Recently the New York Times examined the growing practice of churches and evangelical groups creating mixed martial arts ministries.
[A particular martial arts 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.
The article continues to discuss some of the logic and justifications behind these types of offerings. Essentially, churches are seeing young men disinterested in church participation. What better way to bring in young men and communicate the gospel than by leveraging the popularity of hand-to-hand combat?
Eugene Cho is quoted the article, and he clarifies his stance extensively on his own blog. He makes a great point:
“What I have a problem is when we have Christians, churches, and pastors who now begin to blur the line in the equating of MMA [mixed martial arts] to Jesus; That we somehow speak with great conviction that Jesus would have endorsed MMA or other forms and expressions of the growing hyper machismo culture.”
His whole post is worth a read, then a re-read. But the entire discussion certainly brings up questions of just what we’re communicating.
When you feature a mixed martial arts ministry at your church, what are you communicating that you value? (Please note, a separate issue from what you actually value, which is likely the hearts of young men.) Do you communicate that you are a safe place for people to visit? Do you subtly tell young men that physical violence is acceptable? Do you focus so headily on bodily disciplines that you lose sight of spiritual values?
And by extension, are you communicating that Christ is violent and hyper-macho?
Perhaps, after examining all of these questions, you come away that what you’re communicating is only that you care for young men and want them to know the gospel. But they’re certainly questions you should be wrestling with.