Fight Club for Christians

MMA, Jesus….It’s all beginning to make sense nowThe NY Times published an article yesterday about the use of church MMA fight clubs to reach young men.   Here’s a taste:
    “The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.

    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.”

Now the Christians are going to the Coliseum?
There is so much wrong here, I don’t know where to begin, but here are a few jabs:

Evangelism:  When Paul said he became a Greek to the Greeks, he wasn't embracing temple prostitution.  This seems a perfect portrait of the danger when salvation becomes fire insurance and numbers are a the sign of the Spirit.  At some point the actual content of the Gospel has to have meaning, too.  The pastor's comment, "compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too...but what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter,” is startling.  I guess I should be glad he agrees with all the love stuff.  To be fair, my own conversion was helped by seeing how radical Jesus was, but it was radicality based on love, aimed at injustice.  It wasn't tough for tough's sake.

BONUS POINTS: I was glad to see NY Times interviewed Eugene Cho, of Quest Church for his opinion instead of Mark Driscoll and his uber-macho ridiculousness.  Both are there in the NorthWest.  Cho is great, and cuts to the chase:
“What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,” said Eugene Cho, 39, a pastor at Quest Church, an evangelical congregation in Seattle. “I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.”
Exactly.  It must be asked if people are attracted to Jesus or gladiatorial honor.  Are they mutually compatible?

Race:  It bothers me that it is so white, and refreshing to see an Asian American pastor interviewes who so readily identifies the problem.  Minority churches on averagel are more aware of the shadow side of majority culture, facing it regularly.  Nice to see it in print.
Recruitment efforts at the churches, which are predominantly white, involve fight night television viewing parties and lecture series that use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting or participating in live events.
What does this say about white culture?  Why is it primarily a white phenomenon?  I do worry about judging it too quickly given the history of inner-city boxing clubs, mostly not white, and their contributions in getting people out of tough situations.  But they weren't churches.   I guess there is an element of barbarism in white, western culture, that the Gospel never really extinguished.  It's sad because many of the young men are down and out, needing something to fight for and believe in. Sadly, some vocational education might make further inroads to the gospel than Friday Night Beat-downs.

Gender:  Thus far there are no women fight clubs.  I don’t imagine Christian ones will sprout up:
“The man should be the overall leader of the household,” said Ryan Dobson, 39, a pastor and fan of mixed martial arts who is the son of James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical group. “We’ve raised a generation of little boys.”
I understand people might interpret scripture differently, and that's fine, but the idea that men who fight are somehow more adult is ludicrous.  -As if punching people is more mature than being able to reconcile, share power, submit, to negotiate and to empower others.  Nothing like a choke-hold to teach about confession, eh?  Frankly, the whole enterprise stinks of justifying male immaturity.  Patriarchy does that.  Cho hits the nail on the head hinting that perhaps people are not quite getting the real gospel.  What happens when they are challenged to be tender, to serve tirelessly in a thankful position with no hope of public martyrdom?   I have to question the hermeneutic when Paul's metaphors about fighting are interpreted so literally.

Athletic clubs, martial arts, and sports are all tried and true vehicles for outreach in the US.  If it leads to a deeper walk with Jesus, then who am I to judge it?  What worries me in this case is the reasoning behind it, paranoid about its own masculinity.  Is the real problem with the world that there aren't enough people who  fight or not enough people who love?  More than an incarnate Gospel, these clubs look like they are just promoting secular values while slapping Christian language on it.*  Sadly, in fighting for Jesus, they may have given Him away.
*Insert most church discussions about leadership here.


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