The gun rights group Come And Take It Texas has made headlines in recent days after announcing that they will hold a mock mass shooting near the University of Texas campus on Saturday. They will begin with “an open carry walk with [their] rifles and legal black powder pistols” before putting up their guns in order to begin the scripted mass shooting with cardboard weapons later that afternoon. Originally, the group had hoped to do the mock massacre on UT’s campus. However, they were forced to move the event to just outside of university grounds when the school raised trespassing and other concerns.
Murdoch Pizgatti, the group’s founder, said that the demonstration is designed to help show what can happen when a few gunmen attack an unarmed group of people. He stated, “Our focus is on gun-free zones. They are blue-light specials for people who wish to do evil.” Pizgatti went on to insinuate that what happened in Paris was largely the result of the victims being unarmed and that, had they been carrying weapons, the crisis could have been minimized or avoided altogether. The group hopes that their demonstration on Saturday can help people see the merit in their belief that gun restrictions are not the answer to recent atrocities like Paris and San Bernardino.
My purpose today is not to debate the issue of gun rights (for more on that topic see Nick Pitts’s “Would Jesus own a gun?”). Rather, I’d like to discuss the approach Come And Take It Texas has chosen to utilize in order to get their message out and what it says about the way we often approach beliefs that run counter to our own. Come and Take It must have known that holding a mock mass shooting so soon after the San Bernardino attack would become national news. So while their plan certainly has a litany of detractors, the group’s leaders knew that if they wanted people to listen, they first had to get their attention – and it seems like they have at least accomplished that.
The problem with this kind of approach, though, is that it tends to further entrench people in their preconceived notions rather than stimulate helpful dialogue. As a result, it seems difficult to see how the show will bring about real, substantive change. But perhaps they simply believe that gun rights is one of those issues where people need to be shocked out of their current way of thinking if change is ever going to take place. While that conclusion is debatable, it is also understandable and not without some merit.
It is easy at times to become so entrenched in our beliefs that we fail to consider the possibility that we might be wrong. When that happens, it often does take something quite shocking to make us consider alternative possibilities and open us up to the kind of dialogue that really can make a difference. But how much better would it be if such drastic measures were not necessary? That is true of political or social debates like gun control, but it is just as true when it comes to matters of the faith.
As Christians, we must be careful to distinguish between matters that are essential to correct faith and those that are more open to debate. A great deal of harm has been done to God’s kingdom by those who confuse non-essentials like worship styles, matters of church polity, and any number of other relatively minor issues with the fundamental truths of the gospel. Churches have been divided, brothers and sisters in Christ have become estranged, and an unbelieving world has looked on in disbelief as we lose sight of the essential to go to war over the trivial.
The essentials of the gospel are really quite simple: God sent his son Jesus to die for our sins and raised him to life in order to allow everyone who would place their faith in him and ask his forgiveness for their sins to experience a restored relationship with him (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8). That’s the gospel message, and that’s what we need to believe in order to be saved. And while there are undoubtedly other issues of great importance, they should never be enough to divide us or distract us from the fact that we are called to be united in Christ (John 17:21).
So the next time you find yourself in an argument with someone over a matter of faith, consider whether or not it is essential to a right relationship with God and let that perspective guide your discussion. The ability to disagree with someone without letting that difference of opinion alter your love for that person should be a hallmark of the Christian faith. Is it for you?