Some years ago a group of Bible believers had the bright idea of adding another theme park to Orlando's usual offerings. We all know about Disney, Universal Studios, Wet 'n Wild and a host of other attractions. This theme park was to be altogether different. It was called The Holy Land Experience and it aimed to transport its visitors back into the land of the Bible. Built in 2001 at a cost of $16 million, The Holy Land Experience recreated the ancient city of Jerusalem to "take you 2,000 years back in time to the world of the Bible" where "it brings to life ancient Israel." Dominating the theme park is a towering replica of Herod's Temple. Also on display are recreations of the Qumran caves (site of the Dead Sea Scrolls), the Garden Tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Tabernacle that Moses built in the wilderness. There is also an Ark of the Covenant light and sound show and a Byzantine Scriptorium where tourists learn about the history of Bible production. The model of old Jerusalem is marvelous and gives a clear picture of the background of many of the events of Scripture.
When I visited The Holy Land Experience a few years ago the project was clearly not complete. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable experience. A pastor with a quick wit gave "tours" of the model city and I must say that in a very tasteful and tactful way he made his presentation a clear witness to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. One thing I didn't like was the film in which we had an actor portraying the Lord Jesus Christ but all in all I found the exhibit a very worthwhile venture and I hoped that it would draw sufficient crowds not only to survive the strong commercial competition for tourist dollars but to expand and fulfill its vision.
In 2007, Trinity Broadcast Network (the world's largest religious channel, based in Santa Ana, California) bought the park. TBN is a thoroughly Charismatic outfit and while I knew it would bring big bucks to the financially struggling Holy Land Experience I feared it would turn it into another Charismatic circus. I feared that it would not show anything like a due reverence to some of the topics the theme park deals with.
My fears have been realized. Paul Crouch, Jr., president of TBN, says that TBN is sprucing up the park and upgrading its shows and that it will use the Holy Land Experience as a backdrop for TV shows and movies, creating a "faith-based Universal Studios." Financially TBN has made the park more successful and the facility is now operating in the black and sees 1,500 to 2,500 visitors every day. However the price has been stiff. ConsiderThe Holy Land Experience celebration of the Crucifixion, as described by the secular media: "Amid cell phones ringing, video cams rolling and ice cream melting under the Florida sun, a blood-spattered Jesus stumbles through the crowd on his way to Golgotha, where nasty Roman soldiers strip him, nail him to the cross and crucify him-while perspiring tourists look on in Bermuda shorts. After the resurrection sequence, visitors applaud and line up for a photo op, not with Mickey or Minnie, but a disciple or bloody-handed yet friendly centurion."
The reporter rightly detected the Disney-like atmosphere. I am afraid much of the Holy has gone from The Holy Land Experience, sacrificed on the altar of crass Charismatic commercialism. What TBN is presenting is a parody of the death of Christ. He is not a spectacle for the entertainment of ice cream-licking tourists and for them to make Him so is nothing short of blasphemy. Par for the course for TBN.