Jesus was a badass. Or at least, that’s what a flock of enterprising evangelicals is bleating. Spooked by the massive exodus of young men from their ranks, a growing number of nondenominational churches are setting up fight clubs in a bid to keep their testosterone in-house. Mixed martial arts (MMA) clubs are cropping up in churches all over the country.
About 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in the United States, are taking up MMA and the sport is accepted as a real proselytizing tool by the National Association of Evangelicals.
The stratospheric popularity of MMA is one of the most dramatic trends in popular culture. Just a decade ago, it was banned in most states and demonized by politicians like John McCain as a dangerous bloodsport. But MMA has taken off in the last five years through savvy marketing by Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the sport’s main promotion company. It is now legal and wildly popular in most states.
Evangelical Christianity has long been known to harness pop culture to draw converts. Rock music, dance, yoga – you name it and Jesus can use it. So why not MMA? Christian MMA gear company Jesus Didn’t Tap spreads the gospel in MMA-speak: “When Jesus stepped inside the cage of life to take on the cross… It was not human hands that broke his arm during the arm bar of diversity… It was not a human fist that knocked him to the mat for our sins… God gave him strength while (he was) on his back being pounded in the face by the elbows of sin… Take a jog out to the mountain of the skull… the hand that placed you on the planet wrote the promise, “God would give up his only Son before he’d Tap Out on you.”
The goal with this kind of language is to give Christianity a face-lift and convince young men that church isn’t just for women: “some ministers… fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility,” says the New York Times. The same article quotes Pastor Ryan Dobson son of James C. Dobson who founded the popular “Focus on the Family” organization: “‘The man should be the overall leader of the household… We’ve raised a generation of little boys.'”
And little boys are the last thing evangelicals want leading them into the rapture. Hellbent on not letting their young men be left behind, the charismatic band of believers is building a jihad-like army of Anointed Fighters. The message is clear: Why step out into the world if you can bash face right in church? These guys don’t tap.