Let’s get something straight. People in Florida love them some churchin’.
Whether it’s a completely rational, respected pastor threatening to burn religious texts like this guy, or some insane street preacher on a street corner in Orlando, people here just can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet salvation.
In fact, they love it so much that they are more than happy to help you have some too, whether you want it or not. Drive around any town and you will see churches representing every denomination you can think of, and you will probably also see some that you had never thought of. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see churches in residential neighborhoods being hosted in someone’s house. Visions of the church scene from “Coming to America” spring to mind.
In addition to churchin’, Floridians love tourist dollars. So when the opportunity came along to combine the two, how could they possibly resist?
Enter, The Holy Land Experience.
Originally founded by Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish-born New Yorker who would later become a Baptist minister*, in the late 90’s, The Holy Land Experience is a Biblical-themed amusement park designed “to replicate the architecture and themes of 1st century Israel.” Women, get those veils ready!
However, after a few years of poor ticket sales, the park was sold in 2007 to Trinity Broadcasting Network, an evangelical Christian television group run by the Crouch family, who also has offices located near the park. TBN is the “third largest over-the-air television station group in the country, besting the station groups of CBS, FOX, and NBC, but behind Ion and Univision.” No, you didn’t read that wrong. TBN covers more ground (air?) than CBS, Fox, and NBC. Who knew there were that many aerial antennas still in operation? What a country.
Almost immediately after purchasing the park, and in an act right out of the Old Testament, the Crouch’s restructured the board of directors, removing anyone without the last name “Crouch.” Their next step was to lay off an estimated 100 employees. Watch out, Herod, there’s a new sheriff in town!
It’s also probably worth mentioning at this point that their logo looks like an Ed Hardy print, because I feel like that’s somehow relevant. Douchebags.
Also keep in mind that they preach the “Prosperity gospel” which is basically an updated version of the Indulgence system used by the Catholic church which eventually led to the Protestant Reformation. Same shit, different name. Douchebags, again.
Anyways, I drive by this awesome spectacle every day, and although I have not given in to the temptation to check it out myself (Although at $40 for an adult day ticket, how much longer can I resist?). The good news is that if I play my cards right, I won’t have to pay at all. That’s because the park must offer free admission one day a year in order to maintain their tax-exempt status. I’m not sure how that works, but that’s what I’ve always been told. They haven’t announced the day for 2012 yet, but I will keep my eyes open.
So speaking of taxes, TBN recently found themselves in a little bit of hot water locally when they attempted to file tax exempt status for two mansions they own in Windermere (Tiger Woods’ neighborhood) claiming the two residences as “parsonages,” or residences for religious ministers (in this case, members of the Crouch family who happen to be ministers). However, because a parsonage must be the full-time residence for the pastor, and since the Crouch’s already own and reside in several homes in California (seen here, here, and here), their request was denied.
There is a God somewhere.
For additional reading on TBN, check out their Wikipedia page, which contains this gem: “TBN is not a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or any official financial oversight group; Paul Crouch and his family—as members of TBN’s executive board—control the network’s finances.” There are some other goodies in the “Controversy” section.