PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Officials with a Florida city has revoked the local tax-exempt status from a so-called church that has been running what the city deems a sexually-charged nightclub during Spring Break.
“It’s very disturbing, especially inside our city limits here in Bay County,” Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman told reporters this week. “I think we’re better than that.”
The Life Center Church, run by leader Markus Bishop, has been hosting “Spring Break Amnesia” at its facility since late February, featuring events and merchandise that even the local authorities have found to be shocking for a place of worship.
“A bottle club, charging $20 at the door and selling obscene T-shirts is not being used as a church,” Property Appraiser Dan Sowell told the Panama City News Herald. “A God-fearing, God-honoring church in January does not sponsor this type of debauchery in March.”
The website for Spring Break Amnesia advertises an “Anything But Clothes” painting party, a Mardis Gras bead-throwing event, and a “Wet and Wild” party complete with twerking–a sexually-suggestive dance perhaps made most popular in recent years by pop star Miley Cyrus.
“‘Slumber’ is a pajama and lingerie party hosted by the sexiest ladies on the beach,” the site’s event description read just three days ago. “‘Anything But Clothes’ showcases your artistic side, featuring your mind and body. How creative can you be? Bare as you dare to attend in anything but clothes (toga, body paint, etc.).”
The Spring Break Amnesia website also featured a number of t-shirts for sale, including several that featured graphics of stick figures performing sexual acts on each other, and one that read “I hate being sober.”
Sheriff Frank McKeithen said that he went inside the facility and saw the shirts hanging up on the walls.
“You turn around and you look at the walls on the church, and you see t-shirts with graphic explicit sexual pictures on them,” he said. “I’m scratching my head. How can this be a church, and this is going on?”
But after media outlets in Panama City began to report on the matter, Life Center Church quickly revised their website and took a number of the sexually-explicit t-shirts out of the online store. As of yesterday, the word “lingerie” was removed from the slumber party description and the “Anything But Clothes” event was revised to read, “Bare as you dare to attend (toga, body paint, etc.) This is not a nude event.”
Under the Mardis Gras event, which used to read, “What will you do for your beads?” the event organizers added, “Maybe a backflip or bunny hop” to tone down the connotation.
Patrons are charged $20 to enter what is called “The Tabernacle,” which is being categorized by Life Center as a donation. But officials in Panama City state that what is going on inside of the facility is not a church and is a commercial night club enterprise. McKeithen told reporters that the property has been zoned as a church and because it has been exempt from paying property taxes for year.
Thus, its current operations have been now deemed a violation and the facility’s tax-exempt status has been revoked. Life Center Church claims that the event is simply a part of its “youth ministry.”
According to police, leader Markus Bishop has a criminal past and is currently on probation for allegedly giving a teen marijuana and kissing her against her will. Bishop, former leader of Faith Christian Family Church, professes to be a Christian, but also dabbles with other religions.
“It’s not about what label you wear or title you carry, it’s about what goes on inside you,” he said in 2013. “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.”
“But he’s not the only one out there with a criminal record that’s running a enterprise like this, but he’s the only one out there flying under the colors of a church that’s doing this, and that’s very disturbing to me,” McKeithen said.