July 6, 2014
The Jesus Didn't Tap brand of MMA gear is a troubling juxtaposition of the Lamb who was slain and the bloody world of MMA.
So a question popped up on the TC Facebook page that touches on something I've been wondering myself as I've been thinking about this some more. Is there a distinction for you between the violence inherent in a sport like MMA compared to, say, football - or even something like soccer and hockey? Would (is) the "Christianizing" of those sports equally troubling?
You got me thinking, Kory. If the MMA fighters want to show people Jesus, wouldn't they just stand in the ring and let people beat the snot out of them? That would be very Isaiah 53 and Acts 8:32-35 of them.
Thanks for this piece, Kory. I was going to ask the question that Josh mentioned above, and suggest at least one way to resolve it. I think it's worth distinguishing between sports whose primary aim is to injure another person (such as MMA or boxing) versus those whose primary aim is something other than personal injury (such as football, hockey, etc.). For me, that does at least some conceptual work. What do you think about that way of distinguishing things?
I think there's a story that will change the way most people look at entertainment violence forever. Dwight Harrison made a living from hitting people. He retired, spent his money somewhat foolishly, and now lives in a "little FEMA house" after a hurricane wiped out his large, pro-athlete mansion.
He took too many blows to the head and body, and Dwight lives in continual, debilitating pain, his life utterly destroyed for the enjoyment of the TV audience. In Dwight's own words "My situation ... sometimes it's bright, sometimes it's dim, and sometimes the light don't come on at all."
Dwight actually never stepped into the UFC Octagon, or pro boxing ring. He played for 10 year in the NFL.
The UFC, a martial arts contest, has now been around for 20 years, and has never had a fighter permanently injured, living with long term brain damage, paralyzed or died as a result of competition, and yet is extremely controversial, particularly among Christians.
The playing in the NFL has maimed, mentally destroyed, paralyzed and even killed players for decades, and is openly embraced by Christians of all stripes, without a hint of controversy...despite the fact that the NFL has intentionally deceived both the players and the public about the long term damage that comes with the game.
Maybe it's time we dig into the facts a little bit more before we decide what to cry out against.
(Here's some facts to dig into).
I happen to know Kory is on vacation right now. I'm sure he'll join our conversation when he returns, but until then I can say that the distinction you make, Branson, between a sport whose primary aim is to injure someone and those which have other goals is a helpful one.
Even so - and this ties in to Seth's point - I've never quite been able to reconcile the playing of violent sports with Paul's directive to "honor God with your body." (I wrote an earlier TC piece on this: <a href="http://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/concussions-and-christian-football">Concussions and Christian football</a>.) I say this as a football fan, but one who's increasingly uneasy as the NFL concussion story <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/07/07/nfl-concussion-lawsuit/12312179/">continues to develop</a>.
Branson, your comparison of hockey and boxing reminds me of the old story about the person who went to see a fight and a hockey game broke out.
Seth, your point is well taken. I've raised the precise issue you mention when we discuss this topic in my worldview classes.
But what precisely is it that would make the NFL immoral? That one suffers potentially severe bodily injury because of one's profession? If that's the case, then police officers, firefighters, military service people, and those who operate heavy machinery or any job that's hazardous would, by definition, be immoral. Or is it just that we didn't KNOW that the NFL was so dangerous, whereas we did know those other jobs are hazardous?
Or is it the purpose of the job? If that's the case, maybe public servants (firefighters,etc.) would be justified in maintaining a hazardous job. But how exactly do we distinguish whether the purpose is good or not?
Or what about jobs that produce different kinds of wear and tear via stress and psychological pressure? For example, a CEO might maintain a constant, on-the-go way of life that, in the end, cuts 5-10 years off their life expectancy. Is that moral or immoral? It might be hard to measure in individual cases, but we clearly know that stress has a detrimental physical and psychological effect.
I'd be interested to hear how others might tease out these distinctions, which I think are necessary and worthwhile. This kind of conversation can help us discern a proper theology of vocation beyond the realm of sports, in my opinion.
Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and to Josh for explaining my silence so far.
I only have time for a brief response but hope to respond more fully later.
I'm glad to see some of these other conversations come into play here. I am a huge fan of college football (go Gators!) and so I too am disturbed by the ongoing revelations regarding concussions. In the years since you wrote the aforementioned piece, Josh, even more research has come out that should trouble us more. Yet I still cheer for my Gators each fall and await eagerly the day I'm able to go to a game again (sorry - I'm actually in Gainesville right now for PhD work and so I'm feeling especially nostalgic for game day).
I do think that the distinction you bring up, Branson, is helpful and one that I would employ as well. What is the end goal? Avoiding (American) football for now, I suppose that this is the distinction I would make between, say, soccer and MMA. Football is (perhaps) a bit more of a gray area. The end goal is not necessarily to cause violence to someone else but rather to stop the movement of the ball. I have seen some interesting analyses that I unfortunately can't find at the moment that suggest that perhaps football would be safer if we actually removed the pads and helmets - that the presence of them encourages harder hits. I guess this is how I, as a football and not an MMA fan, get myself off the hook - the violence in football is fixable and (perhaps) justifiable; the violence in MMA is inherent to the sport.
I realize that I may simply be engaging in self-justification. Feel free to call me out on it :)
Here's the other piece that I think needs to be mentioned. I think there can be some room for Christian freedom of conscience here. Am I becoming a more violent person by engaging in _____ (insert sport here)? Is my choice of vocation (including professional athlete) leading me more and more into Christlike behavior? That question, I would posit, is harder to answer affirmatively in some sports than others. At the very least, as I say in the last sentence of the post, maybe we can at least not have Jesus as our sponsor.
You never played football, if you actually think the goal is to stop the ball and not hurt the other person. I was a linebacker and fullback. My goal every time whether running with the ball or tackling was to hit that guy as hard as I could, either by plowing over him or bringing him to a stop. I also was a Golden Gloves champion. The same thing I wanted to knock the other guy out to win. I didn't want to kill the guy or even put him in the hospital. I wanted to win the gameand that's what these contact sports are games. Its how its played. You are looking to hurt the other person but not because they did you wrong but because that's the name of the game. Boxing and wrestling were around in Jesus' time. He never spoke out against it. Even gladiators, which was a sport at the time and wasn't just slaves but freemen that fought, he didn't speak out against. Turning the other cheek, he was obviously talking about altercations with other people in personal matters. In my opinion, if your going to shun contact sports than you might as well shun soilders for killing in wars.
In my understanding, nothing can be comparable nor equate to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, our true Creator, Lord, Saviour and first Love. The act, context and prophetic depth of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ shares no ground with the acts, contexts and depths of the meandering ways of this world. Yes; the 'world' of MMA is bloody and violent. It should be noted however that there are those who pursued it as a career with self-seeking ambition, desire and intention; and then there are those who just wound up in MMA by circumstance and were able to prevail in it successfully. I think all the ways of this world are steeped in corruption in one way or another, be it directly or indirectly attached. It brings to mind the whole concept of, "faith and works", yet most people fail to understand what 'works' refers to. I will just say that they are not the physical/intellectual labors we do for monetary gain for the sake of making a living, which would include a career in MMA I suppose. However, any career or worldly goal could be a problem if they are derived from obsessive ambition, self-glorification and worldly gain. Are we railroading God/Jesus into our life, in such a way that we are in actuality subjecting God to our will, or are we railroading our selves into God's way, denying/dying to ourselves, forsaking our self-seeking desires to heap for ourselves Spiritual treasures. Anyway, that being said, I think the idea of the phrase, "Jesus didn't tap," is not purposed for being evangelical, nor to be a stand-out representation of someone being called to know and follow Jesus. It is rather focusing on the strength of enduring through and resisting oppressing physical forces, extreme pain and sustaining one's self mentally through 'the fight'. In terms of mind and body / soul and Spirit, Jesus in a sense did not tap out of the responsibility He took unto Himself, that being drinking the cup of the wrath of God in our place, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42), thus saving us from the condemnation and judgement we surely deserved which would have necessitated us to suffer that wrath eternally. In conclusion, it is just a thematic concept that is being used in a totally different concept for the sake of being inspired by Jesus' overcoming. I feel it would best be suited for someone who didn't really have a choice to choose their career, who just found themselves having to fight to make a living by sheer circumstance and happens to also be a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus didn't tell Peter to lose the sword either. And I think it's just your opinion that sparring is against God's will. Just like guns, everything's a double edged sword. Nobody is beating each other out of hatred and if they are they shouldn't have learned martial arts in the first place.
My solution: Baseball. The game of grace! As a lifelong baseball fan, the game has seen me through a lot of life's graceless moments. Baseball gives you chance after chance to get it right. Strike Three? No problem, there's always another inning, another chance. Stuck in one of life's tied games. Not to worry. The game can go on for however long it takes. And where else can you be a champion with success in 3 out of 10 attempts?
Oh sure, you can get hit by a pitch or twist an ankle sliding home, but that is not the point of the game. Besides, remembering an old Sunday School joke -- the Bible opens by saying, "in the big inning" God created..." And that's why baseball is my game!
This is an interesting discussion. I have taken martial arts since high school and have fought in multiple tournaments, nothing as extreme as the current UFC phenomenon, but ones that were still full contact and included grappling. I got into martial arts because I was not very athletically inclined in high school, only being 100 lbs soak and wet, and so I gravitated towards more individual sports such as BMX and martial arts. It was a great way for me to be able to get out of the house and compete, and I became stronger mentally and physically. I am now a Chaplain in the Navy, and I have participated in the Marine Corps martial arts program, and is a great way for me to connect with my Marines. MMA draws a wide variety of spectators, many of whom are not Christians, so if a fighter can reach those people with the gospel, I say that is being a good steward of the platform that God has given you. As for the argument of MMA encourages violence, I have been in two fights since I began martial arts, and both were self-defense from attending a very rough high school. Most martial arts students avoid violence at all costs because it should only be used as a last resort. Drawing the analogy to Christ was a stretch at best, but He did use violence when He overturned money tables and chased the vendors out of the temple whipping them with leather cords. He also told His disciples to buy a sword, meaning for self-defense. So the argument of standing and letting somebody beat on you without fighting back is without merit, unless it is persecution for your faith. That's what Jesus was talking about when He said to turn the other cheek. I believe MMA is one of those gray areas that the Bible is silent on and must be weighed within the bounds of personal conviction, and to twist Scripture to for your narrative is irresponsible and dangerous.
No one has brought up the medieval institution of knighthood and the chivalric code and all the jousting and questing associated therewith. This was in Christian Europe. If one looks up the history (and as with all histories these days, there are differing versions) it was a very martial lifestyle but also accompanied in Christian Europe with a expected Christian piety. That was part of the ideal. Perhaps knighthood and the chivalric code developed, in part, to manage aggressive male natures (or any aggressive natures, for that matter), i.e., to redirect some of the natural satisfaction in meeting and overcoming challenges, including physical challenge, in a more constructive and edifying way for societies. I think sports such as football, boxing, wrestling, ultimate fighting and all martial arts are somehow ways that the same impulse which gave rise to knights manifests itself today. Humans have always had such things (witness the ancient Olympics and the passages in the Iliad and Odyssey referring to martial games played during feasts and celebrations). As to Jesus attitude, the Jesus in the gospels was not merely pacifist as many seem to think. And when He returns He will wage war against evil and evildoers. I don't think we should confuse His mission and message while here with a strict condemnation or prohibition on everything and anything martial, particularly when He did not decry soldiers and John the Baptist did not tell soldiers wishing to repent and be baptized to quit the military. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien seem to realize there is something in the heroic ideal of a warrior that appeals naturally to men and the meaning of which, perhaps, needs to be rediscovered in Christ and cultivated as part of the Christian character men are meant to develop in Him.
Josh, thank you for the thought provoking piece. I must say I very much agree with Brian. I have been a wrestler and martial artist for 40 years. When I was saved at 33 yrs old God and I "wrestled" with the fact that, at that time, I wanted to use my skills to lash out at the World that had "kicked sand in my face". He changed my heart, however I never felt the need to stop practicing or stop competing. I did stop looking for a fight, and even stuck a bumper sticker on my car that spoke from my heart. It had a cross and a black belt on it and said "fight like a real man, get on your knees and pray!" A while back John Eldridge put forth a wonderful book entitled "Wild at Heart", and it is all about the warrior spirit that God put in men. When Jesus talks about lusting after a woman and thereby committing adultery in our heart, I think He makes the point that it is what is in our heart that really matters the most. I've seen tennis players with awful attitudes, and MMA fighters with hearts of gold. I've also known surfers with a ministry that touches people that only they could reach. Perhaps I too am justifying my own bias, but I have reflected on this for some 20 years now and I truly believe that, no matter what the subject, it is what is in our hearts and our focus on the leading of the Holy Spirit that is ultimately important. Peace and love to you all.
James E gets it!!! :)
I love mixed martial arts! It's a voluntary sport. No one is forced to watch it or participate. The disciplined life it takes to be a top contender should teach us all a lesson. The love the athletes have for their sport is remarkable and I believe would put many of us to shame in comparison to our love for the church.
"Given the opportunity for violent retaliation, Jesus resolutely continued in His non-violent submission to God’s will, even telling His disciples to put their swords away."
Jesus may have preferred non-violence, but I believe you are misrepresenting Him. For example:
"He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'"
Go. Buy. A. Sword.
Further, if Jesus is in fact the Second Person of the Trinity, then He is also reflected in the actions of God in the OT. Non-violence is not well represented in the OT scriptures; and God is not a man, that He should change.
Finally, remember this:
When you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”, making a whip of cords, overturning all the tables of the moneychangers, and whipping the merchants out of the Temple is WITHIN THE SCOPE of possibilities.
Jesus was no pacifist; but He always took the RIGHT action, sometimes violent.
One thing we appear to be missing here -- or maybe I didn't read far enough in -- is that we are not playing or fighting just for ourselves. We are members of teams and/or companies who hire us or sponsor us or both. And we run out onto the field or climb into the ring not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others who have hired us, trained us, and who will earn money from our appearance.
And let's not forget the audience. We are entertainers. Rather than singing, dancing or juggling, we act out controlled battle situations which the fans vicariously enter into (and occasionally act out, in the case of British football hooliganism.)
So whether we enter a ring or a playing field to engage in various forms of contrived battle is morally okay or not is only part of the issue. The other issues revolve around who is watching and why, and who is paying and why.
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