A small but growing number of evangelical churches are using cage fighting programs to increase their odds of converting young men, reports the New York Times. Pastors say they hope to "inject" some irresistible "machismo" into their ministries by incorporating the bloody, but increasingly popular, sport of mixed martial arts: "What led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter," Brandon Beals, 37, lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle, told the Times. Is brawling consistent with Christianity? (See Diego Sanchez, a devout Christian cage-fighter, compete)
Christ would not approve: I must have missed the Beatitude that goes "Blessed are the face beaters, for they shall inherit all the publicity," says Betsy Phillips in Nashville Scene. Instead of trying to "trick men into coming back to church" by suggesting Jesus wants them to "beat the crap out of [their] friends," why not just refocus the church around a fiestier Viking diety: "Odinist fight clubs," anyone?
"Because nothing says 'follower of the Prince of Peace' like punching a dude in the face"
Wouldn't approve? Jesus was a rough-and-tumble guy: People tend to forget that Jesus hung out with "prostitutes, drunkards, and tax collectors," says Edmund Chua in The Christian Post. The Apostle Paul saw this, and advocated using "contemporary pop culture" to bring people to Christ. "Holiness is not a matter of table manners," and Christians shouldn't hide in church.
"Most Christians Stuck in Church: Kong Hee"
Men need to know there's a place for them in church: It's easy to laugh at pastors who use a brutal sport "to sell Christianity," says Rod Dreher in BeliefNet. But many young men truly feel that "church has become effete, something for women." The pastors' method may be "bizarre," but they are onto something — men need to know they can embrace religion without rejecting their masculinity.
"MMA and the Fight Club for Jesus"
This is a trend? Prove it: Is there more to this "trend" than some "young men at a few parishes who [pummel] one another in the name of Christ"? asks Jack Shafer in Slate. Who knows? The Times lists just "three palooka ministries," and offers nothing beyond anecdotal evidence that this "Fight-Club-For-Jesus crowd" is growing.
"Bogus trend stories of the month"
Christianity and cage fighting go way back: Evangelicals may be embracing cage fighting in greater numbers, but this isn't a new "trend," says Sergio Nan in USA Today. As soon as mixed martial arts migrated from Brazil and Japan to the Midwest, many of the best fighters went out of their way to "describe themselves as devout Christians."
"'Times' highlights growing Christian interest in mixed martial arts"