When he was a child, the beloved TV host Mr. Rogers would get scared watching the news. His mother comforted him by telling him to “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
The current crisis is no exception. There are helpers all over the country, buying groceries for at-risk neighbors, sewing masks for health care workers, and doing small acts of kindness for friends struggling with sudden job loss.
Some organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse, are stepping up on a large scale. This Christian nonprofit has built a field hospital in the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 outbreak. While others are fleeing the New York Metro area because it is a coronavirus hot spot, Samaritan’s Purse is running toward the need. The organization sent a rapid response team of chaplains to serve the city and even built a 68-bed field hospital near the Mt. Sinai hospital to help with overflow of patients.
Samaritan’s Purse has no ulterior motive. Rather, the ministry aims to serve those who are vulnerable, and ultimately, as a Christian organization, to serve God.
It’s a good thing they are not looking for the praise of men, because that is in short supply. Indeed, Samaritan’s Purse has found itself in the middle of a storm of controversy because of a tweet from its president, Franklin Graham.
If you are a Christian doctor, nurse, paramedic, or other medical professional interested in serving COVID-19 patients in our @SamaritansPurse Emergency Field Hospital in NYC, please visit https://t.co/EEw1jNtrrk. pic.twitter.com/5i7EeKxLDi
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) March 29, 2020
The tweet links to the Samaritan’s Purse website where they ask for volunteers to help serve the vulnerable and who agree with the mission statement of the organization. One of the 11 points in the mission statement is at the root of this controversy:
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.
This statement is nothing radical; it just espouses what the Bible teaches and what Christians have always believed about marriage and sexuality.
For this, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attacked Samaritan’s Purse as “biased” and accused the charity of discrimination. But Samaritan’s Purse has never discriminated against its patients. It has always served everyone who needs care. But it does ask that those who represent the organization agree with the organization’s beliefs. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
But the ideological opponents of Samaritan’s Purse are using this as an opportunity to score partisan points.
Mayor de Blasio expressed outrage at Samaritan’s Purse and promised action: “I said immediately to my team that we had to find out exactly what was happening…Was there going to be an approach that was truly consistent with the values [of] New York City.”
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman piled on by suggesting that Graham has something to learn from the coronavirus: “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, and neither should Franklin Graham.”
Ross Murray, the Senior Director of the GLAAD Media Institute went even further and claimed that “Graham is capitalizing upon a crisis to inflict more pain and suffering on an already marginalized population.”
Each of these statements overlook a simple fact: Samaritan’s Purse gladly serves everyone. As Kaitlyn Lahm, a spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse explained: “Our doors at the Emergency Field Hospital in the East Meadow are going to be open to all New Yorkers who need our help. We are here to save life, which is precious in God’s sight — and we do it all in Jesus’ Name.”
Facing a health crisis, New York officials allowed Samaritan’s Purse to stay. But de Blasio promised “to send people over from [his] office to monitor” Samaritan’s Purse’s field hospital. Hoylman stuck a similar note, claiming “homophobic pastor Franklin Graham and his field hospital operation in Central Park must guarantee all LGBTQ patients with COVID-19 are treated with dignity and respect. We’ll be watching.”
The message was clear, the insinuation ugly: While we need you now, Christian beliefs are intolerable, and we have our eye on you.
Christian beliefs are not bigotry. As the Supreme Court has recognized, traditional beliefs about marriage are held by millions of Americans of good will. And countless Jews, Muslims, and Christians around the world believe what Samaritan’s Purse does about marriage.
During a time of crisis, our country needs all the help it can get. We should not be playing partisan games or needlessly training our fire against those on the front lines.
Samaritan’s Purse is acting as a model of how Christians should serve others—at great cost to themselves and even in the face of mocking and public shaming.
That is what it means to be a good neighbor.