April 23, 2012
Watergate Figure Chuck Colson Dies at 80. The headline has been written for decades. Only the age and date of death remained to be added by editors of the prestige press. Watergate was the defining event of their lives, as well as that of Chuck Colson. When Chuck Colson famously came to faith, most of the leading journalists in the country reacted with scorn and derision to the idea that the man who was known for wielding Richard Nixons hatchet had been born again. The Boston Globe spoke for many when it editorialized: “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”
What they have written they have written. It is true that if there is hope for Chuck Colson there his hope for all of us. My Websters Dictionary was published in 1946. Its a useful guide to the way Americans used to think, before the sixties changed everything. It defines watergate as a floodgate, a device for controlling the flow of waters. So did Watergate become in the life of Chuck Colson.
Following his guilty plea in Watergate-related crimes of the Nixon era, Colson entered prison a changed man. Though he never said hed walk over his grandmother to re-elect that bad president, his behavior in that dismal 1972 campaign gave people reason to believe that of him.
Thou didst touch my heart with Thy Word, Lord, and I loved Thee, said Augustine. That was the life of Chuck Colson after the floodgates had opened and offered to him bounteous springs of living water. Colsons book Born Again introduced millions to a compelling story of sin and redemption. It was not a story dredged up from the misty past or drawn from distant mission fields. Colsons best-selling confession was as contemporary and real as the headlines of the morning news.
To read the customer reviews on Amazon.com of Born Again is to see how Chuck Colson touched millions of lives. Bought for a prisoner is my favorite review. I have a good friend now in prison whose own life has been redeemed by Christ. My friend was a most genial, agreeable fellow before he attempted to murder a woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair. We were all stunned by the news of his crime. But we have to recognize that every one of us is capable of such terrible deeds. Not one of us is righteous apart from the grace of God.
Chuck Colsons work as the founder of Prison Fellowship has convinced even the most skeptical of his critics. Prison Fellowship has reached out not only to prisoners with the Gospel, but also, critically important, to their often broken families. Until Chuck Colson began his salvific work, few among us had given any thought to the children of prisoners.
Its hard to remember, but as late as 1974, Catholics and Evangelicals were still apart, almost wary of one another. The leading spokesmen of these important faith communities were hesitant about making common cause for the defense of unborn life and the preservation of marriage. Now that has all changed.
Chuck Colsons embrace of Catholic friends like Father Richard John Neuhaus was a breakthrough for the author of a thousand Breakpoint commentaries. It is their joint effort as part of Evangelicals and Catholics Together that offers serious and constructive guidance on some of the most troubling issues of our time.
That work must now go forward as we face the gravest threats to religious liberty inAmericaand around the world. Nothing above the state. Nothing outside the state. Everything within the state. That was the 1919 expression of philosophy of Benito Mussolini. That view made a charnel house of the Twentieth Century.
Yet that view is increasingly coming to us today in the guise of benign, secular social democracy. What Tocqueville called a soft despotism has arisen both inEuropeand inAmerica.
As a young Democrat and candidate, I was not prominent enough to make it onto the Enemies List that the unredeemed Chuck Colson compiled for Richard Nixon.
But among the haters of Nixon and Colson, I was among the fiercest. That was until I saw a Newsweek cover photo of a bleary-eyed, beleaguered President Nixon.
Not yet a Christian believer, I had read a quote from Charles de Gaulle that had started me thinking differently about the pursuit of power. Responding to Khrushchevs overthrow, the tall, austere French leader said: Sic transit Gloria mundi. Thus passeth the glory of this world.
Seeing that withered, haunted look on Nixons face, I took pity on him. I still wanted him to resign, but I no longer hated him. My liberal friends derided me for going soft on their archdemon, Nixon. He resigned in disgrace. Thats enough. What do you want, his blood? I was shocked when they said yes.
When Chuck Colson sent me a gracious note several years ago to commend something Id written, I wrote him back. I confessed to him how much I had hated him. And I rejoiced with him that wed been reconciled as brothers through faith in Christ. I was happy to bury the hatchet. As Chuck Colsons life shows: In Christ, there is hope; there is change.