Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"A well-funded California religious order announced plans to build a sanctuary. Then the battle lines were drawn."

In the fall of 2007, residents of tiny Saranap, California, were surprised to hear of a proposed $20 million construction project. The plan called for a 66,000 square foot structure to be built within an unassuming neighborhood of single-floor ranch homes, canopying oaks, and sloping, sidewalk-free streets. The renderings depicted a futuristic all-white building of 13 interlocked domes. It was “bigger than the White House,” locals would grumble in public hearings, an “eyesore”; it was “secretive” and “reminds [one] of Waco”; it was “better suited to and more reminiscent of the architecture of Bukhara, Uzbekistan.” It was to be a sanctuary for a religious order called Sufism Reoriented.


“People were up in arms,” recalls Ursula Reinhart, a former member of Sufism Reoriented who left the order in 1980. “‘Suddenly this thing is supposed to be built?’ In the website were these comments, and they were all battling back and forth: ‘where does this money come from?’ And me, being an outsider, I just put in — ‘Cheesecake Factory.’”

It was true. While part of the sanctuary’s budget was sourced from the 500-plus congregation’s personal finances, it would turn out that much of the money was coming from one member in particular: David Overton, the founder and CEO of the family-dining chain.