Not long ago, a team of entrepreneurs proposed building a Christian theme park outside of Nashville. If you were thinking of investing any money in the scheme, might I propose something less risky, like sub-prime mortgages.
According the web site, Bible Park USA will be “a one-of-a-kind, unlike-anywhere-else-in-the-world ‘edutainment’ experience offering guests of all ages a visualization experience of well-loved, familiar Bible stories and a taste of life in ancient Biblical times.”
It sounds an awful lot like Orlando’s Holy Land Experience or Eureka Springs’ Great Passion Play, both of which I visited for my book. The real difference is that unlike those and a few other Bible theme parks, which bill themselves as ministries, Bible Park USA is to be a for-profit venture, all the better to focus on delivering spectacular entertainment without the constraints of edification.
This, I believe, is a massive miscalculation of its audience. People who go to Christian theme parks don’t want or trust unfettered entertainment in the name of the Bible. They are far more concerned with whether the venue is properly honoring God. (Many Christians, of course, would roll their eyes at the very idea that a Christian theme park could possibly honor God, but they’re not the target demographic.) The “walk” of the park’s owners (Christianese for their “walk with God” or spiritual condition) is more important than the quality of the park itself. Much pop culture in the Christian bubble is judged by the testimony of its creators rather than any intrinsic value or lack thereof.
And the creators of Bible Park USA are Israeli-American Jews. Now, if non-Christians could get away with this, it would be Israeli-American Jews, who are held in some reverence by American evangelicals, but they’d have to tread extremely carefully. One slip and....
Whoops! Turns out the one of the park’s chief financial backers had a previous career as a photographer for Penthouse and Club. Amnon Bar-Tur is the father of Armon Bar-Tur, the park developer and project sponsor. When the Nashville media discovered his father’s history, Armon issued a statement saying, “Surely what a young immigrant photographer did 35 years ago to make a living in his first job out of college as a fashion photographer has no relevance to the development of our world-class tourist attraction in Rutherford County in 2008.”
If he believes that, he has completely misjudged his audience, and probably never stood a chance in the first place.