When Samaritan’s Purse erected a 68-bed Emergency Field Hospital in New York City’s Central Park to treat critically-ill COVID-19 patients, Franklin Graham pledged that every patient transferred there from the Mt. Sinai Hospital System would experience God’s love inside the 14-tent compound.
“If someone passes away [in our field hospital], I can promise—they will not die alone,” Franklin said. “Our doctors and nurses will pray for them. Our chaplains will be there to pray with the families. We want people to know that God hasn’t abandoned. God hasn’t forgotten. God hasn’t turned His back. This is an opportunity to share with New York, and with the world, the hope that we have. And that hope is in God and His Son, Jesus Christ.”
But it’s another pledge—Samaritan’s Purse’s statement of faith—that New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, its eight Democratic members of Congress and its Commission on Human Rights objected to. Specifically, the nonprofit evangelical humanitarian relief organization’s Biblical conviction “that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
Franklin described the commission’s document requests for patient care policies and slanderous verbal attacks from the city’s mayor and Democratic congressional representatives as targeted harassment effectively diverting “precious resources of time and energy, and personnel away from serving COVID-19 patients.”
“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 said.
On the afternoon of April 14, several yards away from the field hospital on the East Meadow lawn, about 20 LGBTQ protesters held signs with the words “Help Not Hate” and “Hate Won’t Heal.” Earlier in April, a protester was arrested after he jumped over the field hospital’s perimeter barrier and attempted to plant a rainbow flag near the hospital tents.
“As a religious charity, while we lawfully hire staff who share our Christian beliefs, we do not discriminate in who we serve,” Franklin explained. “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.”
Samaritan’s Purse medical personnel—a team of 70 doctors, nurses and other relief specialists—treated 333 patients in partnership with the Mt. Sinai Health System between April 1 and May 5. Of that total, 190 were treated in the Emergency Field Hospital in Central Park. Some of the medical team volunteers continued to serve in the Mt. Sinai system after the field hospital ended its operations.
By April, New York had become the epicenter of the coronavirus global pandemic, accounting for nearly a third of the more than 70,000 deaths in the U.S. Meanwhile, the field hospital in Central Park—considered the crossroads of the world—shined the light of the Gospel on the convergence of two contrasting worldviews, say several Christian apologists and conservative theologians.
“Christians have long looked at the issue of sexuality as an issue of Biblical morality, but those who have advanced the sexual revolution have always seen it as a question of identity,” says John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “So, if we’re not talking about someone’s behavior, we’re talking about someone’s identity and dignity. Then, to disagree with that is to disagree with their dignity. And that’s where that side’s coming from.”
And as some state and local governments across the country have deemed churches and clergy as providing “non-essential services” in the wake of COVID-19, providing humanitarian aid in Jesus’ Name legitimizes the church’s voice to speak the truth in love to a culture where everyone does what is right in their own eyes, Stonestreet says.
“If we have a church that thinks the church is non-essential, we can’t be too surprised if the larger culture sees the church as non-essential,” he says, adding that the church has failed to teach clear doctrine. “It’s a failure of knowing what it is that we believe, why we believe it, and being clear and articulate. I mean, we already have an epidemic of churches that only speak out on cultural issues if the culture has already largely decided upon it.”
Sean McDowell, associate professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology in Southern California, co-wrote a book with Stonestreet in 2014 titled “Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.” McDowell says Christians—and particularly pastors and Bible teachers—should not ignore the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, who warned, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil …” (Isaiah 5:20).
“My position, which the church has held for 2,000 years, is that those who support or give sanction to same-sex marriage are actually harming people because they’re misleading them and saying what God calls wrong is OK,” McDowell says. “It’s also a mistake to not speak with clarity and let people know what’s at stake. Frankly, I think many people in our culture appreciate when we’re gracious, loving and clear where we stand.”
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College in Charlotte, North Carolina, says the same-sex marriage debate in the culture, and more specifically in the church, is exposing people’s view of Scripture.
“There’s no way you can pledge fidelity to the authority of Scripture and condone same-sex relationships,” Land says. “There are no spiritual gymnastics that make that possible.
Either you affirm full and complete authority of Scripture, or you condone same-sex relationships. You can’t merge them. You can’t muddy the water, and it really is a truth serum for evangelical Christians on whether they really believe the Bible or not.” Land says any attempt to justify same-sex marriage in Scripture is to “stand in judgment of Scripture instead of standing under the judgment of Scripture.”
On Sept. 22, 1991, Billy Graham told a crowd of 250,000 people attending his Central Park Crusade that the previous 30 years had witnessed a “tragic exodus from the churches into materialism, secularism and humanism,” leaving New York City in “desperate spiritual need.”
Nearly 30 years ago, Billy Graham warned of the blurring of the lines between right and wrong while calling the Central Park Crusade’s 900 supporting churches to revival and spiritual awakening. Today, Land says, the rate of premarital sex, adultery and divorce among Christians is indistinguishable from the culture-at-large.
“The reason we are losing the debate over marriage is because too many Christians have not walked the walk,” Land says. “We’ve talked the talk, but we’ve not walked the walk. We say marriage is sacred, and then we don’t treat it as if it’s sacred.”
Land, McDowell and Stonestreet agree that Christians in the 21st century will continue to be known by authentic Biblical expressions of God’s love.
“We don’t serve the victims of lies by becoming quieter about the truth,” Stonestreet says. “We serve the victims of lies by being sacrificial, being gracious, being generous, being accommodating, but being truthful. The worst thing you can tell someone who’s not OK is that they are.”
Photo: Paul Sherar/©2020 Samaritan's Purse