Evangelical leader says criticism of anti-gay pledge is a 'distraction'


In addition to his organization's stance against marriage equality in its statement of faith, Franklin Graham also has a history of making anti-LGBTQ statements.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham claims that he is not "condemning" gay people, despite the fact that his organization, Samaritan's Purse, requires its staff to sign a statement saying that they are Christians and support the organization's stance against marriage equality for LGBTQ people.

Samaritan's Purse was invited by Mount Sinai Health System to set up a field hospital in New York City's Central Park to treat patients with COVID-19. The 68-bed hospital opened in April, and Mount Sinai said it told Samaritan's Purse staff to adhere to its principles and guidelines on not discriminating against patients, including on the basis of sex, gender, gender expression, or gender identity.

Now the field hospital has been dismantled and the last patients have been discharged. Its time in New York was marked by criticism of the organization by elected officials, activists, and individuals and protests against its presence in the city, which New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called "an affront to our values of inclusion."

Samaritan's Purse released a statement saying that it has wound up its operations in Central Park because "the surge in COVID hospital admissions is reaching manageable levels."

Graham, the son of preacher Billy Graham, told the New York Times in an interview published on Sunday, "I would want the gay community to know that I'm not here condemning them at all. Just because I don't agree doesn't mean I'm against them."

He said that criticism of the Central Park field hospital was a "distraction" from treating people during the pandemic.

In addition to his organization's stance against marriage equality in its statement of faith ("marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female"), Graham also has a history of making anti-LGBTQ statements.

Graham has called transgender women "pedophiles" and "sexually perverted men" as recently as 2017. He has called the fight for LGBTQ equality a "a full-scale assault against Christianity and the followers of Christ." Last year, he told openly gay former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg that he should be "repentant of" his sexuality because "the Bible ... defines homosexuality as sin."

In 2017 he called homosexuality "an abomination."

In the interview with the Times, Graham said that the statement of faith was necessary for uniting the organization's work and presence, but denied that its religious views were in any way imposed on its patients. "Our staff prays all day long," Graham said. "They would not force themselves on somebody and try to force our religion on somebody or what we believe."

People who volunteer with Samaritan's Purse are also required to adhere to the organization's statement of faith, according to its website. In April, the group said that it did not have volunteers at its New York field hospital and that only official personnel were involved in the operation, but a March press release mentioned "local volunteers," and LGBTQ activist A. Timothy Lunceford-Stevens filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission after he said he attempted to volunteer at the hospital and was turned away because he would not sign the statement.

On May 1, Johnson called on the group to leave New York City and for Mount Sinai to "sever its relationship" with the organization.

He wrote on Facebook that the group's presence "is painful for all New Yorkers who care deeply about the LGBTQ community. I am aware that our battle against COVID-19 is still ongoing, and that our health care system - and the amazing workers who have been the heroes of this unprecedented time in our history - still needs support ... But as a city that values diversity and compassion for all, we cannot continue to allow a group with the track record of Samaritan's Purse to remain here when we are past the point they are needed."

The LGBTQ rights organizations Reclaim Pride Coalition and ACT UP Coalition led a protest near the field hospital on April 14. Jay W. Walker, an activist with the Reclaim Pride Coalition, told NBC News, "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?"

Leaders of the Episcopal Church in New York initially agreed to work with Mount Sinai Health System to set up a field hospital at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan. They pulled out of the plan after discovering that Mount Sinai was working with Samaritan's Purse. Bishop Andrew M.L. Dietsche of the Episcopal Diocese of New York said the statement of faith was a "key" reason for the Church's decision.

Dietsche said that Graham held an "exclusionary view and a very narrow view of what constitutes being a Christian," and that adhering to Samaritan's Purse's statement of faith would force Episcopalians to "repudiate all the good work that's been done in the Diocese of New York around the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.