Present, But How Faithfully? Francis Collins, Evangelicals, and Elite Institutions


On Tuesday, Francis Collins announced he is resigning from the National Institutes of Health.

Collins has long been celebrated by evangelical influencers, and upon his departure those praising him included Russell MooreTim Keller, and David French. The well-credentialed  evangelicals who populate urban churches like Keller’s have been taught to aspire to a “faithful presence” in elite institutions, and Collins is often viewed as epitomizing this. He succeeded not just at an elite level, but in the scientific world, a domain where Christians have a particularly hard time gaining respect.

Yet Collins’s record over his 12 years atop the NIH shows serious and repeated moral compromises. That he continues to be praised as a model by elite-adjacent evangelicals suggests that what matters is the “presence” in elite circles far more than faithfulness to any clear Christian moral standard.

Collins’s most troubling action was his explicit defence in 2018 of research using fetal tissue from aborted babies, and the NIH’s 2021 resumption of such research under his leadership after a 2019 moratorium. This August, documents were released revealing that under his watch the NIH had given at least $2.7 million to researchers who sought out aborted babies (with a high quota of minorities) to harvest their organs.

As elite-adjacent evangelicals have departed from traditionally conservative positions on many political and cultural issues—notably those related to race—and deemphasized others involving sexuality, abortion has remained the one they have typically taken a purist stand on. Even when they downplayed legal prohibition, most emphasized strong personal opposition to abortion, typically including derivatives like embryonic stem cell research. Thus Collins’s actions on this issue reflect a direct betrayal on the one issue Christians in these elite circles can point to where they retain a distinctively Christian ethical position.

Read it all at the American Reformer