Going To The Mat For The Lord

Logo for the Christian Wrestling Federation
Like many believers, Rob Vaughn wrestles with his faith.

Actually, he wrestles with his faith quite literally, as founder of the Christian Wrestling Federation, or CWF, reports CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Geist.

In the ring, Vaughn's name is Jesus Freak, and his opponents include Saint, Jonah, Apocalypse and Angel.

We hate to play devil's advocate here. But whatever happened to "turn the other cheek"? CWF fans seem to be more of an "eye for an eye" crowd.

"Wrestling's just the draw," explains Vaughn. "The most important thing is, we want people to come to see wrestling. But more important, we want them to hear the gospel that we're going to present."

Body slams and back breakers are leavened with preaching and prayer at these gospel grappling shows

"This is not your normal ministry," explains Vaughn. "You have to do different things to keep the kids' attention, reach out to them. And with wrestling being so popular today, I think this is a great outlet."

The Christian Wrestling Federation, based in Rockwall, Texas, is akin to the traveling evangelical road shows and revival tent meetings of old, traveling from Nacadoches, La., to Palestine (Palestine, Texas) and beyond. That includes a Christian college in Brownwood, Texas, where, typically, the matches are accompanied not by "Amazing Grace," but by Christian music that can sound like rap or heavy metal these days.

And the announcer often will rouse the crowd by promising "a match almost paralleling that of David and Goliath."

It's rough tough Old Testament stuff, and the fans love it. They generally believe profanity and lewd behavior are desecrating the sanctity of TV wrestling:

Christian wrestling, many fans maintain, "takes all the garbage out of it and leaves it for what it is: decent entertainment."

It's not easy being a Christian wrestler. When they're not rasslin' for Jesus, they're in rassling class - or at the doctor's office.

"I broke a rib," reports Apocolypse. "And then, a couple days later, I broke my nose, and then, a couple of weeks ago, I separated my shoulder....It's just pain."

Or sometimes they're all over at Vaughn's house for Bible study.

"Jesus didn't have a pulpit. He went out to the people and preached," says Vaughn.

He recalls that he got to thinking, "This is what we're doing: We're using the ring to go there. We're going to the people. We're not just sitting back and waiting for people to come to us."

"In today's society, with the way everything is, you basically have to take the things of the world and apply the gospel to it," he says.

At a church fair in Sunnyvale, Pastor David admits that, at first, he thought Christian wrestling was an oxymoron. He explains, "When you first hear about it, obviously you start thinking to yourself, 'Is that possible?' But when you think about it we don't let Satan have control of any area and not in wrestling or anything."

But doesn't the pastor think a body slam is kind of an un-Christian act?

"Obviously, I think there's importance to understand the symbolism involved in any parable," replies the pastor. "I know that my adversary Satan has many times body slammed me."

"We let them know that this is just symbolic of spiritual warfare," a wrestler named Saint explains. "It's an action drama of God's glory."

And then there's the New York Nightmare, who wrestles in several circuits but prefers the CWF.

You don't have anybody doing lewd gestures or swearing at you," says Nightmare, adding that while the bad guy still takes a lot of abuse in the CWF ring, "It's clean language abuse - a little nicer abuse."

Good battles evil, and evil sometimes wins, because evil cheats and fights dirty. Indeed, even Angel absorbs a terrible beating, before taking wing to carry the day - for goodness sake.

Angels are big these days, and so is the CWF, picking up bookings coast to coast. Vaughn says that more secular venues have started to call and book the Christian wrestlers, "like a Six Flags park and some state fairs, and we actually got an email from a minor league hockey team."

You've probably heard it said: The Lord works in mysterious ways.