Group behind Central Park's COVID-19 field hospital run by antigay evangelist

Franklin Graham, the head of Samaritan’s Purse, has compared trans people to pedophiles and said gays would burn in the “flames of hell.”
Image: Franklin Graham
Pastor Franklin Graham speaks during a funeral service at the Billy Graham Library for the Rev. Billy Graham, in Charlotte, N.C. on March 2, 2018.John Bazemore / AP file
By Tim Fitzsimons

Within the open greenery of Central Park, a 68-bed field hospital has been erected to care for patients battling COVID-19. The outdoor facility — which will be staffed by 60 to 70 medical professionals — is being led by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization run by Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham.

While the organization has been applauded for delivering an overflow hospital for Mount Sinai’s overcrowded Manhattan facilities in a matter of days, it has raised eyebrows because of a public request for “Christian” volunteers and a policy that volunteers adhere to its 11-point Statement of Faith.

Ten of the 11 items pertain broadly to doctrinal issues, including one that “human life is sacred from conception to its natural end,” but only one singles out a class of people.

“We believe God’s plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other,” item nine of the Statement of Faith reads. “God instituted monogamous marriage between male and female as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female.”

On Monday, New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman called upon Graham “to publicly assure LGBTQ New Yorkers that they will receive the same treatment as anyone else at the Central Park field hospital.”

In a statement emailed to NBC News, Graham said, “Samaritan’s Purse treats everyone we help the same.”

“We do not make distinctions about an individual’s religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status. We certainly do not discriminate, and we have a decades-long track record that confirms just that,” Graham stated. “This is a time for all of us to unite and work together, regardless of our political views. Let’s support one another during this crisis, and we pray that God will bless the efforts of all those battling this vicious virus.”

Samaritan’s Purse did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment about Graham’s public call for “Christian” medical professionals to volunteer at the field hospital.

Hoylman told NBC News that it’s “a shame that the federal government has left us in the position of having to accept charity from such bigots.”

“This health crisis is too delicate to leave it to televangelists, purveyors of the faith, to handle our medical needs,” Hoylman, who is gay, said. “This is a man, after all, who has said that the LGBTQ community recruits children, he’s said that families like mine are invalid, he compares the transgender community to pedophiles and perverts, so I think it would behoove us to watch him and his followers’ actions extremely closely.”

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson issued a statement on Tuesday calling it "extremely disturbing" that Graham and his group were involved in relief efforts. Johnson warned that he would be "monitoring the situation closely and making sure that our city's values are being represented at all times."

Franklin Graham, the relief organization’s president and CEO, has a long history of anti-LGBTQ beliefs and remarks.

In a 2014 video interview published by The Charlotte Observer, Graham accused gays of “recruiting children” into their “cause”; applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called gay propaganda law as a method of “protecting his nation’s children”; and accused the Obama administration of pushing a “gay and lesbian agenda.”

That same year, at a conference hosted by the Family Research Council, Graham said he’s “not afraid of homosexuals.” On the contrary, he said, “I love them” — “I love them enough to care to warn them that if they want to continue living like this, it’s the flames of hell for you.”

Following the 2017 repeal of North Carolina’s transgender "bathroom bill," which banned trans people from using restrooms matching their gender identity, Graham tweeted, “Thanks to the gov, people of NC will be exposed to pedophiles & sexually perverted men in women’s public restrooms.”

And just last year, Graham denounced the sexuality of former presidential contender Pete Buttigieg, saying the Bible defines homosexuality as “something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.”

Earlier this year, eight places in the United Kingdom that Graham had reserved for an upcoming tour canceled his appearance over his stances on LGBTQ issues. One of the venues, ACC Liverpool in England, said it had canceled because of a “number of statements which we consider to be incompatible with our values.”

An interview request to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene did not receive an immediate response. However, in an interview with Gothamist, the New York City Mayor’s Office said Samaritan’s Purse will operate as a Mount Sinai Health System facility and therefore must adhere to the hospital’s antidiscrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics.

Follow NBC Out on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram