In the near-decade that Stacy Parker LeMelle has lived across the street from the Atlah Worldwide Missionary Church on Lenox Avenue, she has had to swallow a daily dose of outrage. There — on one of the most important streets in the history of black culture and in the middle of the city where the modern gay rights movement began — it stands: an official letter board sign used to regularly promote racist and homophobic hate.
“Jesus would stone homos,” trumpeted one of the more jarring messages mounted outside the church in recent years, stopping many a passerby cold. “Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man,” read another.
At first LeMelle tried to ignore it, occasionally laughing at the proclamations when they became too much to walk past without yielding to some sort of emotional reaction. Eventually, though, she and her neighbors decided they had seen enough.
“We knew that silence wasn’t an option anymore,” LeMelle told MSNBC in a February interview just blocks away from the Atlah church where, for years, the sign out front served as a vehicle for racially-charged, homophobic rhetoric and conspiracy theories, often about President Obama.
“We would have to do something,” she said.
Determined to channel their anger into a positive cause, LeMelle and her neighbors started raising money in 2014 for the Ali Forney Center, a nearby organization that provides shelter and services to LGBT homeless youth. Now, in an ironic twist of fate, that same organization stands a chance at buying the church building that has for so long embodied discrimination against the very community the Ali Forney Center was created to serve.
Some are calling the potential sale karma. But in the eyes of the Rev. James David Manning, pastor of Atlah and the man behind the violent rhetoric, it’s a witch hunt — and he won’t go down without a fight.
“This is our building,” Manning said from inside the sanctuary of his Baptist church on a recent afternoon, his booming, preacher’s voice laced with the Southern drawl of his native North Carolina. “And it’s not going to go away to the sodomites.”
Despite Manning’s conviction that his outspoken beliefs are what landed his church in hot water, his legal troubles appear rooted in something far less sensational: He hasn’t paid the bills.
It’s a charge Manning himself does not dispute. His argument, which will be considered in state court next week, is that he shouldn’t have to.
“We don’t owe the taxes,” Manning told MSNBC in a wide-ranging interview last February. “We’re tax-exempt. We’re a church, for crying out loud!”
But the law may not be on his side. In December, a New York state Supreme Court justice issued a judgment of foreclosure against the Atlah church, ordering that it be sold at public auction. The official grounds seemed legitimate — the church owes more than $1 million to various creditors, according to a public notice of the foreclosure sale posted by the New York Law Journal. Manning, however, believes that debt had nothing to do with it.
“This foreclosure is a bogus foreclosure inspired by the [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio administration, probably prompted by Obama, to finally try to shut up my very strong voice against this wicked and immoral activity of sodomy,” Manning said.
Dressed in an immaculate suit, as is his custom, the 69-year-old pastor cuts a slick figure in person, yet still manages to come across as friendly and unguarded — even while complaining to members of the media about the media’s treatment of him. (To wit, while sitting down to prepare for an interview with MSNBC, Manning accused Fusion of publishing “a hit piece” that day entitled, “Doomsday: This homophobic preacher’s worst nightmare is about to come true.” To be clear, he said, it wasn’t the word “homophobic” that bothered him; it was “doomsday.”)
At least outwardly, Manning doesn’t seem concerned that he could lose his church to an organization that helps LGBT youth.
“I believe that before this building is ever inhabited by any sodomite, homosexual, f***t group, that men will be carrying babies in their balls and giving birth out of their a**holes before this building will be ever used by f*****s, that’s what I believe,” he said. “Now, if that’s possible they can get it. But if it ain’t possible, it ain’t going to happen.”
Source: MSNBC | Emma Margolin