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Mixed Martial Arts for Jesus

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According to the New York Times, a growing number of evangelical churches are embracing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) -- a sport with a reputation for violence, blood and “no holds barred” caged fighting -- to reach young men and convert them to Christ. According to one pastor, the goal "is to inject some machismo into their ministries and into the image of Jesus in the hope of making Christianity more appealing." The article explained that the outreach "is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility."

Critics argue that MMA ministries take away from the Gospel, which should be the real focus of the church.

I have nothing against those churches and the MMA; in fact, I like watching it on TV and I even adopted "The Hanger" as my fantasy MMA name. But I wrestle with the idea of evangelizing for Christ in a violent environment were prayerful words are rarely spoken and players are cheered not for their healthy brotherly interaction but for their vicious and often gory combat. What kind of message does it really communicate to non-Christian men? If the emasculation of the church and the lack of men in Sunday services drives this trend, adding more men in church attendance is not the sustainable solution. Because the true ultimate fighter, Jesus Christ, defeated death on the cross to win hearts, not raise testosterone levels.

Mixing MMA fighting with Christianity: good idea or bad idea?

(Image courtesy of ESPN)

Comments:

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Glenn, "As I understand it, the sport with the highest percentage of serious injuries is professional soccer, not MMA." Glenn, Glenn, Glenn... what you meant to say was "the sport with the highest percentage of players who *believe* they are seriously injured and/or dying is professional soccer". (That's a joke). But your comment "If it's OK to watch, it's got to be OK to do" is interesting. I think I agree (if "it's Ok to watch" means "we could put ourselves in the role of those we're watching". There are times when watching requires critiquing something/analysis without the goal of emulation. (But then, it's probably a 'necessary evil' to watch in that case). ..//.. jerryh, I do think we can get distracted from pursuing Christ-likeness. Thanks for the nudge. I think we tend to argue things that are not 'given'. Pursuing Christ-likeness should be a given (and 'unarguable' for Christians, but of course, arguing what that means/how to get there... not simple). ..//.. LQ, always beneficial to read your edification. I could probably always just write: "ditto what LQ said". ..//.. andrew, I've been punched in the nose. I now look back at them as mostly good stories. And that's because they end well: i.e. reconciliation. I'm pretty certain that the anger I experienced, though, was rooted in hate and not love. Anyone can be punched in the nose. Forgiveness and reconciliation takes a lot more. But of course, a more controlled environment (like MMA) is slightly different (expectation, agreement) than just being able to say one's been punched in the nose. ..//.. How to summarize? Entertainment, sportsmanship, following Christ. I think these are some of our major themes in this conversation. I know that people are different and many things can come under the lordship of Christ. For me, MMA is something I avoid (both watching and participation) because of other priorities. Question: What is the defining raison d'etre of MMA?
Let me apologize if I went a little off topic with my first comment. Also let me apologize beforehand if I go the wrong way in this comment. My original comment mentioned a presentation I had attended. Most of what I was thinking was influenced by this article from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/february/3.20.html. First I want Lee to know that in the article above the author sees a difference between sports which do not involve violence and those that do. So Eric Liddell is completely fine in what he says about running. But I still feel there is something wrong with a linebacker (or a MMA fighter) saying “When I smash a guy’s face I feel His pleasure.” // In another vein I found it interesting that everyone who commented on what I said below, but for the most part, zeroed in on the statement the presenter said and not the part about the being Christ-like. I’m not sure why this is. Somehow I think the church needs to regain the full meaning of Christ’s instruction to “pick up your cross” and let that affect every part of our lives. When Christians do this it throws out the concern for whether the church is too feminine or too masculine and makes it what it should be, a temple glorifing God by winning people with love instead of entertainment.
It will probably not surprise anyone here to learn that I've been punched in the nose, at least twice. I grew up in a rough area. I have no problem inviting MMA/UFC aficionados to my church. I *do* have a problem sanctioning/"sanctifying" contests where the goal is to beat someone senseless, and/or attract an audience through such violence. "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of..." Regarding feminization of the church, I recall an experiment my church did, showing "manly" movies to attract men. It's rather interesting to watch a 1950s WWII movie with big name stars yelling "G-- d--- it!!" in church. Sent kind of a mixed message, y'know; shoulda done a better job of screening that one. Unless, of course, your goal is to get them in the building by any means possible, although I'm told that porn does better than violence in filling seats. // "We'll return with more post-game analysis of Crusade IV from our own Jason Taylor, including an interview with "Coach" Innocent III, after these messages..." :-)
Now that's a good point, Andrew. I for one have never been punched in the nose. Yet.
I like the conversation, but it sounds like only one of you ever received a punch in the nose(definitive test of reality for the macho-minded). I'm glad there are people that understand and are willing to reach out to a people that seem so far from the main-stream church. MMA belongs in the arena, but Christ belongs in the heart of anyone who would pick up their cross and follow Him.
As I understand it, the sport with the highest percentage of serious injuries is professional soccer, not MMA. While violence is certainly part of what is going on, this is also true for boxing, which was promoted by the YMCA (IIRC) in the days when it took the "C" seriously. Not to be too obvious, but the difference with gladiators is that they actually killed people, something that hasn't happened often in MMA and when it has it was an accident, much like high school athletes who die on the field. And remember, the percentage of injuries isn't as high as you might think according to the studies I've read about the subject. So I don't have a problem with the sport per se. It's a very different question whether it or any sport can be used to promote the Gospel. If a church sponsors a basketball team for inner city youth, is that wrong? What about softball teams? If these are OK, what criteria are you using to separate them from MMA? Is it teamwork? Sportsmanship? (Have you watched many street basketball games lately? Poor sportsmanship isn't limited by sport.) Not hitting another person? (So we don't do football either.) Would boxing be OK as it was in the old days? What about wrestling? How about a combination of the two? (Oops, we're back at MMA again). Personally, I don't think any of them belong in church, but as activities outside the church, even with church sponsorship, you might be able to make a case for it. If it's OK to watch, it's got to be OK to do.
Maybe this will sound a little too vague, and I'm not sure how to avoid that because I don't have a lot of practical ideas to suggest that we implement -- but I would submit that instead of trying to make the church masculine or feminine, we should strive for a harmonious balance between the two.
I think that these churches are correct about the problem but wrong about the solution. Certainly, the Church has become feminized, but do we really need Mixed Martial Arts to remedy that? Doesn't relying on adding other programs to "inject some machismo" into church imply that Christianity is in itself effeminate (rather than this being a misunderstanding of it)? The Christian life, properly lived, should be exciting and masculine enough as we find ourselves confronting sin in our lives and risking rejection or conflict in sharing the gospel. I am a student at a university where most undergraduates are female, yet there are more men than women in our Christian fellowship. I think this is because being a Christian here is unusual enough that standing up for something few others believe is exciting and "masculine" in their eyes.
(Sorry if this is duplicated, delete one) ...//... DrT, I see my writing was unclear. I wasn't intending to say football and gladiator contests were parallels (let alone obvious ones). My intention was to point out that *excellence* in a pursuit is not admirable if the pursuit is unworthy, an extreme example to that (i.e. the excellent pursuit of something unworthy) being gladiatorial contests. In summary, I'd like to see better sportsmanship in Christians rather than better winners. I suppose smashing each others faces is acceptable in certain games. I'm just not certain some games (or sub-games) are acceptable.
It seems there are 2 issues here. 1. The feminization of the church. (Gina, I'm remembering posts about "Jesus as my boyfriend"type songs. That might be some of what DrTorch is remembering.) and 2. The use of entertainment to get people to come to church. I find this a concern since there is power in proclaiming the Gospel. In fact, that's how lives are changed. Yet in some churches we act like that isn't enough, like if we just find the right way... In this particular church we are talking of using some very violent entertainment. I think they are on some pretty shaky ground with this.
(And don't worry, SBK; I'm just making a point - as you'll see. But you have no idea just how highly I value your contributions to The Point.) Interesting that Gina's link notes how basketball came about when the YMCA added sports to its Christian offering; something to think about next time you see a hard foul under the boards. And I'm old enough to remember when trash-talking was known as "poor sportsmanship", and reflected very badly on those who engaged in it. Plus, the Winter Olympics are about to start, and I can still recall from years ago this enormous Finnish competitor in cross-country skiing - I think he was about 6'7" and 280 lbs. - bear-hugging a tiny *Norwegian* competitor who had just beaten him for the gold medal, also eclipsing his newly-set world record. Seems to me that sport should be about spurring one another on to do our best - something we could take into the corporate world, or even into the home, without concern. The vanquished should be able to applaud the victors, who should sincerely applaud in turn. Lording it over one's beaten opponent, however,... This is more than about being a good role model - it's about putting sport into its proper place in our worldview. For crying out loud, there will almost certainly be a Superbowl 45, just like there was a Superbowl 43, 42, 41, - it's not like the Saints cured cancer or something. But to look at the pregame coverage and all the post-game analysis, not to mention endzone antics, you'd think they had. And so one guy can beat another guy senseless - so what? Let him do it where it matters, like to a truly immoral enemy who would injure innocent people. Pat Tillman, God rest his soul, had the right idea.
Ha, I thought my first post didn't go through and that looks to be the case. Here's what I wrote before my 2010-02-09 15:05 comment: /////////////////// DrTorch, can you elaborate on what kind of posts you're referring to? ..//.. Jerryh, I have trouble with what that presenter said. For instance, a Christian fratboy should be ready to guzzle beer from his bong because that's what good beer-bong drinkers do. The difference is "that the Christian [fratboy] is supposed to do this using all his [drinking] ability for Christ". Which just emphasizes: is the action *right* in the first place? Let's use hockey as an example (go Canada! on the other hand, DC area people are being treated to some stunning hockey right now). Let's say a player beats the defenceman and has a clean break to the net. Let's say the defenceman trips the player to stop a good chance at a goal. Sure, he broke the rules, but was it a "good" tripping penalty? Most people I ask would say yes: it avoids the breakaway/higher percentage shot on net. Let's now say the tripped player slides into the boards and breaks his leg, or, his neck. Was it still a "good" penalty? Hey, that's what good defencemen do, they take down the man to avoid the good goal chance. Of course, sportsmanship has been slowly left by the wayside. Should something be done because everyone else is doing it? Should someone who gets by you on superior speed and skill be congratulated after a nice goal or crosschecked to the neck? I really can't stand the mindset that accepts unnecessary, nearly universally practiced, cruelties because it rewards laziness/poor skill. MMA, like most 'sports', can enhance discipline (and martial skill), but it seems counter-intuitive to how we should treat others. The strongest men know when to use their strength, and when to not use it, and how to control it. Plus, when strength is only seen as muscle, we've fallen into the extreme physicality that defines our age. Just some thoughts. ///// I'll respond to later comments in another post.
I wasn't trying to bait you, DrTorch, honest. :-) I genuinely wanted to know what you were talking about. I don't know which book you're referring to, but in any event, the blog and the main site are two different things.
Actually Lee, I would rather not get into a retrospective debate over whether the Crusades were justified. Most of those who argue that question have no real knowledge of the political or cultural outlook of the time, and are conscripting the Crusades in the service of modern disputes. They were no worse then any other war at the time and better then some. However that statement is like saying that the Corleones were more moral then some mobsters. It is true that clearly distinguishing them from the other Christiandom/Islamistan spats would be historically false. The ideal of knighthood seemed to start about then. Though arguably the aristocracy of the eighteenth century was somewhat closer to the ideal of knighthood then that of the Middle Age. At least that has been my impression. Perhaps the knowlege that musket balls do not respect geneology was helpful. The idealization of knighthood was in a way like the idealization of Samurai which only came after Japan was united under one Shogunate. Real Samurai hacked, and smashed and burned and pillaged with the best of them, and only worried about tea and calligraphy when there was no hacking and slashing left to do. Knights became knights likewise, long after they were obsolete.
SBK, humans have a tendancy to see connections and parallels between things. It's a well-known psychological phenomenon. However, differences are important too. Otherwise one can end up w/ the logical fallacy of reasoning by analogy. In any event, referring to "the obvious parallel of football is the gladiator contest" is fallacious reasoning.--Gina, you warned me about getting baned once. I'm not trying to test your patience. I will suggest that on the main site, one recent book that was reviewed was laden w/ feminism. It was one about marriage (can't recall the name or author.)
This discussion reminded me of something: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscular_Christianity
Sorry, this is 3rd post in a row (probably), but I see that Lee "The Man" Quod has made my points before me and in a superior fashion (I bow to your skill sir).
Again, I have issues with pushing excellence... in *any* chosen pursuit. Acceptance of smashing an opponent's mouth assumes the 'way football is played' is its perfect epitomy. The obvious parallel is Christian Gladiators. Should Christians have fought in the "Games", perfecting their trident kills, instead of being milquetoast martyrs?! Seriously.
I'm curious if these programs teach something besides punching/kicking like prudence, justice, temperance, etc.
It's interesting that just this morning I heard Ravi Zacharias re-tell the story of St. Telemachus, whose martyrdom helped end the gladiatorial contests in the Roman Colosseum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Telemachus Reportedly his dying words were "In the name of Christ, stop this!" in reference to the bloody spectacle. // I think some women prefer that Christian men avoid all violence because those women know the violence can be directed domestically - and that's fair. (If you marry Mike Tyson,...) But it's unrealistic to then expect those same men to defend others against attacks. The ideal is knighthood, where skill at violence is strictly governed by a moral code. A knight is free to be sensitive without concern over being emasculated. // If the presentation of the Gospel is insufficient to attract men, then the solution is to correct the presentation, not to add entertainment. Bring aboard a guest speaker like T.M. Moore (although I've no idea if he takes such engagements) to talk about how early Celtic Christians up and moved into completely barbarian environments, surrounding themselves on all sides with danger, to proclaim a message. For that matter, bring in speakers to talk about the Crusades and how they were a defensive war to stop Islamization of the entirety of Europe, and re-open safe passage for pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and how that led to the very concept of knighthood. (Jason Taylor, would you like some frequent flyer miles?) Sport is fine - listen to Eric Liddell talk to his sister in "Chariots of Fire" - but welding entertainment (even musicals or other artistic pursuits) to church engenders the risk that the audience will come only to be entertained. Then, you get those people on the church board, and they consume all the time arguing about hymns versus choruses or how loud the drums were, while outside the church walls people freeze to death in winter and starve in summer. Better to make it clear at the outset that Christianity is not about entertainment, no matter how spectacular or riveting that entertainment may be.
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