Christian leaders question MMA as a means to spread the gospel
Christian leaders are raising questions as to whether it is right to use mixed martial arts as means to spread the gospel.
Adam Groza, a vice president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California, has strong feelings about the bloody sport, calling it “violence porn” in his column for the Baptist Press, according to The Christian Post.
Groza wrote in his column, “[V]iolence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence’s sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment,” The Christian Post reported.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, however, wrote in his blog that MMA can be a vehicle to spread the gospel. He wrote, “[Some] churches are making a self-conscious effort to reach young men and boys with some kind of proof that Christianity is not a feminized and testosterone-free faith that appeals only to women.”
MMA is the first competitive fighting sport to combine a wide range of fighting styles including kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, jiujitsu, karate, taekwando and others. It was banned in the U.S. a decade ago, but in the last five years gained mainstream status and is regulated and legal in 42 states, The New York Times said.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is according to The New York Times the premier brand of MMA. It draws millions of viewers, and in 2009 the UFC was the top-earning pay-per-view event, The New York Times said.
A number of Christians are MMA professionals such as Diego Sanchez, Rich Franklin and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. The New York Times estimated some 700 white evangelical churches in the U.S. have an MMA ministry.
The purpose is to draw men from the ages of 18 to 34 to church. Groups include Anointed Martial Arts in Temecula, Calif., which combines the gospel with martial arts through its program, ChristJitsu, The Christian Post said.
Gary Kruger, an instructor, told The Christian Post, “[W]e will expose the men to the physical techniques found in MMA, but more importantly use this teaching time as a way to expose the men to the reality that as Christians we are in a spiritual fight and called to fight the good fight of faith.”
Another group is Victory Christian Fellowship in State College, Penn., which includes MMA as part of its outreach. Dave Hatfield, an organizer of the group told The Christian post, “We use our MMA outreaches to tap into guys’ natural desire to conquer and compete and point them to their Creator and the fact He has plans for them to become not only beloved sons, but also warriors for Him.”
Many who are not familiar with MMA are dismayed by the sport’s violence and the blood that is sometimes shed. However, advocates of MMA say that performing the sport involves a lifestyle of discipline required of every athlete.
The Christian Post refers to Todd Thomsen, who commented in an article about the topic published in Baptist Press Sports, “The MMA competitors usually congratulate and thank each other at the end of a match. Some of them are the best of friends outside the ring while they fight each other in the ring.”
James-Michael Smith, a bible teacher who trains in MMA and hopes someday to compete professionally wrote in The Examiner, “[T]the presentation of Jesus as a fighter, and Christianity as rough and tough, is simply not in line with the Gospel message.”
Smith noted that Jesus “fought” by turning the other cheek, especially during his crucifixion. “To deny or distance oneself from this reality of the Gospel–even though done with a desire to reach people with the message of Christ–is basically creating a Jesus in one’s own image…in this case, the image of a cage-fighter,” he wrote in The Examiner.
Still, Smith says that MMA is a sport that Christians can engage in. He writes, “There’s no need to re-image Jesus as a fighter in order to appeal to the MMA lover…just as there is no need to re-image Jesus as a football player in order to appeal to the Superbowl lover! Jesus is Jesus.”
It is the message of Jesus, in the end, that will have a lasting change in people’s lives, “even the most battle-hardened fighter’s heart,” Smith wrote in the Examiner.