For at least the next month, drivers along I-40 West between Statesville and Hickory will see an important reminder of God’s directive to be a welcoming presence to the most vulnerable among us. The NC Council of Churches has purchased a billboard near Exit 132 that quotes Leviticus 19:34, “Welcome the stranger for you were once a stranger.”
“Some travelers on this section of the highway may have already noticed a billboard with an unwelcoming message,” said the Rev. Jennifer Copeland, the Council’s Executive Director. “We want to remind folks that God intends for God’s people to welcome immigrants, refugees, and strangers precisely because we have been in those categories ourselves. Clearly, those who subscribe to God’s teaching as revealed through scripture can do no other but to welcome those who come to live among us. Jesus himself was a refugee fleeing for his life from Herod.”
Other examples in the Bible include: The children of Abraham migrated to Egypt in search of food (Gen. 47:4-6) and were welcomed. A few generations later they fled Egypt as refugees (Exodus 1-14). When they returned to the land that had been promised to Abraham and to his progeny, they were strangers (Joshua 1:1-9).
“On behalf of the 18 denominations represented by the NC Council of Churches, we want the people of North Carolina to know our God is abounding in steadfast love and we must show this love to others. This billboard is a reminder of God’s grace in a world increasingly consumed by fear and anger,” Copeland said.
Since its founding in 1935, the Council has worked to break down barriers of separation, beginning with its opposition to segregation. Statements and actions that play to fears about groups of people who are different from one another run counter to our decades of work.
Denominational members of the Council are: the Alliance of Baptists, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, General Baptist State Convention, Mennonite Church USA, Metropolitan Community Churches, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, Reformed Church in America, Reformed Churches of God in Christ International, Religious Society of Friends, United Church of Christ, Unity Fellowship Church Movement, and United Methodist Church. In addition, individual congregational members are: the Congregation at Duke Chapel, Knollwood Baptist Church, Mars Hill Baptist Church, Myers Park Baptist Church, Olin Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Wake Forest Baptist Church, and Watts Street Baptist Church.
The sign will be in place for one month, but Copeland said the Council was considering either extending its time there or posting other signs with similar themes around the state