Culture

Protesters Compare Samaritan's Purse to KKK as Christian Charity Serves Coronavirus Patients

Twitter screenshot.

Samaritan’s Purse has rushed to the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, setting up a field hospital in northern Italy and another in New York City’s Central Park, demonstrating true Christian charity by placing its staff and volunteers in harm’s way in order to save others amid the outbreaks. Yet these acts of sacrifice have been met with a rising chorus of outrage — because Samaritan’s Purse holds to the biblical definition of marriage and sexuality.

“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?” Jay W. Walker, an activist who protested the field hospital with the LGBT group Reclaim Pride Coalition, said in comments to NBC News.

Walker spoke for a group of protesters last Tuesday who organized against the field hospital, holding up signs reading “Help Not Hate” and “Hate Won’t Heal.” According to AMNY, one protester said working with Samaritan’s Purse to combat the coronavirus pandemic was tantamount to “accepting help from the Klu Klux Klan [sic].”

So were Samaritan’s Purse staff going around New York protesting same-sex weddings? Were they standing at street corners shouting “Repent!” at any gay or transgender person they saw? Were they donning white robes and carrying torches in a parade to string up LGBT people? Where was this “hatred” and “vitriol”?

It was nowhere to be found. Instead, Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers are working around the clock to care for coronavirus patients. The hospital has cared for more than 142 patients and is treating roughly 50 patients at any given time.

Yet protesters organized against this relief effort because — horror of horrors! — Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian charity and it requires staff and volunteers to agree with its statement of faith. Citing clear biblical teaching, that statement of faith declares that “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. … we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.” That statement also upholds human life as sacred from conception until natural death.

Activists condemned the statement as “homophobic” and “transphobic,” but one of them, Timothy Lunceford-Stevens, tried to volunteer at the relief hospital, anyway.

“On April 5, I attempted to offer myself as a volunteer to Samaritan’s Purse online, at their Central Park tents,” Lunceford-Stevens said. “When they heard my qualifications and experience, they said they’d love to have me join them. But when I got to the end of the interview process, they told me I’d have to agree to their ‘Statement of Faith.’ I told them that I was eager to do the work, even though I knew we had disagreements, but that I could not sign a ‘Statement of Faith’ that is homophobic [and] transphobic … They then rejected my application, with no further communication.”

Lunceford-Stevens likely knew this would be the result of his application. The statement of faith isn’t exactly a well-kept secret. The activist said he filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission since the city and the state prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“New York City and Mt. Sinai Hospital must demand that Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse drop its discriminatory and bigoted ‘Statement of Faith,'” Natalie James, an organizer with the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s COVID-19 Response Working Group, said in a statement. “We were promised there would be no discrimination by the notoriously anti-Islam, homophobic Samaritan’s Purse in its provision of services to desperately ill New Yorkers. But now we find that Samaritan’s Purse has shown discrimination in who it allows to help.”

“New Yorkers trying to help in this crisis should not be turned away because they refuse to endorse Samaritan’s Purse’s exclusionary agenda. Healthcare should not come at the cost of basic human rights,” James concluded.

Just who, exactly, is being “exclusionary”? Shortly after Samaritan’s Purse set up the field hospital, protester William Talen jumped over the hospital’s outer perimeter barrier and attempted to plant an LGBT rainbow flag near the hospital. He was arrested when he refused to leave.

“They have no business being in New York City,” Talen shouted as six New York police officers removed him from the park. “They are predators. They are right-wing apocalyptic Christians.” He added, “They are the virus.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to agree with this kind of assessment. He said he found the relief hospital “very troubling” because of Samaritan’s Purse’s biblical beliefs about sexuality. The mayor sent staff to monitor the hospital to ensure that the Christian charity would not “discriminate” against LGBT people seeking help.

Yet there is no evidence Samaritan’s Purse has ever turned away an LGBT person in need.

“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,” Franklin Graham, the charity’s president and CEO, said in a statement before the protest. “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,” Graham added.

Yet the attacks keep coming. Last week, President Donald Trump decided to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO), which parrotted the Chinese Communist Party’s lies about the coronavirus — lies that enabled the pandemic to spread across the globe. The White House has steered those funds toward the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse.

Patheos’s Michael Stone responded to Trump’s funding decision by branding the Christian charity a “notoriously anti-gay Christian hate group.” Seriously.

“Samaritan’s Purse is a notoriously anti-gay Christian hate group run by the equally notorious Franklin Graham. And now that Christian hate group is being funded by the U.S. government with funds that are supposed to go to the World Health Organization,” he wrote.

Even the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has made a cottage industry out of branding mainstream conservative and Christian groups “hate groups” on par with the KKK, has stopped short of applying its defamatory label against Samaritan’s Purse. That doesn’t make the SPLC a fan of the charity, of course.

“We don’t list Samaritan’s Purse as a hate group, but its requirement that its volunteers ‘adhere to the group’s statement of faith, which point to biblical references admonishing marriage equality’ are still dangerous,” the SPLC’s Hatewatch tweeted. The SPLC, which relies on its history of bankrupting the KKK to weaponize its “hate group” label against political opponents, hasn’t targeted Samaritan’s Purse with that particular accusation — at least not yet.

If activists will demonize Samaritan’s Purse even while the charity is actively putting itself in harm’s way to serve New Yorkers striken with the coronavirus amid a global pandemic, that should reveal just how morally bankrupt their claims truly are.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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