By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Immediate past president of the neighborhood association, she's lived in North Glen Square since 1947, in the same modest house. She's seen condos go up on the big arterial streets. She's seen the city foolishly approve a housing development down the street, only to watch the developer go broke before managing to finish four houses.
But she's never seen a controversy like the one surrounding Salman's church.
The association represents 1,400 households, she says. On this matter, they have complete agreement.
"We can't find anybody in favor it," Bettis says flatly. "Not one."
Both sides agree that the debate has gotten ugly — and, of course, each side blames the other.
Salman's evidence? When he accidentally let his incorporation lapse with the secretary of state, one neighbor grabbed the "Harvest Christian Fellowship" name and registered it for himself. Salman was forced to re-file as "Harvest Christian Community Church."
As for the neighbors, well, they say that after they complained about Salman's project, he responded by holding a worship service, complete with an public-address system, at nearby Mariposa Park.
"You could hear him from a mile away," Mike Julius says.
"It went on probably a good hour," Andrea Julius adds.
"It was a couple of hours," Mike Julius says, correcting her. "It was just bad."
The neighbors also talk about what happened to Wade Bonine, Salman's next-door neighbor and, not coincidentally, the guy with his house on the market. Bonine has been Salman's most vocal critic. His lawyer, Richard Lee, says Bonine was forced to request a restraining order against Salman after the pastor came to Bonine's front door appearing to be in an angry mood.
Lee says Salman "raised his fist and Wade closed the door on him." The judge granted the restraining order.
But there's some irony in just how much animosity has resulted from the church's building plans, for one reason.
Salman doesn't have the money to build anything. Not even the shell of the building that he first proposed and certainly not a building that would be wired for business.
Talking to him, it seems clear that his dream has gotten ahead of his church's finances. After years of searching, he found a home for his church — never mind that the church itself is now too small to support a big construction project. Salman currently has only about 30 members and, he admits, not much in the way of extra cash. Records show that he and Suzanne took out a $564,000 mortgage to pay for the house. It's hard to imagine, in today's credit crunch, that any bank would loan them enough money to begin new construction in the backyard — construction that will hardly increase the property's value to most potential purchasers.
But when the neighborhood dug its heels in, so did the pastor.
"The church is going to be built," he says. "Even if it has to be built one brick at a time."
How is that even possible?
"God will provide," he says. "God always provides. I don't know how."
A few weeks later, Salman calls to say that the neighbors are threatening to file a "nuisance" lawsuit against him should the city allow him to build. He seems shocked that, in the letter threatening the suit, attorney Tahan mentions his criminal record.
"I don't even hide that from nobody," he says. "It's part of my testimony. It's who I am."
But then Salman mentions something fascinating. He's been talking to the U.S. Department of Justice about the way the city twice broke up his worship meetings.
If the city does it again, Justice is going to help him sue the city, he claims. At minimum, they'll file a "friend of the court" brief on his behalf, he says. (Justice wouldn't comment, which is not unusual, given that the department generally won't say anything before it intervenes.) He's also been talking to lawyers at Center for Arizona Policy, the influential Christian activist group started by former gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil.
Interestingly, this month, the church has started holding its Sunday-morning meetings — Salman won't call them services — at the house. The meetings are in defiance of a letter from the city's legal department, which specifically bars the church from meeting on-site until construction is complete.
Salman seems to realize that if the city shuts those meetings down, it may be the best thing that's happened to his little congregation. He says he's not trying to goad the city into action, but he can't help speculating about what would happen if it did.
"Maybe they'll get so angry that they'll do something stupid," he says. "Like put a cease-and-desist on us holding worship there. Eventually, the city can pay for the church!"
The thought is so appealing he can't help but repeat it.
"The city may have to pay for our church to be built," Michael Salman says. The excitement in his voice is unmistakable.