While Samaritan's Purse has treated hundreds of COVID-19 patients at its field hospital in Central Park, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson demanded that the Christian charity leave the city over its biblical views on homosexuality.
“It is time for Samaritan's Purse to leave NYC. This group, led by the notoriously bigoted, hate-spewing Franklin Graham, came at a time when our city couldn't in good conscience turn away any offer of help. That time has passed,” Johnson wrote on Twitter Saturday. “Their continued presence here is an affront to our values of inclusion, and is painful for all New Yorkers who care deeply about the LGBTQ community."
The openly gay speaker said while he's aware that the coronavirus battle is far from over and that the healthcare system needs ongoing support, "we can’t continue allowing a group with their track record to remain here when we're past the point they're needed … Mount Sinai must sever its relationship with Samaritan’s Purse. Its leader calls the LGBTQ community ‘detestable’ and ‘immoral.’ He says being gay is ‘an affront to God,’ and refers to gay Christians as ‘the enemy.’”
The Samaritan’s Purse 68-bed field hospital has treated 315 patients since opening on April 1 adjacent to Mount Sinai Hospital in Central Park’s East Meadow to help meet the needs of local hospitals that are facing an unprecedented wave of sick patients.
As the organization faced criticism from the start over its views on marriage, Franklin Graham, who heads the organization, has made it clear that they treat all patients and do not discriminate. While staff are required to subscribe to a Statement of Faith, he stressed that "we have never asked any of the millions of people we have served to subscribe to anything."
"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."
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to Johnson’s tweets and argued that Christians are the ones being discriminated against.
“This open hostility to Christianity is breathtaking. Christians have always believed that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that all sexual relations outside marriage are by definition immoral,” he tweeted. “It’s not a particularly popular point of view in the secular West, but it is what all faithful Christians everywhere throughout the 2,000-year history of the church have always believed. This is nothing new.
"What is new is the notion that real live Christians are unwelcome to live and work and practice their faith in our nation’s largest city. That is an innovation of recent vintage and is nothing more than unvarnished animus—invidious discrimination. If Christians are not allowed to practice their faith in NYC, rest assured that it is only a matter of time before they won’t be allowed to practice it anywhere in the U.S.”
That’s the cost of allowing “this kind of illiberal intolerance” to drive a Christian group from NYC, he concluded.
Mount Sinai, which partnered with Samaritan's Purse due to the surge in critically ill coronavirus patients, announced Saturday that they will wind down the field hospital operations.
“Now that the surge in COVID hospital admissions is reaching manageable levels, we will stop admitting new patients to the Central Park field hospital as of May 4," the hospital said, while expressing gratitude for the temporary partnership.
Many, including comedian Jimmy Fallon, have offered support and also expressed thanks for the work of Samaritan's Purse.
According to Graham, Fallon sent burgers and fries to the charity's NYC team. "Our staff has been so blessed by the hospitality of people in NY like you. God bless you!," Graham tweeted.
One discharged patient also sent cronuts to the Samaritan's Purse team. "He said, ‘Thank you so much for your service! I can only imagine the emotional & physical toll...thank you for your selflessness,’” Graham noted.
Samaritan’s Purse also has a field hospital in Italy to deal with the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“A beautiful gesture thanking our team at the @SamaritansPurse field hospital in Cremona, Italy,” Graham wrote on Twitter, along with a video of a man playing a cello there.
Last week, Samaritan’s Purse urged prayers for the frontline workers at its field office in NYC.
It shared that a nurse, Katie Kunnen, one of the more than 100 disaster assistance response specialists doing 12-hour shifts on the ground in New York, is “providing the highest level of quality care and dignity to patients suffering from the coronavirus.”
“When you feel exhausted, it’s important to remember you don’t have to do this in anxiety or stress. I can do this in grace and peace,” she said.
Doctors and nurses are meeting various immediate needs of their patients, including “communication, which means our medical team must navigate conversation despite the barriers caused by many levels of personal protective equipment. We’ve become a support system for patients in a place where family members are not allowed to enter.”