A new exercise class, Pole Fitness for Jesus, is inviting Christian women in a small Texas town to spin without sin for the Lord.
"God gives us these bodies, and they are supposed to be our temples and we are supposed to take care of them," instructor Crystal Dean told ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. "And that's what we are doing."
For one Sunday each month, Dean teaches free classes to Christian women who bring in their church programs.
There is biblical approval of mixing religion with song and dance, namely, Psalm 149:3: "Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre."
For critics and skeptics who find it difficult to merge churchgoing Christians with limber pole dancers, religious scholars point out that Christians have been adjusting their moral obligations to the modern world for the last half century. There are Christian tattoo parlors, books about Christian dieting (Thin for Him, Fit for My King), and even Christian sex manuals. On the scale of shocking modern activities for Christians, Thomas Tweed, a professor with the University of Texas, rates the pole dancing classes as "mildly surprising."
"This is just another attempt to think through how to live a full Christian life," said Tweed.
"Some people of course would say that this is not the way; that it's too vulgar, it's too crass, it's inappropriate," Tweed added. "But I can imagine some Christians saying if it actually brings a husband and wife together as Christians to deepen the marriage bond, that actually it's okay."
Dean and her students say the class is indeed just another opportunity to worship God and practice their faith. The students dance to contemporary Christian music.
"I do feel a spiritual connection whenever you have the music on and it's singing about lifting you up and being closer to God," Tiffany Booth, a student, told KTRK-TV. "You do feel that."
The class has its share of critics. Dean said one man came to her pole dancing class in Old Town Spring, Texas waving a Bible while he thumped on the door.
Churches throughout the United States already host contemporary, even sexy workout classes. You can take jazzercise classes at the First Church of Lombard in Indianapolis, Zumba at Amazing Grace Church in Memphis, or belly dancing lessons at Trinity Presbyterian in Richmond, Va.
Pole dancing, however, maintains a stronger relationship to vices frowned upon by the Christian community.
"It does have a history of being used for unhealthy practices, for things that are not good for portrayal of women," said Rev. Ron Krueger, pastor of the Immanuel United Church of Christ, located less than 400 feet from Dean's class.
"I wouldn't seek that route to encourage spiritual development."
If the class reaches people who would otherwise be turned away from Christianity, Krueger said, that would be a positive outcome.
But as to Dean's claim that it helps Christian women maintain healthy bodies, the pastor had a list of alternative exercises with less salacious histories: yoga, aerobics, running and walking.