Grace in a Cage: MMA + Jesus = ?

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Welcome to Grace in a Cage – the series asking:

Is the world of mixed martial arts compatible with living for Christ?

It is a question I have asked myself for a while. Last year I read Liam Thatcher’s excellent post Who would Jesus punch?, a response to American pastor Mark Driscoll’s A Christian evaluation of mixed martial arts. Give them both a read if you have time. This is from Liam’s post;

[Driscoll] argues that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA, otherwise known as Ultimate Fighting or Cagefighting) is a misunderstood sport. It’s actually far safer than one might imagine, and it’s redeemable. Christians whose conscience allows them should feel free to watch it and participate in it. In a sense, I don’t have a problem with some of his conclusions, since although I don’t personally think MMA is a particularly edifying sport for a Christian to watch, I too think it’s a matter of conscience.

Liam goes on to question the legitimacy of some of the arguments Driscoll uses in his defence of MMA. I feel that Liam is right in most of his concerns. Some of Driscoll’s points are slightly unsound, and he focuses on secondary issues as if they are primary ones. This includes quoting statistics to show that MMA is not as dangerous as we all think (safer than cheerleading, apparently) therefore let’s give it the A ok.

Pretending for a moment that this is how we assess sports, let’s play spot the difference. These two athletes have both had a successful night in their respective fields.

I meander somewhat. The point is, the question is already out there and being addressed by people much more bible-literate and in Driscoll’s case (no offence Liam) capable of throwing a harder punch than myself. But I want to explore the subject for myself, and not just say “yeah, what he said” to whatever convincing point I happened to read last.

This series will work through the elements of MMA that are potentially at odds with how Jesus calls us to live. We will try to grasp what is at the heart of MMA. We will look at how scripture can guide us, and see some Christians involved in today’s MMA world. We will take into account the behaviour and demeanour of those who fight in MMA, as well as those who watch it. I will probably draw on my own limited experience of training mixed martial arts as well.

While my opinions and experiences will undoubtedly shape my writing, I do not have a preconceived conclusion for the series. Maybe there won’t be one. I write as a 25 year old who loves Jesus, and loves MMA, in that order. And that order is important. If I became convinced that watching or partaking in MMA is not honouring to Jesus, I would drop it. And you know what? It wouldn’t be too much of a biggy. Not when considered in the light of everything I’ve gained.

Is it possible to love your neighbour as you rear naked choke him into sleepy land? Can I do unto others as I would have them do to me whilst swinging a left hook at their head? Join me and let’s find out.

There are 8 comments

  1. Ty Lorts

    I have heard this discussion quite a bit. I think it’s a matter of the individual’s motivation when fighting. I consider it a skill to be acquired and practiced and in some cases a competition. I train at the gym Benson Henderson trains at and owns. He makes no secret of his faith. The guys that I think get it right are the ones who look at it as a competition and enjoy the “chess match” aspect of it. It’s a very dangerous chess match, but still a chess match.

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    1. Jason

      Thanks Ty, that is probably my thinking at the moment too, but I want to explore it further. Training at Benson’s gym is a great opportunity! I’m going to mention him in future posts – if he wants to do an interview you know where to send him :-)

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  2. ZZ

    Accepting Christ requires a radical re-thinking of every aspect of one’s involvement in society. Detriech Bonhoeffer and Francis of Assisi both thought this included a total renunciation of violence per Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek in the Olivet discourse. I may wax philisophical about whether this is an art form or a skill to be mastered, but the fact is that the vast majority of people who participate and watch this stuff just wanna see blood. To think that I am totally immune to that base emotion is unrealistic in the same way that viewing nude paintings merely for their composition and lighting is unrealistic. Better to steer clear.

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    1. Jason

      Hi ZZ, thanks for your comment. I think you’re right, radical rethinking is fundamental to living for Christ. I see Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek as a warning against revenge, and an endorsement for acting gracefully when wronged. This obviously has impact on how we conduct ourselves in any sport, but I don’t think it is the same thing. Good call on not assuming we are immune to the most base emotions though. I think that is something that bears looking at. And you’ve reminded me to do the next one of these instead of shirking it!
      All the best.

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  3. Joey

    I read both articles quite a while back, and realised that neither of them had addressed much more relevant points, such as culture and cultural influence. Personally, I think it’s much harder to justify football as it is played today than MMA, but to an English person, that sounds crazy. It is hard to look at your own culture and see its flaws, much easier to look at someone else’s.

    Check out Vitor Belfort’s comments concerning his faith and his vision of the sport.

    Nice blog by the way!

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    1. Jason

      Thanks Joey. Culture will always come into these things won’t it. I guess you sometimes get people defending something because ‘it’s our culture’, when it has no biblical backing, but yeah it’s interesting to think about comparisons with widely accepted sports. Thanks for the Vitor tip – the next post in the series will look at Christian involvement at top level MMA, so he will feature.

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