I’m a Christian. And blessed to be a mom. Some Christians I love most like yoga.
But, oh fellow Christian, I’m compelled to share three things that caught my attention recently. I believe Christians who do yoga would want to know. These voices we care about hearing.
- Kids in school do yoga. At our excellent public school the two-hundred little kindergarteners do it. They sing the Hindu prayer mantra for peace and a Hindu sanskrit word that means “I honor the pantheistic divine that’s in you” while they perform a salute to the sun. The song album artwork has a cute picture of a Hindu god. It’s described as “a song about being ‘ohmazing.’” (“Ohm” is the mantra Hindus use to spiritually connect with the universe.) Christian parents, teachers and administrators aren’t questioning it. Because Christians “do yoga.” The school is committed to allowing yoga only for physical activity. Nothing religious. Many are faithful Christians who wouldn’t promote another religion. The song is cute and half in Spanish, so we aren’t asking what namaste or shanti mean or why there’s an elephant. We aren’t questioning saluting the sun. Or asking why “ohm?” Other states use this children’s yoga program too. And now our state is considering adding yoga as a standard part of Physical Education.
- Hindus think we’re joining them. At least, enough of them must for the Hindu American Foundation to publish an article saying so. The article says:
Franklin Graham “took a nasty swipe at Hinduism’s many manifestations of God [because he said] ‘None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.’” And that,
“Graham’s hate… represents … the fastest-waning segment of Christian-Americans.…Americans, a majority of whom are Christian, are increasingly subscribing to a more Hindu-like worldview. …the continued exponential rise in popularity of Hindu spirituality and yoga, … shed better light on the true nature of Graham’s statement,…that they are more desperate cries of a shepherd trying to recapture a fleeing flock than a representative voice of Christians in America…American pluralism is a reality.”
- Lots of Christians can’t do any yoga. When I noticed these first two things, I began asking Christians for their thoughts about yoga. I found some are vocal. But many, most, are quiet. They don’t want to offend Christians who do yoga. They only privately confide that they wouldn’t do any. They think of the foreign spirituality it was designed in.
My heart broke. Could our acceptance of “yoga” as Christians be closing spiritual doors we wouldn’t mean to close for Hindus or opening spiritual doors we wouldn’t mean to open for our children, grandchildren and vulnerable Christians? (Matt. 18:18) I turned to God empty, needing His truth. And He made this one of the most beautiful lessons that’s shined from the pages of my Bible. It talked straight to me. About all these. I saw a picture of mercy, humility, and love. I respect we may see differently but can’t contain how He made me sing. He’s glorious! Truly.
These things struck me:
- Some Christians are able in yoga to do stretches God made and be faithful to God. (1 Timothy 4:4) Stretching along does not bother their conscience. They feel no conviction.
- God’s people protecting God’s people from foreign worship is huge. He asked for extreme grace.
- In the Old Testament, God told His people (the Israelites) destroy every. single. bit. of what’s linked to foreign worship. Every Israelite wouldn’t have been in spiritual danger if there were leftover bits from foreign religions around. But some would. It was for them. For society. For future generations. (Exodus 23:23-24)
- Then, in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 8-10), Paul told Christians what to do with things (in their case, food) that had been used in idol worship. He didn’t say teach uncomfortable Christians to recognize God made meat. And that an idol is nothing. Instead, discerning Christians couldn’t eat any because others existed who shouldn’t. He didn’t even say if you know they are around don’t eat like he did later when he talked about Jewish food laws (Romans 14 & Colossians 2). He said don’t eat it just because they exist!
- About 10 years later when Acts was written, the apostles and elders echoed don’t eat anything that had to do with foreign worship. Literally, leftovers from others’ worship. (Acts 15:20, 28-29)
- Jesus told two churches in Revelation He didn’t like that some people in His church taught eating leftover meat from idol sacrifices is ok (not worshipping – just eating!) (Revelation 2:14, 2:20)
- If we treated yoga like meat offered to idols, it would gently strip pride from every one of us. We who could faithfully, gratefully enjoy stretches and breathing God created done in the name of a “Hindu discipline” wouldn’t for people who can’t. And those of us who couldn’t have done any yoga are humbled because it’s partly for us they don’t. Legalism turns to humble gratitude. Honor. We would be known for our love for one another. (John 13:35)
- Listening to foreign worshippers is important. (1 Corinthians 10:28-29) For their sake.
- When Hindus do salutations and bow to the sun (God says He specifically doesn’t like that – Deuteronomy 4:19 & Ezekiel 8:15-16) but ignore the One who made and gave it, they need their conscience. They need us to show we can’t support that. If we validate yoga, they don’t feel it. So we won’t. Not because stretching like them affects us. They need Him too. They need conviction to find grace and a place with us at the cross. It’s mercy!
- So I listened. What do they declare is their gods’? Hindus say yoga. Not body positions. Not breathing. They use those, but it’s the yoga discipline they hold onto, cling too, and declare sacred. (English dictionaries define yoga as Hindu. Swami Param of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy in New Jersey says he always “still keep[s] that Webster’s [dictionary] with me. I looked up yoga and it said, `Sanskrit, Hinduism.’ That’s what it is. Just look at the facts.” Sannyasin Arumugaswami, managing editor of Hinduism Today, said, “Hinduism is the soul of yoga, based as it is on Hindu Scripture and developed by Hindu sages.”) Christians don’t want to show worship of our God can be added to their many.
- Sometimes our yoga doesn’t include foreign worship. That happened in Corinthians too! Meat was offered to idols, then sold in the market. There was nothing spiritual or religious about the sale. The Christian was just buying food. We can’t say yoga has not been offered to idols, but we can say the yoga we’re doing isn’t being offered right now. Like the Christian in the market said the meat I’m buying isn’t being sacrificed now, and I don’t see anything religious about it. Still, Paul said don’t eat it. It’s the label. Not for the Christian’s sake. For the guy who had used it in worship. Know what else is cool? I don’t have to fear or try to avoid yoga. I can do any exercise and not ask if it’s yoga. Only if I find out it is, I’ll avoid it. Sometimes Corinthian Christians would have bought meat or been at someone’s house for dinner and not known the meat they ate had been sacrificed to idols. They didn’t have to ask. It didn’t make a difference for them if it was.
- #2 and #3 are more important than #1. (1 Corinthians 10:24, 10:33) What’s our motivation? Fear? No. Self-righteous restraint? Never. It’s love! Mercy. Souls. Not rules.
- There’s a pattern of not expecting the world to give up things associated with idolatry.
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Babylon were visibly God’s alone but didn’t expect Babylonians to be.
- Paul explained to people in Athens the true God they didn’t know. He looked different and invited them, but he didn’t demand they remove their idols (Acts 17).
- Paul said Christians shouldn’t buy meat offered to idols, but he didn’t tell Christians to go to the market and tell unbelievers to stop buying it (1 Corinthians 10).
So I won’t be fighting the school. I’ll simply say “no thank you” to yoga and ask to opt my daughter out for religious reasons. Because I believe He just taught me He wants these souls to be my religious reason. How unexpected is that?!
If this post was helpful to you, I would be grateful if you would share it with others on Twitter or Facebook. God knows I would have been so thankful for this information when these situations first came up for me. Thank you!