The Goddess-Worshiping Sex Church?

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The Arizona Republic reports on the travails of a downtown Scottsdale Goddess-worshiping temple that neighbors accuse of being a “sex church”. The Phoenix Goddess Temple, run by mother priestess Tracy Elise, claims that they teach Tantra (actually they claim to practice a syncretic “Neo Tantra”) and don’t engage in prostitution (sacred or otherwise).

Scottsdale police spokesman Sgt. Mark Clark said police visited the Phoenix Goddess Temple last week to investigate a complaint that it was a house of prostitution but could not determine if the allegations were true … The temple has drawn police attention because its tenets connect spirituality and sexuality and it employs sexual healers and teaches its members about tantric sexual techniques. “It’s perceived as a sex church,” Elise said. The 48-year-old priestess was unapologetic about the temple and its views on sex, which she said are far more enlightened than those of most other religions. A waiver that members sign states: “I acknowledge that I will not receive any type of sexual gratification in exchange for money during my session” at the temple. A citizen’s complaint to police alleges that prices listed at the temple say services are $204 for one hour and $440 for 2 1/2 hours but do not say what those services are.

Though a police sting operation yielded no arrests, and despite the fact that they seem quite careful to avoid veering into illegality concerning their sex-oriented teachings and sessions (note the rules for a “cuddle party” held at the temple), that hasn’t stopped neighbors from complaining to law enforcement officials and making assumptions about what goes on inside the temple.

Kim Edwards, president of the Scottsdale Southwest Village homeowners group, said she witnessed congestion problems at the church but was unaware of what was going in the home. She figured it was a business operation. “I almost hit somebody crossing the street there,” she said, adding that she complained to the city. “I wouldn’t support any church at that location because of the traffic it draws. But because of the nature of this church, it sends up a lot of red flags.” Another neighborhood leader, Hope Monkewicz, said she was disturbed by a veil of secrecy surrounding the temple. “If you’re operating there and no one knows about it, you can’t be doing something good in there,” she said.

But unhappy neighborhood leaders can breath a sigh of relief, the temple is moving to Phoenix. Not because they were forced out due to their teachings on sex, but because of local zoning laws.

In Scottsdale, the city code enforcement inspectors notified the Phoenix Goddess Temple on Oct. 21 that it needed approval to operate a church out of the home at 68th Street and Exeter, said Malcolm Hankins, the code enforcement manager. After meeting with city planners in December, the temple considered its options for acquiring an adjacent property or moving to a new location. It ultimately decided to move to Phoenix but was still operating this week in Scottsdale … Earlier this week, Elise said she plans to move to a home in 5900 block of East Shea Boulevard in March. Phoenix planner Alan Stephenson said the city has not received an application to operate a temple at the home, but a church would be allowed in that residential zone.

No doubt the Phoenix Goddess Temple will continue to do well for itself, let’s hope the neighbors and local authorities are a bit more tolerant at their new location. Though the only laws they were breaking were local zoning ordinances, I’m disturbed by the neighbor who found them suspicious simply because “no one knows about it”. This is a group that seemed to have no trouble talking to the press, and keep an extensive web site explaining what they do (and don’t do), yet the spectre of sex and female empowerment seemed to trigger suspicion and hostility. If you want a crystal ball to predict how the future growth of modern Paganism will be received once we’re fically robust enough to open temples and sanctuaries in local communities, you could do worse than to examine how these men and women were treated.