Friday, April 4, 2014

Christian MMA Branding and the Latest Threat to My Faith

I had one of those surreal experiences last where you wake up the next day and still aren't sure quite what happened.

A few months ago, my head martial arts instructor announced that he'd be having another MMA fight--it's something he does from time to time, so nothing struck me as strange--that is until I saw the promo poster. I felt my eyebrow raise as I read references to Genesis and scripture from Romans. I don't believe that martial arts, not even of the mixed variety, are incompatible with Christianity. I do though, have reservations about the faith being used for business reasons.

I had a feeling I'd be the only one to notice this, so I began bringing it up to friends--partially because I knew a couple of friends I was going with were staunch atheists/agnostic and honestly, I didn't want a "surprise" confrontation. It struck pretty much everyone as strange, but we all brushed it off.

The Fights   
The fights were good, with the expected progression from less skilled to more, my instructor being the main event. It was odd going to fights at a church (no alcohol, which wasn't surprising), but thinking back, seeing that steeple was a warning of the oddness to come.

I know a merger when I see one. 
Think of a jackalope--an animal that latches on to your consciousness simply because of the unnatural combination. It seems silly, but only slightly, because it's never really been executed.

Welp...last night, somebody glued antlers on a rabbit.

Imagine your standard UFC event, but during breaks between matches, instead of commercials, testimonials (as expected, from Benson Henderson and Vitor Belfort) and invitations to a massive Easter service were played. Like the jackalope, I couldn't realize the the depth of conflict until I actually saw it.

It started with the ring girls. I was at a table (with my atheist friend...more on that later), so my back was to the cage. I heard one of the teens at the table call out "...check out the ring girls." I turned slowly, half-scared of what I'd see. It was a toned down version of what you'd find at any bikinis, but still tights that look like they'd been painted on trailing down to high heeled sneakers.

The walk-out music was indistinguishable from any other event.

The calls to "come and visit our concession stand to be serviced by one of our ladies" gave me great pause. I don't think the word-choice was accidental.

The Effect
Being seated at a table of the non-churched, atheists and anti-church-type gave me insight that's rare for many Christians.

"Ring girls? At church?"

"Did that guy just say we could be 'serviced' at the concession stand? How much does that cost?" People expect a certain separation from Christians. Not all those expectations are wrong.

I began to feel like I was part of a bait-and-switch--the event equivalent of those fake evangelical dollars left on the ground that were really reminders that the reader was, in fact, going to hell. There were Biblical references on the flyers, yes, but most people didn't expect half a sermon after the undercard.

The Power
I sat and watched last night, and was reminded why it's unfair to blame Christianity or religion for all the ills of the world. Religion is a well-suited scapegoat indeed, and it's one, I believe, that has been heavily used to mask the spread and maintenance of power-structures (those principalities and powers and whatnot that we wrestle againt) around the world, but possibly most overtly in the United States.

I didn't put it all together until a man, who I assume was an assistant pastor, got up and proclaimed "We're in war for our freedom!"

What freedom? Who is "our"? A war with whom? I don't like vague statements like that, especially made to a crowd. It tells me the speaker is used to simply being understood. Unfortunately, I felt I knew exactly what he was saying.

As the night progressed, I started seeing the makings of a business deal. The potential for the growth of a Christian-branded MMA league. Its target market would be keen on vague mentions of "Jesus" and "Freedom" and women in bottoms so tight you can see the outline of their glutes, and burgers and punching and loud music and the idea of "being serviced." It was in that moment I knew I was not in their target demographic.

My Faith
As I drove home, I prayed, asking God if I'd failed him in not speaking out at people being upset that they'd been "tricked" into taking Bibles home...if I'd somehow fallen short at living out his calling that night.

I'm still asking that question.

I am though, glad I got to talk to a friend about my faith and its practice, and her experiences with church. It was a positive, but I'm not one to dismiss all the fault I saw because I had one, encouraging experience.

This story from Ravi Zacharias seems worth reposting, as it explains why today, I feel so much fear in engaging with organizational Christianity again. Though I have more clarity in navigating those waters, it's a concern that was reinforced last night.

"I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted “conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other ‘ethical’ religions.” So far, his argument was not anything new. But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?” His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character."