Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year.
Collins, an evangelical Christian, has been vocal in his support for the coronavirus vaccine. He told NPR recently that despite the progress science has made in combatting serious diseases, “[W]e find ourselves here today, particularly with COVID-19, where our culture wars have taken on an attitude about scientific facts that is not just inconvenient, it's actually resulting in people dying. And that I didn’t see coming.”
In an interview with Religion News Service published last month, Collins remarked that he is “a bit” frustrated by conservative evangelicals who have refused to get vaccinated.
Collins added, “But I’m also trying to be sure I’m listening carefully to what the concerns are because I don’t think lecturing is probably the best way to get people to change their minds. It is odd because evangelicals generally believe strongly in this love-your-neighbor principle. And we do know if we want to get this terrible pandemic to come to an end, it’s going to require all of us to get engaged in getting immune, and the best way to do that is with a vaccination. And by vaccinating yourself you’re also providing protection to the people around you who are depending on you not to spread that virus to them, particularly people who are immunocompromised from cancer or organ transplants or kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet.”
Collins also expressed opposition to widespread religious exemptions to vaccines, telling RNS, “If people are planning to do the religious exemption, (they’re) gonna have to really come through with a coherent argument about why that applies in this place.”
We’ve noted previously on this blog, white conservative evangelicals have in the main been poorly served during the pandemic by their leadership, many of whom have turned their backs on science and embraced conspiracy theories. We will continue to call them out and urge conservative evangelicals to listen to actual scientists, not Christian nationalist prevaricators or misguided TV preachers.
But it’s also worth noting that even among the extreme Christian nationalists, there are exceptions. Recently, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas told the Associated Press, “There is no credible religious argument” against receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and he added that he and his staff are “neither offering nor encouraging members to seek religious exemptions from the vaccine mandates.”
Jeffress is a big fan of President Donald Trump and served on Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. Americans United disagrees with Jeffress on just about every issue, and we’ve had plenty of scrapes with him over the years. (I’ve debated Jeffress on Fox News.) But Jeffress is right on vaccine refusals and deserves a tip of the hat.
Collins and Jeffress are both evangelicals, although they’d likely disagree on some political issues and points of doctrine. On the issue of religious exemptions to vaccine requirements, they’re singing from the same hymnal. I wish more conservative evangelicals would add their voices.