SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A pastor of an Assemblies of God megachurch recently took aim at yoga, saying it has “demonic roots” and warning Christians to avoid the popular activity.
Pastor John Lindell told the attendees of James River Church in Ozark, Missouri — which has a congregation of about 10,500, according to a 2016 report — that the positions in yoga were “created with demonic intent to open you up to demonic power because Hinduism is demonic.”
Members of nearby Springfield’s yoga community are now speaking out.
A Christian yogi says his practice has brought him closer to God and wants others to know that it’s possible to do sun salutations while following Christ. One owner of a yoga studio said she’s worried that small local businesses are being hurt. An instructor, feeling on edge after a shooting at a Florida yoga studio Nov. 2, can’t shake a fear that someone might take the church’s anti-yoga message too far.
They are taking a stand against the sermon’s message, which they say is “ignorant” and divisive, in a time when unity is needed.
“Yoga transcends religion,” said Reggie Harris, who also said five years of yoga has transformed his life. “Yoga brings people together in a heart of unity and love. You’re teaching people to hate something that may help them physically, emotionally, spiritually.”
Sermon: Yoga as ‘paranormal’
Lindell delivered a paranormal-themed sermon the Sunday before Halloween. Among other things, he warned congregants about the spiritual dangers of fortune-telling, Wicca, a form of paganism, and finally, yoga.
People might be shocked that the church was comparing yoga to the paranormal, Lindell acknowledged.
“That, to me, is an indication of how far our society has drifted into a post-Christian culture. Earlier, it would have been a given that yoga was inherently a form of eastern mysticism that Christians should absolutely avoid, but that is no longer the case,” he said during the sermon.
Yoga is everywhere now, he said, pointing to the local YMCA’s class schedule as an example.
First, he addressed yoga poses.
“They were designed, they were created with demonic intent, to open you up to demonic power because Hinduism is demonic,” Lindell said.
According to the government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, yoga does not adhere to any particular religion or belief system.
Lindell said the sun salutation, a common sequence of positions in yoga, is meant to worship Surya, the Hindu sun god.
“To say the positions of yoga are no more than exercise are tantamount to saying water baptism is just aqua aerobics,” Lindell said.
Then, he talked about meditation.
During meditation, he said, people clear their minds. Sometimes they chant a mantra, which can incorporate the names of Hindu gods, Lindell said.
He said it’s “spiritually dangerous” for people to empty their minds.
“Yoga is diametrically opposed to Christianity,” he said. “….Christians should stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots.”
Lindell said he was coming from a place of concern for people’s spiritual well-being.
Stop doing yoga, he told his congregants, and they don’t have to be afraid.
“I can’t say the same if you keep doing it,” Lindell said.
Attendance was low at Heather Worthy’s yoga class at a Republic, Missouri, gym a week after the sermon.
Worthy said many people at the gym are active members of James River Church, and she speculated that Lindell’s sermon had an impact on them.
“It hurt,” she said. “It could have been a coincidence, but it’s interesting.”
She called the sermon “quite ludicrous.”
Stephanie Wubbena owns Live Pure Yoga in Springfield, Missouri, and runs Goats and Yoga out of her Rogersville farm made a rebuttal video to the James River Sermon about yoga and posted it to YouTube on Nov. 1. It’s received more than 530 views as of Monday.
In an interview, Wubbena said her main concern is that the sermon is “going after small businesses.”
“This is our sole source of livelihood,” Wubbena said. “One yoga studio lost over 10 members the Monday after the sermon.”
Wubbena agreed with Lindell on one aspect: that yoga has “pagan origins,” she said.
But so do Christmas and Easter traditions, Wubbena said.
“The blatant hypocrisy was just so overwhelming,” she said.
Harris, who has been practicing yoga for five years, said yoga has helped with more than just physical ailments. Emotionally, he said he’s less angry and less insecure.
For the 36-year-old, who grew up “old school Baptist,” yoga has a deep spiritual side as well.
“I know my relationship with the Lord and my relationship with him has gotten deeper through yoga,” Harris said.
Harris said he felt “disappointed, hurt and angry” when he listened to Lindell’s sermon online.
Amanda Davis said the pastor’s message is “hate speech,” and it’s frightening after the shooting at a Florida yoga studio.
“It’s really… scary,” said Davis, who is a yoga instructor. “I don’t really know if somebody is going to walk into the Y, and shoot us up, or one of the other studios we teach.”
Toward the end of his sermon, Lindell said he hopes people consider his words.
“I don’t do it to make anybody mad. If I made you mad, that’s unfortunate,” he said. “But I have a responsibility before God as the shepherd of souls to say I told you the truth.”
The congregation applauded.
In response to a request for comment, James River Church provided a written statement:
As a church our heart is to provide people with Biblical insight and teaching that will strengthen their faith and their daily walk with God. We would encourage anyone who wants to know what was said in Pastor John’s sermon Haunted: Pursuing the Paranormal to watch the message available at https://jamesriver.org/sermon/haunted-pursuing-the-paranormal . The James River Church App includes additional resources for further study on the topic.
Read more from USA Today.