Stay away from ‘demonic power’ of yoga, Missouri megachurch pastor warns Christians

A Missouri megachurch pastor has warned his followers to stop doing yoga because of its “demonic roots” in Hinduism.

In a sermon delivered last month before Halloween, John Lindell, pastor of James River Church in Ozark, told his followers that “yoga is diametrically opposed to Christianity.”

He used the word “demonic” to describe not only the roots of yoga, but the poses practitioners use and suggested that yoga meditation opens up a person’s mind to demonic influences. A video of Lindell’s sermon is posted to YouTube.

“Every single body position has a meaning,” Lindell said after showing a graphic of yoga poses. “Now let me say this: Yoga positions were not designed by your local fitness instructor. They were designed, they were created, with demonic intent to open you up to demonic power, because Hinduism is demonic. Every false religion is demonic.

“Hinduism is not a mild, gentle, pacifist religion. Anyone who says that has not visited India. Neither is Buddhism. We may have a sanitized view of it in our Western culture, but it is not pacifist. It is demonic. It is idol worship.”

Springfield yoga teacher Heather Worthy told the Springfield News-Leader that the pastor’s words were “ludicrous,” but they apparently found fertile ground.

She connected a drop in attendance for her classes to the sermon, given that many people at the gym where she teaches attend Lindell’s church.

James River Church is the largest church in the Ozarks, where on any given Sunday more than 10,000 people worship at its three campuses, the News-Leader reported earlier this year. It is part of the Assemblies of God denomination.

Worthy told the newspaper that parts of his sermon made her laugh. “But at the same time, it’s so frustrating .... the whole thing is quite ludicrous to me.” she said.

John Lindell, pastor of James River Church in Ozark, Missouri. YouTube screengrab

The debate about whether Christians should do yoga is longstanding and not without controversy.

“Is It OK for Christians to Do Yoga?” pondered a 2010 column in Relevant, a Christian lifestyle magazine.

“You can’t have it both ways — banqueting with the master one day and slumming with demons the next,” Lindell warned his congregants in his sermon.

Relevant wrote about a Seattle pastor, Mark Driscoll, who invited church members to text questions to him during his sermon about “Jesus and Demons.” One person texted, “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?”

“Totally,” Driscoll answered.

“His concerns are shared by many careful believers,” wrote Relevant.. “Yoga’s growing popularity in Western culture has stirred a lot of debate over whether or not Christians should practice it, as well as many misconceptions surrounding the practice.”

Christian writer Matt Walsh faced fierce backlash earlier this year when he compared yoga to Ouija boards and occult activity, Vox reported.

“It’s kind of amazing to see all of the Christians who think nothing of going to a yoga class. There are many excellent ways to get in shape that do not involve participating in Hindu worship,” Walsh tweeted in February.

He followed it up with an essay on the conservative website The Daily Wire called “Yoga Is A Pagan Ritual. Maybe Christians Should Find A Different Workout Routine,” Vox noted.

“It’s worth noting,” Vox wrote, “that he’s not necessarily wrong. Yoga derives from ancient Indian spiritual practices and an explicitly religious element of Hinduism (although yogic practices are also common to Buddhism and Jainism).

“Modern practice has been commodified, commercialized, and secularized, and has been as controversial among Hindu scholars of religion as it has among members of the Christian right.”

Lindell decried “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.”

“Yoga it seems, is everywhere,” he said, listing some of the “31 references to yoga” classes on the website of the local YMCA.

“As well, you’ll find classes in meditation and classes in tai chai, which incidentally, we don’t have time to cover tai chi, but it teaches this, in a nutshell. It teaches that it is the highest conceivable principle from which existence flows. That’s demonic.”

Lindell said the lotus position in yoga “has sexual connotations” and “to say that the positions of yoga are no more than exercise would be tantamount to saying water baptism is just aqua aerobics.”

“Yoga is diametrically opposed to Christianity,” the pastor said. “Meditation in yoga is consciousness of nothing. Meditation in Christianity is thinking about God’s word specifically and the goodness of God.

“God never intended for us to empty our minds or leave the door of our minds unguarded. To do so is spiritually dangerous.”

James River Church gave a statement about Lindell’s sermon to the News-Leader that encouraged people to watch the sermon on YouTube.

“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,” the church said.

Stephanie Wubbena, who according to the News-Leader operates Goats and Yoga in the area, said Springfield’s yoga scene is booming and was concerned that Lindell’s sermon is “going after small businesses,” she told the newspaper.

Yoga does have “pagan origins,” just like Christmas and Easter, Wubbena told the News-Leader.

“The blatant hypocrisy was just so overwhelming,” she told the newspaper.