The following is a guest post from Ashley Baxstrom. It previously appeared on The Revealer and is reprinted here with permission.
The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is, you talk about Jesus at Fight Club.
No, Brad Pitt didn’t change the script. Welcome to Fight Church, the upcoming documentary about young Christian mixed martial arts fighters.
That description cuts two ways. First, these are people who are Christian and who are doing mixed martial arts. Secondly, these are people who are doing mixed martial arts in a Christian way.
What does that mean? According to the film’s Kickstarter fundraising page, the documentary “follows several pastors and fighters in a quest to reconcile their faith with a sport that some consider violent and barbaric,” or in the words of one participant, “Can you love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?” It’s an exploration of the increasing presence of MMA in evangelical Christian communities and the tension that arises.
Gawker and Huffington Post take the easy cheap shots at the film and its subjects because, well, it’s easy. I mean with quotes in the trailer like “The hope is that through the fight I can create a relationship with the person I’m fighting and extend Christ to him,” and a prayerful “hope that there’s no damage” after a fighter takes a shot to the crotch (“in Jesus’ name, amen.”) C’mon, that’s ridiculous! Amiright?
But once again, what’s happening here is a quick and uninteresting gloss-over of what could be a dynamic site for the exploration of religious life. To hear these men (because the documentary appears to be just about men) preach about finding strength (of a sort) in God and the Bible, and to see them help kids look for strength (of another kind) in the ring is to capture a tangible moment or style of the process of being Christian.
“It’s a battle out there, and the enemy is trying to seek and destroy us,” one man says. For these men, Christian MMA is a means to understand and combat that enemy, a way to make meaning for themselves and project that meaning into the world around them.
Fight Church is about an embodied expression and progression of faith, in both individual and communal forms. A crying boy is told that losing a fight – or “getting beat up a little bit” – could be one of the best experiences he ever has. The film’s Facebook page reaches out to potential viewers as well as potential subjects, asking questions like “Are you a Christian MMA fighter, but your pastor or parents in ministry disapprove of what you are doing? We’d love to hear your story!” The film isn’t expected to come out for a year or so, but it’s already been featured on the Sundance Institute‘s website.
The filmmakers recognize that something real is happening in these cages; we would all do well to take lived religion – whether familiar or new in form – seriously as well.