It grieves me that Michael Salman, Pastor of the Harvest Christian Community Church of Northwest Phoenix and his wife and family, along with many others, are having to endure this painful experience of state and church relations. See my original article at http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Opinion/052156-2009-06-21-prayer-police-strike-again-this-time-its-phoenix.htm and Dave Hodges’ response at http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Opinion/052216-2009-06-22-prayer-police-strike-again-the-rest-of-the-story.htm. But if this conflict will help all of us to understand more clearly the principals of church and state then maybe some good can come out of this tragedy, and it is a great tragedy for all concerned.
However, I want all to know, even though Dave Hodges filed his article under “Unregistered Churches”, the Harvest Christian Community Church is not an unregistered church nor is Pastor Salmon involved now nor to my knowledge has he ever been involved in the unregistered church movement. In fact, operating under a zoning ordinance, seeking building permits, operating under the county health and fire agencies and seeking refuge under the Congressionally enacted Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA), the church is operating as a IRS designated tax-exempt (legal) organization, waiving their federal religious liberty guarantees. Arizona has none to speak of anyway, only a weak act of toleration that needs totally revamped to express religions liberty, in my opinion. (See Section 12 – Religious Freedom – Arizona Constitution).
Dave is what we would call a soft statist, but no doubt a sincere one. You can always tell a statist, because they always seek to find reasons to justify the actions of government agencies, i.e. police raids on a Thursday when seven or eight armed police herd a pastor, his wife and their five “dangerous” daughters and their visiting friends into the living room and keep them under watch for 90 minutes while other city officials search the grounds looking for evidence. Not something big time like drugs, drug paraphernalia, or illegal contraband of some kind, but something really big, like evidence that a Pastor and his wife are holding church services in their backyard. One cop even followed Suzanne while she changed the baby’s diaper. Hope he enjoyed the smell.
Dave now makes my argument when he says, “The American public needs to be very concerned about zoning regulations which limit one’s right to engage in the practice of their faith. Certainly, the former Soviet Union legislated many churches out of existence through the use of zoning.” This was the basic point of my original article; keep reading folks.
I had the privilege of going into Russia with a group right after the Berlin Wall was torn down. We visited several unregistered Baptist churches; two of them were outside the city limits of Moscow. I sat for a three hour service in the bitter cold in what they called a tent but what we would call a little rough wood tabernacle, about the size of Pastor Salman’s disputed backyard building that he is using for his church. Boards held up logs, the people sat in their coats. But oh, what singing and preaching. The smiles on the little children’s faces. That Sunday morning I will never forget.
After the service, we went next door for a meal. I saw cabbages piled up on the back porch. And then I noticed something else. I noticed a black electrical cord running from the home to about fifty feet across to the church tent. I stood and looked for a long time and then I caught on. Yep – that’s right, unregistered churches don’t take permits, not for preaching, not for heat, not for air conditioning and not even for lights. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, it all belongs to him and we don’t have to have a permit to use it for God’s work, that’s why the founding fathers gave us the First Amendment. “Congress Shall Make No Law”…No means No. Unalienable means Unalienable. But the Russians had no First Amendment.
The Christian Alert Network (T-can) http://tcan-ga.com/ has reported for several years now that they have spent many hours of research on myriads of UN documents in which they are convinced that their goal is to eliminate the physical local church. One way they plan to do it is through the regulatory and taxing agencies including zoning, health, environmental, fire, safety, etc. One of their goals is to make religion so expensive that it is will be nearly impossible to plant a church in most residential areas, or they will simply zone them into the poorest or business/industrial sections of the city. And they will use “public safety” as the smoke screen. In other words, just relegate them to the trash heap of society, unless of course the members are wealthy and can afford the stringent regs. The rich don’t care; they never have cared, to them it’s just the cost of doing business.
But as I said in my original article, we are not saying that we will not voluntarily comply to reasonable regulatory laws, but we will be led of God not some faceless bureaurats that care not for God nor man. Dave proves our point when he says, “The City of Phoenix attempted to find the middle ground in this issue by demanding that Salman build a parking spot in his backyard for every three seats in his church. This regulation is consistent with requirements placed on other private and public entities. The city seemed to be genuinely trying to work with Salman and his congregation. However, Salman refused to meet with his councilman and neighbors in order to work out a solution.” If that’s Dave’s idea of genuine, I have a Rolex I would like to talk to him about.
Our nation is now trillions in debt, the State of California is going totally under, the State of Arizona is about to go down the pike, the city of Phoenix is just about a beached whale in the desert money-wise, and this kind of stupidity is the reason. Salman has already spent eighty grand trying to prove he’s cooperative and they want him to continue to go down the tube so some rich dude in the neighborhood can grab his home? You can’t appease a beast by feeding it. Do you think the elitists don’t have a jaundiced eye on all of the beautiful church property in America? Besides, who decided that God’s money belonged to government and it was governments business to determine when, how and where it is to be spent? All of these untold millions, maybe billions of church funds going into all of these administrative regulations and taxation all over the nation should be going to evangelism, missions and Christian causes.
Now our Christian Common law works different than this. It is not administrative or Roman law, it is from England and is based on the Bible. It doesn’t punish or restrict the group for the wrongs or crimes of the one or many. Who does the crime does the time, so to speak. If someone has committed a common law crime on the Salman property or off of the property, then they should be called to account and they should be prosecuted just like any other citizen whether preacher, priest or king, period.
If someone is disturbing the peace, then proper authorities should be called and it should be taken care of. There are cam corders, if the authorities are not there, to use as evidence. But no, the government has made a total mess out of the whole law system because they think they can do it better than the system our founding fathers gave us. But I will assure you one thing, just because a church building doesn’t have a sprinkler system isn’t a common law crime by any stretch. Now disturbing the peace is, including using amplifying systems, if that’s the case, of which I have no knowledge. The Bible does say something about, “Love thy neighbor.” Now the real issue in the Salman case, when you cut to the chase, comes from the people themselves. Good ole’ Dave’s our reporter as he writes:
“Clearly, in the minds of Salmon’s neighbors, he and his church had become a nuisance to the peace and well-being of the neighborhood. . . . Salman’s neighbors complained that their home values could diminish as a result of the church and its activities. . . . . It is very clear that Pastor Michael Salman’s neighbors do not like him and they do not care for his church because both are perceived by the neighborhood as a major nuisance. . . . Salman’s neighbors are quick to tell anyone who will listen that they are concerned that he is an ex-felon. . . . It is clear that Michael Salmon and his Harvest Christian Community Church, whether he meant to or not, embarked upon a path which served to antagonize and disrupt the lives of the residents of an upscale residential neighborhood in North Phoenix. . . . Salmon’s neighbors reportedly did not object to 20-25 people attending a bible study. They did vehemently object to the loss of property values and the constant disruption to their lives by what they perceived to be infringement upon the previous serenity of their neighborhood.”
In other words, it’s either Salman or the neighborhood. Salman represents the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s always been that way. If Christ stays the neighborhood may grow poorer and lose its value, at least they believe. He must go. The Jews in our Lord’s time believed that they had more to lose than their neighborhood. They said that it’s either Christ or the nation, so they said crucify Him so the nation could be saved. They crucified Him, but the Romans came 37 years later and destroyed the nation.
Nothing has changed in 2,000 years. The beat goes on and the real issue many times is never faced by the neighborhood or the authorities. It’s not, “You can’t preach the gospel.” It’s , “public safety” or “disturbing the peace. I will close this column with one example taken from the Northern, Virginia Notes on the Baptists. www.novahhistory.org/fryingpanmeetinghouse.htm. With the rise of the Baptists, men in power became alarmed by their growth in numbers, and stretched the interpretation of an existing law for preservation of peace, seizing ministers and having them arraigned for disturbing the peace. May it please your worships, these men are great disturbers of the peace, they cannot meet a man upon the road but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat. Jeremiah Moore, who would later become the second minister at Frying Pan Springs Church, was charged in 1773 with preaching and publishing the holy Gospel without a license.
There was No Room in the Inn for Him 2000 years ago and there is still No room for him here in most neighborhoods in this world - and there will be No room until He comes with a sword and makes room to sit on His own throne on Mt. Zion in the city of Jerusalem – and believe me, He is coming again. But the important thing – Is there room in your heart for Him?
I am the National Director of the Biblical Law Center. We help churches to organize and reorganize to take advantage of their First Amendment Guarantees. If you are interested or would like to have my newsletter The Trumpet online, send your e mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.