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
Jeanne T. says
FTA: “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).”
Rev. Copeland is mishandling the Scriptures by obscuring the actual identities of “the children of Abraham” and his “progeny”. It was the Hebrews, specifically the brothers of Joseph, son of Jacob (whose name was later changed by God to Israel) and Rachel, who went to Egypt in search of food because of the famine.
It is also misleading to suggest that they were immediately welcomed in Egypt, because they were not. Joseph did not welcome his brothers on their first visit, and he did not reveal himself to his brothers until later. He treated them roughly at first. The Genesis account tells us this. Joseph did not reveal his identity to his brothers until he heard them acknowledge their offense, i.e., their sin of selling him into slavery and deceiving their father. His brothers thought he was an Egyptian and did not know that he understood what they were discussing in their language. Joseph did not reveal himself until his brothers came to the end of their power and confessed their sin. (And God does not save us until we also come to the end of our power and confess our sins.) Only then did Joseph welcome them. He told them that what they did they meant for evil, but God meant it for good.
We do not know what would have happened to the Hebrews had Joseph not been sold into slavery, and eventually elevated to the second highest position in Egypt, second only to the Pharoah. And if Joseph had not been faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob during his long imprisonment in Egypt, he would not have been elevated by Him. Genesis tells us several times that “The LORD was with Joseph”, “But the LORD was with Joseph.” YHWH preserved the children of Israel by sending Joseph into Egyptmany years in advance of the famine. Joseph’s preparation not only saved his brothers, it saved Egypt.
Furthermore, it was the Hebrews specifically to whom YHWH gave the everlasting covenant of the land (which covers far more than the Israel of today, by the way). That covenant is still valid, and one day God will judge those who divide His land. Again, why is Rev. Copeland obscuring identities? The promise of the land and the Messiah came through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then David, not through Abraham and Ishmael.
Finally, it is highly misleading for Rev. Copeland to suggest that the Hebrews welcomed every stranger into their midst in order to advance a political agenda. The Hebrews were commanded to not mingle with the surrounding cultures, lest they become polluted with the false religions and obscene practices of those cultures. Gentiles wishing to intermarry or join with the Jewish people had to first transfer their allegiances from their false, pagan gods to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, YHWH. They had to enter into Judaisim. They were not given carte blanche to come into the midst of the Hebrews. Two examples of this are the Gentile Moabitess Ruth, and Rahab the prostitute of Jericho. Both Ruth and Rahab left their cultures to become part of a new culture. Both chose to abandon their false religions to embrace the God of the Hebrews. And by doing so, they were grafted into the olive tree of Israel, and both of them became the ancestors of Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel.
Aleta Payne, Deputy Executive Director says
From Dr. Copeland — Yes, it is hard to summarize hundreds of years of history in three sentences. Without trying to address every point raised by this comment, I will say that Joseph was indeed the one who dallied with his brothers when they came in search of food. But once Joseph had procured the requisite contrition from his brothers along with assurance that his little brother, Benjamin, and his father father Israel, née Jacob, were well, he introduced his family to the Egyptians who welcomed them. And we, Christians, through the missionary efforts of Paul and the salvific work of Jesus, have been grafted onto that tree. Their story is our story.
Jan Glenn says
Thank you so much for defending Christian doctrine with the billboard. I am embarrassed and dismayed that people are letting socio-economic fears taint their beliefs. We are all God’s children and are strong and capable of caring for each other. Thanks again for sending that point home.
Donna Hedrick says
Good job, Rev. Copeland and the N.C. Council of Churches! I hope Christians are reminded to welcome the stranger!