‘Help, not hate’ – How Franklin Graham’s field hospital exposes anti-Christian intolerance

You would have thought that a field hospital set up by a charity and staffed largely by volunteers to help sick individuals in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis would have been universally welcomed, applauded, even celebrated.

Not so, when those running the hospital and treating infected patients are evangelical Christians, it seems.

New York City has been particularly badly affected by the coronavirus, and in March, Governor Cuomo was pleading for people to offer their help.

Samaritan’s Purse, a disaster relief organisation which has helped millions of people over the past 50 years, sprang into action, and partnered with a hospital network to provide extra care for coronavirus patients.

It set up 14 tents in Central Park, a makeshift facility which could accommodate 68 patients at a time. Modest enough, for a city now reporting more than 160,000 confirmed cases. But for the few people it can treat who might not otherwise find a hospital bed, it will make a world of difference. In its first three weeks it treated more than 150 patients.

‘Homophobic and transphobic’

But this isn’t good enough for some.

A group known as Reclaim Pride Coalition has taken offence because Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical organisation. This means those who choose to volunteer in helping COVID-19 patients believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

The fact that the CEO of the organisation is evangelist and outspoken marriage advocate Franklin Graham has further incensed these activists and their allies.

Samaritan's Purse field hospital in New York

The group marched down to Central Park to wave ‘Help not hate’ placards just yards from the tents of the relief workers.

One asked: “How was this group ever considered to bring their hatred and their vitriol into our city at a time of crisis when our people are fighting a pandemic?”.

Another slandered Graham while cynically dismissing his preaching as “fundraising”: “Franklin Graham, their notoriously transphobic and homophobic leader of their organisation, had an Easter sermon right there in Central Park next to those tents, which I can only imagine was furthering their fundraising.”

“Can you imagine hating religious people so much that you would rather see people suffer and possibly even die rather than allow religious doctors to treat them?”

The outcry from a handful of angry activists prompted politicians to join the fray. Brad Hoylman, a New York State Senator, said the presence of Graham’s field hospital would cause “incalculable” damage to the city.

“I do fear that we’ve 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 legitimise his homophobia”, he added.

A number of other US lawmakers wrote a public letter sharing their “concern” about the implications the existence of the emergency hospital may have “for LGBTQIA+ New Yorkers with Covid-19”.

They demanded to know how the charity could have been granted use of public land.

By demanding to see non-discrimination agreements, they even went as far as to suggest that the hospital might turn away patients if they were LGBT, as well as expressing concern that “LGBTQIA+ individuals” might choose not to seek medical attention for fear of “potentially facing discrimination”.

Graham has since made a statement confirming the organisation does not discriminate against anyone, and that the protests and the demands for paperwork are actually hindering its ability to care.

Nevertheless, the leader of the New York City Council has now ordered the field hospital to pack up and leave.

Religious illiteracy

This kind of secularist, anti-religious thinking demonstrates the profound lack of understanding some have about evangelical Christian beliefs.

They cannot understand that it is possible to believe that homosexual conduct is wrong (along with sexual intimacy in other extra-marital contexts), while simultaneously believing that every person is made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, respect and love.

They also seem unable to grasp that Christians believe that calling people to repent is an act of love. To affirm and celebrate sin is not loving, because it is not God’s good design for his creation.

But this kind of love is deemed unacceptable. ‘Love is love’, goes the activist slogan, but apparently not when it involves tough love – that’s hate.

We’re entitled to wonder whether those who falsely accuse others of hate may be manifesting that very thing themselves.

Help, not hate

It seems incredible that holding a view that has nothing to do with your work is enough for people to deem you unfit to hold that position.

There have been countless cases of this kind of thinking over the past few years. A family bakery. A registrar. A PE teacher. An airline stewardess. A US Air Force officer. But holding Christian views does not impact your ability to do a job well.

Indeed, Christians in all walks of life would say that their beliefs make them better at their job, not worse. This is as true for those in the medical profession as anyone else.

An American author commented recently: “Can you imagine hating religious people so much that you would rather see people suffer and possibly even die rather than allow religious doctors to treat them?”

It is sad that there appear to be people who feel that way. We should pray that they will begin to understand that Christians always have – and always will – offer help, not hate.