Samaritan's Purse

Jonathan Merritt: New Yorkers are Right to be Skeptical of Samaritan’s Purse

on April 6, 2020

On April 1, the Evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse opened a 68-bed emergency field hospital in New York City’s Central Park to care for Coronavirus victims in partnership with Mount Sinai Health System. Even among the COVID-19 crisis and rising death toll, Progressive Christian columnist Jonathan Merritt finds fault with the Evangelical Christian relief organization aiding the suffering.

In Merritt’s latest Daily Beast column, he writes, “New Yorkers have plenty of good reasons to feel uncomfortable about this new coronavirus hospital.” And though Merritt is careful to strike a measured tone by briefly noting some of the organizations’ good deeds abroad and nods towards the brave doctors and nurses hard at work, he sets out on a mission to undermine the integrity of the organization and, especially, its President and CEO Franklin Graham.  

Here is some of what Merritt had to say:

Of chief concern is the person overseeing the Central Park ward: Samaritan’s Purse’s president and CEO Franklin Graham. He is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and a spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump who has a surprisingly long history of controversial comments and hate speech.

He then examines comments made by Graham referring to same-sex relationships as “detestable” and Islam as an “evil and wicked religion,” among other things.

“That’s the man running Samaritan’s Purse’s coronavirus hospital, so yes, Muslim New Yorkers are right to be skeptical,” declared Merritt.

Merritt is also uncomfortable that an Evangelical Christian organization ministering to both physical and spiritual needs would require its personnel serving in Central Park to agree with its “Statement of Faith.” Merritt, of course, laments the statement’s inclusion of traditional Christian sexual ethics.

Here’s the text from the relief organization’s Statement of Faith regarding marriage and sexuality:

We believe God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other. God instituted monogamous marriage between male and female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.

Scandalous, apparently. Many liberal-leaning Christians have seemingly decided that to maintain traditional Biblical teachings on sex and marriage is equivalent to discrimination and hatred of LGBTQ people. This conjecture is evident in Merritt’s article. His writing seems to question whether or not Samaritan’s Purse would treat LGBTQ patients with care and respect. Though he acknowledges Samaritan’s Purse signed a written pledge to Mount Sinai to treat all patients equally.

It’s not discrimination for a Christian organization combating a life-threating illness to want its personnel to share its convictions and beliefs. This is a pandemic. People are anxious, scared, and hopeless. People are dying. Samaritan’s Purse is not just offering medical assistance, they are a public witness for Jesus Christ to people who might not be ready for eternity.

An eternal lens is sadly what is missing from Merritt’s article. Consider this bitter statement from Merritt:

The vast majority of New Yorkers are not evangelical Christians, and if they find themselves wheezing for air due to COVID-19, they don’t want to be proselytized while receiving treatment. They too have reason to be skeptical of the organization’s makeshift hospital.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, don’t you think it vital for Christians caring for the sick and dying to tell others about Jesus? We might not agree with all of Graham’s comments, but Samaritan’s Purse is on the front lines of a pandemic. Their staff and volunteers can help lives burdened by sin and despair by introducing people to our Savior as well as tending to physical needs.

It is this urgency to share the Gospel that is too often overlooked by our progressive Christian friends. Now is not the time to keep the Good News to ourselves.

Here’s more of Merritt’s case against Samaritan’s Purse:

After USAID gave Samaritan’s Purse a large grant to help victims of the earthquake in El Salvador, they were disturbed to learn that the Christian group “blurred the lines between church and state” by using funds to evangelize victims instead of just help them.


During the first Gulf War, respected U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf publicly criticized the group for trying to coerce American troops serving in Saudi Arabia to covertly distribute Arab-language Bibles under the guise of humanitarian work. And Samaritan’s Purse’s popular “Operation Christmas Child” has recently been drawn fire when people learned that the holiday shoeboxes given to poor children in non-Christian families around the world were stuffed with Christian evangelism materials.

It’s bizarre to read this line of reasoning from a professing Christian. It’s bewildering to me that Merritt attempted to undermine the integrity of Samaritan’s Purse because their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes include materials that seek to share the Gospel.

“We are the hands and feet of Christ here. We are showing compassion just like the Samaritan did,” said Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Samaritan’s Purse Programs and Government Relations in a video highlighting the organization’s work in Central Park. “We’re here bandaging people’s wounds. The wounds are inside the lungs. But we also know that the wounds are in the soul.”

It’s one thing for Merritt to publicly disagree with another Christian’s methods or theological interpretations, especially one as prominent as Graham. It’s to be expected. But to undermine an entire Christian relief organization seeking to care for both people’s physical and spiritual needs is something else entirely.

I suspect that if these Evangelical Christian medical experts and volunteers had stayed home instead of opening an emergency field hospital in New York, then Merritt still would have published an article about Evangelical Christians. Only its premise would have likely criticized Evangelical Christians as selfish and uncompassionate.

No matter the crisis or compassion shown, progressive Christians like Merritt will continue to fault Evangelical Christians who uphold traditional sexual ethics. Because, in my opinion, that is what Merritt is really worried about.

  1. Comment by Douglas E Ehrhardt on April 6, 2020 at 10:20 am

    Progressive Christian ? Sounds more like divisive identity politics. How sad.

  2. Comment by Eternity Matters on April 6, 2020 at 10:39 am

    Good analysis. Merritt is a pro-gay “Christian” Leftist. So hateful of him to dump on Samaritan’s Purse like that.

  3. Comment by jeff Allen on April 6, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Merritt’s claim to fame is that his dad was a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention so the media just loves his gay activism. He is just showing his unregenerate heart. His hatred for Christians may suggest that he know he is dead wrong.

  4. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on April 6, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Merritt has staked out a space as a columnist critiquing Evangelicals from an LGBTQ-affirming perspective. I disagree that he has a hatred of Christians (he himself is a left-leaning Baptist), but he appears to have an axe to grind specifically with Graham. He’s also a columnist with an agenda (recall his Eugene Peterson interview?) rather than a news reporter.

  5. Comment by JR on April 6, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    Merritt has a point.

    Would you turn away a nurse who volunteered because she didn’t agree with the Statement of Faith?

    What about 100 nurses?

    What about all the nurses?

    I’m not concerned about the folks on the ground treating everyone as best they can. I’m concerned about a group administering the field hospital turning away qualified help because they require obeisance to their statement of faith. Who is my neighbor?

  6. Comment by David on April 6, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Well, let’s see. There is an Evangelical field hospital being overseen by a Jewish institution and located in city-owned Central Park and therefore subject to NYC jurisdiction.

  7. Comment by Kerry Bond on April 6, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Sadly, Mr. Merritt seems to be saying that if anyone disagrees with his beliefs that they are suspicious and might be disqualified from giving humanitarian service to the neediest. He Is a fundamentalist – just a different variety than the Southern Baptist Convention types.

  8. Comment by Tom on April 6, 2020 at 5:47 pm

    Very well put. He would apparently prefer people to die of the corona virus than hear about Jesus.

  9. Comment by Patrick98 on April 13, 2020 at 8:21 am

    Everyone is a fundamentalist. Everyone has a fundamental set of beliefs below which they will not go.

  10. Comment by Fletcher on April 6, 2020 at 7:14 pm

    At the homeless shelter where I work we were taught by a great man, Mr. Gene Beckstein, ministry advice #1 lift Jesus up and all you do, #2 Never criticize another ministry. I will say no more so I will not violate this. And this time will the world needs hope in the gospel in action we have to ask ourselves what are we providing for the cause of Christ?

  11. Comment by Patrick98 on April 7, 2020 at 10:30 am

    I wonder what Jonathan Merritt is actually doing to help people at this time. Is he in the arena, and thus one of the people who actually count? Or is he one of those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat? It is not the critic who counts, but the people in the arena.

  12. Comment by Brandon Blake on April 7, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Merritt has an axe to grind (like Franky Schaeffer) with all things evangelical. Leave no stone unturned no matter how big or small. I suppose if he started a field hospital he would allow everyone except evangelicals whom he despises so much to help. Chelsea is right. Evangelicals are damn if they do and damned if they don’t.

  13. Comment by J. Lee on April 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Jesus hung with all kinds of marginalized, sick, rejected, and oppressed people. He said, “It wasn’t the healthy people who needed a physician, but the sick.” Those who thought they were healthy accused him of associating with sinners and eating with them.

    But when associating and eating with sinners, Jesus didn’t adopt their values or condone their sin so as to not make them feel bad, instead he often met their most immediate needs through healing or provision as a sign of his greatest gift, the forgiveness of their sins. He gave them life, hope, and a future. His forgiveness was offered unconditionally, yet because they were forgiven, he called people to stop sinning, the woman caught in adultery, the invalid by the pool of Bethsaida…

    This idea that Samaritan’s Purse would not help everyone coming into it’s field hospital is patently absurd…gays, Muslims, atheists, etc. It’s foolish. Such a practice would go against everything Jesus taught, everything the Bible says regarding how we treat our neighbors, everything that was modeled for us by the early church and it’s witness throughout the centuries. There will always be some who call themselves Christian who defame the name of God. Jesus told us we can identify false prophets by their fruit. Healthy trees bear good fruit, diseased trees bear bad fruit…and why not share the Gospel? Jesus did, everywhere he went. That’s what SP does. It’s a Christian organization, and it has the right to select staff who share it’s vision and beliefs, and those who think SP should hire all comers, are you not privileging your view and imposing it upon someone else.

  14. Comment by J. Lee on April 10, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Penn Jillette, an atheist and part of the magic duo Penn and Teller disagrees with Jonathan Merritt.

    He has been quoted as saying,

    “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

    It seems that Penn Jillette, an atheist, is more Christian in his thinking than Jonathan Merritt, a Christian. Amazing.

  15. Comment by William Beahan on April 10, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    I first met Jonathan Merrit over 10 years ago at his father’s church here in Duluth. I have found him to be a total fraud.

  16. Comment by W E Lang on April 10, 2020 at 9:04 pm

    For centuries the care of the sick, poor and destitute was largely left to the churches who responded with compassion no matter the person. It is a curse of the 20th century that such care has been consigned to private enterprises, as well as the government. Strangely we are not seeing mission from the more liberal denominations responding to these tragedies.

  17. Comment by Deborah e Dean on April 11, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Samaritan’s Purse has a statement of faith right alongside their humanitarian aid statement- they are not hiding a thing and have done great work, alongside the majority of other world relief org. that are either christian or Catholic.

  18. Comment by Bob on April 11, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    I suppose Mr. Merritt would have railed against Mother Teresa offering the love and salvation of Jesus as she ministered to the dying in India. No doubt he would have held the opinion that her Christian/Catholic organization shouldn’t care for the millions no one else would lift a finger to help.

  19. Comment by Scarborough on April 14, 2020 at 6:31 am

    I don’t know who wrote the article that I saw, but my mom and I had to laugh (in disbelief) at the line that said something like “New Yorkers who are living in fear of evangelicals”. Not just afraid of, in fear of. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be made of some of the toughest stuff?

  20. Comment by Andy Brasfield on April 19, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    I agree Merritt has an axe to grind. Something or someone has obviously ticked him off at some point. He appears to have a good relationship with his dad who is very conservative. It is unfortunate he must attack other Christians. He is a very talented writer.

  21. Comment by Tim on April 20, 2020 at 7:30 am

    How can the Spirit of God reside in someone offended by The Great Commission?

  22. Comment by Michael Green on May 22, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for this word. I’m a Christian author in L.A. Two years ago, I went to a (supposed) faith-based writer’s conference in Grand Rapids, MI. It was my second time going. As I listened to the speakers, including Jonathan Merritt, I sensed something was wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nor could I articulate. As I started researching progressive Christianity and its destruction of orthodoxy, I realized that the conference was a progressive one, and most of the speakers were leaders of the movement– Hatmaker, Lisa Sharon Harper, Merritt, Austin Channing Brown, Jeff Chu. We need to call out this apostasy, as its goal is to destroy the evangelical church.

  23. Comment by Robert Bergen on July 24, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    I was scolded by one of my kids who as an attendee of Eastern College (now University) that it was wrong for me to tell the homeless person that Jesus loved him and died for him as I gave him the food I bought him… ughhh

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.