The Samaritan Purse Field Hospital in Central Park Has Found an “Unlikely Champion”

Samaritan Purse

I took some heat for this post.  I still stand by it.

I am guessing that my post might get the support of Whitney Tilson.  He is a 53-year-old retired hedge fund manager who lives in New York City.  His wife is Jewish and they have raised both of their kids in the faith. He is liberal on most social issues.  He has also been one of the most committed and dedicated volunteers at the Samaritan Purse field hospital in Central Park.

Here is a taste of Yonat Shimron’s piece on Tilson at Religion News Service:

In the course of the past four weeks, Tilson, who is not religious and had never heard of Franklin Graham, the conservative Christian leader of Samaritan’s Purse, has become one of the field hospital’s most dedicated volunteers and champions.

He’s befriended many of the staff, donated shovels and sleds to help spread 2 tons of mulch across the muddy lawn in between the tents, and gifted thousands of dollars worth of bananas, apples, Starbucks Frappuccinos, soda, potato chips and other snacks to those looking after the sick.

“It’s an incredibly impressive organization,” said Tilson, 53, a retired hedge fund manager who writes an investment newsletter. “I have no doubt they are delivering world-class critical care to my fellow New Yorkers stricken with COVID-19. Every single person I’ve met has been a genuinely nice person and very competent and good at their job.”

And this:

In this time of growing polarization and identity politics, Tilson has stood his ground, even as it has cost him some friendships.

He and his wife, who is Jewish, have been members of Central Synagogue, one of the city’s oldest Jewish congregations, for 20 years — rearing their three daughters in the faith.

But Tilson, who said his views about same-sex marriage (as well as his views on Muslims and abortion) are “polar opposite” those of Graham, has continued to defend his volunteer work.

“I’m supporting a hospital that is saving people’s lives,” he said. “I’m not endorsing the ideology of the founder of the organization.”

In recent weeks, Tilson has offered the use of his address for any of the field hospital crew who would like to receive mail while they’re working at the hospital. He’s also made available four bicycles for their use and emailed them some trails they might like to use around the park.

Last week he took a call from Graham, who wanted to thank him for his volunteer efforts.

“He’s a great human being,” Graham said of Tilson. “He might disagree with me, and I might disagree with him, but that’s not going to stop us from working together to help people.”

Graham even invited Tilson to come down to North Carolina to tour the organization’s headquarters.

Tilson said he plans to take him up on the offer. He’s a businessman and he likes to study what he called “high-performing organizations.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Attacks on Samaritan’s Purse Reveal a Fundamental Misunderstanding of Evangelical Relief Work

Samaritan Purse

As I wrote about yesterday, Franklin Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse has built a field hospital in Central Park to service coronavirus patients. Not everyone is happy about it.

For example, Brad Hoylman, a New York state senator representing Manhattan, wants to make sure that Graham’s views on traditional marriage do not get in the way of helping all New Yorkers.  In this NBC News piece, Hoylman says that it “is a shame that the federal government has left us in the position of having to accept charity from such bigots.” He added, “this health crisis is too delicate to leave it to televangelists, purveyors of the faith, to handle our medical needs.” New York Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement describing Graham’s efforts in New York City as “extremely disturbing.”

The Gothamist is also up-in-arms about Samaritan Purse’s presence in Central Park.

As anyone who reads my work knows, I am no fan of Franklin Graham’s culture-war language and diehard support of Donald Trump. I do not support his Christian nationalism. He should not be surprised when some New Yorkers don’t want him there. Sadly, his support of Trump and his caustic attacks on the LGBTQ and Muslim communities have damaged his Christian witness. I wrote about him and other court evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But I defend Graham’s right to practice his faith and preside over a relief mission that reflects the beliefs of that faith. Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian organization. Millions of American evangelicals believe that sex is something reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. This is a deeply-held religious conviction. Samaritan’s Purse, in order to uphold the integrity of its ministry, should have the freedom to employ volunteers willing to embrace this belief.

The attacks on Samaritan’s Purse’s presence in New York City reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of evangelical relief work. I know of no evangelical relief organization that discriminates in the area of care. To suggest that the doctors, nurses, and volunteers working in the Central Park field hospital would refuse to treat LGBTQ coronavirus patients says more about Graham’s critics than it does about the mission of Samaritan’s Purse and the work of evangelical social concern generally.  Watch Franklin Graham here.

Two final thoughts:

  1. We live in a pluralistic society. I have argued that those on the Christian Right, Franklin Graham included, need to understand this. Today it is time for those on the Left to come to grips with this reality.
  2. The preservation of life is paramount right now. It is more important than church attendance. It is more important than the culture wars. The extreme ends of both the Left and the Right need to learn this lesson.

Samaritan’s Purse is Doing God’s Work in Central Park

I have been a strong critic of court evangelical Franklin Graham. But today I am going to put my disagreements with him aside.

Graham’s relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has set up a field hospital in Central Park in partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital. This is the evangelical community at work in times of crisis.

Last week I quoted theologian N.T. Wright.  His words are worth repeating today:

…when God wants to change the world he doesn’t send in the tanks…he sends in the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the hungry-for-justice people, the peacemakers, the incoruptibly pure in heart. That was never a list of qualities you  need to try to work at in order to get to heaven. It was always a list of human characteristics though which God would bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. That is how God works. And by the time the bullies and the arrogant have woken up to what’s happening, the meek and the mourners and the merciful have built hospitals and schools; they are looking after the sick and the wounded; they are feeding the hungry and rescuing the helpless; and they are telling the powerful and the vested-interest people that this is what a genuinely human society looks like…

ADDENDUM (March 30, 2020 at 8:48pm): Over on Twitter, people are calling my attention to this piece at The GothamistAll I have to say is that the people behind Gothamist, like Franklin Graham and the court evangelicals, need to learn how to live in a pluralistic society.