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The good fight?


In 2009, the top-selling pay-per-view TV show in the USA was of a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight - a violent, bloody sport that combines kickboxing and wrestling. Not exactly churchy, you might think.

Pastor Brandon Beals of Canyon Creek Church near Seattle, however, disagrees. 'Compassion and love - we agree with all that stuff, too,' he says, 'but what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.'

Of a similar mind is Pastor John Renken, who looks after a small church near Nashville that doubles as a MMA academy (motto: 'Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide'). Renken's aim is to witness to the missing generation of young men, who are said to view traditional expres- sions of Christianity as overly feminine. Events at his church involve fight night TVviewing parties and lectures that use fight- ing to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting live events. The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some masculinity into the image of Jesus. Pastor Ryan Dobson, son of James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family is most blunt: 'We've raised a generation of little boys.'

'I'm fighting to provide a better quality of life for my family and provide them with things that I didn't have growing up,' says Mike Thompson, a former gang member and student of Pastor Renken's. Until recently he has struggled with unemploy- ment. His fight name is 'The Fury'. 'Once I accepted Christ in my life,' he says, 'I real- ized that a person can fight for good.'

The movement, with participants in more than 700 churches, is supported by the National Association of Evangelicals, and has become a significant subculture. T- shirts saying 'Predestined to fight' or 'Jesus didn't tap' (to tap is to concede) are not uncommon.

Other evangelicals are more nervous. 'What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,' says Eugene Cho, the pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. 'I don't live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.'