Law Enforcement Say The Life Center Church is Running a Nightclub, Not a Youth Ministry

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PANAMA CITY BEACH-- UPDATE: 9:30 p.m.

The website associated with Tabernacle, SpringBreakAmnesia.com, is now back up and running after it went down around 7 p.m. Monday.

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 website has also provided more clarification to its nightly party themes, saying specifically that Monday's "Anything But Clothes" theme is not a nude event.

Sunday's former "Slumber's Pajama/Lingerie Party" has now been branded solely "Slumber's Pajama Party."

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There's a new place for spring breakers to party in Panama City Beach, but is it a bar, a nightclub, or a church? Tuesday the sheriff and police chief are speaking out about what's taking place at the Life Center Church.

The Life Center Church has been running nightly events targeting spring breakers. Promoters for the Tabernacle told us it's a youth ministry group, but local law enforcement say it's a night club, and they intend to do whatever they can to stop it.

A lingerie night? An anything but clothes party? Those sound like events you would find at a college party or a night club, but not at a church.

"You can paint your body or you can wear a toga or you can do this," Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen said. "Nasty Night's coming up, Wet and Wild's coming up. Maybe it's a different kind of church. I don't know."

The Life Center Church has a sign out front that reads, "Spring Break Amnesia, The Tabernacle. The ATM parked right out front grabbed the attention of Sheriff McKeithen, so he went inside to check it out.

"You turn around and you look at the walls on the church, and you see t-shirts with graphic explicit sexual pictures on them, and I'm scratching my head. How can this be a church, and this is going on," said Sheriff McKeithen.

Tabernacle promoters told NewsChannel 7 they provide a safe place for spring breakers to sober up, but the sheriff disagrees, and so does Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman.

"It's very disturbing, especially inside our city limits here in Bay County," Chief Whitman said. "I think were better than that."

Right on their front door they have a sign that says they have a strict anti-drug and anti-alcohol policy, but if you go on their Facebook page you can see that they're selling t-shirts that say things like, "I hate being sober."

"They might not serve alcohol. That doesn't mean alcohol's not there," Sheriff McKeithen said. "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."

NewsChannel 7 has made numerous calls to Reverend Markus Bishop, who owns and operates the church. He has not called us back. But the church did send us an email directing us to their website, where they say, "The Tabernacle is a drug and alcohol free community for the youth to go for spring break at night to interact with each other in a fun safe environment."

Chief Whitman met with Bishop and says despite selling it as a place to worship, it's more of a place to party.

"He's running it as a night club, and if they would've filled the proper procedures to get the right permits to open as a night club, it would've been great," Chief Whitman said.

This isn't the first time the law has dealt with Bishop. He has previous arrests on various charges.

"Yes, that's concerning," Sheriff McKeithen said. "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."

The church charges a $20 fee at the door, which they call a donation.

"There's something wrong with this picture," Sheriff McKeithen said. "You got monies not accountable going through the door. Because it's a church, because it's 'donations' there's no accountability for it, that's a scam folks."

Chief Whitman and Sheriff McKeithen say they are working together to try to shut down the operation. As for Bishop, NewsChannel 7 will continue to reach out to him, to get a closer look at what the Tabernacle is all about.

Sheriff McKeithen says the Tabernacle is open every night until 5 a.m. Since The Life Center is also a church, they are exempt from the city ordinance that forces clubs and bars to close at 2 a.m.



 
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