Home Christian News Francis Collins ‘A Bit’ Frustrated With Evangelicals Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Push

Francis Collins ‘A Bit’ Frustrated With Evangelicals Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Push

As the new announcement by the administration was made Thursday, a senior administration official told reporters there’ll be “limited” exemptions for federal workers for religious reasons. Do you know what that means or could you give an example of what that might be?

I think every agency is going to have to figure out exactly how to interpret that. I would say if people are going to say there’s something special about COVID-19 vaccinations that require even more religious exemptions than you would have for a flu vaccine, they’re going to have to explain why that is. Somehow COVID-19 has taken on this big concern, this cloud of uncertainty, that it doesn’t deserve. And it’s been approved now by the FDA in full approval. 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.

Religious organizations that have more than 100 employees — I would imagine they would generally be expected to follow this mandate and have people vaccinated or have a weekly negative COVID test. Could an organization like that get a wholesale exemption for all of their employees?

I would have a very hard time imagining how that could be justified, given the importance of getting everybody protected against this. And to do this wholesale, it’d be hard for me to understand how that would apply. What would be the basis of that? I can’t really come up with a good example of how that fits.

For months, you and other people in the administration have talked about faith leaders of various perspectives as being “trusted partners” in the efforts to get people vaccinated against COVID-19. Has that approach shifted, or do you think those efforts haven’t worked as well as you had hoped?

Oh, I think they have worked in many individual circumstances. I do think faith leaders have been in a tough spot. And some of them, even though they’ve come around, personally, to the view that the vaccine is something they want for themselves and their families, they’ve been reluctant to raise it amongst their parishioners because of the fear this might be divisive. I’m hoping we’ve now reached the point where the evidence is so strong — where we see people dying around us — that those faith leaders will decide it’s worth taking the risk to get some pushback. To basically say, folks, let’s look at the truth of this. The truth will set you free.

And what role in general, other than what you’ve said, do you see ahead for the involvement of faith leaders, with the new rules the president has announced?

Well, no doubt they will be asked whether this is a violation of personal freedom. And I hope pastors listening to that will listen carefully, but also remind us as Americans freedom is about rights but it’s also about responsibilities. I cherish my freedom as an American. I’m proud of my country. But I know I’m not free to go out and get drunk and get behind the wheel of an automobile. There are limits here, in terms of what that freedom implies and those responsibilities, for a pandemic, kind of kick in and they have for decades. Go back to when we had smallpox that was killing people across this country more than 100 years ago, or polio. When you have those circumstances where it’s not just about a person, it’s about the whole community, then we all have a shared responsibility. And I hope pastors will feel comfortable reminding people of that, and Christians especially ought to resonate with that, since we’re all known for our ability to reach out, our determination to take risks to help other people. Here’s a chance to do exactly that.

Circling back to the question about evangelicals and hesitancy, or resistance. Are there misconceptions about white evangelicals and the COVID vaccine and shifts, perhaps, in their attitudes about them that people may not realize?

Well, it’s certainly a mistake to try to imagine white evangelicals are this highly homogeneous group. There’s lots of different people who fit into that particular description of a faith tradition. I’m one of them, but I’m probably a little different than somebody you might meet in a typical white evangelical church in Mississippi. But I think what we share as believers is this commitment as followers of Jesus that we want to share that good news with other people. And here’s a chance to share the good news in a different way. I don’t know that it would be fair, though, for me to try to generalize whether white evangelicals, as a group, have come around. Some certainly have. Some are still pretty resistant.