Posted July 26, 2013 by Marg Herder
Recently in Indianapolis, a respected yoga teacher, Chris Roche, stopped teaching yoga entirely because he felt it was at odds with his conservative Christian beliefs. In a blog post announcing his decision he stated, “Christian mysticism and yoga were leading me and my students further away from what I feel is the Truth (Jesus’ love and salvation), not closer.” In a subsequent post he reiterated that in teaching yoga he felt he was leading people astray, quoting Luke 17:1-2, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a milestone tied around their neck than to cause one of my little ones to stumble.”
Chris could have simply kept his message personal, and written something like, “In my faith journey, I no longer connect with teaching yoga as I once did, so I’m not going to do it anymore. I wish all my students and fellow teachers spiritual journeys filled with as much love and joy as mine is.” But instead, sadly, he did something I have come to expect from fundamentalist Christians. After 14 years of doing yoga himself, Chris makes sure to bluntly denigrate the path his former students and friends still follow.
“Personally, I’ve found the philosophies of yoga and beliefs are false, deceptive, and misleading to the practitioner.”
Chris is not alone in his feelings. The influential and strict neo-calvinist pastor Mark Driscoll labels yoga “demonic.” And some parents in California took a school district to court because yoga had been made part of the school curriculum and the parents considered it against their Christian faith. (The judge ruled against them.) I don’t believe yoga is incompatible with Christianity. Teresa B. Pasquale, yoga teacher and Christian, doesn’t either, and discussed this briefly in a wonderful interview published earlier this week. Perhaps we can take a look at this topic more fully in another post, but for now I want to make another point.
I know that everyone has their own path. And that fundamentalist Christianity is a path that some feel compelled to walk. But it’s hard for me, both intellectually and emotionally, to comprehend why some find solace in paths that necessitate judgment and exclusion. However I do understand that there must be many life lessons to be learned by following such a path.
I wanted to talk about this here because, time and again, I watch someone take it upon himself or herself to publically portray their own restrictive version of Christianity as the only path to “Jesus’ love and salvation.” To people like Chris there is only one real Truth (with a capital T), and it’s the one he believes in and calls it Christianity.
I saw something analogous recently when the major media outlets felt they had to respond to the DOMA decision by making sure dozens of anti-LGBTQ ministers were paraded across our TV screens (with the label “Christian” crawling by under their talking heads), all stating that the “homosexual lifestyle” was incompatible with Christianity. That’s their Truth (with a capital T), it’s the one they believe in, and they call it Christianity.
Let me be clear, these are people who (intentionally or not) inflict great spiritual injury on LGBTQ people, people like me. On a day of joy and celebration when we achieved a legal status many of us never expected to live to see, it was hurtful to be repeatedly subjected to their discourse of exclusion and condemnation.
It’s important to realize what happens when certain people are allowed to claim ownership of the meaning of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings were centered on love, nonjudgmentalism, and inclusion (just the opposite of what is being emphasized by many of the Capital T-Truth folks). Allowing fundamentalist Christians to present their version of Christianity as if it were the only version, without challenge, has led directly to where the church finds itself today. The public has come to understand Christianity based almost entirely in fundamentalist terms.
Fundamentalist Christianity requires people to espouse an “us vs. them” mentality. Fundamentalist Christianity places religion and spirituality in an arena of competition—and arena where the views held by one person are threatening to another and where some people are by definition better than other people. Fundamentalist Christianity is historically connected with oppression, intolerance, the suppression of knowledge, and sometimes even violence. Because the fundamentalist viewpoint is allowed to be presented without worthy challenge, this viewpoint is the first thing that comes to many people’s minds when they hear the term “Christian.”
And this is exactly why I am extremely uncomfortable when someone labels me or my work “Christian.” Because I know when that label is affixed to my life and/or work, what I am saying and doing will inevitably be relegated to the background noise of most people’s lives, that place reserved for the often injurious discourse of all those who spell Truth with a capital T and call it Christianity. It doesn’t matter who I am or what I’m saying, affix that label to my work and it’s going to happen. All that matters is the word and what it has come to mean.
Each time I write something like this, people take great pains to tell me that “most Christians” are not like this. They say most Christians are kind and loving and compassionate, and most Christians believe in things like my right to equal treatment in society, the church, and the law. Most Christians, they say, are tolerant of the right of other people to pursue the spiritual path of their own choice.
Well, you know what? Maybe this is true. But if it is true, and if most Christians really are kind, loving, and compassionate, and believe other people have the right to seek spiritual fulfillment where they feel led to do so, then most Christians better start making some noise. Because to those of us keeping track at home, the Truth with a capital T Christians are making it a priority to define what Jesus Christ taught, proclaiming themselves as the authorities on what Christianity looks like. And apparently most Christians must have more important things to do than to try to present a different view, or clear up any confusion.
When most Christians see their faith being portrayed as something so fragile that it is threatened by other spiritual practices and belief systems, when most Christians see their faith being used as a hammer to bash the souls of LGBTQ people, maybe it’s time for most Christians to get off their butts and do something about it.
Most Christians are letting judgmental, fear-based people usurp the moral authority given to them by the grace of Christ/Sophia. And I think it’s way past time to wake the hell up to the reality of that.
Sorry, most Christians. I know it’s a little rough to call you out like this. But look, if I can summon the courage to surrender to Her call, to do the work of Christ/Sophia with all the “Christian baggage” I have, I think maybe it might be possible for you to speak up every now and then for the Muslims, or immigrants, or poor people who are being exploited by the 1 percent, or to create something compelling to let other people better understand what most Christians believe, or to organize a campaign or some kind of deliberate effort to make sure LGBTQ people know Christians support their efforts to gain full equality under the law—some ways to start demonstrating that these loving people, who are called Christians, are ready to do what it takes to heal some very old, very deep wounds.
Look, I’m not saying fundamentalist Christians are acting inauthentically, I’m not saying they should be silenced. What I am saying is that they should not be allowed to control virtually the entire public presentation of what it means to be a “Christian,” as is currently the case.
Christ/Sophia exists beyond all our divisions, beyond all our labels, beyond all the “us and them” we are so compelled to create. Ruach informs all aspects of existence, no matter what path we choose to walk. Mother God entrusted Her creations with the ability to choose freely to embrace what comes to us with the expansive open hearts of love— or not.
And just in case Chris has found his way to this post, I want to dedicate the beauty of this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon (11:22-12:1) to the good work I know he did, teaching yoga, for the last 14 years.
Because the whole world before you is like a speck that tips the scales,
and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground.
But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.
For your immortal spirit is in all things.
Thank you for your voice. I keep trying. And I would add that fundamentalism in any religion promotes environments of oppression, intolerance, inequality, and ignorance.
Hello! I did happen to find my way to your post and I appreciate the passage from Solomon that you dedicated to me and the work I did while in the yoga community. If you would ever be interested in talking to me about my decision to stop teaching yoga and where I stand in my Faith, I’m happy to meet or perhaps a phone call if you prefer.
I do think it is unfortunate that you use me as an example of intolerance and the harm that labeling, fundamentalism and religion has on society and yet I am labeled (“conservative Christian” and “fundamentalist Christian”) thus creating the “us versus them” paradigm that you feel is so harmful. I’m sure if you ask any of my friends who are gay, lesbian, atheist, yogis, New Age, Jewish, liberal Christian, Buddhist (or any other label) they would say many things about me, but “intolerant” or “exclusionary”.
My intention is not to create division or separation, it is simply to share my personal experience with yoga and the conflict it had with my faith, ESPECIALLY in respect to teaching yoga, as I see it as a potential stumbling block. My intention in my life is quite the opposite of being exclusionary, oppressive, or intolerant. My intention in my life is to love people where they are, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, etc.
My apologies if anyone has been offended by my statements or beliefs and I do welcome any questions, comments, feedback, etc. and I am always more than happy to correspond with people interested in talking with me and having an open dialogue. I can be contacted at email@example.com
“ut it’s hard for me, both intellectually and emotionally, to comprehend why some find solace in paths that necessitate judgment and exclusion”….I used to feel the same way until I came across some reading that pointed out to me that I was sitting all high and mighty judging Christians about their judgement…..and what a strange contradiction that is. 🙂 That is when I realized those fundamentalist Christians are just in a “different place” and I let them be in that place for their own growth and story…and loved them and didn’t judge them. Its a much happier place…and closer to where we are supposed to be. That is true non-judgment.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this piece, and for your thoughtful comment.
We don’t know each other, and it was difficult for me to interpret the statements you made on your blog about the philosophy of yoga in any light other than the light of intolerance. I apologize if my interpretation was incorrect.
When I have spoken with people about you, as I did before writing this piece, all of them said you were a loving and upbeat guy, deeply committed to his faith. Not at all the kind of person to say intolerant things about someone else. Yet, when you publically proclaimed other’s spiritual beliefs to be “false, deceptive, and misleading” it was hurtful to them, it was putting them down. And I felt that was an intolerant action.
What I was attempting to address in this post was not the beliefs of some Christians who I do, as you correctly point out, label as fundamentalist– instead I was trying to address their injurious words and actions. Saying people like me are going to Hell, banning LGBTQ people from sharing in equal fellowship in churches and worship groups, proclaiming the theology that embraces full LGBTQ equality as heretical–these are all actions that are injurious. I clearly say in the post that there “must be many life lessons to be learned by following such a path.” I do not intend to judge someone else’s spiritual path. But I am stating that their actions are injurious, and yes, in my opinion wrong.
I’m not sure how I could have pointed out the connection between the people who behave this way and the certain brand of Christianity that teaches these actions are acceptable in any other way. It seems to me the injurious people almost always refer to themselves as fundamentalist and conservative. I was simply using what I understood as their own preferred terminology to describe them.
But your point that to first label a group and then level criticism at them is not lost on me, and one that I considered for a long time before publishing the piece. I’m not sure how one can point out violence in this world, whether it be perpetrated using words, images, discrimination, fists, or bombs, in any way other than to first label the perpetrators and then describe the violence. Yet I fully understand how criticism itself can be viewed as violence.
I think, from reading your comment, you felt lumped in with the LGBTQ intolerant people I discuss in the second portion of my post. I’m sorry to have given anyone that impression, and it was not my intent. I simply used your story as a jumping off point for those other thoughts and did not mean to imply you were intolerant of LGBTQ people.
I do hope someday that you might be able to see the philosophy of yoga as something that might be a valid spiritual path, leading someone to a redemption that is equally as valid as the path you embrace, that which can be found through the omnipresent love and example set by Jesus Christ.
Thank you again for your thoughtful comment and for pointing out where my piece fell short of the mark. Let’s both keep trying our best to be a clear lens for God’s love and compassion in this world.
Peace to you as well.
True words, my friend. And thank you for saying them.
I think important in the consideration of the line of mine you quoted is the line that follows it.
“However I do understand that there must be many life lessons to be learned by following such a path.”
I had hoped that this sentence made it clear that I understood and valued people who walk this path. I had hoped I was saying that I personally didn’t connect with it intellectually or emotionally, but that I did recognize it as a path that was valuable and important to some. As I said in my response to Chris, it’s the injurious actions I take exception to, not the spiritual path.
I’m sorry that I failed to make that clear and thank you for providing an opportunity to address it.
Thank you for both taking the time to share just a smidgen of your own story, and to point out a potential source of misunderstanding in this piece. And thank you too for embracing compassion in our world.
Thank you for your reply. Just one more comment…. “After 14 years of doing yoga himself, Chris makes sure to bluntly denigrate the path his former students and friends still follow.”…..
I am one of Chris’s students. He helped me bridge the gap between Buddhism to Christianity. He never once denigrated my path, even though I continued yoga after his thoughts on teaching such changed. He let me have my path, and he had the right to have his path and the right to express his feelings on that path. And him changing his path didn’t minimize mine because I am confident and sure of MY beliefs and path.
Quite frankly, anyone offended by what he wrote may want to think about their level of confidence in their faith. And I understood what he said…there are many yoga studio’s that have a Hindu based program that is masked as something different…and for someone who wants to share the word of Christ, it made him uncomfortable to bring those into that world without understanding how another faith practiced in deception could be deleterious to believers of Christ. And he didn’t feel comfortable with entering that gray area. I myself have felt uncomfortable in some of those places that prescribe rituals of other religions without explaining what it is.
I wish you would have spoken to him before you wrote this…I think you would have ended up in a much different place. He is a gem. And not at all how you portrayed him.