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When a God-Fearing Tennessee Community Waged War Against a Swinger's Club, It Rebranded Itself as a Church

When a conservative suburb changed its zoning laws to keep the sex club out, its members came up with a very creative solution.

A church that probably no one has had sex inside of. Photo via Flickr user Michael Caven

Since 1980, the Tennessee Social Club has been a place where swingers in the Nashville area have gone to fuck, be fucked, and be seen being fucked. The downstairs had an ordinary-looking dance floor, but on the second floor one could find designated spaces for orgies, discreet hookups and kinky dungeon sessions. It might seem odd that such a place lasted so long in such a conservative, religious city, but according to its website, the club operated peacefully for years right across from a church (it supposedly was open only when the church was closed). But earlier this year it became suddenly controversial after the club announced plans to move to the suburb of Madison.


In response to an outcry from local residents who don't relish the thought of full-blown orgies erupting near them, the sex club has decided to rebrand itself as a church.

They're serious about this.

"I think there's a church group that's going to be renting the space on Sundays," a volunteer at the club named Peter told me. "We'll be able to use it as a meeting place for fellowship to get together and talk as a church. Thats really what it's gonna be."

But some people are skeptical. After all, the club found religion suddenly, and only after community members who found out about the relocation freaked the fuck out. The neighborhood's objections were pretty clear: Not only were swingers coming to Madison, they were moving into an area bordering some playgrounds and a school. Won't somebody think of the children?

"Having a sexually charged establishment so close to a school, in an evolving business district in a residential neighborhood is a huge detriment to the revitalization of Madison," wrote one resident in a petition that has attracted over 2,000 signatures.

"I think it is a disgrace to relocate this type of business near a school and churches," wrote another. "Protect families and their children and respect those who still choose to worship God by keeping this type of establishment out of Madison."

Last month the local government responded to these concerns, with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County voting unanimously to change area zoning rules to prohibit private clubs using property designated for office use—a measure that was transparently designed to keep the swingers from swinging.


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In response, this month the Social Club changed its name to the United Fellowship Center. According to a plan submitted for city approval, the dance floor that used to be packed with gyrating middle-aged swingers will be repurposed as a church sanctuary. The dungeon will become a choir room. The "private rooms" are now "prayer rooms." (Members will still have to pay to enter.)

"Scientology is a church," Larry Roberts, the United Fellowship Center's attorney, told me. "We have Muslims who get on the ground five times a day and say the same drivel. There are ministers who have no theological training who say 'I've been called to the ministry,' and that's sufficient [for them to open a church]. We're not even seeking tax-exempt status."

"There's no regulation in Tennessee or any other state," Roberts continues. "Or else you wouldn't be able to have freedom of religion, and that's what settlers came here for in the first place."

Roberts says he's been practicing law since 1967, when adultery, homosexuality, oral sex, and anal sex were crimes—although he insists the club calling itself the United Fellowship Center isn't a symbolic act of defiance or statement about the First Amendment. "I don't think they we will be talking about hellfire and damnation in there," he says. "In fact I think there will be dancing. But it's a church."

Questions about what does and does not count as a religion have made for thorny legal issues in the past, and it's unclear whether the United Fellowship Center's new status will prompt any lawsuits from Madison residents. But Peter, a married swinger in his 40s who feels too old for the tourist bars on Nashville's Second Avenue, speaks of the club the same way some Christians talk about Jesus, saying it "lights up [his] life." And he adds its transformation into the ostensibly sex-free United Fellowship Center isn't the end of the world. The congregants already have hotel parties lined up, after all.

"It'll be open to everybody, mostly Christians," he says. "In fact, somebody told me that a couple of the girls that are graduating from the Christian school next door are joining. They're gonna wear their old uniforms."

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