Senior members of a church in Northern England have decided that a Tai Chi class may no longer be held in the church hall because the martial art is closely connected to Taoism, a religion that originates in Eastern Asia.
For five months the class has been held in the hall belonging to All Saints Church in Totley, a suburb of the city of Sheffield in South Yorkshire.
But now the lunchtime class, which is said to attract 20 people, many of whom are pensioners, must find an alternative venue because the origins of Tai Chi are not in keeping with what the church's vicar, Rev David Rhodes, describes as "a whole life spirituality which centres on following Jesus".
Accordingly to the Sheffield Telegraph, Rev. Rhodes has emphasized that the ban on the class is not his personal decision and is "very much a local concern".
He is quoted as saying:Our understanding is that the basis of Tai Chi is an Eastern religion and from the church's point of view that isn't something that we want to be involved in.
Had we known that is what was intended, we wouldn't have taken the booking in the first place. Our first priority is to seek to be consistent with the Christian faith as we understand it
A leader within the local community, Jennie Street, has indicated that she has called Rev. Rhodes to express her displeasure at the ban on the class, which is run by Sheffield City Council as part of its Activity Sheffield program.
Ms Street noted:The bigotry is appalling. Some of the older people were very upset about it. They say they're just doing exercises and being healthy, it's got nothing to do with religion.
All Saints' has recently asked the local residents' association for financial support to help refurbish the church hall on the grounds that it is open to all. But it seems a cheek to be asking for help and then throwing people out
The Daily Mail, which provides a brief guide to Tai Chi and notes that the martial art is a popular form of exercise with the over 50 age group and is regularly practiced by 40,000 people in Britain, is reporting the views of some of those affected by the ban.
Betty Warwick, said to be in her 80s, has explained:This all seems so petty. There's nothing anti Christian about it, it's all about keeping calm and breathing and trying to keep fit. It has caused a lot of upset.
I can't understand it, we are living in the 21st century. I am a Christian but this isn't a Christian attitude at all, stopping us from using the church hall just for doing some gentle exercise.
We are not doing anybody any harm at all. Now we will have to decide if we are going to keep going
Remarking on how Tai Chi has assisted her with her balance following a stroke 74-year-old Pat Parkin asserted:We are not anti-Christs, we're just a group of mainly older women trying to keep fit and healthy.
I find it absolutely astonishing that we should be banned as anti-Christian. We are not learning anything about any Eastern religion or philosophy
Yet this recent decision is not the first occasion on which a Tai Chi class has been banned from a church hall due to its links with another religion.
In May 2009 The Mercury, based in Hobart, the capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania, reported on how a Baptist church in the northwest of the state had imposed a ban on a Tai Chi class attended by mostly elderly members of the local community.
Justifying the ban on the grounds of Tai Chi's links with both Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and claiming that no complaints had been received regarding the ban, Rev. Vic Morse of Wynyard Baptist Church argued:It is our church and it belongs to us and we have a right to say what activities are conducted on the property.
The objection goes beyond philosophy, Tai Chi involves eastern mysticism and links to transcendental meditation and astro travel. The Bible teaches us we are to be in control of our faculties. We are not anti-community. A lot of other groups hold activities which do not clash with our Christian beliefs in our hall