Church Fight Clubs: Good or Bad Idea?

The New York Times just published an article entitled “Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries” that bears looking into.  It profiles evangelical “fight clubs” and quotes a number of pastors and young men who participate in them.

Here are some key quotations:

Mr. Renken’s ministry is one of a small but growing number of evangelical churches that have embraced mixed martial arts — a sport with a reputation for violence and blood that combines kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles — to reach and convert young men, whose church attendance has been persistently low. Mixed martial arts events have drawn millions of television viewers, and one was the top pay-per-view event in 2009.

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.

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 whole article is interesting.

If you have ever read this little blog, you will know that I am passionate about countering the anti-masculine spirit so common in our culture. However, speaking personally, I don’t see these fight clubs as a positive development for evangelicals.  I’m not against testosterone, sports, and manliness by any stretch.  We need far more practitioners of biblical manhood, which includes agency, dominion, and godly ambition.

But this sort of thing is not, in my humble opinion, what the Bible calls for from men.  Yes, Jesus cleansed the temple, and yes, I think that’s pretty cool (see Mark 11:15-19).  But that is a far cry from senseless, needless violence that has an excellent chance of causing permanent physical damage.

I’m not advocating for weak-kneed Christianity where every man wears plaid Dockers,  refuses to kill flies due to insect rights, and stays indoors when it gets hot.  Good grief.  But I do think that those of us who have a desire to reach men (and women) with the gospel and see them live to the glory of God in their role need to be very careful that we don’t adopt a trend just because it promotes some form of masculinity.

In my opinion, evangelicals are too quick to embrace violence, and too slow to think about it on a deep level.  In addition, many of us “cultural engagers” fall into the trap of redeeming every cultural trend in the name of Christ.  Many things, I think, are worth redeeming.  But many are not.

(Image: Fred Conrad/NYT)

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  • I find it silly and to have very little theological grounding. The male evangelical preoccupation with physical fighting is disconcerting. Could this be the product of a hypermasculine hermeneutic?

    Oh, it’s also why I hesitated in calling my booklet on discipleship–Fight Clubs.

  • I like MMA. Not as a pragmatic “outreach strategy” but because I think there is a place for combat oriented sports in culture. As a former collegiate wrestler, I also enjoy watching the competition. Yes, their is a base side to the MMA scene, but there also is in politics, music, film etc. etc. I do not find it irredeemable and Owen’s writing once before provoked me to write an apologetic for MMA.

    Owen, I pray you are well man – any idea of where God has you heading in the next couple of years? Princeton? You can wear sweater vests and hate MMA there – for the glory of God. Love to hear how you are doing.