WINTER PARK, Fla. (ABP) — It isn't unusual for young ministers to work a second job to supplement their income, but few do it in a wrestling ring. Chris Whaley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Longwood, Fla., wrestled professionally from 1978 until 1988 as "The Saint." Whaley drew from experiences both in the ministry and the ring to create a fictional superhero in The Masked Saint, published by Tate Publishing.
Whaley said the idea for a character who is by day a preacher but at night dons wrestling tights and a mask to right wrongs and defend the defenseless was inspired by Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven shows that modeled values of right and wrong.
A first-time author, Whaley said he thinks The Masked Saint would make a good television show or even a movie, but after years of pitching the idea to others he finally decided to write the book himself.
The story begins on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — Whaley's real-life alma mater — with seminary student Rev. Chris Samuels, who happens to be a professional wrestler. It progresses with stories of the kind of real problems that ministers confront — battered spouses, sexual exploitation of women, child abuse and encounters with petty thugs and thieves. Instead of relying on purely spiritual solutions, however, the protagonist uses the opportunities to mete out justice with wrestling moves like body slams and flying drop kicks.
Whaley's interest in wrestling started during a sickly childhood, when illness often kept him awake late at night when the only thing on television was wrestling. He received training from the legendary "Great Malenko," who died in 1994, and wrestled in several federations across Florida and the Southeast. Three of his opponents went on to become world champions, including a young wrestler named Mark Callaway today known by his ring name as WWE superstar The Undertaker.
Whaley said he never put on a mask and went out at night, but just about every chapter in the novel was based on real-life experiences. Whaley said he doesn't know why, but those kinds of experiences keep happening to him. A couple of years ago he was making a hospital visit before revival services that night when he saw a young man hitting and cursing at his pregnant girlfriend. When Whaley yelled, the man started toward him. Whaley's instincts took over. He met him halfway, slammed him to the ground and called police.
"I also ended up having to apologize to my church that night at the revival," he said. "They began to clap as I told them the story, but I stopped them and said what I did was wrong. I should have handled it a different way."
Whaley said most feedback to the book has been positive. One teenager wrote saying: "It was awesome. I can't remember the last time I read a book that fast. The Masked Saint is the best superhero ever!"
Given that 80 percent of young men who graduate from high school never read another book, Whaley said, "I would think anything we could do to encourage young people to read would be a positive."
There have been negative reviews, however, from some Christians who found it too violent.
"A missionary in China said he would never put the book in the hands of a new believer, because it has a story of settling issues with violence," Whaley said. "Other more conservative people have said that the book is a book of violence."
On most such occasions, Whaley said he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Have you not watched The Three Stooges?" he would ask. "I grew up watching Superman. No one ever died, he just beat them up. No one dies in my book."
Whaley said the story of Samson in the Bible is far more violent than his book.
"The book was never intended to be a 'church' book," Whaley said. "It was just written by a person who is a believer and also happens to be a pastor."
"My intent was to write a good story — a story of good versus evil with good coming out on top — a book that would be entertaining and filled with good moral lessons," he said. "Hopefully I accomplished that."
In fact, Whaley said he thinks the most important character in the book is Miss Edna. She is an African-American neighbor from The Masked Saint's childhood that he visits through flashbacks for sage advice and Christian teaching to balance his anger against the injustices he encounters. "Her words of wisdom pepper every chapter," Whaley said.
Whaley said Miss Edna is also based on a real person named Edna Nichols, whom he remembers as "a gem and a very precious lady."
–Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.