Why I Cannot Reconcile Mixed Martial Arts With Christianity

violence-preventionI often have to repent of being rather contrarian. I sometimes find pleasure in being the odd man out, in thinking differently and it’s oftentimes driven by arrogance. But I’ve got something bothering me; an issue which I seem to view differently than many other Christians. And rarely has it left me so unsettled as this week when my Facebook feed was filled with photos and videos of two women beating each other up in the name of sport.

I know there are many Christians who love and even practice mixed martial arts but I simply cannot reconcile the two. In fact, I do not believe that they can be reconciled. Let me explain.

While there are many verses we might consider, I think that much of the Bible’s position might be summarized by Psalm 11:5: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” This alone should give us pause because it does not simply say that God hates violence but the one who loves violence.

And there is no escaping it: MMA is sanctioned violence. Yes, I understand the arguments about how it promotes self-discipline, perseverance and all around grit. I even understand the argument that it is safer than boxing and that it is, after all, a sport. It is not street violence and it involves highly trained professionals. But it is still violence and I just don’t see any way around that. I also realize that I am calling in to question all full-contact sports and, though I am OK with that, for today I want to reserve my comments to MMA.

I am not sure that I am a pacifist and I understand that the Bible does not outright ban all violence. In fact, the story of God’s people is filled with violence, some of it commanded by God Himself. Yet that violence always had a purpose. MMA is violence for the sake of entertainment, glory and money. This is violence without any redemptive value. Violence as entertainment should not be accepted by Christians no matter how “skilled” the participants or how great their athleticism.

After all, how does one “win” an MMA match? Two fighters enter the octagon and fight until the referee deems that one has taken enough beating, someone is knocked out or simply gives up. The fights may not be “to the death” but how is this very far removed from the days of gladiators?

What’s more is that, in the race to make MMA and Christianity to be seen as somehow compatible, many Christian fighters (the very fact that we call them fighters means that we recognize that the sport cannot be separated from violence, even if it is consensual) citing verses like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” in their victories. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul did not mean for pummeling someone into submission as part of the “all things” Christ strengthens His followers to do.

I am not a pacifist. I believe in variations of just war theory. I own guns. I understand that there may be times in life when violence is unavoidable. Police, soldiers and others may have to partake in violence because it is unavoidable. But MMA is avoidable violence. Christians must choose to participate or support MMA. They must make a conscious choice that this form of violence is compatible with their faith in the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) while Proverbs 3:31 tells us to avoid the ways of the man of violence.

Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) rather than retaliate and Jesus blessed the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Psalm 17:4 tells us that the words of God lead us away from violence, not towards it. Elsewhere, Proverbs tells us that it is the the “treacherous” who desire violence (Proverbs 13:2). Jesus tells us to live at peace with one another (Mark 9:50) Zechariah tells us that Jesus will guide His people in the “path of peace” (Luke 1:79). Paul says equates not knowing God with also not knowing the way of peace (Romans 3:17) and that God calls His people to the way of peace (1 Corinthians 7:15) while the writer to the Hebrews tells us to “strive for peace” (Hebrews 7:14). I understand that these verses are about war, murder, disunity and the like but I think their trajectory is clear: to follow Jesus means to pursue peace.

MMA, though consensual and certainly involving great skill, is simply sanctioned violence. All arguments in its defense must at some point explain how it is not violent. I see this as the central issue and I simply cannot reconcile a God who prompts me to peace with taking in violence as entertainment. In the end, it’s about trying to reconcile our cultural intake as much as possible with seeking out peace rather than violence.

I know many Christians, follow, support and participate in MMA. I would love to hear from you as long as you don’t beat me up over mine.