Friday, July 22, 2016

The Holy Land Experience Estate Sale

Here's another cautionary tale about Christian theme parks. Last week, I covered the story of Heritage USA, a park in South Carolina that was once owned by Jim and Tammy Bakker. In the mid-1980's it was one of the most popular theme parks in the country, but it fell into disrepair after being struck by a major funding scandal and Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

In 2001, Christians decided to try again. That year marked the opening of Ken Ham's Creation Museum in Kentucky and The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida. Ham should be well-known to regular readers here as the man behind Ark Encounter, a tourist attraction modeled on the Biblical description of Noah's Ark.

But The Holy Land Experience has not been nearly as successful as the Creation Museum. The park appears to be going out of business after racking up more than a million dollars in debt by 2014, the last year it filed with the IRS. The park is now holding an estate sale, selling off just about everything in the place.

In the market for a throne, a Roman gladiator's helmet or a near life-size Nativity scene? Then the Holy Land Experience in Orlando has a sale for you. The massive estate sale by the Christian theme park started Thursday and lasts through Saturday. The Holy Land Experience is selling scores of items, many of them Biblically themed, amid declining revenue and contributions.

IRS documents show that in 2014, the most recent year filings are available, The Holy Land Experience had anywhere from $1.9 million to $2.5 million in contributions. By contrast, it had $42 million in contributions in 2010. The theme park had a $1.3 million deficit in 2014.

It should be noted that even the Creation Museum saw a big decline in attendance after its first year, which I am of the opinion can be associated with "point-and-laugh" tourists who went just to see how terrible the science presented would be. But maybe there are more people out there than we generally realize who will patronize any establishment that depicts Jesus riding a dinosaur - you know, because really, what's cooler than that?

There's an old joke that I like to make - "What do you call Christian music that's good? Music." Even fifteen years ago, much of Evangelical Christianity worked hard to keep its followers in what was essentially a separate world that was all-Christianity-all-the-time. Maybe I'm reading too much into the failure of a single park, but it could be that people are becoming less willing to put up with an inferior product just because it bills itself as "Christian."

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