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Church State Issues

Neighbors complain about sexually-oriented temple

Feb 26, 2010

By: Peter Corbett

The Arizona Republic

Feb. 26, 2009 04:17 PM

Police have investigated a sexually oriented temple operating in a downtown Scottsdale home after complaints from neighbors.

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.

A city zoning code enforcement case, which started in October, is separate from the more recent police visit to the property at 68th Street and Exeter Boulevard.

The temple plans to move to Phoenix next month because its residential property is not large enough for a church under Scottsdale's zoning code, said Tracy Elise, temple mother priestess.

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.

"I'm totally sincere in saying this is a spiritual endeavor," Elise said. "Tantra is the most ancient religion on the planet."

Tantra refers to ancient scriptures dealing with techniques and rituals relating to sexual practices and meditation."

The practices of the Phoenix Goddess Temple have alarmed neighbors, but it was traffic and parking issues that first sparked complaints to the city in the fall. The 50-year-old downtown neighborhood south of Camelback Road is mostly ranch homes on large lots, with multimillion homes along exclusive Exeter Boulevard.

Neighbors have been occupied with fighting a plan to move an electrical substation to 68th Street and Indian School Road and with a blighted apartment complex that closed two years ago.

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.

Elise, the temple priestess, said the women of the neighborhood would be supportive if they learned about the sacred sexuality and teachings of the church, which put more emphasis on divine feminine wisdom.

She said she moved to the Valley last summer after being involved with a goddess temple in Seattle for several years. Elise said she and other members of the temple were questioned in a sting of escort services shortly after arriving here.

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.

A city inspector's memo from Feb. 9 notes that Elise "is aware she is not to be running services out of (the) residence."

Police spokesman Clark said the initial complaints in the code enforcement case did not include allegations that criminal activity was taking place

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.