Tai chi class ousted from NZ church
Having identified tai chi as a threat to its ‘spiritual wellbeing’, the Central Southland Presbyterian Church in New Zealand told a group of elderly women and arthritis sufferers who do the gentle Chinese martial art at the the parish hall to bugger off.
The group’s leader said the 20 women had been doing tai chi in the hall without issue for five years, but were approached by parish council clerk John Willis and told to leave.
[The parish council] decided because tai chi had religious links we’d have to go. Maybe it did hundreds of years ago when it was started by a Taoist monk, but the classes I teach are for older ladies and arthritis sufferers and have absolutely no religious significance.
The teacher said Willis’ manner was “quite rude” and she could not understand why he had not discussed his concerns with her before deciding to exclude the group from the hall.
She had booked the hall for the remainder of the year but had to cancel the booking and find a new hall, which was not as well suited to the group’s needs.
If I could have just talked to them about this before it all happened, we could have avoided this whole thing. I’ve been going to church since I was 13 but I won’t be going back – that’s how much this has affected me.
All the other ladies have had to go home and tell their families. It’s upset so many people and it’s enough to put anyone off the church.
Willis said he had written to the leader of the group to apologise for the way he approached the issue. He had not meant to cause offence, he said.
The council had spent “a considerable amount of time” debating the issue and acknowledged many of the women were achieving better health as a result of the classes, he said.
But while the council understood the programme did not include any religious content, it believed tai chi conflicted with the church’s teachings and threatened the church’s spiritual wellbeing.
As church leaders we need to look after everyone in the parish, and their spiritual wellbeing. The first commandment is that we must honour God and have no other God before us, and having come from Taoism tai chi is promoting another God.
Willis said he believed most people weren’t aware of the origins of tai chi and believed they were just doing exercises.
There had been discussions about allowing the group to remain in the hall if they stopped referring to the activities as tai chi, but the teacher had declined this, he said.
He was saddened that some parishioners had become disheartened with the church.
Sometimes in upholding the truth people get hurt, but I hope they will come back to the church.
Hat tip: AgentCormac