What do you do when your love for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is just as strong as your passion for religion? That’s the big question Fight Church is trying to answer.
Fight Church is an interesting documentary directed by Oscar-winning director Daniel Junge that tries to explore the rocky relationship between Evangelical Christianity and fighting in a cage. It mainly focuses on Senior Pastor Paul Burress, his Trinity Church and its offshoot MMA school, Trinity Training. The controversial film was given the green light after attracting $30,000 through Kickstarter, and although it’s still in production, the debut trailer posted online has already caused quite a stir. And that comes as no surprise, considering it features people asking questions like “Can you love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?”
“I love fighting!” Pastor Burress says, and in Fight Church he even tries to explain to his congregation that “In life there are times when you take shots cause its a battle out there and the enemy is trying to seek and destroy us. He wants to destroy your families, he wants to destroy you personally. That’s where the bible gives you your training.” He says he would love to hold cage fighting competitions right in his church, in Rochester, but MMA is still illegal in the state of New York. According to other Evangelical Christians who love mixed martial arts, MMA is not violent, it’s just “two participants entering into a ring or a cage saying, we’re gonna test each other today and the best man’s gonna win.” But state officials are appalled by the idea of a Christian Pastor wanting to take things to the next level of violence.
For the Christian fighters shown in the Fight Church trailer, the fight is religious in itself. ‘The hope is that through the fight I can create a relationship with the person I’m fighting and extend Christ to him,’ says one dedicated fighter, while ‘Fight Pastor’ Brandon Beals says ‘The greatest example is in scripture where Jesus was a fighter. That is the type of Jesus that I want to serve.’ Daniel Junge, the film’s director, explains that ‘religion is such that everyone has their own interpretation; sometimes a very passionate interpretation of whether or not it encompasses their lifestyle. The people who inhabit this lifestyle, fight and are devout Christians who believe that there are no contradictions there.’
Probably the most disturbing thing about Fight Church is that it shows young boys involved in fighting. One of them says ‘I am gonna go in there and rip this kids head off,’ before going into the ring and taking a beating from a smaller kid. He is then shown crying as Pastor Paul Burress tries to console him by telling him some of his best life experiences involved taking a beating.
There are probably few people out there who really don’t see anything wrong about connecting God and religion to brutal, bloody fighting, but I think ‘Fight Pastor’ Brandon Beals has it right when he says that if you think mixed martial arts is wrong, and that Jesus told everybody to turn the other cheek, this is probably not the church for you!