Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Hard Punches! To the Head! Do it for Jesus!"

Looks like mixed martial arts, a violent sport that combines kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles, has made its way into America's churches. The pastors of a variety of ministries across the country now do more than just preach the word of the Lord.

In an effort to raise the church-going rate of young men between ages 18 and 34, an estimated 700 churches have taken up mixed martial arts. This Feb. 1 article from The New York Times, my main source of information, says the youth ministry affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches, sees it as "a legitimate outreach tool."

John Renken is the pastor who founded the Xtreme Ministries church and academy; he doubles as the team's coach. Their motto? "Where feet, fists and faith collide."

As I was reading this story, I had a hard time containing both my laughter and my irritation. Especially as I read the concept behind this program is to "inject some machismo into [the] ministries." It appears many ministers feel their churches have become "too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility."

"The man should be the overall leader of the household," said Ryan Dobson, 39, a pastor whose father founded Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical group. "We’ve raised a generation of little boys."

Apparently, these men grew up going to church with their families and falling asleep in the pastel-painted pews. Why not just repaint the pews electric green?

Instead, the solution to the problem is setting up a church group that imitates the makings of Fight Club? After all, about a decade ago, mixed martial arts was banned in most U.S. states. But about five years back, it made its return with the persistent marketing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, brand. Since then, Christian mixed martial arts clothing brands have cropped up, with names like "Jesus Didn't Tap" (a reference to tapping out, or giving up, in a fight).

Here's an update: maybe Jesus didn't tap because he didn't fight.

In the article, a pastor from Seattle says that what led him "to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter."

Every other reference to Jesus I have ever heard in my 22 years of life has been of peace and love, and every other synonym to those words. "Kicking ass" has never come up in that discussion. In fact, wasn't Jesus a proponent of loving thy fellow man, not taking him on in the ring? Well, pure and true Christ, your ideas are too girly for the modern pastor.

Please don't misunderstand me: I think this is a great program if it helps bring faith into young men's lives and helps them find fulfillment. But I wonder why the ministries could not have chosen a martial art like Karate or Tae Kwon Do, which have some sort of zen aspect involved and resonate much more with "inner strength and peace."

Photo credit: Flickr

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