Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, appeared on a popular evangelical news network this week to present a Christian case for the COVID-19 vaccines.
As a public health official who played a key role in aiding the vaccines’ development ― and a Christian himself ― Collins urged fellow believers to be part of the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history.
“This is a ‘love your neighbor’ moment, where we all have a chance to do something not just for ourselves but for everybody around us,” Collins said in an interview with the conservative evangelical Christian Broadcasting Network published Thursday.
Loving your neighbor means signing up to take whatever vaccine is available, Collins suggested ― including the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which some anti-abortion activists have targeted for being developed using cell lines distantly linked to a 1985 elective abortion.
It’s up to individuals to sort through the morality of taking the J&J vaccine, Collins said. At the same time, people should realize that they’re probably not going to be able to go to a vaccination center and pick from a menu of vaccine options, he added.
“I would be reluctant to suggest that anybody just wait until they get the one they like because that might be waiting a while and in the meantime, people can still get sick,” he said.
As NIH director, Collins is in charge of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world (and also acts as infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci’s boss). A former atheist who embraced Christianity in his 20s, Collins has spent years trying to bridge gaps between the scientific community and the evangelical Christian community. He’s the founder of BioLogos, a faith-based advocacy group that promotes the idea that science and religion are compatible.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Collins been working to convince fellow believers to take COVID-19 seriously, follow public health protocols and, now, to get one of the three available vaccines as soon as possible.
Appearing on CBN is a way for Collins to get his message out to conservative Christian communities that need to be reassured about the vaccines’ safety and their spiritual justification. Founded in 1960 by the often-controversial televangelist Pat Robertson, CBN’s mission is to “prepare the nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.” The network is popular with charismatic evangelical Christians, who emphasize spiritual gifts such as healing and prophecy. Along with devotional programming, the network also produces shows that apply a conservative Christian lens to daily news. Its flagship show, “The 700 Club,” reaches about 650,000 U.S. households every day, according to the network, while the CBN News Facebook page has over 1 million followers.
CBN News fans reacted with skepticism to Collins’ interview when it was posted on the Facebook page Thursday, with many commenters repeating misinformation and conspiracy theories about the vaccine ― illustrating the uphill battle Collins faces among this religious group.
Pockets of American evangelicalism have entertained conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines, including the false claims that they contain fetal tissue or microchips. In some charismatic Christian communities, people may fear that the vaccines are a harbinger of the “mark of the beast” ― a foreshadowing of the persecution Christians will face during the end times.
For his part, Collins tried to paint the vaccines as an “answer to a lot of prayers.” The Gospels suggest that Jesus spent much of his time on Earth healing people, Collins told CBN ― sometimes using water and mud in the process.
“Maybe that was his particular, divine way of accomplishing a healing,” Collins said about the materials Jesus used.
“We humans, as God’s children, have been given the tools of science to come up with our own way, to work through God’s grace to provide an opportunity to relieve pain and suffering,” he added. “I think that’s what vaccines are and have been all along.”
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