Yonat Shimron | Religion News Service | Wednesday, April 15, 2020
(RNS) —The scene in New York City’s Central Park was a snapshot of the nation’s cultural and religious divide.
On Tuesday (April 14) a group of LGBTQ activists stood several yards away from the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital on the East Meadow lawn and blasted city and state officials and Mount Sinai Hospital for partnering with the evangelical humanitarian relief organization treating overflow patients suffering from the coronavirus.
Activists with the Reclaim Pride Coalition holding signs saying “help not hate” called out New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of Mount Sinai just across the park, for allowing the organization headed by evangelist Franklin Graham to treat New Yorkers while adhering to an anti-gay statement of faith.
“How was this group ever considered to bring their hatred and their vitriol into our city at a time of crisis when our people are fighting a pandemic?” asked Jay W. Walker, an activist with the Reclaim Pride Coalition.
The LGBTQ coalition is the latest in a series of barbs aimed at Samaritan’s Purse since it opened a 68-bed field hospital in Central Park two weeks ago. The conflict pits the country’s growing acceptance of LGBTQ rights with the conservative values of a premier evangelical relief organization.
The hospital is staffed with Christian doctors and nurses experienced in treating infectious diseases. But Samaritan Purse’s policies require most contractors and some full-time volunteers to sign a statement of faith that includes a declaration that “we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”
Graham, president and CEO of the charity is a controversial figure. A vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, he has filled the airwaves with condemnations of gays and lesbians and Muslim Americans, among others.
He has also repeated that the field hospital does not discriminate in who it treats.
“We provide our services to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation,” Graham told Religion News Service. “We don’t discriminate. Period.”
Samaritan’s Purse has played a high-profile role in past health crises, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Earlier this year, it set up a field hospital to treat Italians suffering from the coronavirus.
New York City is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, a liberal metropolis with broad anti-discrimination provisions in employment, housing and public accommodations. It is also the epicenter of the coronavirus, with more than 10,000 deaths and nearly 200,000 infections.
Mount Sinai Hospital, on New York’s Fifth Avenue, partnered with Samaritan’s Purse as a way to relieve the overstretched hospital system grappling with a shortage of hospital beds and equipment. Mount Sinai does not oversee the field hospital.
As of Tuesday, Samaritan’s Purse has treated 119 patients at its field hospital. A total of 51 patients are now hospitalized there, including five in its ICU; 44 patients have been discharged, spokesperson Kaitlyn Lahm said.