The Masked Saint— Wrestling with the Reaper

“There’s nothing in the Bible that says ‘thou shalt not wrestle’ says the wife of pastor Chris as he is struggling with whether to go back to wrestling to pay his family and church’s mounting bills. And believe it or not, this movie is based on the true story of the life of Rev. Chris Whaley, a Baptist pastor, now in Florida, but the movie only covers the period when he first became a pastor in Michigan of a down and out church in a blue collar neighborhood in ‘Rolling Springs’ Michigan. The movie is low budget and low tech. What you see is what you get. It is high on sentiment and low on unpredictability with a script rather full of cliches— like ‘God doesn’t hand down more than you can handle’. The acting is not great, but it is adequate in most cases. Diane Carroll plays a woman rather like the pious African American woman in the War Room who just happens to be a member of ‘West Side’ Baptist (though in fact the building used in the film says First Baptist right on it). Rowdy Roddy Piper plays the cut throat promoter of ‘wrasslin’ (which as I was taught from an early age is mostly fake). I actually remember Piper when he was a WWF wrestler.

There are several issues in this film that should prompt some careful Christian ethical reflection. The first of these is whether encouraging people to go watch people try to slam each other into the ground for the sake of winning a belt is a Christian thing to do. Roddy Piper in an interview on You Tube says he wants wrestling to be seen as a family friendly sport. The problem is, it isn’t real wrestling on several levels. Real wrestling does not involve jumping off of posts and landing on someone’s prone body. Real wrestling does not involve applying choke holds or sleeper holds on someone. Real wrestling can be watched in high schools or at the Olympic and is based on the Greco-Roman rules which are far more reasonable and humane than what goes on in WWF so-called wrestling, which is more about body slamming. And I have issues with the crowds that go and cheer to see someone have his limbs and face and back smashed. It’s not a Christian thing to do. Spiritual fights with the powers of darkness have nothing to do with this sort of fighting.

The second major Christian ethical issue that this movie prompts reflection about is whether Christians should take the law into their own hands or not. I’m talking about vigilante justice, and the answer is no. It may be one thing to stop a beating if one is there on the spot and no one else is around to help. It is entirely another thing to repeatedly don a mask and go after thugs and thieves. Fortunately in the movie the pastor realizes he shouldn’t have done that and confesses to his congregation that he was not being totally honest. The movie also presents Pastor Chris wrestling with pride and ego issues as well.

This is not a terrible film, and at less than two hours it comes and goes reasonably quickly. It has some redeeming value, but to an already violent culture it presents us with mixed messages about doing bodily harm to others, especially when its done in the name of sport and in order to make money. Fortunately, when Jacob wrestled with the angel and had something put out of joint, which put him out of the wrestling business, there was no Roddy Piper there to tell him he needed to do one or two more fights in order to make a profit.

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