Charlotte area church: ‘We don’t hate anybody;’ critics say sign indicates otherwise

A small church in Mooresville is causing a big ruckus with its sign.

This week, here was one of the messages to passersby, courtesy of Lakeside Fellowship Presbyterian Church:

“19 Muslim immigrants killed 2977 Americans, Sept. 11, 2001.”

Other church contributions that have recently lit up the roadside just off heavily traveled Brawley School Road have included a call for a boycott of Disney’s “Homosex movie Beauty and the Beast.” Another offered the church’s support for President Donald Trump.

And in a question that breaches any separation between church, state and that morning commute, Lakeside Presbyterian urged onlookers last fall to examine their positions on House Bill 2 and the I-77 toll road, then asked: “Who is your God?”

The reactions from area residents have veered from support for the church’s adherence to biblical principals to expressions of disbelief, exposing political, cultural and spiritual fault lines across the Brawley School Road peninsula that run as deep as nearby Lake Norman.

“I drive by this church every day and the signs displayed are increasingly hostile towards Muslims, gay/transgendered people and basically anybody who isn’t a bigot or a Trump supporter,” one post on the church’s Facebook page reads.

Here’s another reacting to the Disney boycott: “Excuse me, but that is sick.”

And there’s this one: “Your so-called church is a blasphemous representation of true Christianity.”

Facebook poster Gina Mann: “If you and your parishioners wish to worship in such a (hateful) way, you need to keep it inside the walls of your narrow-minded church,” she wrote.

The sign – and the overall tone of the church’s commentary on the events of the day – appears to have been an issue of some standing, dating back at least as far as the 2104 evaluation of Pastor Joseph Alghrary by Lakeside’s board of elders. In a word, according to Buddy Murrow, a long time former Lakeside elder and church member, the pastor was too confrontational, both in his dealings with the congregation and in “his public presentations of the denomination.”

Eventually that led in 2015 to a schism in the church, when all the elders were removed, and 45 church members walked out. The dispute has yet to be settled. In the short run, though, Alghrary appears to have gotten free rein for his roadside pulpit. The public commentary on the church sign roams across a number of secular matters – from the debate over Muslim immigration to bathroom right and presidential politics.

Murrow, who has joined another church, still drives by Lakeside regularly. He says his former congregation is conservative as Presbyterians go, but that the sign distorts what Lakeside used to stand for. He cites a previous electronic message – “Come to Jesus or go to hell” – as an illustration of the side of Alghrary “that we were trying to restrain.”

“That sign puts a bad face on Christianity as a whole,” he said this week.

Alghrary did not return an Observer phone call seeking comment. In the meantime, Lakeside’s website makes no apologies. “Finally, a church that preaches the whole counsel of God’s word without compromise,” it reads.

In an online tab entitled “About our Signs,” Lakeside describes itself as a “Bible believing church” that tries to abide by scriptures and the commands of Christ.

“We don’t hate anyone. We do want to speak the Truth, and feel that very few are willing to do so in this age of political correctness,” the web page says. “Don’t fall prey to the hypocrisy of being prejudiced against those who you think are prejudiced nor intolerant of those who you think are intolerant.”

Several posts on the church’s Facebook page celebrate what the authors describe as Lakeside’s biblical grounding and the friendliness of the congregation. “They don’t hate anyone,” one writer said. “If you have never been inside, do not judge.”

But critics say the church’s inflammatory and divisive messages are legitimate grounds for criticism.

“I’ve learned to turn a blind eye to the church because you never know what’s coming on that sign,” says Bob Ucman who moved to the area more than two years ago from Colorado and once considered joining the congregation before the controversy over the church’s direction, including its message board, changed his mind.

Recently, Ucman says he sent a complaint to the Rev. Ron Beard, the principal clerk of the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, to which Lakeside belongs. Beard did not respond to an Observer email seeking comment.

All this leaves Murrow shaking his head. He said he drove by the church sign on Thursday when a message read, “Come die with us.”

“I can conclude many things from that,” he said.

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