There’s a question asked in the trailer for Fight Church—and yes, this forthcoming documentary is a real thing, not an Onion parody—that deserves a straight answer. The question is posed by a thirtysomething man, buff and close-cropped, and delivered with a metaphorical furrowed brow: “Can you love your neighbor as yourself,” he asks, “and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?”
Good question! Luckily, there’s an easy answer:
Now, I’ll grant you, the Ten Commandments is strikingly silent on the topic of mixed martial arts, eye-gouging, testicle-crushing, and even—as the trailer depicts—pummeling a prone, defeated man with a flurry of punches to the back of the head.
Still, I feel confident in saying that Jesus wouldn’t really be up for a bit of the old ultraviolence. He was the guy, who, after all, told his followers stuff like this: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In more modern English: If somebody hits you, let them hit you again! That’s a tough enough thing to do in one’s daily life. In an MMA ring, it’s really awful strategy.
So the right approach for Christians is probably this: Don’t get in the MMA ring.
This probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that American Christians—and I’m speaking here of the conservative, evangelical souls who get the most attention from the media, and who these days comprise the Republican Party at prayer—make a habit of turning Jesus into an ally of whatever dumb-jock macho screw-the-poor kill-the-terrorist theories that make them feel good and powerful. This MMA thing is just the latest example.
Listen to the pastor at the beginning of the trailer. “As Christians, if our focus is not on God, we’re never gonna understand real power, real strength,” he says. For a lot of American Christians, that’s what their public, visible faith is all about: Power. Strength. The soul? Sin? Redemption? The meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Left by the wayside. Instead, it’s all a cosmic pissing match—and best to be on the side of the biggest pisser of them all.
So the same Jesus who says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” is paraded around by the same people who also make a hero of Ayn Rand and her palpable contempt for the poor.
The same Jesus who commands a disciple to “put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” ends up marching off to invade Iraq and kill thousands of innocent people.
The same Jesus who said, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” is the same guy worshipped by those who scream “USA! USA! USA!” the loudest, and who beat their breasts publicly if retail stores don’t properly acknowledge their religious holidays.
There’s a term for these kinds of attitudes: “Muscular Christianity.” No surprise that the term originated during the British Empire–none of that namby-pamby Christianity for the conquering heroes!
Maybe this is starting to sound like a sermon. If so, I’m probably not the one to give it—I left the church a long time ago. Still, it’s tough to stay quiet when you watch the Fight Church trailer and see kids being beaten, elbows being thrown, damage being done. No, no, no: That’s not who Jesus was. If I can see this as a hellbound agnostic, why can’t people who profess to follow him?
Doesn’t matter. That’s not the Jesus these guys—or maybe most of us—want. We’d rather have the Jesus with the bulging biceps and the sweet take-down move.
By the end of the trailer, the guy who asks about “loving your neighbor” has, maybe surprisingly, come to the right answer on his own. “Mixed marial arts and Christian doctrine are incompatible,” he says, and it’s a conclusion that seemingly makes him uncomfortable. Good for him. The country would probably be a much better place if American Christians would only act like … Christians. But it’s way more fun to put on a beat-down.