As the president of Operation USA, an international relief organization, I take strong exception to Franklin Graham's cheery description of Samaritan's Purse, his evangelical relief group set up as an adjunct to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. ("No Strings Attached," Commentary, April 3). Graham raised more than a few eyebrows some months ago when he opined that Islam was a "very evil, wicked religion." That he would think he'll get a friendly reception in Iraq is sheer fantasy.
More telling is Nicaragua's experience with Samaritan's Purse, which came in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch. It organized a religious music festival at which Protestant churches were pressured to spend what few resources they had to rent buses to take up to 50,000 children to the national baseball stadium in Managua. The children were to hear Graham preach, listen to religious music and be given a shoebox with candy, personal-care items, school supplies and a Bible. This took place in an atmosphere in which 20% of the population had been severely affected by the hurricane; the Catholic Church (80% of Nicaraguans are Catholic) was furious, and little of material good was accomplished. Graham flew down on a private jet.
There is lots of work in Iraq. Iraqis don't need a sideshow with fresh-faced American missionaries styling themselves as "ambassadors of Christ."
Graham lost credibility on the subject of his Samaritan's Purse organization distributing relief resources in Iraq in an impartial manner after he publicly insulted Islam. Moreover, as an evangelist, he is dedicated to proselytizing, converting Muslims to fundamentalist Christianity.
Islam regards proselytizing as a severe offense. Exporting "faith-based charity" to Iraq could undermine the U.S. effort to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
If born-again Christians want to help Muslims, they must first respect the authenticity of Islam and refrain from proselytizing, but since proselytizing is what differentiates a born-again Christian from other Christians, Graham cannot honestly keep any such promise.
Jean E. Rosenfeld