Is Cage Fighting Ethical for Christians?
Joe Carter is a Marine Corps veteran and an editor at The Gospel Coalition.
A century ago, a novel called In His Steps convinced generations of Christians that Jesus would, among other things, oppose the sport of prizefighting. That novel became the ninth best-selling book of all time, and the book's thesis found new life in the "What Would Jesus Do?" movement.
Today, instead of wearing "WWJD?" bracelets, young men wear T-shirts emblazoned with "Jesus Didn't Tap," a reference to yielding to one's opponent in combat sports. Some modern churches use mixed martial arts as ministry opportunities to attract young men.
Ministries that focus on "ultimate fighters" are giving young men a deformed view of biblical masculinity. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus praised the meek, a word that in the Greek refers to taming wild animals: The lion is able to lie down with the lamb precisely because he is not given over to his hyperaggressive nature.
It is difficult to square the Good Shepherd of the Gospels with the hypermasculine ideal of the cage fighter. It takes an incredible leap of logic to conclude that since Jesus was a carpenter he would have enjoyed watching Christian men kick and beat each other until one is forced to "tap out."
The term "martial arts" is derived from the Latin for "arts of Mars," the Roman god of war. Preparation for war has historically been the primary purpose of martial arts training and is its most legitimate context.
During my time in the military, I participated in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, a course intended to develop a "warrior ethos." Such training was both necessary and ethical. If the Christian tradition can support the concept of just war, then we should also accept the legitimacy of training warriors in the martial arts.
Are there other contexts in which combat sports can be morally licit? Perhaps, though I believe there is one situation where they cannot be moral: when viewed as entertainment.
When the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world's largest mixed martial arts promotion company, started in 1993, the selling point was that anything could happen in the "no-holds barred" matches—even death. Indeed, two fighters have died since 2007.
It was only after the sport was threatened with a nationwide ban and Sen. John McCain labeled the UFC events "human cockfighting" that the promoters began to tone down the bloody nature of the events.
As a result, the relatively tamer "sport" has gained unwarranted legitimacy and a mainstream following. The basic nature of the fights has not changed. The purpose of cage fighting is still to punch, kick, and pound a man or woman into submission.
This isn't the type of submission that Jesus is calling us to. Whether or not it is ethical is debatable. What is clear is that it is not prudent.
Our bodies are not our own, and they were bought with a price, Paul says (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We are called to responsibly steward our bodies and glorify God with them—not to spend our leisure time watching fighters pound each other to a bloody pulp.
It's like life
Ted Kluck is a former football coach and missionary, and author of The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto (Moody, 2009).
I'm a boxer. I've written one boxing book—Facing Tyson: 15 Fighters, 15 Stories—and am working on another. I'm also managing a Christian heavyweight boxer with whom I pray, study Scripture, and also fight, frequently. Just the other day we were in the ninth round of a ten-round sparring session, and he opened a wound on my face from which I bled profusely. He then held a towel to my face and helped me stop the bleeding. We're great friends.