Michael Salman wants to build a church in his backyard. His neighbors aren't buying it

The man in the YouTube video is so passionate, he sounds almost angry. His face is just inches from the camera as he expounds for nearly six minutes, barely pausing for breath the entire time. He doesn't consult notes, even when he's quoting Scripture.

He knows the verses by heart.

"It is very important that we deny ourselves, and pick up the cross, and follow Jesus," the man says, staring intently into cyberspace. "The problem is, America is being so fulfilled and so . . . fat! . . . in their luxuries and indulgences of what is going on, and people are being so consumed with their own world, and their own personal agenda, that they are finding themselves lazy pigs that are not getting up and doing what God calls them to do!"

"Maybe," he says, a few thoughts later, "I may be called a religious fanatic in the eyes of many. But what does Christ command us to do but be zealous for God?"

The man calls himself "Kryptologos," and he's posted 70 brief sermons on YouTube, talking about everything from whether Christians should be tolerant (not overly) to whether evolution is real (emphatically not).

His name is Michael Salman, he is the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, and he's got his northwest Phoenix neighborhood in an uproar.

Not because of those YouTube sermons, although they've been a source of fascination for the neighbors who've Googled Salman — and the words "religious fanatic" have, in fact, been whispered about him.

And not because of his criminal record, though the neighbors have pored over the 15-year-old police report that led to his conviction.

The real problem is that Salman is intent on building a church in his own backyard — and not just any church, but a 4,200-square-foot building that will sit only a few feet from his neighbor's property line.

This country was settled by people who wanted the freedom to practice their faith as they saw fit. But there's a reason the Pilgrims had to get out of Europe, and it's the same reason Michael Salman is encountering so much resistance from his neighborhood.

Whether we want to admit it or not, zealots are seldom the most popular guys on the block. And there are a whole lot of people who don't want to sacrifice their property values to allow their neighbor the right to worship as he pleases — especially when his idea of worship involves amplifiers, several services each week, and carload after carload of congregants.

But as angry as the neighbors are about Michael Salman's building plans, you only have to watch YouTube to know this is a guy who's never going to give up willingly. He's got the U.S. Department of Justice on speed dial and says the Center for Arizona Policy has been advising him, as well.

"How can we not be excited for Jesus Christ?" he asks his YouTube viewers. "How can we not be zealous for the Lord?"

The North Glen Square neighborhood is just off the I-17, only blocks from the busy strip malls of Northern and Glendale avenues. But it feels worlds away.

North of Orangewood Avenue, 31st Avenue narrows to two tiny lanes. Here, the houses are mostly 30-year-old ranches with a lived-in grace, some of them quite large. (Michael Salman's, for example, is a sprawling 3,147 square feet, with a five-car garage.)

Here, there are trees; the Salt River Project uses the area for overflow, and "flood irrigation" has left the place a green oasis on a brown map. There are also horses: Many homeowners settled in the larger lots that surround Mariposa Park because the yards are big enough for a barn, or even two barns. It's not a young neighborhood, with more retirees than elementary school kids. Most of them will happily give you a rundown of their menagerie — horses, goats, chickens.

Mike and Andrea Julius, who both work in the mapping business, moved to the neighborhood 15 years ago. They liked it so much that when they were ready to upgrade, they found a house just three lots from their old one.

"We loved the neighborhood from the moment we first saw it," Andrea Julius says.

Perhaps because so many residents have lived here so long, people actually know their neighbors. Tom Woods is 81 and a former executive at APS. After living in the neighborhood for 36 years, he estimates that he knows "50 to 60" neighbors by name.

So when Michael and Suzanne Salman bought the big ranch house on 31st Avenue, Woods stopped by.

"I went up and shook hands and introduced him to the neighborhood," Woods says. "There was no problem. In fact, everything was fine until he started this project."

From the beginning, neighbors say, the Salmans were upfront about their faith, explaining that Michael was a pastor and inviting neighbors to check out their church. One of the Juliuses' neighbors, a local building contractor, even went to the church for a while.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske