Famed Christian geneticist Francis Collins has urged churches to remain closed in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst their congregations. Collins, who is also the director of the National Institutes for Health (NIH), said in a recent Zoom conversation that the virus was "taking advantage of circumstances where people have let their guard go down".
Speaking with president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russel Moore, Collins said that churches gathering in person are a "source of considerable concern" and because of the potential for "super spreading".
Due to the risk involved in gathering so many people, Collins, who is largely responsible for the Covid-19 response and research efforts in the United States, urged that "most churches really ought to be advised to go to remote services, if they're not already doing so".
The top scientist's remarks came as the US Supreme Court ordered a federal district court to reconsider its support for restrictions on indoor religious services in California. The issue of whether in-person worship gatherings should be permitted during the pandemic had been contested in several courts across the country, with many Christians insisting that their liberties are being infringed upon.
Though Collins said it was possible to hold Covid-secure gatherings, he said the virus often spreads the moment that churchgoers let their guard down at the end of the service.
"You can't get a bunch of Christians not to hug each other and not want to shake hands with the pastor as they go out the door and maybe have a conversation a lot closer than six feet away," he added. "And that's where the trouble happens."
Collins also urged Christians to reject the idea that mask requirements are "an invasion of your personal freedom".
"This is a lifesaving device," he insisted. "Think about it that way."
"When you put on that mask, you're protecting yourself from other people, but mostly you're protecting them from yourself. You're doing the altruistic, loving thing of saying, 'I'm going to protect people from me.' And that's a Christian action if ever I've heard one."
Watch the full discussion below: