The teenage boys sitting in the back row in the Lititz Community Center, in Lititz, Penn., kept snorting dismissively at the spiritual battle unfolding before our eyes. In a ring set up in the middle of a couple hundred folding chairs, Omega, a 215 pounder who wrestles in the name of the Lord, propped himself up on the ropes and landed both feet in the face of Big Tim Storm, knocking him to the mat. Omega pounced, and pummeled Big Tim with blows to the chest and throat. The teenagers looked like they'd rather be behind the 7-Eleven smoking cigarettes.

Big Tim
Big Tim
But Big Tim, a human wrecking machine at six-foot-three and 260 pounds, has his own yen for Jesus, and, grabbing his "rag doll pansy" of an opponent, flung him out of the ring. By the time he foot-stomped Omega's head a dozen times, the 10-year-olds a few rows up were counting each blow aloud. As Big Tim, exulting in his win, strutted and bellowed "shut up" to the kids' boos and at the blue-haired lady hissing and giving him a thumbs-down, his real accomplishment was whipping up the listless Lititz crowd.

His ring victory, a wrestler named Apocalypse later pointed out, did not really belong to Big Tim, but to the big man upstairs: "We come out here and beat each other up every night for one reason and one reason only," Apocalypse told the crowd. "To spread the good news of Jesus Christ!"

Far from the World Wrestling Federation's packed arenas and vulgarian displays is the Christian Wrestling Federation, the nation's first and only full-time wrestling ministry. For the past year and a half, the Texas-based group has performed at scores of church-sponsored events across the country. (In Lititz, the wrestlers were invited by a local United Methodist church, which fed and housed them.) The CWF is "a non-profit organization," its website explains, "that hopes to express the love of God in a new and dynamic way."

Each show consists of four or five no-holds-barred matches, rife with taunts, hair pulls, and smackdowns, but decorously free of the coarse language and bikini-clad women prevalent in that other professional wrestling organization, the stuff you see on big time cable stations. CWF founder Rob Vaughn got the inspiration for Christian wrestling two years ago. A 31-year-old former arena football coach and an ordained Baptist minister, Vaughn--whose ring name is Jesus Freak--had briefly wrestled on an independent circuit in Texas.

He witnessed things he did not like. "It was a bad scene," says Vaughn. "Guys drinking and smoking pot in the locker room, and everybody out for himself. Nobody wants to get beat or upstaged. There's lots of swearing and extreme violence, people throwing tables and chairs, blood everywhere. Plus, there are half-dressed women parading around. And I thought, does the five-year-old in the front row really need to see all this? It wasn't anything that I, as a Christian, wanted to be a part of anymore."

But just as Vaughn was about to hang up his boots, a minister friend in San Antonio had an idea. "He said, 'Why don't you create a wrestling ministry?'" Vaughn recalled. "After a month of intense prayer, I decided to pursue it."

Vaughn registered the CWF name, and spent eight months getting funding, locating a training ring and opening an office in Rockwall, a suburb east of Dallas. To find wrestlers, Vaughn sent 3,000 fliers to area churches, though he discovered a few born-again bashers in unlikely places. "I went to see an independent show held in a bar," Vaughn said. "In the first match there was a guy named The Saint, and he was introduced with a Christian rock song. His wrestling was good, clean action, so afterward I went up to him and learned he's a pastor at a church in Fort Worth!" The Saint joined the CWF the next week.

The ministering is plentifully mixed in with the wrestling. At intermission in Lititz, a wrestler named Jonah spoke about temptation. "What is temptation?" he asked. "You walk into a store and see something you want, but you don't have any money. You take it anyway. That is temptation for material objects! You're at a bar, throwing back some brewskis and people are startin' to like ya because you're mister funny man, dancin' around. That is temptation for social acceptance!"

At the end of the evening, Apocalypse made a distinction between accepting Jesus with your heart and accepting Him with your head.

For years, Apocalypse went to church every Sunday and every Wednesday night; he led his youth group. He memorized scripture. "I knew all the right answers, but I didn't know all the right answers," he said. "Like many of you here, I was wearing a mask. And if you're wearing a mask, you have to seriously question whether you're going to heaven or hell if you were to die tonight."