This review was originally published on April 24, 2014…
Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel’s documentary feature, Fight Church, takes a look at a growing population of Christians that have embraced mixed martial arts. Presenting the perspectives of a cross-section of pastors and their ministries, others in and around the world of MMA and even those opposed to the notion of Christianity being accepting of the sport, the film tackles the subject from every angle it can. The result is a surprisingly nuanced and intriguing study of two worlds that would seem to be entirely incompatible.
For example, you will likely find there to be an immediate conflict of interests between the sport of mixed martial arts and the peaceful “love they neighbor” and “turn the other cheek” teachings of Christ. The cognitive dissonance created by this coupling is much of the heart and soul of this film, as you see how different people have, or have not, reconciled the situation. Some see MMA as an extension of being a Christian warrior, others see it as brutality that is in complete opposition to the teachings of Christ. Some see the popular world of MMA as one that is open to conversion; that you go to where the masses are to spread the word. Others don’t think that world will be too open to that message of peace. There’s the dramatic, polarizing ends of the spectrum, and the shades of gray in between.
And it’s fascinating to watch the mental exercises that go on to justify, or not justify, the behavior and actions on screen, and not just in how Christianity does or doesn’t fit with MMA. When it is stated that MMA doesn’t result in too many horrible injuries, but that is followed up by the information that one of the pastors has suffered multiple concussions, you can’t help but wonder how one can believe one statement in the face of the other (or in light of some of the footage you see later).
On the main subject of Christianity and MMA, the film ultimately doesn’t come down for one side or the other, if you were wondering if this was going to be a propaganda piece. Instead, the film gives everyone their say, and shows the pluses and minuses of this marriage of religion and sport. How you feel about it all is going to depend on the perspective you as an audience bring to the table.
If you see MMA as a sport, it’s easy to accept the arguments as to why it can be integrated with the message of Christ; what professional sport isn’t filled with athletes praising God during or post-game, or even praying pre-game anyway? How often do we question another sport’s athletes about the possible contradiction between their actions and their religious choices? If you think it’s just brutality for the sake of brutality, this film might give a slight pause, but it probably won’t win you over. It’s not preaching to the choir, no pun intended, so much as it is talking to a diverse and divided room.
Personally, I don’t find MMA to be any more difficult to reconcile with Christianity than anything else that anyone has found a way to work into their understanding of Christ’s teachings. So much has been done, good and bad, in the name of the Lord that it doesn’t surprise me that a pocket of Christianity would take up for, or against, MMA. But I’m glad I got to hear the conversation, and was allowed to witness the discussion as presented here by Storkel and Junge.