Into the Plague

Hatewatchers Have a Clear and Present Opportunity to Learn about Christianity

Last Wednesday, Samaritan’s Purse opened a 68-bed Emergency Field Hospital in Central Park and began receiving COVID-19 patients from New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The multi-tent medical unit is staffed by a team of more than 70 doctors, nurses, and healthcare specialists. Samaritan’s Purse is the international rapid-response crisis relief ministry headed by Franklin Graham. “This is what Samaritan's Purse does,” said Graham. “We respond in the middle of crises to help people in Jesus’s Name. Please pray for our teams and for everyone around the world affected by the virus.”

Not everyone was happy about this development. For gothamist reporter Jake Offenhartz, a more pressing matter was “growing fears that some New Yorkers could face discrimination and substandard care from the religious organization.” At a time when New York City was in grave need of additional hospital capacity, Offenhartz was concerned because Samaritan’s Purse is an explicitly Christian organization. He pointed out that Samaritan’s Purse exclusively recruits Christian healthcare workers and that volunteers are asked to support a statement of faith.

Let’s talk about discrimination, and then we’ll return to Offenhartz’s concerns. defines discrimination as:

  1. an act or instance of making a distinction.
  2. treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.

The first definition simply has to do with noting differences. Everyone does that. The second definition is clearly what Offenhartz has in mind. Either he himself believes, or he wants his readers to believe, that Samaritan’s Purse will make distinctions between incoming patients based on their sexual identity and then administer medical services differently according to those distinctions.

Offenhartz offered no evidence that the relief ministry has ever delivered two-tiered treatment to any person anywhere. So, on what grounds does he warn New Yorkers about Samaritan’s Purse? Because Franklin Graham is, and here he links to an SPLC Hatewatch screed, “virulently anti-LGBT.” The SPLC piece quotes Graham as saying this:

I want the gay and lesbian people to know that if they repent and turn from those sins, God will forgive them and heal their hearts. But I'm not going to accept it and say what they're doing is fine. It's not fine. It's not fine with God and they'll stand before him one day.

Christians hear that as a statement borne of love. God loves all people and calls everyone to turn away from sin and toward him for forgiveness and healing. Offenhartz and the SPLC Hatewatcher hear it as virulent hate.

What this tells me is, Offenhartz, and anyone who would react like him, really don’t understand what Christianity is. To the extent that they’re genuinely ignorant, this is not their fault. It stands to reason that people raised by secular parents and educated in secular schools wouldn’t know much about Christianity or come in contact with many Christians who were more than nominally so. On the other hand, there is also such a thing as willful ignorance. Willful ignorance, sometimes called willful blindness, is the state of a person who willfully refuses to pay attention to information that might question a belief he currently holds.  

It’s possible Offenhartz hasn’t had much exposure to Christians before. However, COVID-19 has resulted in the arrival in his city of some authentic messengers of Christianity. They have come in their semis, having hauled across hundreds of miles their tents, their generators, their cots with sheets and pillows, their monitors and gowns and masks and IV stands, and who knows how many other sterilized instruments precisely calibrated to tend to the needs of the sick. Upon arrival, they donned their coats and hats and gloves and unloaded it all and set it up in 40- and 50-degree weather. (Can you imagine what it takes to set up a tent hospital? Go look at the photo gallery at the end of this article showing people setting it all upreally, go look! Also, keep in mind that Samaritan’s Purse is a donor-funded, nonprofit organization.)

Peter Heck had an excellent response to reactionaries like Offenhartz:

Given that these activists routinely traffic in absolutes like love and hate, let's oblige them in evaluating what's happening here.

On one side you have Christian volunteers not only seeking to save lives of sick people, many of whom may have lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender orientations, but they are willing to risk their own lives to do so. And on the other you have progressive culture warriors elevating political considerations and intersectionality dogma over the physical needs of suffering citizens. Which side is demonstrating love for those with whom they may disagree, and which side seems to be preoccupied with an unconcealable hatred for those who believe differently than they do, so much so that they are willing to risk the lives of others?

These are good questions, and people everywhere will draw their own conclusions. Offenhartz and the entirety of progressive, social justice warriorhood now have an opportunity learn about Christianity from actual Christians in action, rather than hatewatching reactionaries. We know Offenhartz held a particular belief about Christians before the hospital became operational. Will he now look more closely at how those operating it treat the patients brought to them? Or will he look away, and in so doing, willfully harden his heart?

This is an opportunity for hatewatchers everywhere. Franklin Graham asked for prayer for his medical teams and for those affected by the virus. Let us also pray for hatewatchers everywhere. Let us pray that they don’t look away.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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