(I have a love for MMA — mixed martial arts. I doubt there will be many times where MMA converges with the subject matter of this blog, so I have to seize the opportunity when it arises! Read on…)
UFC bantamweight mixed martial arts fighter Michael “Mayday” McDonald has what can be considered the biggest fight of his career this Saturday Dec. 14th against fan-favorite and former WEC champion Urijah Faber. [UPDATE: McDonald lost to Faber via submission, Round 2.] At only 22 years-old, with a record of 16-2 (14 of the wins by KO or submission) and only 1 loss [before his fight with Faber] since entering the UFC, few who follow MMA would disagree that McDonald is a rising force in professional fighting.
Yet, recently, he’s getting a lot of online attention for something totally unrelated to the fight: he revealed he has abstained from sex for 3 1/2 years.
The revelation came about in a radio interview when McDonald was asked if he “cuts out sex” before a fight, a practice many fighters do. Of course, the cyber-world exploded with blogs and articles about it.
Later, when asked in an interview with Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com if he was surprised by the reaction, McDonald answered:
“Yes and no. I am very proud of my abstinence. There was a time when it wasn’t even in my vocabulary. I’ve lived on both sides of the fence. People ask me, ‘Is it for your religious beliefs? Is it for your athletic believes? Why do you do this?’ I found it a little, wow, that people approached it and reacted to it almost the same as me saying, ‘Oh, I went three and a half years without food.’ Like I said, I lived on both sides of the fence and I know what God says and I decided that’s what I’m going to do because God says it. I’ve lived on both sides of the fence and now being on this side of the fence I just see that my life is better for it. I said I want to do this because God says it and after I did it I said, ‘This is, it’s great. It’s good.’ My life is better like this and I made the choice to stay this way and to keep it this way.”
(Watch the interview here. The comment about his abstinence comes at the end at 8:50.)
I don’t know much about McDonald, but from what I could gather from articles, he became a Christian sometime in 2009, and he is engaged. One article briefly spoke of his conversion, and quotes McDonald saying, “Either I reached the point of insanity and there were voices in my head talking to myself or God talked to me. Something in my head told me, ’He loves me and cares about me.’”
THE CHRISTIAN CONUNDRUM
I have to say, it was refreshing to hear an athlete speak about his faith in Christ in a natural and humble way. Having been on the other side of “the fence” (as McDonald puts it. Funny, I often explain it the same way) as an ardent atheist for over ten years before I became a Christian, it still can be awkward for me to speak about my faith to nonbelievers for a number of reasons. One reason is the poor fashion in which many Christians have shared their faith with others. So, it’s always a blessing when a discussion about my faith comes about naturally, as it did with McDonald.
McDonald didn’t awkwardly jam his faith into the interview; he simply and honestly answered a question given to him. When asked for further clarification, he again answered honestly. Moreover, he answered humbly. He didn’t put others down; he didn’t elevate himself; and he didn’t go on a longwinded rant.
But what I found surprising (though I shouldn’t) were the harsh comments posted under the interview video because of his confession of faith. Yes, of course, McDonald saying something as counter-cultural as he voluntarily abstains from sex would raise a lot of eyebrows, but the majority of the comments were bigoted, close-minded, and judgmental. Others belittled Christianity, many comments presenting the faith in such a way that would surely convert me back to atheism if their portrayal of Christianity were, if fact, accurate. I guess I didn’t expect what I considered McDonald’s even-handed, modest response to bring about such hostility. To respond to much of these comments would be a waste of energy, just like addressing the hatful speech of the Westboro (so called) Baptist (so called) Church.
But the sorts of comments that trouble me the most are those that promote an idea that goes something like this:
Religious people should keep their religion to themselves.
You’re a good athlete. I like that. But keep your mouth shut about God.
One person even wrote:
“He comes across as a confident, likeable kid…if only he could keep a lid on the religion thing a little, he sounds kinda weird expressing that side of him…”
So, what are Christians to do? Christians have often been accused of trying to force their beliefs down others’ throats. Truthfully, there is a good reason that stereotype exists – because there is some truth to it. But what about McDonald? Did he force his faith down anyone’s throat? Did he self-righteously proclaim all must repent or perish?
This is the Christian conundrum of our day: Even in a country of free speech and freedom of religion, mention of God is immediately chastised.
To my non-Christian friends, here are 3 reasons I’d hope you’d consider about why Christians can’t help but talk about their faith:
1. Jesus Tells Us To
The first reason (which you’re probably already aware of) is that Christians are commanded by Jesus Christ himself to share our faith. This is commonly called The Great Commission, best seen in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
I understand that you may want to roll your eyes every time a Christian invites you to church or a Bible study, but please consider this: If you were sure there was a God, and God told you to do something, would you take that command seriously? I know the idea of God may be absurd to you, but imagine you knew there were a God. Wouldn’t you listen?
2. We Want to Share a Good Thing
Have you ever heard a great song and just had to share it with someone? How about a great movie? Have you ever discovered an amazing restaurant? Afterwards, did you not tell a friend about it?
How about something more important than food or music? What if you found a new exercise that made you fit, healthy, and feel great? Would you tell anyone? What about if you found the cure for a common cold? How about the cure for cancer? Would you keep it to yourself?
Those who truly follow Jesus Christ have found what they believe is the most beautiful thing imaginable. Why wouldn’t we want to share it? Furthermore, we believe Jesus Christ is the only hope for all of us. In the Christian worldview, not sharing this wouldn’t be just selfish but downright hateful. Again, I understand that some professed “Christians” have shared the good news of Jesus Christ in unloving ways, but please understand: even if you find it annoying, the person sharing Christ with you is most likely doing it out of love.
3. It’s Our Life
Finally, if someone has truly given his or her life to following Jesus Christ, he or she lives accordingly – and that means his or her whole life. Christianity isn’t something you just do on Sunday; it encompasses your whole life and all of your being. Because of this, if you interact with someone who is a Christian, their faith is going to come up in conversations. There’s no way around this; if you’re going to be interacting with Christians, it’s unavoidable.
Think of it this way: MMA is a big interest of mine. I’ve trained martial arts for over 14 years. I’ve spent a lot of time training, watching, and thinking about MMA. In conversations with people I know outside the gym, even if our mutual relationship has nothing to do with martial arts, eventually that person is going to learn this about me; the longer they know me, the more often it will come up. It may come up because I’m asked what my plans are for Monday night, or it may come up because I have a black eye.
This is much more true with Christianity. Can you imagine saying to someone, “I like you, but just don’t ever talk about your family” or “I respect you, but you better not talk about your career”? Likewise, but even more so, to say to someone, “You have rights as a human being, but don’t ever talk about God” is a contradiction to people of faith on the scale of Orwellian doublespeak.
Jesus Christ isn’t just a part of my life; he encompasses all of my life. That means my faith in him effects how I teach at work, how I interact with my wife, how I drive my car, and even how I train in MMA. So, if a person wants to know me, they’re going to learn of my faith. It’s inevitable.
And I do not mean this in the sense of: I’m going to talk about it whether you like it or not, so deal with it. What I mean is, if you truly want to know me – heck, even if you don’t want to know me, but we talk regularly – eventually my faith is going to come out naturally (and humbly, I hope) just as Michael McDonald’s faith came up when he was asked about his sex life.