I’ve mentioned churches using fights to generate interest in their ministries a time or two but it’s never occurred to me to wonder why they’d be going that route in the first place.
A theory is presented by a pastor at lacanadaonline but other pastors, a Rabbi and an atheist offer up eight pages worth of thoughts on this topic besides. I’ll sample from some, including the one that generated my post’s title.
A growing number of evangelical churches are embracing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a way of attracting and converting young men. Pastors of these churches say that they’re using MMA not only to toughen up the message of Christ, but also to combat their fear that churches have become too feminized, with too much emphasis on kindness and compassion and not enough on responsibility and strength.
Some of the churches not only hold gatherings to watch televised MMA fights and give lectures using the bouts to explain Christ’s battle for his beliefs, they also host fight nights between members of their congregations and claim the mix of faith and fighting is intended to promote Christian values. Brandon Beals, the lead pastor of Canyon Creek Church near Seattle, said, “Compassion and love – we agree with all that stuff, too. But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.” FightPastor.com offers Warrior Camps to “to prepare mature Christians to lead fearless, courageous, and bold lives,” and lists one of its aims as “we want to make Jesus look good.”
Rev. Jeri Linn wrote that, but assures readers that at her own church she promotes something else:
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual message that is best taught through spiritual principles, such as inner peace, being poised and balanced and being one with divine wisdom and love.
Sounds essentially Buddhist.
Pastor Jon Barta wonders if encouraging bouts like these encourages hostility outside the ring in any way but isn’t against the idea as a whole. A lot of churches add sports to their list of activities and there’s always a risk of people holding grudges beyond the games themselves.
Rev. Amy Pringle seems to think they should be allowed their little beat-ups because women are taking their jobs in the church thus reducing their power and influence. She concedes it’s probably unnecessary to lure the men in by saying “Jesus was way cool, he’d totally do this!” or try to link his teachings to these meets. Just go beat each other up, boys, and leave the ladies to talk about what’s important.
Rabbi Simcha Backman weighs in with his thoughts on the idea.
These fighting shows represent human nature at its most savage. Pitting two highly-trained human beings against each other and watching them inflict physical harm brings to mind gladiators and the dreadful, sub-human sport they practiced in the Roman arena. This is no way to bring people closer to God.
Linking faith to fighting is no way to encourage people to get more spiritual, he concludes. I think it depends on how you do it and why you choose it.
Rev. Paige Eaves notes that the Salvation Army has a long history of luring men and boys in with boxing rings. Learning a new skill like that requires patience and discipline — not bad lessons to learn in the grand shape of things. She polled some of her congregants about this and they decided that Jesus’ excellence had more to do with how he led, and what he taught others.
He demonstrated inner strength and courage by never giving into corrupt authority and always standing up for truth — even when that led to death. That’s tough enough for us.
Rev. Skip Lindeman thinks a new definition of “tough” needs to be made. Being able to give or take a beating is one way to show you’re tough; so should be the courage to avoid one.
Read again the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, and pay special attention to verses 39-42. Here is the “turn the other cheek” suggestion by Jesus, plus the idea of giving up not only one’s coat but one’s cloak as well. Jesus is also quoted there, saying to give to everyone who begs from you, and we’re told not to refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. These are the Master’s Martial Arts, and they are more concerned with giving than with striking.
Now I’ll weigh in. I see it as a gimmick. It’s a trendy interest right now, frequently on television and people pay a lot of money to attend the fights themselves. It’s not surprising to see churches want to cash in (as it were) on that popularity. It’s akin to stealing well-known logos from businesses and refashioning them to promote religious business. It’s eye catching and keeping them in the minds of those who might never think about church or god at all. Same goes for those who invite tattoo artists. Choirs don’t interest everyone. Flea markets don’t interest everyone. Sermons sure don’t interest everyone. Anything can and will be used in the fight against apathy and if these fight club things really work to defeat that, they’ll continue to support them.