Prominent Christian scientist Francis Collins has said the Church must be a "light on the hill" by encouraging members to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Collins, who is also the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has been at the forefront of federal research into the disease and had repeatedly encouraged people to follow all the guidelines in order to slow the spread of the virus.
He spoke to the Washington Post about the challenges facing church leaders as they prepare to engage with their congregation about the vaccine, which will be more widely rolled out in the US over 2021.
"I think of pastors as shepherds who figure out how can I keep my flock safe and secure and keep the bad things from happening," Collins explained. "I think that is part of the overall responsibility and mandate of our leaders in the church and not to be shied away from."
Collins noted that in this time of confusion, the Church "ought to be a beacon, a light on the hill, an entity that believes in truth". Indeed, he said, now is a critical moment to say that "no matter how well intentioned someone’s opinions may be, if they’re not based upon the fact, the Church should not endorse them".
Speaking into the scepticism that large swathes of the white evangelical community has towards vaccines, Collins noted that it "probably relates to the tension in churches over science, particularly in biology".
"There’s an unfortunate, heart-breaking perception of conflict between what science is teaching us about the age of the Earth and about species that come from narrow interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2," he said. "This conflict goes back 150 years and has not been resolved."
Collins added that there "is a tendency in many white evangelical churches to assume that science is atheistic and materialistic and whatever the scientists are telling you maybe has another agenda to try to discourage you from your spiritual faith" and that "skepticism immediately kicks in at a time like this".
Responding to Christians who reject the scientific research as it relates to the virus and who believe that God will protect them from catching it, Collins said that it is important to understand that "God gave us both a sense of God's love and care and compassion, but he also gave us the brain and the opportunity to understand God's creation, which is nature, which includes things like viruses".
He added that God expects us "to use those gifts to understand how to protect ourselves and others from disease".
"If we have the opportunity to heal through medicine, I think God expects us to do that and not count on some supernatural intervention to come and save us when he's already given us the chance to be saved by other means," he concluded.
Far from denying the virus's existence, Christians, Collins insisted, should be "on the front lines of saving lives, using the best science" and "not denying the reality of COVID-19".
"Go back through the centuries and look at the plague," he said. "People of faith ran to it, trying to do everything they could based upon what they knew. We should be doing that now, armed with the information that God has made it possible for us to use."