Yesterday, law enforcement officials in Panama City Beach, Florida, went on TV to speak out against a local church called the Tabernacle that had been operating some kind of weird nightly event for young people that struck them as not sufficiently church-like. Now the owners will apparently have to pay property taxes and deal with an investigation into their "religious" practices.
Panama City Beach is one of those spring break-y areas in the panhandle where college students go to drink beer out of clear plastic cups, listen to Zedd, expose their nipples in public, and see the exposed nipples of others. With spring break and related activities being the area's primary economic engine, unrelated businesses can catch cash in if they're in the right neighborhoods. The Tabernacle is in such a neighborhood.
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The spot is apparently called the Life Center: a Spiritual Community, but it's been operating as a church organization called the Tabernacle. The event that drew the ire of local law enforcement is called Amnesia, or, as its logo makes it look thanks to an oddly-placed oval, "AmnOesia." Or, in some of its more SEO-friendly incarnations: "Spring Break Amnesia," or "Amnesia at Tabernacle."
According to the Panama City News Herald, Amnesia been "hosting naked paint parties" holding "slumber-party Sundays" and boasting that it has the "sexiest ladies on the beach." Amnesia's Vimeo account features debauchery like, well, look...
Amnesia has claimed that the $20 taken from each patron at the door is actually a donation and that no alcoholic drinks are served, but local authorities didn't seem to buy it. "I've been in a lot of nightclubs and I've been in a lot of churches," police chief Drew Whitman told the New Herald. "That isn't a church."
"They might not sell alcohol, but that doesn't mean alcohol's not there," Sheriff Frank McKeithen told local TV station WJHG. "It's drug free, it doesn't mean drugs are not there. A lot of the bars on the beach and a lot of the nightclubs are drug free and don't serve alcohol to certain people and minors, but it's there, and when you read and you do your homework and do your background, it's a club."
That's not to say religions can't have fun, but when your church is hosting a party every night and the website of that party sells crappy T-shirts with PG-13-rated jokes on them, and also says that it's a "a rapidly growing entertainment company," well, that might set off alarms, and tell the authorities that this is simply a business and therefore ought to be paying taxes.
To make matters slightly uglier, the hard-partying pastor of the church, according to WJHG, is a guy named Markus Bishop who has had some run-ins with the law. Bishop, who is in his fifties, was booked four months ago on charges relating to him allegedly giving a 16-year-old girl weed and then making unwanted sexual advances toward her.
Amnesia's promotor couldn't immediately be reached for comment. However, sometime after yesterday's news story, a statement was posted on the Amnesia website:
The Tabernacle is a community that serves NO alcohol and bans illegal drugs for the youth to go during spring break at night to interact with each other in a fun safe environment up to 5 AM.
So everyone can definitely rest assured that everything is perfectly normal.
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