Thursday, July 14, 2011

Violent Sports

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Violent Sports:

Q:  Is it a sin when a person injures another person in the course of a sports competition?  Is it acceptable for Christians to enjoy or even to participate in sports which appear violent or have a high risk of injuring one’s opponent, such as Boxing or Mixed Martial Arts?

Participation in sports competitions is one issue which has never become significantly controversial among Christians.  This is probably because there are several occasions where Biblical authors, especially St. Paul, use athletic competition and the physical training athletes undergo as comparisons for the way Christians ought to approach the spiritual struggles they face. 

While there are a very small minority of Christians who have avoided all sports out of an understanding that it is an unfruitful use of their time, Physical training and athletic competition have typically been enjoyed by Christians throughout the ages, and have been a traditional part of the curriculum in Christian educational institutions because of the understanding that our bodies and our minds are connected, and when both are trained and disciplined, a person benefits more than if only one is emphasized.

But with this kind of competition does come the risk of injury to varying degrees.  Certainly some sports have elements which lend them to a higher injury risk, and some sports appear more violent on the surface than others, but appearances can often be deceiving.  Many of us would guess that highly physical sports like Football or Boxing would have the highest injury rates, but I have heard that sports that seem very safe, such as Cheerleading and Basketball actually have higher injury rates.

Sports have rules intended to prevent serious injury, but the risk will always be there, and if a player competes according to the rules and does not act with the intention to injure, he ought not fear that he has sinned if an opponent becomes injured.  On the other hand, if one causes injury intentionally or as a result of going outside the rules of the sport, they may have sinned. 

Mixed Martial Arts is probably the sport that could cause the most concern among Christians as to whether they can participate in good conscience because of the apparent level of violence involved in competing.  The Bible has some very clear commands regarding murder, assault, and other acts intended to harm another person, but there are two significant factors which prevent us from concluding that all highly-physical sports such as MMA or boxing are sins and unfit for Christians to participate in. 

The first is that the intent of these sports in not to injure.  No one can deny that the nature of the sports leaves a competitor open to injury, but the intent of the sport is not to injure.  For example, in MMA, the goal of the competition is to use several disciplines (boxing, wrestling, martial arts) to cause one’s opponent to submit or to win by a judges’ decision at the end of the match.  In fact, there are numerous rules set in place to prevent the competitors from injuring one another in the course of the event.  If the goal were to injure, a sport like this would be unfit for Christians, but that is not the intent of the sport. 

Secondly, no one is assaulting or mugging their opponent.  Instead, both competitors enter the competition with knowledge of the risks and consent to participate according to the rules.  If the intent of the sport were to injure one’s opponent, this factor would not even come into consideration.  For example, dueling with pistols is an unfit sport for Christians, because even though both parties compete with consent and knowledge of the risks, there is no other intent but to injure. 

A Christian might certainly refrain from participating in such sports because of the guiding of his own conscience, and Christians certainly ought to consider the impact of all of their actions on their own reputation and that of their congregation and the Christian faith as a whole. However, for a Christian to impose commands on fellow believers based on their own preferences or weaknesses is inappropriate without a clear universal command from Scripture prohibit the action.

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