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West Virginia pastor hopes to turn strip joint into a church

December 14, 2011 |  7:44 am

Jesus Saves sign
Out with the pole, in with the pews: A West Virginia preacher is hoping to purchase a building that housed a strip club -- one with a history of sin exceptional even by strip-club standards -- and turn it into a church.

Reporter Kate White of the Charleston (W.V.) Gazette reports that the pastor, Art Hage, is raising money to buy the old Pink Pony Gentlemen's Club in the Charleston suburb of Cross Lanes.

"It has such a bad reputation and we feel like we could make it good," Hage told the paper. "Gambling, drinking, all of it's bad and it produces a society that's out of control. It has got to be stopped."

This particular Pink Pony was the site of more than the kind of lascivious acts proscribed in 1 Corinthians 6:13. It was also the site of a swindle that could have been cooked up by Elmore Leonard: In 2003, a Powerball winner named Jack Whittaker said employees of the club drugged him and stole a briefcase in his car containing $500,000 in cash. (Note to future Powerball winners: Please, open a checking account.) Charges against two Pink Pony workers were eventually dropped and, somehow, Whittaker got his money back, according to the Gazette.

The Pink Pony lost its liquor license shortly thereafter, and when owners tried to reopen in 2008, the county planning commission rejected the application because a TGI Fridays had opened nearby, and county law prohibits opening an "adult" establishment within 2,000 feet of a business that serves alcohol.

Now all the pastor needs is $795,000 to cover the cost of the building. A friend of Hage's told the paper he'd like to see the gaudy Pink Pony sign converted to one that reads "Jesus Saves."

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-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: This Jesus Saves sign, shot in 1977 in downtown Los Angeles, reflects the general thinking behind a West Virginia pastor's plans. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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