He was ruthless. By his own admission. He lacked integrity. By his own admission. He was definitely not gentle.
Twice later I heard him speak, and I also read several of his books. He was intelligent and certainly articulate. Last weekend he passed away at the still spirited age of 80.
While blessed with the gifts of writing and speaking, those skills are not what attracted me most to Chuck Colson.
While undoubtedly a powerful political operative — albeit unethically shrewd — that insight is also not what attracted me most to Chuck Colson.
What attracted me most to the powerful Nixon administration figure was the undeniable, unmistakable change in his heart. He was a life transformed.
Prior to serving his sentence for obstruction of justice in Watergate-related charges, the Nixon aide (aka “hatchet man”) embraced Christianity. He felt he had figured something new out; he made a commitment to follow his faith and serve his savior in a previously, unprecedented way.
When news of Colson’s conversion leaked to the press in 1973, the surplus of doubters was vocal and vast. The Boston Globe reported, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” Many, in fact, believed that’s Colson’s conversion was simply another shrewd ploy in order to minimize his negative image and maximize future potential, as he was nearing the onset of his 1 to 3 year prison sentence. As naysayers oft exercise, many doubted the authenticity of Colson’s conversion.
“Show me. Prove it to me. Let’s see the transformation of your life.”
Colson did. He was changed.
In 1976, Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship, through which partnering with churches of all denominations, has become the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. The ministry is now active in 113 countries around the globe.
In other words, instead of utilizing his fame for self promotion, Colson used his fame and thus influence for the provision of others. He didn’t choose for whom he would advocate based on political likemindedness. He didn’t provide for persons based on income, race, gender, or any stereotypical demographic category. No, Colson sought after the least of these, those without a known second chance. As CNN commentator, William J. Bennett penned, “He fought tirelessly on behalf of the forgotten and condemned. He defended the defenseless.”
To fight for the forgotten — to defend the defenseless — might be something a person does for a day or assumes for a convenient photo op. Colson, however, served in this capacity for the past 35 years. Those 35 years are evidence of a life transformed.
I appreciate his wisdom…
“Politics is nothing but an expression of culture … so if things are bad, don’t think it’s going to be solved by an election. It’s going to be solved by us.”
“May the Christian church never be regarded as a special interest group. We’re here because we love our neighbor.”
“The Bible – banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.”
Transforming the ruthless into saints…
My sense is that Colson would have never desired for us to elevate him to sainthood status, but I have an additional sense he’d be thankful and proud of a life transformed… a life that gives hope to us all. Well done, Chuck. Well done.