Review: Fight Church

FightChurch A documentary about two seemingly obvious opposing topics, Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts, Fight Church takes on the herculean task of showing these two worlds melding together. For full disclosure, I am a fan of the sport but I am not a religious person. Directors Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel do a great job of presenting the subject matter objectively the vast majority of the time. Fight Church is certainly the type of subject matter that will garner strong reactions on either side of the debate. The film follows several men of the cloth as they pursue an interest in Mixed Martial Arts, otherwise known as cage fighting. Undeniably a brutal sport, but finding its way into more and more homes every week. Combining wrestling, traditional boxing, jiu jitsu, muay thai boxing, and a whole host of other martial arts together for a gladiator type sport. The main focus of the documentary is Paul Burress, a pastor who doubles as a well trained MMA guy. Teaching his techniques to the men and women of his congregation who want to learn is a real passion for Paul. He takes things seriously both at the pulpit and in the ring. He is a solid choice for the main focus as he is easily the most stable of characters we have the pleasure of meeting. We also meet a handful of other pastors who practice the same balance between both worlds, some even wish to go professional in the fight careers. A strange balance is attempted to be struck that comes off genuine but misguided to me. In a documentary like this its very difficult to not let your personal opinions of the subject matter influence how you see the film. While I didn’t agree with such moments of young children (approximately 8 years old) doing full contact cage fighting, the documentary presents them with a sense of neutrality that I appreciate. Allowing the audience to garner its own joy, rage, or something in between towards what it saw.

The film works to show another side of the religiosity of its subject matter that early on was being conveniently ignored. There is a moment when one of the film’s subjects goes on a rant about how “mainstream Christianity has effeminized men.” This is a highly important moment to the entirety of the subject matter. Up until this point the men being filmed all were being shown in a pure positive light. The directors made a seemingly concession effort to show you the darker side of the issue, and it was very effective. Had this gentleman not been in the film I would have felt a very serious, and frankly frustrating, agenda was trying to be portrayed. There is however a so called villain in the movie, but he isn’t the gun-totting-at-church-anti-effeminizing guy, but rather a Catholic priest. Father John Duffell is a priest hoping to keep MMA illegal in the entirety of New York State. He sees the sport as too violent and anti-Christian. These views aren’t particularly shocking, but juxtaposed to the pastors who are fighting one another during a cage match and proselytizing afterwards to the crowd plays particularly well.

In the end, Fight Church might change some minds or it might not but what it will do is spark interesting and likely heated debate. Fitting religion into neat modern day boxes will cause conflicts to arise. I found myself shaking my head at the manipulation of the meaning of biblical text, but at the same time the arguments to ban the sport in New York were shallow and completely misguided. The film does a good job of keeping you going back and forth to each side of the argument. Any documentary worth it’s salt will spark an intelligent conversation between filmgoers, Fight Church did just that.

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