HARLEM — The church that thinks "Jesus would stone homos" is scheduled to be put up for public auction next month because its pastor hasn’t paid his debts.
A state judge ordered Atlah Worldwide Church to be sold at a public foreclosure auction after failing to pay creditors more than $1.02 million, court records show.
The Rev. James Manning said in a phone conversation with DNAinfo New York that the foreclosure was mostly over unpaid water and sewage bills and vowed to fight the order, claiming his church’s tax exempt status means he doesn’t have to pay.
“I assure you, it’s about a water bill and a tax that can’t be levied against this church,” Manning said. “I think it’s a land grab quite frankly.”
Manning said he found out about the public auction last week and was previously unaware that there was a legal case against his church, despite the fact that the case began in September 2009 and his lawyer filed an answer to the complaint a month later.
What Manning didn’t say is that there are nine federal tax liens against him totaling more than $355,000 from as far back as 2002. He also owes New York State more than $28,000 and other creditors more than $30,000, public records show.
According to city records, the Internal Revenue Service released a federal lien against Manning in 2006 and the Bank of New York Mellon was assigned that lien in 2010.
The church does receive $186,000 in tax exemption benefits from New York City, records show.
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection would not say if churches are exempt from water and sewage charges, but the agency's website lists $194,000 in outstanding water bills.
The church had until April 2015 to pay back $1.02 million to creditors, according to court documents.
On Dec. 17, Judge Joan Kenny ordered a foreclosure sale. The debt was calculated by court-appointed referee, Arthur Greig.
The public auction will be Feb. 24, according to a public notice posted with the New York Law Journal.
Over the years, Atlah has drawn negative attention for posting homophobic and politically charged messages on a sign at the corner of 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue.
The controversial messages, like "Jesus would stone homos" or "Harlem is a sodomite free zone" have drawn community protests. The church has also received violations from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for erecting the sign — and other alterations — without permission.
Manning has previously said the church did not have enough money to pay the violations.