Charity leader calls for ban on Muslim immigrants to U.S.

Franklin Graham preaching in Ukraine, June 2015. (Franklin Graham/Facebook)

The head of one of the largest charities in the U.S. wants Muslims to be barred from immigrating into the country. Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelical pastor Rev. Billy Graham and head of the international charity Samaritan’s Purse, invoked crackdowns on Japanese people following the attack on Pearl Harbor as a part of a Facebook post condemning Muslims in the wake of the killing of four Marines and one Navy officer by Kuwait-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.

“We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad,” wrote Graham. “We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized – and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad.”

It is not the first time he voiced support for limiting the rights of groups of people on Facebook. Earlier in the month, Graham expressed his displeasure over the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. Last year, Graham came to the defense of crackdowns against LGBTQ people in Russia led by President Vladimir Putin. He also supported World Vision when it back-tracked on ending its ban on hiring people in same-sex marriages. And as recently as March, he told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that Muslims are infiltrating the highest levels of the U.S. government and then repeated the ideas on the 700 Club television program.

With $460 million in revenue last year, Samaritan’s Purse is the 25th-largest charity in the U.S. It is roughly the same size as organizations like Save the Children and Feed the Children. Its work covers a wide range of areas including hunger, health and emergency assistance. Its biggest, and probably best-known effort, is its annual Operation Christmas Child that sees the delivery of shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in more than 100 countries.

Samaritan’s Purse is also one of the organizations first on the scene following a natural disaster. Its staff responded to Pakistan, Haiti, Nepal and elsewhere in recent years. And was one of the few organizations to work on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa before it caught global attention.

And Samaritan’s Purse also happens to provide aid to Muslims around the world. In Iraq, staffers are sometimes the first to assist people released from detention by the radical Islamic State. As a recent blog post recounts:

Amid all the emotion and excitement, Samaritan’s Purse was able to be the first entity to welcome these brave survivors back with the gift of a hygiene kit.

Many expressed their gratitude. One woman who was just freed with her children commented that she did not know how she would survive without her husband who was still in captivity, yet she was grateful for any immediate help like the hygiene kit that we were able to provide her with.

Every few days the number of returnees grows, and Samaritan’s Purse in Northern Iraq is responding to meet their needs in a timely and effective manner.

But the organization is not free from controversy. A 2001 New York Times report uncovered that staff were both helping victims of an earthquake in El Salvador and proselytizing them at the same time. The group defended its actions and criticized the report.

“We are first a Christian organization and second an aid organization,” said Dr. Paul Chiles, the country director for Samaritan’s Purse in El Salvador at the time of the article’s publication. “We can’t really separate the two. We really believe Jesus Christ told us to do relief work.”

Graham ascended to lead Samaritan’s Purse in 1979, following the death of founder Dr. Bob Pierce. He led the growth and expansion of the organization dedicated to “providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world” and serve “the church worldwide to promote the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It now works in more than 100 countries, many of which are home to Muslims.

For years, Graham has expressed mixed sentiments about Muslims. He called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. And doubled down on his feelings in later conversations.

Samaritan’s Purse distributes relief/recovery goods to Samoan communities affected by the September 2009 Tsunami. (Credit: United States Embassy Apia, Samoa)

Samaritan’s Purse distributes relief/recovery goods to Samoan communities affected by the September 2009 Tsunami. (Credit: United States Embassy Apia, Samoa)

“True Islam cannot be practiced in this country,” he said to CNN’s Campbell Brown in December 2009. “You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.”

So far, the comments made by Graham have garnered little attention. More than 160,000 people liked the Facebook post, more than 50,000 shared it and there are nearly 20,000 comments.

The majority of the budget for Samaritan’s Purse comes from private donations. It does have some contracts with the U.S. government, but previous analyses of money given to faith-based organizations shows it takes in less than the likes of Catholic Relief Services and World Vision.

Ironically, the name Samaritan’s Purse is derived from the parable of the good Samaritan, found in the New Testament of the Bible. The story, told by Jesus, is meant to bolster what is known as the golden rule: “love your neighbor as yourself.” But it appears that Graham’s sentiments hearken back to a more recent point in history and may well pave the way for a new legacy.

“Franklin Graham’s latest comment that all Muslims should be barred from immigrating to America is not surprising. But it is saddening given the pattern of which it is a part. Instead of being remembered for decades of humanitarian work through Samaritan’s Purse, he seems more likely to be remembered as a soldier in the 21st-century culture war,” wrote Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for the Religion News Service, in The Atlantic.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.