A church in Panama City Beach, Florida, has lost its tax-exempt status, with officials claiming that its leaders are skirting zoning laws by hosting non-stop parties in a club-like atmosphere, with the signs and symbols inside the building reflecting some eyebrow-raising sentiment.
The church, called The Life Center: A Spiritual Community, is reportedly operating a party outfit known as Amnesia: The Tabernacle, which is setup for college students vacationing in Panama City Beach, a popular spring break destination, according to the Panama City News Herald.
Patrons are apparently charged $20 at the door — a fee that is referred to as a “donation” before entering the Tabernacle. And once they get inside, they see T-shirts that include sexually explicit images and messages like, “I hate being sober” on the walls, the Associated Press reported.
The apparent party scene inside, which includes “Anything But Clothes” gatherings (which the church claims do not include nudity) and slumber parties “hosted by the sexiest ladies on the beach,” led property appraiser Dan Sowell to change the church’s tax-exempt status.
“A bottle club, charging $20 at the door and selling obscene T-shirts is not being used as a church,” Sowell told the Panama City News Herald. “A God-fearing, God-honoring church in January does not sponsor this type of debauchery in March.”
And Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen claims that the church’s activities pose a “blatant slap in the face” to taxpayers.
“There’s something wrong with this picture. You got monies not accountable going through the door,” he told WJHG-TV. “Because it’s a church, because it’s ‘donations’ there’s no accountability for it, that’s a scam folks.”
The website for Amnesia — which was briefly taken down Monday before reemerging Tuesday along with some caveats and changes to content — describes the business as a “rapidly growing entertainment company.”
“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,” a message now reads on the website.
According to WJHG-TV, “The site has removed several of the more sexually explicit t-shirts that were for sale, as well as a promo video users saw when they visited the website.”
The club is reportedly owned by Markus Q. Bishop, the former pastor at Faith Christian Family Church. Despite push back from authorities, promoters have said that Amnesia is a youth group that provides a safe place where spring breakers can sober up.
Bishop was recently sentenced to probation for reportedly giving a minor marijuana and was also accused of kissing the 16-year-old teen against her will during an incident at his home last September.
The Life Center’s theology is currently unclear. In a 2013 interview with WJHG-TV, Bishop discussed leaving his megachurch behind and launching the Life Center, a church that he said had no religion or rules.
“It’s not about what label you wear or title you carry, it’s about what goes on inside you,” he said. “I am a follower of Jesus. I practice … Buddhism. I am a student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and I am a student in miracles and more than anything I am passionate about a path of reality that manifests in love and peace.”