As millions of worshipers around the globe enter the month of April preparing to celebrate Holy Week, Passover and Ramadan in the age of coronavirus, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan is set to open its doors to 400 beds for non-COVID-19 patients to make more space in the hospitals for those suffering from the coronavirus. But there’s a catch: The city is partnering with the Christian fundamentalist group Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham, a virulently Islamophobic, anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ preacher. Last week, the group erected an emergency field hospital in Central Park to treat spillover patients from Mount Sinai Hospital. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to send aides to monitor the group to prevent discrimination against patients. We speak to Bishop Clifton Daniel, the dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, who says he rejects the values of Samaritan’s Purse but welcomes their help regardless. “We are in the business of saving lives and helping people,” Dean Daniel says. “If you are in the desert dying of thirst and somebody hands you a glass of water, you don’t check their driver’s license. You just say 'thank you.'”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, New York City. As millions of worshipers around the globe enter the month of April preparing to celebrate Holy Week’s Passover, Ramadan in the age of coronavirus, we turn now to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. It’s an iconic institution in the Upper West Side, Harlem, which is set to open its doors to nearly 400 beds for patients to make more space in hospitals for those suffering from coronavirus. But there is a catch: The city is partnering with the Christian fundamentalist group Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham, the virulently Islamophobic, anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ preacher. Last week, the group erected an emergency field hospital in Central Park to treat spillover patients from Mount Sinai Hospital. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to send aides to monitor the group to prevent discrimination against patients.
Well, for more, we’re joined on the phone by Bishop Clifton Daniel, the dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
Welcome to Democracy Now! We have a lot to ask you in a very short period of time. But can you talk first about the decision to work with Samaritan’s Purse, because St. John the Divine is known by so many, for so many decades, as a pro-LGBTQ rights church, a safe space for people in many discriminated-against groups to feel free to be their whole selves?
BISHOP CLIFTON DANIEL: Yes. Good morning, Ms. Goodman. Hello?
AMY GOODMAN: Hi. It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about your decision to allow your church to be used as a hospital run by Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse?
BISHOP CLIFTON DANIEL: Absolutely. I’m honored to be on your program, and I’m glad to speak with you. St. John the Divine was begun in 1897. It’s chartered by the state of New York, the Legislature, and it is chartered as a house of prayer for all people. And through the years, we’ve come to understand that to mean all means all. So anybody is welcome in this place to worship here. We have diverse groups worshiping and meeting here. We’ve always, always been at the forefront of inclusion. We’ve always been at the front. In the AIDS crisis, St. John’s stepped up. We have the National AIDS Memorial here now. We have a very active LGBTQ ministry, and people serve. We are honored to be that. The door of this place is open to everybody. Our heart is open to everybody.
When the COVID crisis began, I called the president Mount Sinai, St. Luke’s, and spoke with him about it and said, “I don’t know what we’re going to need, but let me assure you the doors of the cathedral are open to you for whatever you need.” So he called me back a few weeks later and said, “We think we might need to use the cathedral as overflow hospital space.” I said, “Of course. I’m glad to do that.” That’s the traditional role of cathedrals in past pandemics and plagues.
When I was contacted again, he said, “We are partnering with Samaritan’s Purse, and they’re going to be the volunteers who set up the hospital for us.” And I said, “Fine.” Now, I know what Franklin Graham stands for, and I am not for what he stands for at all. But at the same time, we’re in the business of saving lives and helping people. And I think if you’re in the desert dying of thirst and somebody hands you a glass of water, you don’t check their driver’s license. You just say “thank you.” So I said “thank you,” and we’re opening the hospital now — I mean, the cathedral now to the hospital. And today the tents will be set up inside the cathedral.
AMY GOODMAN: And the hospital is opening with nearly 400 beds?
BISHOP CLIFTON DANIEL: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much, Bishop Clifton Daniel. And I wanted to ask if you could stay for just five more minutes as we finish this show, so that I could talk to you about religion in the time of coronavirus —
BISHOP CLIFTON DANIEL: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: — as we enter the sacred week — month of April, with Holy Week, with Passover, with Ramadan coming up, and what spirituality means at a time like this. We’ve been speaking with Bishop Clifton Daniel, dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced by a remarkable group of people. Most are working from home to protect against community spread, incredibly dedicated. I am in awe of my colleagues every day: Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey, Sam Alcoff, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Charina Nadura, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Adriano Contreras, María Taracena. Special thanks to Julie Crosby and Denis Moynihan. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much.