I was horrified this morning to learn that, late last month, a church in my area hosted its second annual Mixed Martial Arts Amateur Championship inside their church building. I have since learned that this has happended before: a few times in the US, and also in Latin America.
The driving force behind holding this event, it seems, was to get more young men into the church — and from what I hear, it worked: 80% of the audience were non-church-going people. However, it does not follow that getting unchurched people together into a church is automatically a good thing. Getting them into a building will not change their spiritual life, especially if they are engaging in activites that are fundamentally antithetical to the Good News of the Gospel.
In my estimation, allowing this kind of event inside of a church is a poor example of how to do cultural theology. As an Anabaptist believer, I would say that the way of Jesus is the way of peace, love, and edification. But you don’t have to be Anabaptist to understand that violence is not a desirable pattern of beheaviour. The pastor of this church attempts to theologize his way out of this dilemma by speaking about aggression versus uncontrolled violence, and then attempts to demonstrate that this fighting actually demonstrates respect and care for the other combatant, instead of malice. In this pastor’s estimation, MMA is an example of appropriate male aggression, while tackling someone in the street and beating them is not. But just because the former is better than the later, does that mean the first is good? He then says that this sport demonstrates respect in its highest form, but how can you respect anyone when trying to injure them and/or make them bleed? Certainly these men are not out to kill one another, but they are using their bodies as weapons in order to harm the other combatant, so that they may swelled with pride at the triumph of their physical prowess. Is this the “healthy purpose” that the pastor speaks of? The way of Christ is not in domination.
Now I realize that at various times and places, certain things were frowned upon the church, only to be embraced later. For example, rock ‘n’ roll was the “Devil’s music,” and allowing it in the church would corrupt the youth, but today in many churches we think nothing of pulling out drums and a guitar. The only problem here is that there is not enough said in the Scriptures about this matter to make any kind of prohibtion normative. In fact, the Israelites used all manner of instruments to make noise unto the Lord. But what about violence? This is something the New Testament forbids in daily interactions (putting just-war theory and the Old Testament aside for the time being).
Yes, the world is a violent place, and violence in the media titlates and amuses those who watch it, but the community of Christ is called to be a society of those who give the rest of the world a glimpse into what heaven will be like by how they live on earth now. Can violence possibly be a part of this? To injure someone, whether in war or sport, does not resonate with the heart of Christ. As “the church renounces the way of violence people will see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus in the Church….If we live in obedience to Jesus’ command to renounce violence, the church will become the sphere where the future of God’s righteousness intersects–and challenges–the present tense of human existence” (Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament–Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics [New York: Harper Collins, 1996], 343-44).
I am sure that this pastor desires much good to come out of this, but the ends do not jusitifuy the means. For example, I do not think that anger over injustice is a bad thing — we should be furious over the issue of children in (sex) slavery. But it does not follow that I therefore have liscence to go out and incapacitate those who are holding these children in bondage. We are not called to be arbiter of who deserves life and death, no matter how heinous their actions. In the same way, one cannot say that aggression unleashed on the innocent puiblic is a bad thing whereas in a controlled environement it is okay. Aggression directly toward other human being is never acceptable.
To read the thoughts of the pastor regarding this, read his blog post at http://pjhburns.wordpress.com/2009/06/20/why-have-a-mma-event-in-a-church/. To be clear, the above picture was not taken at this event.