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.