NASHVILLE SKYLINE: What Would Jesus Say?

New Bible Theme Parks Zero In on Nashville

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Well, what do you know. Right now, the Nashville area has no (zero) Bible or religious theme parks. This time next year, we may have two. What gives? Is there a groundswell of sudden demand for Biblical amusement?

I think this has much to do with the periodic re-discovery of country music — and, more importantly, the re-discovery of the country music audience.

You can always tell when country music is getting too popular. It starts getting discovered by the people who shouldn’t be discovering it. By the ones who should be off packaging Branson or Vegas shows or booking the Pussycat Dolls on Nashville Star, by the ones who shouldn’t be descending on Nashville with brand-new cowboy hats and newly-acquired Southern accents and contracts in hand.
It gets discovered by several types of people. By people who are faltering in other walks of life and who think that country looks so simple that it can be an easy go. It gets discovered by the would-be tycoons, by the strip miners of music and popular culture who want to come in and make a quick fortune by ripping the tops off the cultural mountains and bulldozing them down, stealing the riches within and leaving town with them. It gets discovered by many singers who are fading or who never made it at all.

But it also gets discovered by young people who think it’s a wonderful thing and want to be a part of it and want to contribute to it. A hearty welcome to them.

And then the country audience also gets scrutinized by exploiters looking for angles. The faith-based angle has been a constant target because country fans are also largely fans of Christian and gospel music, with marketers traditionally concentrating on selling them re-packaged gospel CDs and DVDs.

Now, Bible parks seem to be all the coming rage, also now called destinations of something termed “faith-based travel.” Bible parks are looking at exploiting one of the few identifiable pop culture audiences left that is still worth looting, i.e., the Christian audience.

A new project called Bible Park USA has been trying to get into the Nashville area for a while now. It was run out of nearby Rutherford Country by residents who didn’t want a lot of huge development and traffic and noise and congestion dropped into their midst. Bible Park USA is now looking to gain a foothold in nearby Lebanon, Tenn. It is projected, as its Web site says, as “a one-of-a-kind themed story park that brings the Bible to life through well-loved, familiar stories and ancient historical experiences.”

The developers are, not surprisingly, from well outside of Tennessee and well removed from music. They say, in an FAQ on their Web site, that Bible Park USA is a for-profit, rather than a not-for-profit, venture because, “As we began to work the feasibility of the idea of the Bible Park USA some three years ago, we learned that some Bible-based projects around the country were struggling because their not-for-profit nature limits what experiences they can offer because of lack of funding.” Make of that what you will.

Some key attractions of Bible Park USA would be, in the developers’ words:

• Experience life in Biblical times in the authentic, working Galilean Village …

• Share in a thundering Exodus Experience, walking between 25-foot-high walls of water that serve as a screen showing a dramatic movie depicting the Israelites’ departure from Egypt, culminating in a fiery view of Moses and the Burning Bush …

• Fly over the Judean Desert in the Bible Fly-Through Ride, an IMAX-type experience allowing guests to “ride” over the ancient city of Jerusalem, view the lights of the New City of Jerusalem in the distance and bank right for a visit to the Pyramids in Egypt …

• Children of all ages will love running through the large-scale Noah’s Ark and viewing a short play with actors dressed as animals to tell the beloved story …

• Enjoy a delicious meal in the Agape Tent, where authentic Middle Eastern foods can be sampled and enjoyed.

You know, this could be a very useful addition to popular culture, if it proved to be an accurate and vivid portrayal of Biblical history. If.

Now, Trinity Broadcasting is muscling its way into the religious theme park picture. Trinity, a religious broadcasting company, many years ago acquired the late country icon Conway Twitty’s Twitty City premises in Hendersonville, outside Nashville. It’s now known as Trinity Music City and serves as the company’s headquarters. Trinity also bought the religious theme park Holy Land Experience at Orlando, Fla., in 2007. Now they plan to expand the Holy Land Experience and move many attractions to their Hendersonville property. Twitty’s neighbors in his cemetery now call him “Spinning Conway” after watching him constantly revolving in his grave.

The Trinity park in Florida, of course, has a re-creation of the crucifixion, which should totally do in small children. I would recommend, when they move their attractions to Tennessee, adding John the Baptist’s head on a tray. I would also advocate having Lazarus raised from the dead every hour, on the hour. Do it before Vegas does it. They might even add an X-rated Burning Bush feature, which should be a big commercial consideration. In light of the earthy content of the Bible, there is much rich material with which to work.

Bathsheba certainly deserves at least a G-rated spot in the pageant. Perhaps Goliath could tangle with the likes of Hulk Hogan. A River Jordan raft run might prove amusing. There is still a marvelous musical to be written from the “Song of Solomon,” although I don’t sense that it will come from these developers.

I think a “Holy Roller Coaster” should be incorporated into the parting of the Red Sea. A tasty lunch of loaves and fishes would be suitable afterward, along with some water changed into wine. But I doubt that these people will allow any alcohol into their commercial Holy Land. Although Jesus did, in his simple Holy Land.

You have to wonder if perhaps God has special plans for people who try to make money in His name.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves. And said unto them, it is written, “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

— St. Matthew 21: 12-13.