The Salmans appear to have been hosting what is called a “house church.” All over the world, especially in countries where there is Christian persecution, churches begin in homes. In China, for example, every church must register with the government so they can be controlled or face persecution. As a result, countless home churches try to avoid being found out by the government. When discovered, they are disbanded and the pastor is imprisoned. Sound familiar?
Many theological issues arise when one tries to defined what is and isn’t a church. For example, Christians believe the people are a church and not the building. And who decides when a Bible study is an official church gathering? And who decides when that gathering on private property is declared a church in need of 67 zoning regulations? We now know.
Regardless of what Christians believe, the government gets to declare when private property becomes a church building and must therefore follow multiple regulations that would not be necessary for a non-religious gathering.
In one interview, Pastor Salman made this position clear:
If I had people coming to my home on a regular basis for poker night or Monday Night Football, it would be permitted. But when someone says to us we are not allowed to gather because of religious purposes, that is when you have discrimination.
I spoke with Olivia Streight, a house church member in a similar situation about 45 minutes outside of Phoenix. She told me:
We have a Bible study every week at our house and we have at least 40 people there. I know I don’t live in the same city he does. I just think the more we depend on the government/state officials to handle our situations, the more they are going to step in and one day we are not going to have any choice in anything.
The key question is, even if this is a house church, does the government have the right to hold it to the same code and zoning laws as big-building churches? Following such rules would force untold small-house churches to close down all over the country. And if government has this right, why do only religious gatherings receive such government oversight and not other secular gatherings like game nights or home-based business gatherings?