A reflection on the NY Times article, "Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries."
“Blessed are the peacemakers…for they will put on the armor of God to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Matt 5:9; Eph 6:11). “Blessed are the meek…for they have the power to decide whether they wash before they eat with no repercussions” (Matt 5:5; Matt 15:20). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…for they get to decide women should not speak, teach, or have authority in the church” (Matt 5:6; 1 Tim 2:11-12).
Let’s face it. As Christians, we know that our holy scripture is full of contradictions and reading it at face value generally takes us in circles until we end up where we began: believing in the position we sought to justify in the first place.
Should we be pacifists or adhere to just war theory because both seem to be aspects of peacemaking? Is there only one right way to contend with the evils of this world? Likewise, how do we deal with questions regarding how the church and the larger society interact? Do we stand against dominant norms such as the purity laws of Jesus’ day, or do we adopt aspects of culture such as the hierarchical household codes in the early centuries of the church where women were supposed to be silent?
No wonder when it comes to applying scripture to our lives and churches we either throw up our hands in despair or resort to picking and choosing at our convenience.
The question, then, isn’t whether mixed martial arts (MMA) should or should not be accepted into the context of the church – that’s a question of church and culture (which, granted, is big unto itself, but not the main question I’m interested in). The question, really, is two-fold: 1) Who are we today as people of God? and 2) How is MMA is used within churches based upon both our scriptural tradition and who we are today as people of God?
Who we are today, who the church is today, the NY Times article bemoans, are a bunch of women, children, gays, lesbians, transgenders, and men who respect their families and friends. These are many of the people who find a home and empowerment from the gospel in many of our churches today. And we ask ourselves: is that a problem?
As Reagan Doyle Saoirse points out in her article, MMA in and of itself isn’t that controversial in our cultural context of violent competition. In fact, MMA actually promotes qualities we find laudable – self-awareness, discipline, authenticity. However, organizers and leaders of this new form of church are marrying MMA with the message that the church by definition is a male-oriented institution.
The implied fear stoked as hands are taped and hot dogs are sold is that as the numbers of (straight) men in the church decline, we are in trouble of losing God’s very presence here on earth. The fact that religious leaders are using MMA as their draw is accidental to their message. MMA isn’t using them; they are using MMA.
Is it a serious problem that many men no longer find church to be a place of nourishment and connection with the divine?
Should we be tirelessly using our creative God-given bodies, minds, and souls to discern how most faithfully to live the gospel in our time and place so that all may find a home and a voice?
Does the existence of the church hinge on one particular heterosexual, male interpretation of a hopelessly complex combination of narrative, wisdom, and correspondence that is our sacred scripture?
Thanks be to God, no.
To fight or not to fight has been the question for over two thousand years. In fact, in the earliest churches, soldiers were barred from church membership. But in this instance MMA itself is not what should concern us. The real difficulty here lies in whether we truly believe the church is strong enough to thrive in the diversity of those gathered in the name of the One we call Father, Life Giver, Eternal Womb, Erotic Passion, and Hope for the Hopeless.
Sarah Bloesch is a member of the United Church of Christ and in her first year of doctoral studies at Southern Methodist University. In the precious moments when she's not reading, she loves dancing and romping outside with the puppy.