MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–How should we as Baptists regard the growing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)? Simply put, we should hate it.
Psalm 11:5 says, “The LORD examines the righteous and the wicked. He hates the lover of violence.” This is a hard verse for at least two reasons. First, it does not say that God simply hates violence, but rather, that God hates those who love violence. Second, it confronts our culture’s lust for violence, a lust which many Christians indulge rather than reject.
UFC and MMA comprise a lucrative mainstream business of entertainment violence. Gate revenue for UFC fights in 2007 totaled $2.8 million and $200 million for pay-per-view. An international phenomenon, one UFC fight in Dublin sold all 10,000 seats in two weeks. Surprisingly, an estimated one-third of fans are female. UFC and MMA fighters have been featured on mainstream shows such as “60 Minutes” and “Dr. Phil,” and on ESPN.
What exactly are people paying to see? MMA and UFC offer a simple formula. Two people are put in an enclosed or confined space, usually an octagon cage, and fight until one of them is deemed (by the referee) too injured to continue or “taps out”, meaning he just can’t take any more beating. Fighters wear minimally padded gloves which lead to more blood, and those bloody images are then used to market the sport. Those who pay to see the fights also pay to see “octagon girls,” scantily clad eye-candy between bouts. MMA and UFC are far from a harmless sport. They are a sinful amalgam of blood lust and female objectification that reflects our cultures growing desensitization to the inherent value of human life.
Sadly, some evangelical churches are embracing the violence of MMA and UFC. One Florida church used an octagon stage design. I can’t imagine a church using a bar as a stage design, but apparently while it’s wrong to imbibe alcohol it’s OK to imbibe violence. Canyon Creek Church in Lynwood, Wash., even held a church event for UFC 100, where for only $10 a person you could watch the fights live on pay-per-view. Pastor Brandon Beals is referred to on the church’s website as “the fight pastor” and is quoted as calling it “very fan-friendly.” Does he think it conflicts with Scripture? “If it was still no-holds barred, if it was underground or illegal, then yes. But this is legal and sanctioned. It’s got rules. You’re talking about stellar athletes, so I don’t believe it does at all.”
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?
The Bible does not condemn all acts of violence. The Father sacrificing the Son is redemptive, like sacrificing oneself in defense of some innocent person or one’s country. In contrast, caged fighting is violence for the sake of violence and profit and as a vehicle for lust. In Genesis 6:13, God announces His plan to destroy all flesh “because the earth is filled with violence.” Some things, such as the love of violence, Christians simply cannot redeem.
No doubt Christian MMA and UFC fans would argue that their sport leads to evangelistic opportunities. This same argument is made by those who drink alcohol at bars: You get the chance to witness. But Christians are not pragmatists, even when it comes to evangelism. God-honoring evangelism doesn’t adopt methods or practices that compromise holiness. Noble intentions cannot justify an unholy fellowship of light and darkness.
Baptists believe the Bible should inform every aspect of life. The Bible teaches that sin brought death, suffering, and violence to creation. Violence is something we may justly tolerate but never celebrate. A soldier or policeman may reluctantly use violence as a last resort. In section XVI of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) it says that Baptists must seek peace. Paying for entertainment violence is the opposite of seeking peace and violates the Scriptures reflected in the BF&M.
Baptists oppose alcohol because it leads to drunkenness and because of its degenerative impact on culture: being linked to abuse and other societal ills. UFC and MMA market violent video games and UFC branded clothing to youth. Another sign of the barbaric effect on culture is that women are now fighting in UFC and MMA styled matches.
Early Christians were objects of violent persecution, being thrown into Roman coliseums for the amusement of the masses. Two-thousand years later, some Christians are now in the stands, cheering and supporting the blood and violence. Christians must avoid any support or association with the entertainment violence of MMA and UFC. We must not envy the men of violence or choose any of their ways (Proverbs 3:31).
Or have we forgotten the words of Christ? Blessed are the peacemakers.
Adam P. Groza is vice-president of enrollment and student services at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. He is happily married to Holly and has three children.