NEW YORK – Rev. Franklin Graham says his Christian relief charity has no interest in receiving any of the funding President Donald Trump has withheld from the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus.
Samaritan’s Purse, Graham’s international relief charity, has operated a field hospital for coronavirus patients in New York’s Central Park since last month that sparked local opposition, even as its work was recognized at a White House ceremony this week marking the National Day of Prayer.
While the New York Post has reported the charity is under consideration to receive some of the U.S. funding Trump has paused for the U.N. health agency, the evangelist said he doesn’t expect it.
“First of all, it’s not going to come,” Graham, son of the late Rev. Billy Graham, told The Associated Press during a visit this week to thank medical workers at the field hospital. “But it would be too much of a controversy if they gave Samaritan’s Purse a penny. And it’s just not worth it.”
Trump said last month that his administration would pause U.S. payments for the WHO during an investigation period of 60 to 90 days. The prospect of Samaritan's Purse receiving funding redirected from the U.N. health agency prompted warnings from some Graham critics, including the secular group American Atheists.
“God provides what we need,” Graham said, adding that “I kind of like not being beholden to the government.”
The conservative evangelist’s relief group, which has partnerships in more than 100 countries, receives funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development for specific projects implemented jointly, according to a spokesman. About 6% of the charity’s income last year came from that agency, the spokesman said.
Samaritan’s Purse is no stranger to controversy during the pandemic. Its Central Park hospital has drawn criticism from local officials and activists who decried the charity's mandate that employees endorse a “ statement of faith ” which includes opposition to same-sex marriage.
In a statement last week that cited past disparaging comments Graham has made about LGBTQ people, the Democratic speaker of New York’s City Council urged Samaritan’s Purse to leave the city. New York City’s Commission on Human Rights responded to the charity’s arrival in the city with a vow to help any resident experiencing discrimination.
Critics of his group’s operations in New York “were upset because we don’t believe the way they believe,” Graham said, adding that “we were discriminated against because of our faith."
“I believe the Bible to be the word of God … and I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “And so, all of our staff, we want people that believe the same.”
While Graham dismissed any allegation of discrimination in the provision of care as “false rumors," one New York-based LGBTQ activist who has decried the charity's statement of faith requirement said that asking employees and volunteers to endorse its views is also discriminatory.
Samaritan's Purse's statement of faith — which refers to marriage between “one genetic male and one genetic female" — is “not only anti-gay-marriage, it’s transphobic,” said Natalie James, co-founder of the Reclaim Pride Coalition.
Noting that Graham delivered a televised Easter message from Central Park, James warned that the charity's presence is “taking advantage of New York’s sorrow for their own opportunistic purposes of fundraising and proselytizing.”
The 68-bed Central Park hospital treated 190 coronavirus patients over 36 days, according to the North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse. A spokesman for the charity said that the Central Park site had not accepted volunteers, relying solely on employees.
The Christian charity's partnership with Mount Sinai Health System to treat coronavirus patients has treated 143 patients at two other Mount Sinai sites. As that work winds down, Samaritan’s Purse is expected to wrap up its coronavirus operations in New York late next week.
Graham avowed no hard feelings despite the contention over the field hospital, saying that “I love New York” and recalling that he played in Central Park as a child.
Graham is a Trump supporter, and even as the virus continues to spread, he aligned with the president's calls to steer the nation toward reopening.
“Let’s take the best care of ourselves that we possibly can. But let’s live our life,” Graham said. "We can't hide in a cage till all the dangers disappear, because they won’t disappear."
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.