NEW YORK — The end may be nigh for a Harlem church known for hateful public messages condemning gays and President Barack Obama to eternal damnation, and two groups that serve gay New Yorkers are hoping to get an ironic last word on the matter.
They want to buy the Atlah World Missionary Church at a foreclosure auction. One wants to turn it into housing for gay homeless youth.
The congregation’s pastor has vowed not to let that happen.
“We’re not going to be pushed like this,” said Dr. James David Manning, who literally thumped a leather-bound Bible during an interview at his church this week. “I’m tired of people ramming their ideas down one’s throat.”
A fixture in Harlem for more than 30 years, The Atlah World Missionary Church has never been shy about expressing its own blunt ideas.
The large red billboard in front of the church is emblazoned with rotating messages like one that said to gays “cursed be thou with cancer, HIV, syphilis, stroke, madness, the itch, then Hell.” Others have gone after Obama, calling him “a Taliban Muslim illegally elected president.”
So, when the news broke that the church owed $1 million to creditors and was facing a foreclosure auction Feb. 24, some quarters received it with glee.
One nonprofit group, the Ali Forney Center, has raised $186,073 on its website as part of an effort to buy the church and convert the building into transitional housing for homeless gay youths — the very population, its leaders say, that is most harmed by the Atlah church’s message.
“We ask our kids why they weren’t safe in their homes. … The No. 1 reason is because of the hostile religious beliefs of their parents,” said the center’s executive director, Carl Siciliano.
He added that the church location, just a few blocks from the Ali Forney Center’s Harlem drop-in center, would be ideal “even if it didn’t have the Rev. Manning angle to it.”
A second effort to buy the four-story brick and terra cotta church building been organized by the Rivers of Living Water Ministries, which serves mainly African-American LGBT worshippers. The church’s GoFundMe drive had raised more than $23,000 as of Friday morning.