Monday, July 16, 2012

Don't get suckered by the 'Pastor jailed for holding Bible study' case

Conservative Christians provide a thriving market for stories like the one making the rounds here recently about the Phoenix pastor jailed for holding a Bible study in his home.

Shocking! Right here in America, you say? How so?

Here is Fox News on it: Arizona Pastor Arrested, Jailed for Holding Bible Study in Home; His Wife Says It 'Defies Logic'


The beleaguered pastor is pictured in a grave pose with the caption, "Imprisoned for preaching."  Bunyanesque.

Here is the Christian Post article: Lawyer of Jailed Pastor in Home Bible Study Case Speaks Out

Our formerly own Todd Starnes has a Fox piece on it: Man Facing Jail For Hosting Home Bible Study


Lawyer for the pastor, John Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute, compared the situation to what might happen in Iran. 

When I began to see this case tossed about on the blogs, I recognized that something was not quite right. In a former life, I worked as a faceless bureaucrat in the area of zoning administration. Although it has been quite some time since those days, I retain a working familiarity with such things.

Almost all communities restrict the placement of churches and other places of worship. This is perfectly constitutional, almost never nefarious, and is consistent with the same laws that restrict businesses suchs as abattoirs and cement plants to certain areas. Suburban Mike and Molly don't want to wake up one morning and look out their bedroom window to see that a poultry processing plant has popped up fifty feet away; hence, zoning laws are everywhere in America (except Houston where it's too hot and humid to live anyway).

The devil can certainly be in the details on church zoning matters.  Communities cannot use the zoning codes to eliminate churches. Not surprisingly, there is a body of litigation on such things. Also not surprisingly, there is more to the Phoenix case.

Michael Salman Is Not in Jail for Having Bible Studies in His Home, this from the Phoenix New Times (where 'religious' is mysteriously spelled 'religulous').

The same outlet has a piece, Michael Salman wants to build a church in his backyard. His neighbors aren't buying it, which notes that the pastor "...was planning to build a church right there in his backyard. He talked about not just Sunday services, but weeknight Bible studies, a workout room and basketball court, even a Christian day care center."

Hmmm, church on steroids, in your quiet neighborhood. Seems that there is a bit more than just having a few friends over occasionally for Bible study and enchiladas.

The city authorities, recognizing that a tsunami of uninformed Christian indignation was coming, issued a fact sheet and time line: Phoenix Officials Release 'Fact Sheet' in Jailed Pastor's Home Bible Study Case.

Whaddayaknow, the devil is in the details of this case.

This might just as legitimately be a story about telling the truth. Salman told the city he was building a garage in his back yard and later obtained a permit for a "game room." Church? What church?

This might be a story about a pastor who acts as if he is above properly enacted, perfectly reasonable laws which lower forms of American citizenry must obey but not some varieties of Christians. Salman denies his "game room" is a church despite having regular meetings of dozens and dozens of people who sit in rows of chairs facing a dais, despite his publicly describing and filing for tax status as a church, and despite offerings being received.

This might be a story about a failure to be above reproach.

This might be a story about not being a good neighbor.

There might be a story here about making money on sensationalist news, or on obtaining face time for a high profile religious liberty case.

There might even be a story about the effect of some aspects of the zoning codes on places of assembly.

Who knows? There might be an overzealous bureaucrat or two lurking about.

But what there doesn't seem to be here is a story about an oppressed Christian.

Don't get suckered into this one.

You're welcome.




8 comments:

Doug Hibbard said...

This was the same discussion we had yesterday at church. If you are meeting with a small group in your home as it was already built, and trying to work with everyone in terms of traffic flows, then you have a case.

As soon as you start building stuff, that changes the whole situation.

There are bureaucratic and governmental issues that are encroaching on all manner of freedom in this country, but we don't have to invent one. False outrage is a killer

William Thornton said...

Doug, this case isn't too difficult for many reasons but, generally, the critical issue isn't new construction auxillary to the residence.

A group meeting in a home can be defined as a church. What is "small" - 10, 25, 50, 100? How often are the meetings - once a week, twice, three?
How many cars? 25 would mean a dozen or so cars.

At some point the home church becomes inappropriate for the residentially zoned neighborhood.

David R. Brumbelow said...

If everyone was like the great city of Houston, Texas this would not be a problem.
David R. Brumbelow
Texas

dhartwell said...

The book of Daniel opens with Daniel and his companions being asked to eat food from the King's provision. Food that he was not permitted to eat. His response was to discover the reasoning behind the request and form a compromise that would satisfy all sides. Sometimes we are too quick to see nothing but evil in a situation and make more out of it than is really there. I believe we are to make every effort to live at peace (Romans 12:18).

Of course Daniel, in chapter 6, had to take a stand and was cast into the lion's den but even then the overall flavor of the story was Daniel's trust in the Lord. Not the persecution.

The real question? Is this experience drawing his neighbors and city officials closer to the Lord or is it driving them away? You answer.

God bless.

Katie said...

I live in the Phoenix area and have been watching this get more and more out of control for at least 3 years.

Mr. Salman is a straight-up liar. I hate to be so bold, but using softer words won't help this man's cause at all.

People have Bible studies all over the Phoenix Metro area. I live in Chandler and we host a Bible study at our home. There has never been a problem.

Mr. Salman has some need to be in the limelight. It's as if he just couldn't help himself when he told the city and county that he wanted to convert his garage into a 'game room'. He actually got the proper building permit for such a dwelling. But, the furnishings in this game room didn't have any games that I can see. It has an altar, a sturdy wood pulpit and 145blue folding chairs all arranged so as to see the pulpit. Oh... and let me not forget, there is a sign on his gate to the property that says 'Harvest Christian Fellowship'. Hmmmm, some game room.

Another concern we have in the Phoenix area, is the issue of illegal aliens. These unfortunate people are often found housed in abandoned buildings, garages, and... even the house right next door to you. We take this seriously here and report to the authorities anything that doesn't look right.

I don't know what relationship Mr. Salman has with his neighbors. The reports are conflicting. But if he is indeed holding a church service (which he is) then, he is wrong. He lives in a neighborhood of single family homes and the area is not zoned for the kind of traffic a full size church affords. He also failed to have proper lighted exits as demanded by the fire code. And... he had no permit to build a church in his back yard.

Mr. Salman is a convicted felon. He was convicted of a serious offense when he took part in a drive-by shooting. If he has sincerely repented, then I can forgive. That's what scripture teaches. On the other hand, Mr. Salman seems to have a long record of litigious behavior. He has set up businesses with a pattern of appearing and disappearing addresses and a failure to pick up official mail. I wonder why that is? LOL.

Mr. Salman simply ran out of luck. Unfortunately, many Christians didn't take the time to do their homework and jumped on the bandwagon of "The government is out to trample on my first amendment rights". Although, I think the government is intent on doing that, it didn't happen here. Frankly, we look like idiots when we support the kind of nonsense this man has created.

As long as people gather in homes on a regular basis for card games, reading clubs, and yes Bible study I think we are safe. But people like Mr. Salman make us all look suspect.

Matt Richard said...

Thanks for putting into words what I've been thinking on this one.

On the other hand, perhaps "gameroom" is a fitting title for all of the fun and amenities he planned on using to entice people to come to his CHURCH!

Moses Model said...

You left out that they would let him keep the "Bible Study" if he would just renovate his place.

Thanks for this post. I have been pulling my hair out over how easy it is for this character to deceive many across the country.

ET said...

Nice commentary, William.

ET from Baptistlife.com