Religion

Stop Harassing Samaritan’s Purse

Samaritan’s Purse constructs a field hospital in Central Park, New York, NY, March 30, 2020. (David Delgado/Reuters)
They put themselves in harm’s way, acting as backstops for a municipal hospital system at risk of being overrun with coronavirus patients.

Last week, members of New York’s Reclaim Pride Coalition demonstrated outside the Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals in Central Park. Protesters wielded signs reading “Help Not Hate” and “Hate Won’t Heal,” as if anyone had ever thought or suggested otherwise.

In contrast to their armchair detractors, the volunteers for Samaritan’s Purse put themselves in harm’s way, acting as backstops for a municipal hospital system at risk of being overrun with coronavirus patients. The group’s Evangelical Christian volunteers expose themselves to infection and disease at no charge to patients, treating the sick without regard to race, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the other identity groups under putative “siege” in the United States.

As a religious organization, Samaritan’s Purse requires its volunteers to sign a statement of faith affirming the group’s Evangelical beliefs on issues ranging from lapsarian theology to the immutability of biological sex. That the RPC or other protest groups disagree with any one of these beliefs should not be noteworthy, much less a reason to revoke the ability of Samaritan’s Purse to treat COVID-19 patients in New York. Franklin Graham, the son of the famous televangelist Billy Graham and the president of Samaritan’s Purse, explained his organization’s praxis this way:

It’s true, for 50 years, we have asked our paid staff to subscribe to a Statement of Faith — but we have never asked any of the millions of people we have served to subscribe to anything. In other words, as a religious charity, while we lawfully hire staff who share our Christian beliefs, we do not discriminate in who we serve. We have provided billions of dollars of medical care and supplies, food and water, and emergency shelter without any conditions whatsoever. Our Christian faith compels us — like the biblical Good Samaritan — to love and serve everyone in need, regardless of their faith or background.

Pride is a much more triumphalist faith than Graham’s Christianity — it does not easily abide dissenters. The Reclaim Pride Coalition objected to the presence of Samaritan’s Purse in the city, because like every small-o orthodox Christian organization in Western history, it has religious beliefs about sexual morality that offend the Coalition’s sensibilities. While I would make a good-faith effort to empathize with those sensibilities, I cannot imagine being so petty as to presume that an organization’s refusal to pay homage to my sexual preferences would in any way oblige society to prevent that organization from providing desperately needed medical care to sick people in a lethal pandemic.

The objections become more tiresome when you read the comments of the objectors. “How was this group ever considered to bring their hatred and their vitriol into our city,” Jay W. Walker of RPC asked an NBC reporter, “at a time of crisis when our people are fighting a pandemic?” That NBC reporter did not ask Jay W. Walker why anyone should care what he thinks about the organization volunteering its time and resources to serve the sick, nor did the reporter ask Walker how, exactly, Samaritan’s Purse was fomenting “hatred” and “vitriol.” As it happens, the “hatred” and “vitriol” that Walker insists are being brought into “his city” are — as is often the case in such matters — projections of his own incapacity to tolerate dissent or the refusal of approbation. The mere fact that Samaritan’s Purse’s refuses to approve and celebrate certain behaviors is itself coded as a species of “hatred” and proof of the group’s “vitriol.” Meanwhile, Walker is unable to sense how his own myopic insistence on affirmation from strangers has fostered in him a “hatred” and “vitriol” so toxic that he has resorted to protesting a charity field hospital in the midst of a pandemic. “Remove the plank from your own eye,” as the saying begins.

It is not just screechy protesters who objected to the work of Samaritan’s Purse. When New York thought its COVID-19 caseload would exceed its existing hospital capacity — fears that were thankfully proven ill-founded — Graham’s organization considered partnering with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to add overflow beds in the Episcopal church’s building. The church ultimately turned Samaritan’s Purse away, citing the declining need for beds and the importance of their cathedral “to many different constituencies, including the LGBTQ community.” Gothamist reports that the church “has a history progressive activism” and that it was apparently wary of sullying that reputation unless it was absolutely necessary for it to do so. This, ironically, is a near-perfect inversion of the Good Samaritan story to which that Episcopal church would certainly pledge its allegiance. Instead, it rejects the willing and eager help of an organization that would tend to the sick in the middle of a pandemic because the organization in question happened to believe things about marriage that the Episcopal Church believed until the cosmic equivalent of yesterday. Samaritan’s Purse is unclean, and on that accord the Episcopal church rejects its help, crossing the street like the priest in the parable, unwilling to defile himself and attend to the sick.

Elected officials, too, have harassed Samaritan’s Purse from the moment its volunteers set foot in the Empire State. New York state senator Brad Hoylman, for instance, said that he fears his state has “given Franklin Graham a platform in one of the most famous pieces of public land in the country to spew his hatred of LGBTQ people, and unfortunately at the same time legitimize his homophobia.” One similarly regrets that Brad Hoylman has a platform in one of the most populous states in the nation to spew his hatred of Christians, but nevertheless, here we are. Hoylman laments his state’s “having to accept charity from bigots like Franklin Graham,” as if the lethal pandemic arresting his city and filling mass graves were a secondary concern to the private opinions of a charitable organization on the moral status of sodomy.

Between the protesters, the churchmen, and the legislature, Samaritan’s Purse has been under unceasing attack from people who cannot abide the thought that the moral tradition of some religious group does not affirm a particular set of behaviors. If you believe, as at least one protester apparently did, that accepting treatment from an Evangelical is akin to “accepting help from the Klu Klux Klan [sic],” perhaps it is your beliefs that require reexamination, and not the group of volunteers risking life and limb ministering to the sick who happen to disagree with you about gay marriage.

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