"Fight Church," a documentary about Christian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters and a church that heavily promotes the sport, raised funding via Kickstarter to complete their project. They aim to turn their trailer into a full-length movie by 2013, but some believers question if the violence conflicts with the Christian faith.
"Fight Church" is being directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel, whose goal is to "follow several pastors and popular fighters in their quest to reconcile their faith with a sport that many consider violent and barbaric." Their current trailer for the film echoes the question many Christians have already raised about the fighting.
"Can you love your neighbor as yourself and at the same time knee him in the face as hard as you can?" asks one person featured in the four minute clip.
Pastor Paul Burress of Rochester, N.Y. appears in the trailer and promotes the fighting, even appearing ringside. He admits that he "loves to fight" in the clip, and apparently has no qualms about the violent nature of mixed martial arts matches, even holding some of them in his own church.
"People would look and say 'Oh, that's violent. That's not Christian.' And I would differ with that thought in that all of life is a fight," said Burress. "These are the gifts and the skills God has given me."
For Burress and others, the matches are a way to reach out to others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Clips of Christian fighters being prayed for are shown, but some evangelicals are still skeptical.
"Come on guys. This isn't even a debate," wrote Randal MacCrea on the documentary's Facebook page. He also quoted Psalms 11:5, which reads "The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth."
Others pointed out that Jesus himself commanded his followers to turn the other cheek, rather than respond to someone else with violence.
Perhaps more troubling is the way MMA is viewed within Christianity by those not necessarily subject to the doctrine of the faith. Website Gawker's headline described the documentary as "Christians Beat the S--- Out of Each Other for Jesus," and the Huffington Post quoted them as well, saying believers "pummel each other in the name of Jesus."
While Jesus no doubt overcame the world, he never fought by physical means and even spoke out against violence saying. To many fighters, however, the physical contact is sport, and simply an exercise medium used that can be utilized for evangelism.
"My hope is that through the fight I can create a relationship with the person I am fighting and extend Christ to him," one fighter said in the film.
The film's decidedly middle-of-the-road approach is a product of its funding. Bryan Storkel said he was "wary" of any big investors because they would want to skew the project into an anti-MMA or pro-MMA stance. The documentarian promises that "Fight Church" will be neither.
"We are a little wary of getting distributors or studios involved at this stage," Storkel told the Huffington Post. "We want to make sure we maintain creative control on our project and we don't want to give it away to a studio that wants to tell us how to edit the film because they invested in it."
Their crowd-funding strategy using Kickstarter was a gamble, but it worked. By June 5, they raised over $30,000. "Fight Church" is due to be released some time in 2013.