, 49% digital). This shifts slightly for on-the-go Active Duty members; digital formats emerged as the primary means for three in four Active Duty Service members who are Bible Reading Christians (74%).
In summary, the data show that our Military is open to exploring Scripture. Now it’s our responsibilities to ensure they have relevant access and support on their spiritual walks.
Our Response this Veterans Day
This Veterans Day, we reflect on Galatians 5:13 (ESV), “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Our freedom has been hard fought, hard won, and hard maintained—and our Military members and Veterans need the hope and refreshment of the Bible. Data from State of the Bible 2021 suggest that many are looking to God’s Word, but others have not yet discovered the true freedom of the Lord and are living in fear and stress.
We invite you to join us: will you support our Troops and Veterans with God’s Word this Veterans Day?
*Bible Users are individuals who read, listen to, or pray with the Bible on their own at least 3–4 times a year, outside of a church service or church event.
***For descriptions on how Scripture engagement was measured and reported, please see page 30 of the State of the Bible 2021 report available for download at StateoftheBible.org.
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