Populism is not wisdom. The viral video with the most views and shares is not necessarily the most trustworthy. Lies and misinformation spread as quickly as truth, and often more quickly because we are naturally drawn toward what we want to be true, and naturally repelled by information that we hope isn’t.
As a leader of a church, people like to send me their latest article, podcast episode, or YouTube video, featuring the another “expert” on this or that issue. The problem, of course, is that two well-meaning people often send me two perspectives that contradict each other. Who do I believe? Which expert do I trust? Why this particular video out of all the tens of thousands of others out there?
Furthermore, our partisan moment imagines reality (and science!) is divided up into RED and BLUE, and we need to sniff out whether this “expert” is on my politic team or the other side. If it sounds too liberal, reject it. If it sounds too conservative, dismiss it. But reality isn’t that simple, and solutions often transcend our binaries. Science doesn’t care who you voted for.
Online algorithms and ‘bots’ are designed to make sure you keep getting fed more stories, videos, and perspectives that reinforce the last one you clicked on. You instantly get locked into an echo chamber with little chance of ever hearing another side or perspective. And these algorithms favor and boost the most extreme and controversial views. This is how well-meaning and otherwise reasonable people are turned into conspiracy theory believers in just a matter of weeks as they scroll, click, watch, and repeat. Where’s the wisdom and discernment in randomly clicking on and sharing videos by experts we’ve never heard just because an impersonal bot placed them in our recommended feed?
So, with that sobering introduction, enter the topic of the covid-19 vaccine and all the information and misinformation being circulated online. Where do we start? Which expert can we trust? Let me meddle a bit and challenge my fellow Evangelicals for a moment.
What we Evangelicals wouldn’t give to have a devout Bible believing person of godly character at the head of the Department of Education? But we don’t.
What we Evangelicals wouldn’t give to have a devout Bible-believing person of godly character in the highest courts of the land? But we don’t.
What we Evangelicals wouldn’t give to have a devout Bible-believing person of godly character running our mainstream media outlets? But we don’t.
But now listen carefully.
What we Evangelicals wouldn’t give to have a devout Bible-believing man of godly character at the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and leading in the development of a safe and effective covid-19 vaccine? In this case, we do!
The man I speak of is Dr. Francis Collins, who is Dr. Fauci’s boss. He is an outspoken Christian man of remarkable integrity and a scientist of the highest degree. Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.
But I came to know Francis Collins through his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. Here’s the publisher’s summary:
An instant bestseller from Templeton Prize–winning author Francis S. Collins, The Language of God provides the best argument for the integration of faith and logic since C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It has long been believed that science and faith cannot mingle. Faith rejects the rational, while science restricts us to a life with no meaning beyond the physical. Written for believers, agnostics, and atheists alike, The Language of God provides a testament to the power of faith in the midst of suffering without faltering from its logical stride. Readers will be inspired by Collin’s personal story of struggling with doubt, as well as the many revelations of the wonder of God’s creation that will forever shape the way they view the world around them.
In 2020, Dr. Collins was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity. I have also benefited greatly from Dr. Collin’s science and faith think-tank Biologos that brings top biblical scholars and scientists together in rich dialogue. And to prove that geniuses can also let loose, he even teams up with my favorite biblical scholar, N. T. Wright, to have some fun on the guitars together in their parody of the Beatles’ Yesterday.
Evangelicals are well-known for working to get the “right” people in the highest places of government, hoping they will lead our nation with faith and integrity in more godly directions. This overlooked story of Fauci’s boss seems to reveal that it is not, in fact, a “Christian” many really want in such positions, and it’s not a Christian agenda they want to advance. They want someone from their political tribe in these high positions who will champion their political agenda.
This toxic partisanship explains how Dr. Fauci (appointed by Trump, remember) went from trusted expert in the beginning to some supposed boogyman driven by some deep state liberal agenda aimed at trampling on our liberties. (Let me say for the hundredth time, at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching is the call to lay down one’s own rights and privileges for the sake of loving others.) And who is the sinister mastermind behind Dr. Fauci and this supposedly untrustworthy government-supported vaccine effort? Answer: One of the most decent and devout Bible believing Christian men we’ve ever had in such a high place of national leadership.
In the end, apparently, many Evangelicals are not actually seeking a leader who has the BRAINS, the FAITH, and the CHARACTER for the job. They are seeking someone who waves the flag for their political tribe. That is not wisdom, that’s tribalism.
I have had my own questions about the vaccine roll out, its very quick development, the possibility of cutting corners, and whether or not it is safe. I have heard “experts” on both sides, but the voice I have chosen to trust most is the godly Christian man who (I believe) God has given our nation and world “for such a time as this.” I’d like you to get to know Francis Collins as well. Resist playing the ‘Which political tribe does he represent?’ game, and look at the man himself and his record.
I want to share below an interview with Dr. Russell Moore, a conservative Christian and President of the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, addressing vaccine questions. These are trustworthy voices Evangelicals should be looking to for wisdom in these days of misinformation and social media click-o-mania. Again, populism is not wisdom. Neither is political tribalism. Nor is getting your facts from social media feeds. Wisdom is always more nuanced and elusive, but she is worth seeking with gusto. And, like the vaccine, Lady Wisdom will protect you. Enjoy this conversation below. Grace and peace!