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.

Ideals are Important. So is Life

Samaritan Purse

Some folks on the Left do not want Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical organization that only uses Christian health care workers and volunteers, to have a coronavirus field hospital in Central Park. They say that Samaritan’s Purse discriminates against the LGBTQ community. Since Central Park is a public park, open to all people, Franklin Graham’s ministry should not be allowed to be there. This, it seems to me, would be a legitimate argument if we were not in the midst of a pandemic. When several folks on Twitter called-out the problem of Samaritan Purse working on public property, I asked them to politely explain these concerns to a coronavirus patient who can’t breathe and needs immediate medical attention in order to survive. Ideals are important. So is life.

Some folks on the Right do not want the government telling them that they have to close their churches in the midst of this pandemic. They claim that they have a First Amendment right to worship and assemble. One church has even turned to the former Dean of the Liberty University Law School to defend their right to physically assemble during the pandemic. But at what point do we lay aside this First Amendment right when all the science tells us that coronavirus spreads in crowds? Ideals are important. So is life.

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.

The Author’s Corner with David King

God's internationalists.jpgDavid King is Karen Lake Buttrey Director at the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and Professor of Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. This interview is based on his new book, God’s Internationalists: World Vision and the Age of Evangelical Humanitarianism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write God’s Internationalists?

DK: As a scholar always seeking to bring an international lens to American history, I have long been intrigued by the untold story of World Vision. Beginning in 1950 as a small missionary agency, the relief and development agency has now grown to become one the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organizations. I felt that World Vision’s story illustrates the role that major faith-based NGOs now play not only in foreign policy and humanitarian work but also in shaping the global imagination of millions of Americans. In many ways, they have taken the public role once occupied by western missionaries. How that transition occurred and what it means, I felt, was important and underexplored.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument for God’s Internationalists?

DK: In chronicling the organizational transformation of World Vision from 1950 to the present, I am making the case that American evangelicals changed in the ways they saw themselves and their world in the period following World War II in ways that push scholars beyond a singular focus only on politics and popular culture. Chronicling the evolution of World Vision’s practices, theology, and institutional development, I also hope to demonstrate how the organization re-articulated and retained its Christian identity even as it expanded beyond a narrow American evangelical subculture illustrating the complexities of faith-based humanitarianism that do not presume the scientific and secular dominance of the humanitarian and philanthropic sector.

JF: Why do we need to read God’s Internationalists?

DK: First, I believe readers will enjoy some of the colorful characters in the pages of God’s Internationalists. World Vision founder Bob Pierce was a larger than life character that traveled the world jumping out of helicopters on the front lines of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Yet, as World Vision grew, Pierce refused to grow with it. After he quit in a fit of rage, he would later go on to start another organization, Samaritan’s Purse, and he mentored Franklin Graham who took over once Pierce passed away. These intertwined histories are obviously still relevant today.

Beyond the immediate relevance of exploring the histories of organizations that still shape the global outlook of many American Christians, I believe it is also important to make the case that American Christians spend far more resources on global missions and international relief and development than they do on domestic politics. While religion and politics get our overwhelming attention for obvious reasons, I believe it is important to broaden our field of vision. Religious relief and development agencies like World Vision demonstrate a complex but oftentimes healthy set of working relationships that mix government, local congregations, private philanthropy, and a wide variety of religious or secular agencies partnering together. In our particular moment, seeing how these partnerships have developed and how they might lead us to common ground, I believe, is worthy of our time. Finally, I believe God’s Internationalists forces us to expand our field of vision beyond domestic issues to see how Christians at home and global Christians abroad have led to new ways of engaging with the world.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?

DK: I majored in history at Samford University and fell in love with the history of civil rights which came alive to me as I explored that history through oral interviews and site visits right there in Birmingham, Alabama, where so much of that history took place. I later focused on American religion with a particular interest in missions history through my work with Grant Wacker at Duke. After I finished a PhD in American religious history at Emory University, I continued to find a way to keep writing as a historian even as my own academic interests have continued to evolve over time taking me now into philanthropic studies, an interdisciplinary field, where I am presently rooted at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: Speaking of philanthropy, I have just finished an edited volume with Philip Goff of IUPUI, on Religion and Philanthropy in the United States that looks at a variety of religious traditions and particular case studies over the long twentieth century up to the present that will be out with Indiana University Press in 2020. I am also excited to be writing with my colleague Eric Abrahamson a history that intertwines the lives of evangelical philanthropist, Howard Ahmanson, Jr. and evangelical civil rights icon John Perkins. In framing their improbable friendship with one another, we believe the book opens up many untold stories such as the history of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) as well as Ahmanson’s funding of controversial initiatives such as intelligent design and Christian reconstructionism to key global missions such as the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Like Gods Internationalists, we hope it will open up another lens to explore American evangelicalism.

JF: Thanks, David!

Get Those Kids a Toothbrush, Soap, and Blankets!

Watch Mike Pence dodge the question and try to blame it all on the Democrats.  It is sad and pathetic to watch this Christian man put politics over conscience.  Notice how Pence tries ignore Tapper’s questions by bringing up long-term and big picture solutions.

If Trump wanted to help these kids, he could do it and do it now.  And where is court evangelical Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse?  Doesn’t Graham’s ministry help kids like this?  Why isn’t Samaritan Purse’s in El Paso TODAY with shoe boxes full of supplies.

Here is what Franklin is tweeting about these days:

But apparently not in El Paso.

Here is Franklin picking a fight with Madonna:

And while kids are living in unsanitary conditions on the border, Franklin is railing against the “secularists”:

And he wants everyone to know that Kathie Lee Gifford is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

Court evangelicalism paralyzes people like Graham.  He can’t help these kids because he has to remain loyal to the POTUS.  Let’s hope and pray he changes his mind and makes a phone call to Trump asking for permission to bring his relief agency to El Paso.

And while we are at it, let’s try to solve our immigration problem in a way that makes such detention camps unnecessary.

*America* Magazine Interviews Franklin Graham

America is a Jesuit magazine.  Politically, I think it is fair to say that it leans slightly to the left.  Of course those in charge of the magazine would probably say that it is simply trying to be faithfully Catholic and not political.  The editor of America is Matt Malone, S.J.

Franklin Graham is the son of evangelist Billy Graham.  His comments about Muslims and other things have made him a controversial figure of late.  But many people may not realize that he runs a relief agency called Samaritan’s Purse that has done a lot of good work around the world.  Samaritan’s Purse provides medical care during military conflicts, rebuilds homes in the wake of natural disasters, charters emergency airlifts, and distributes food to refugees and other displaced people.  (Many evangelicals believe that Graham should stick to the work of Samaritan’s Purse and stop weighing in on politics, but perhaps we could explore that in another post).

Malone and Graham sat down recently to talk about “Facing Darkness,” a soon-to-be- released Samaritan’s Purse film that chronicles the organization’s work in fighting the Ebola pandemic in West Africa.  After they discuss the film the conversation moves in some interesting directions.

Here is the conversation:

And here is Malone’s take on the interview.