For Greater Glory arrived this summer only to be forgotten among the superheroes, arrow-shooting girls, and magic Mikes. The film portrayed a true story of 1926 Mexico ruled by a government deeply hostile to the Catholic Church. The Mexican president instructed federal forces to expel priests, seize church land, and even force Christians to deny their faith or face execution. The Christians were treated as criminals and told to recant their religion by saying, “Death to Christ the King, long live the federal government.”
Those who saw the film were shocked that they never learned about this unjust period of history. Many will be even more horrified to hear that a similar story is happening right now in the United States. While we have yet to see executions of the devout, we are seeing church property seizures and now the imprisonment of pastors.
In Phoenix, Arizona, this week, a pastor was thrown in jail for 60 days by the local government. His crime is hosting a weekly, private Bible study in his own home. The government argues the man has a church on his property and must therefore correct 67 zoning violations. And right at this very moment a father of six kids sits in a Phoenix prison for teaching the Bible on his own property.
Michael Salman, the imprisoned pastor, and his wife started hosting Bible studies in their home in 2002. They later moved into their current neighborhood where they were, according to the Salmans, informed by authorities that they could not host religious gatherings in their house.
They had to have a separate meeting area. The Salmans built on their own property “a 2,000-square-foot game room adjacent to their home on their 1.5-acre property.” Their plan was to use this building weekly for worship and Bible study. The Phoenix authorities have declared the building a church. They originally fined Salman $180,000 for not following church building codes and have now put him in prison for noncompliance.
The Salmans have argued that their weekly gathering is not a church. It is simply a Bible study. Authorities raided the property in 2009 (yes, you read that right: they raided the Salmans’ home property) and cited Michael Salman for the church building code violations. Salman claims that since their services are not promoted to the public — they are a private gathering of friends and family — it is not a church in the traditional sense.