As Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse organization dismantled its field hospital for COVID-19 patients in New York City, Graham defended his anti-LGBTQ views by contending -- wrongly -- that most New Yorkers share them.
Those views have led to much criticism of Samaritan's Purse's presence in the city. It ran the tent hospital in Central Park in a partnership with Mount Sinai Health System. As Samaritan's Purse and Mount Sinai prepared to close the facility due to decreased demand, there were plans for Graham's nonprofit to provide supplemental services at Mount Sinai's Beth Israel division, but those plans were scrapped amid protests.
Graham struck back at his critics in an interview published Sunday in The New York Times. What LGBTQ and allied New Yorkers found most objectionable is Samaritan's Purse's requirement that employees and volunteers endorse a "statement of faith" laying out conservative Christian values, among them being that "marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female." It also includes a statement against abortion, a belief in the infallibility of the Bible, and the assertion that non-Christians will spend eternity in hell.
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, has said that the organization's "continued presence here is an affront to our values of inclusion." In the Times interview, Graham called that remark "ludicrous."
"New York is -- how many million people live here?" Graham said. "There's not one set of values that represents 9 million people. I think that's just ludicrous to me even make a statement like that."
Undoubtedly, there is not just one set of values for New Yorkers. But Graham also said the majority of city residents oppose marriage equality. "The vast majority of the people in the city believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said, "but the majority would also say that if two men want to live together, that's their business, or two women want to live together, that's their business."
That statement is demonstrably false. A 2017 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed 69 percent of respondents in New York State supporting marriage equality. It did not break out a percentage for New York City, but given the city's large LGBTQ population and general liberalism, the percentage is most likely similar or even higher. In 2011, the state became the sixth in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Mount Sinai officials said there was no discrimination in care at the field hospital and that no potential volunteer would be turned away for refusing to endorse the statement of faith, but at least two people said they were blocked from continuing the volunteer application process on the Samaritan's Purse website when they would not endorse the statement.
Graham also told the Times that Samaritan's Purse would not discriminate in providing care, nor would it impose its religious beliefs on patients. But some activists said people would be wary about receiving care from the organization because of Graham's anti-LGBTQ views and his statements against non-Christian religions, especially Islam.
"Just because they say that they wouldn't recoil or try to proselytize you or start praying over you loudly about how Jesus will change you or save you, all of this comes to mind whether it is an actual possibility or not," Ann Northrop, a volunteer with the Reclaim Pride Coalition, which organized protests against Graham's group, told the Times.
A more liberal branch of Christianity, the Episcopal Church, had declined to partner with Samaritan's Purse. The statement of faith was a major reason the Episcopal Diocese of New York wouldn't let Samaritan's Purse set up a field hospital at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Bishop Andrew M.L. Dietsche told the paper.
Graham has "an exclusionary view and a very narrow view of what constitutes being a Christian," Dietsche said. The partnership would have meant non-Christians couldn't volunteer at the cathedral and would have undermined "all the good work that's been done in the Diocese of New York around the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people," he said. Most Episcopalians in New York City wouldn't have endorsed the statement of faith, he added.