Religion in America Part 1: The Phoenix Goddess Temple


In 2011 Phoenix police raided a “house of worship”, the Phoenix Goddess Temple: (Bingo every Wednesday, two-for-one lap dances every Thursday from 4-6). Tracy Elise, the leader of the group, was sentenced in May 2016 to 4.5 years in prison after being convicted on 22 counts associated with the primary allegation of running a house of prostitution.

The Temple had a website that explained the Temple offered “tantric sex” as a way to “spiritual oneness”. For those who are unaware, “Tantric” is a Hindi word meaning “mind blowing”. I know more than a few men who would gladly tithe for “tantric sex” once a week.

According to Tracy Elise’s LinkedIn page, “[Her] objective is to allow the ancient and powerful sacred sexuality teachings to emerge from all wisdom streams: Egyptian, Hindu, Buddhist, Goddess Worship, Druid/Pagan, Mystic Islam and Judeo-Christianity. I teach women how to embody the Sacred Feminine and ordain women who desire to serve the Goddess aspect of the Creator; I inspire men to wholesome and soul-full use of their own ‘root’ power (sacred sexual enlightenment).” For $200 they’d rub your root power until you were sufficiently enlightened. For an offering of $600 they’d allow you to plant your root power in their tantric garden, until you were both enlightened as hell, but they’d throw in a bottle of holy water and a bindi.

At her sentencing hearing, even prosecutors, while asking for a prison term, did not doubt her sincerity. According to a May 19, 2016 story in the Arizona Republic, “Christopher Sammons, a deputy Maricopa County attorney, identified Elise as a sincere person who simply did not understand the laws surrounding prostitution. ‘She still believes this is some giant conspiracy to go after her religion, and there’s no truth to that,’ Sammons said…. ‘We believe a mitigated term is appropriate, given who she is and what Phoenix Goddess Temple was,’ Sammons said.”

There’s an obvious comedic aspect to this that I am powerless to overlook. I envision worship services punctuated by alter calls: “Please turn to hymn number 69, Titties and Beer.”  I imagine Christmas Eve services featuring carols we have all known and loved since childhood, such as O Cum, All Ye Faithful.

And of course it’s a fact that poll dancing is responsible for the rise of paper currency. Evert tried to tip a stripper with a silver dollar? Where would you put it?

Yet there’s also an aspect here that bothers me and it’s not the sex. It’s the hypocrisy. The late Oral Roberts[1] can tell his followers that God is going to “take me home”, if he doesn’t raise enough funds to keep his ministry going. Joel Osteen can hold his church services in a sports arena and rake in millions from self-help, feel good books. Creflo Dollar, the single best TV preacher name of all time, asks his largely African American followers to help him raise $60 million dollars for a new jet. And who can forget the great Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of Charlotte, NC “home of the world’s first known Christian waterslide”[2]. All of these folks are religious leaders who certainly have screwed more people than the Sacred Mother Tracy Elise ever dreamt.

Sex and religion have been intertwined since long before Jimmy Swaggert tearfully apologized on TV. It used to be considered a sacred act of worship and in the first century pagan temple prostitution was commonplace. In fact, it often involved young boys and it is this specific practice that is condemned in the New Testament passages to which we apply homosexuality in general[3]. So far as I am concerned, if the good ladies of the Goddess Temple want to practice their religion or prostitution or whatever it is then fine with me. Just don’t engage in underage prostitution, human trafficking, or any coercive acts.

Religion, especially in America, has always been consumer driven. What sells? How do we get people in the door? How do we make them come back, get them involved, get them to sign up? Principles of business are applied to church growth like it’s a corporation. Because it is. Jesus will make us feel better about ourselves – often by making us feel worse about others. Jesus will protect us from a fate worse than death by ISIS. Jesus will make me better looking, guide my life and find me the right mate, unless of course that mate happens to be of the same gender, in which case I am hosed. At least Mother Tracy cut out the horse shit. Her religion will get you laid.

Sex is as good a motivation as any, but some who look for God are true spiritual seekers. In fact, I think we live in an age of more honest spiritual searching than at any time in recent memory. I’m not sure how much finding there is, but a good orgasm along the way can’t hurt. The problem is many seekers look in places with little to offer. Trite answers are dispensed with a catchy beat and a repetitive chorus, complete with lights, multi-media, and a three-point message; a spiritual orgasm and just as transiently satisfying.

On the other extreme we have those who wish to recapture the glorious past of America’s days as a Christian Nation. By that they mean a White Christian Nation of a particular political bent that – conveniently – dovetails nicely with a companion theological study guide. It is all right there in the Bible. Who knew that sacred Scripture tells us how to vote?

Coming next: 1980 the year it all changed.

[1] If I ever get two puppies, I think I might name them Orel and Anal.

[2] Dave Barry used that line to describe Heritage USA a thankfully defunct “Christian” amusement park.

[3] That’s a complicated topic getting into ancient Greek meanings. Suffice it to say that I’ve become convinced that there’s no way those few passages that even discuss the topic could have referred to ideas such as our modern understanding of same sex attraction, as that understanding didn’t even arise until the 19th Century.

About Life Along the Edge

In my 50's, I'm enough to remember the first Apollo landing. I'll eventually forget it, or worse, decide it was all a conspiracy done on a Hollywood sound stage. Most of the rest you need to know about me you can discern from my writing. Other important stuff: I have one wife and three daughters. I live in Arizona. I love seafood and being outdoors. But, most importantly, I'm on a journey following Jesus. God leads, I do a shitty job following. He's patient with me. I pray you will be too. Grace and Peace, David
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