What Sports Would Jesus Watch?
In one of my seminary classes dealing with gender issues and Christian faith, we read Chuck Palahniuk’s remarkable Fight Club. Interestingly, this was the one male-oriented book we read for the class (like most gender classes, “gender” really means “women”). I recall the women in the class, including the professor, being horrified at the popularity of the story and the movie. Many questioned how people could be attracted to such naked violence. There was poo-pooing all around until I brought up the fact that many people in the room like violence in a form that most of us consider innoccuos: sports. The point was valid; even ardent pacifists that I know enjoy inherently violent sports like hockey, football, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as “SAW,” where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence’s sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, “the city is full of violence.” Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?
I think the comparison of SAW is ignorant and egregious. I can’t stand the SAW franchise, but that is a matter of taste more than morality. Futhermore, what Groza calls “violence for violence’s sake” I would simply call honest violence. Much of the attraction of our favorite sports stems from the violent aspects: fights in hockey and wrecks in NASCAR come to mind. UFC fighter (and compelling wordsmith) Chael Sonnen makes this point about football:
The UFC is the only thing that has violence that isn’t fraudulent. Football…they put up these end zones, but you take the end zones out people will still come. You take the tackling out, and it’s gonna be a ghost town in those stadiums. UFC will tell you what you’re going to get – straight ahead – and you can buy a ticket if you like the ride.
Groza goes on to say that the UFC exploits women because of the ring girls. I suppose he’s never seen cheerleaders at any other sporting events? Another glaring omission is any mention of boxing. Anything true about the violence of MMA – if you know the sport – is even more true of “the sweet science.” And yet, for numerous reasons, people who are horrified by MMA still see boxing as a gentleman’s game. Such views only showcase a lack of exposure to the emerging sport.
I think Groza has a point when he shares some of the more disturbing examples of churches using MMA to market evangelize. While some churches host sporting events like Super Bowls and some will have basketball leagues and even karate classes, as a pastor I would not be comfortable making a UFC pay-per-view a churchwide event. However, I think there are many things an individual Christian can do that a church ought not sponsor (like watch reality TV, for instance).
This is another example of a severe bias against MMA in the larger culture, and more evidence that the sport has yet to arrive. From an ecclesial perspective, it is true that Christians should always hold a critical eye to their society; that much in Groza’s piece is useful. But if MMA is untouchable because of its violence, so are many other of America’s favorite pastimes. In other words, if one argues that MMA is anathema for the church, then we can only say that a larger blindspot has been uncovered.