Harlem’s Atlah Worldwide Church, Known for Bold Messages Against Homosexuality, Avoids Foreclosure for Now

James D. Manning, pastor of the Atlah Worldwide Church in Harlem, is known to trumpet his thoughts on a large sign outside the church, shown here in February. Credit: Brian Harkin for The New York Times
James D. Manning, pastor of the Atlah Worldwide Church in Harlem, is known to trumpet his thoughts on a large sign outside the church, shown here in February. Credit: Brian Harkin for The New York Times

The Atlah Worldwide Church in Harlem has grown infamous for the incendiary and often anti-gay views expressed by its pastor, which are trumpeted in bold letters on a large sign outside the church.

After a judge ruled last week to block the building’s looming foreclosure, the church responded in typical fashion, with a message that said the church would celebrate by burning a rainbow flag in the building’s courtyard, employing an anti-gay slur as a descriptor.

It was just another day at the church, which has long drawn the ire of those around the city and far beyond for its insulting messages about gay people, whom it has referred to as “homos,” “sodomites” and worse; President Obama, whom it has called a “Taliban Muslim”; and others.

James D. Manning, the church’s pastor, said the most recent message was in response to an anonymous letter the church had received, which had used a racial slur, he said, and had claimed that the rainbow flag would soon be waving at the top of the building as Bibles were burned in its courtyard.

The ruling — by Justice Manuel J. Mendez of State Supreme Court in Manhattan — to vacate the judgment of foreclosure and sale means the case will move back to the courts, which will debate an issue that has not been resolved in more than 10 years of litigation: whether or not the church owes the city money for its water and sewer use.

While places of public worship can qualify for an exemption, the church has long argued that it has been unfairly denied that relief by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. It has applied for the exemption five times since 1991 and been rejected each time, according to Edward Timbers, a spokesman for the department.

The church has never paid its water and sewerage bills, the city maintains; the church argues that it does not owe the fees, even as a tax lien on the estimated $10 million building has swelled to more than $1 million.

The lien’s current holder, the Bank of New York Mellon, moved forward with a foreclosure auction and sale in December, with two gay advocacy groups lining up as potential buyers in what one called a measure of “divine justice.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Eli Rosenberg