I'm going to regret writing this
Regarding Francis Collins and the evangelical infighting
This is one of those times I am going to write something and I’m going to just look away because I know exactly what is going to happen. People have vested interests in taking a stand one way or the other and I’m going to displease all of them. I’m going to put this here, go get ready for radio, then go hit some golf balls if the weather permits.
I have a question.
Could a Christian in good standing oversee a department for the Nazis? I would say no. I think the Nazis are pretty off-limits given what we know about them and their open hostility to Christians generally. Working for the Nazis would be wrong. You’d have to be a Nazi. Nazis are evil. Christians cannot work for Nazis.
Now, can a Christian be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or work for a Fortune 500 Company if one of the many, many subsidiary divisions of another subsidiary divisions of the company promotes violence, graphic depictions of sex, or ridicules Christians? That’s where I think it gets complicated.
Actually being a paid subscriber helps keep the left from canceling me and keeps me on radio talking politics, culture, and even faith.
Randall Stephenson is an indisputably conservative Christian in the Presbyterian Church in America. He was the CEO of AT&T. AT&T bought Time Warner. HBO was a division of Time Warner. HBO made a killing with Game of Thrones, which in turn helped prop up HBO and Time Warner. Should Stephenson, who oversaw the acquisition of Time Warner, have immediately shut down Game of Thrones and cost his company billions and put a lot of people out of work including, undoubtedly, himself? Or should he have managed the company in a way that permitted secularism, while working as he could to also be a company not hostile to people of faith? Would you rather Stephenson in charge or a woke who’d actively push out the Christians? AT&T, by the way, was one of the largest donors to state-level politicians who supported fetal heartbeat legislation. If Stephenson couldn’t be the CEO because of Game of Thrones, should the politicians who got his money give it back?
Stephenson stayed on at AT&T until 2020 when he retired from the CEO position.
You or I may not be able to do it. In our conscience, we probably would be torn. But should we judge Stephenson harshly for not wanting to buy a company and then shut down its profits and put people on the unemployment line? Can we show him some grace and recognize within the concept of Christian liberty we can agree to disagree without writing him out of the faith? Where do we draw the line? Could Stephenson have presided over HBO directly? What about of Time Warner?
Then there is Francis Collins.
Megan Basham has a pretty powerful piece directed at Collins, a self-identified pro-life Christian who runs the National Institutes of Health. I have heard a lot of evangelical leaders vouch for Collins over the years and was shocked to read Basham’s piece.
Having made a lot of calls and talked to a lot of people inside the NIH and evangelical leaders who know Collins, I find the issue more complex than I first did. I’d like to note too that Collins should have talked to Basham. He did not. In fact, a group affiliated with Collins arranged a meeting, left Basham on a zoom call, then canceled. That’s just rude.
I’d also like to note Collins does consider himself a believer in Jesus Christ and a pro-lifer, but he does not believe in an actual Adam, which I think puts him at odds with Jesus and definitely with Paul, a man who Jesus Christ directly charged with spreading the faith. But having talked to several people who know him, I think his faith is sincere, even if I think he is wrong on some stuff.
I’m not sure committed Christians should be in charge of NIH, given what NIH does. One of the big issues, though, is research on fetal cells. A senior executive at the NIH who asked to be nameless to speak freely and an evangelical leader who knows Collins both told me that the NIH research on fetal tissue is based on Reagan era guidelines that were developed in consultation with pro-life Catholic bishops. The NIH had not sanctioned the abortions, encouraged the abortions, or paid for the fetuses, but recognized some research for humanity was best served researching on those cells. The Reagan Administration, seeking pro-life guidance, sought out the Catholic bishops for input as guidelines were developed.
A lot of Christians have qualms with this nonetheless. I put it in the Genesis 50:20 camp — what one meant for evil, God used for good. Millions of people have been aided and live because of the deaths of those children. That does not condone or give a pass to the deaths, but those deaths happened and happened without the NIH’s blessing, sanction, or payment.
On other issues, I still have some qualms with Collins’s positions, though the NIH executive tells me it is important to understand that Collins does not approve and sanction all research and funding and of the funding Collins has directly overseen and approved, only a little would be controversial. The NIH is complex and while Collins guides the whole, he does not oversee or approve the entirety of the budget. Two of Collins’ friends told me the same thing.
I’ll leave it for others to judge whether Collins should preside over the agency. I think, given my conversations, I would rather he be there than someone genuinely hostile to faith. I think Christian liberty has to play a role in the conversations. But I’m not sure if it will be sustainable long term for a Christian to preside over that agency.
Moreso, the NIH is an agency of the federal government. Can a Christian be President and preside over the NIH? Where are the degrees of separation? And what of the Christians in Congress who have oversight and have ignored so many of the things the NIH is funding? They should probably be looking at those things when they take back Congress. If Collins truly does not oversee the entirety of the budget or have direct knowledge of all the things Besham documented, should NIH be reformed to require explicit authorization? There are a lot of questions and I have way more than I have answers.
But I keep coming back to I would rather a Christian than someone hostile to faith be in charge even understanding a Christian cannot stop everything and may not soon be able to do it at all in good conscience. After all, many of the projects NIH does involve itself with are projects that have been ongoing since the Reagan Administration, when the nation was pretty decidedly more Christian than it is now.
Perhaps Collins should talk to Megan Basham or take her reporting and use it to review his agency.
But there’s something more here and I had to wade through that to get to this.
Athanasius Is My Spirit Animal And Even He’d Get Tired Of All This Fighting
A lot of people have taken Megan Basham’s report and are using it for their own agenda.
Collins appeared with a number of evangelical leaders to promote the use of the vaccine and assure Christians they could use it. In fact, I have qualms with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it used fetal tissue for development. But the mRNA vaccines did not. Collins and evangelical leaders tried to explain to a lot of Christians in concerned communities that the vaccines could be safely used.
Should we not have had these conversations? Should the theologians, ministers, and others in the Christian community who helped raise education and awareness about the vaccine really be condemned?
I’m seeing a lot of chatter that they should. A lot of people are using Megan Basham’s report to attack Christian leaders from an anti-vax position.
I’m seeing a lot of condemnation of evangelical leaders for working with Collins. Personally, I think they probably saved a lot of lives.
But then there’s the other angle to this. We’re seeing a realignment within evangelicalism right now with some, derisively called “Big Eva” spending way, way, way too much time lecturing evangelicals on their faults. I tread carefully here because I have friends in this camp who I love dearly, but can y’all just give it a rest a bit? Maybe spend a few weeks going after the Wokes instead of the constant chastisement against a whole bunch of people who have been nothing but chastised by the media and cultural elite over the past four or five years? Female friends in this camp, can you speak up against the normalization of transgenderism and girls becoming boys and boys getting into girls’ sports?
Can y’all just go maybe one week without speaking into the house and maybe preach out of the house? Show the grace you expect to be shown whether it is shown to you or not.
Concurrently, can those of you who blast Big Eva maybe recognize they aren’t the enemy and instead of spending all your time attacking the prominent evangelicals you feel like have wounded you or the faith , actually try exercising some grace? Maybe recognize your treatment of them over political disagreements might just have played a role in their current views and attitudes. I mean, are you guys not aware of the truly vile stuff directed their way over the past four years merely for publicly opting out of a lot of insane stuff? Maybe all of you should chat instead of subtweet.
I love you all and I’m really finding all this infighting and tribalism tiresome. To be clear, I firmly view a lot of it as tribal performance art for people, including a lot of Christians, who have defined their identities based on their online personas. I know a lot of people think they’re just holding each other to account, but I’ve never known someone to be effective at accountability by coming off with disdain for the person they want to hold accountable.
Y’all, this may come as a shock to each of you, but Russell Moore, Rick Warren, David French, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, Douglas Wilson, Owen Strachan, and Voddie Baucham are all going to be in the House of the Lord one day and if you don’t think so, maybe you need to search your heart and see what’s wrong. You may not realize this, but God is still sovereign even without your mean tweets and the Holy Spirit still moves among us even without your 10,000 word think pieces.
Maybe pray for each other more than you subtweet and write about each other. It’s wearing me out just as a spectator and I know I am not alone. I’m really not trying to sound condescending to any of y’all in any part of this divide, but it really is wearing me out feeling like I’m in the middle of a family feud where both sides act like the other half of the family is from South Alabama and hates sweet tea. I, by the way, I, Erick Erickson, am the one who despises sweet tea.
Maybe, and I say this lovingly, maybe a whole lot of Christians are so busy defining themselves and others as Big Eva, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Non-Denominational, Calvinist, Neo-Calvinist, Post-Calvinist Neo-Evangelical and more, and against each other that they’ve forgotten they’re to be defined by Christian love. Maybe we’ve gotten so busy lecturing each other on our faults or disloyalties we’ve forgotten the whole loving your neighbor and Great Commission stuff. And maybe those in positions of leadership need to realize there are others they’re inspiring to tribalism, not to the trials of the Christian life. Maybe instead of picking sides, pick Jesus.
It’s hard for the world to know us by our love for one another when we’re all so busy hating on each other in order to build our credentials. The fight is with the world, not each other.
Carry on, but can y’all all take a time out against each other? Please?
All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me, Jesus, take me now
You make me think. In 1975 joined the Psalm-singing Presbyterians, whose Sabbath is strict enough that it would be hard to run any small business. But godly Sabbatarians have survived and blessed both the church and the world. Look at Eric Liddell. Next question is, "Should I invest in a company which breaks the Sabbath? Should I eat Peanut Butter that a trucker transported over the Sabbath, etc.? I ended up joining the Army, because my church elders called the military a "work of necessity," so I could drill and participate in other training on the Lord's Day without fear of church discipline!
Amen, Erick. I feel the same way you do about these grey areas and about the infighting among fellow Christians. Both sides think they're standing up for the gospel, but both sides have a tendency to attribute bad faith or evil motives to the other side. No doubt both sides have made mistakes, and no one is above criticism. But what unites us is more important that what divides us. May we never forget it.