Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The 'New' Charles Colson
By Cal Thomas
After Richard Nixon lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy and the California governor's race two years later (when he uttered the immortal line to the media, "You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore") the former vice president knew he must reinvent himself to run for president again in 1968.
Thus was born "the new Nixon," an attempt to transform himself from "the old Nixon" the public didn't like, into a warmer, softer, more approachable person. As it turned out, the "new Nixon" was simply the "old Nixon" with a new coat of political paint.
Not so with Charles W. Colson, who died last Saturday at age 80. Colson, was an ex-Marine and Nixon's "hatchet man" who enjoyed going to any lengths to ensure his boss got his way, including re-election in 1972, as the Watergate scandal was just breaking.
No one doubted Colson's political shrewdness. Here's an example. He once told me that Nixon wanted a book hyped because it exposed what he considered bias at CBS News. Colson said he obtained the supposedly secret list of bookstores The New York Times used to determine its "best sellers" and then sent people into those stores to buy the book, which made the New York Times list for one week before disappearing. But, said Colson, Nixon was satisfied.
That and more occurred before the "new" Charles Colson was born ... again. Unlike Nixon who sought to transform himself by his own political strength and for an earthly agenda, Colson was transformed by a higher power and not by his own efforts. First, though, he had to descend to the depths. He told James Rosen of Fox News that after being a Marine captain and a White House special counsel, the "worst blow of his life" was standing in the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., and hearing a court officer speak the words, "The United States vs. Charles W. Colson."
Colson plead guilty in 1974 to an obstruction of justice charge relating to attempts to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, a former Marine and military analyst, who three years earlier had released "The Pentagon Papers," a top-secret account of U.S. military activities during the Vietnam War, to The New York Times. Colson served seven months in federal prison, but before he went to jail, he said he accepted Christ as payment for his sins.
The world was stunned. Some laughed in derision, thinking Colson was trying to obtain a "stay out of jail" card. Others said none of the Nixon officials should be forgiven for their "high crimes and misdemeanors."
When Colson got out of prison he founded Prison Fellowship, a Christian organization that recruits volunteers to "visit those in prison" in response to the command of Jesus, conduct Bible studies behind prison walls and help ex-convicts find jobs after their release so they won't return to crime and jail.
It has worked. According to Prison Fellowship, prisoners who take part in their faith-based programs have a much lower recidivism rate than other prisoners.
In 1983, Colson established Justice Fellowship, a Christian-based criminal justice reform group. Through Justice Fellowship, Colson became a leading prison reformer, taking positions one doesn't usually associate with Republicans. He criticized the death penalty, mostly for being unequally applied (though he believed in it for rare cases). He opposed the incarceration of nonviolent, non-dangerous offenders, believing restitution was a more redemptive approach for both perpetrator and victim.
I once asked him if he would ever seek a pardon. He replied, "I have the only pardon I need," referring to God. In 2000, he accepted a restoration of his civil rights from then-Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, but was never pardoned by a president. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for his work in prisons.
In one of his many books, "Who Speaks for God?" Colson warned against attaching a heavenly kingdom to the political agendas of the age. He also urged Christians to think and act more like Jesus.
In 1973, when news of Colson's conversion became public, The Boston Globe editorialized, "If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everyone." To which the "new" Charles Colson would undoubtedly shout, "Amen!"
The World's Great Prison Escapee
By Bill Murchison
The power of redemption is the one concept a cynical, self-regarding epoch -- ours -- can't quite get its arms around, especially, perhaps, in the case of the late Chuck Colson. Can the guy have been right in the head? Wasn't he putting us on with all this Sweet Jesus business he performed in prisons all over the world?
If Colson was dissembling about his hard-won faith in Christ, the result of imprisonment for his part in Watergate -- a possibility I don't accept for a millisecond -- his was an odd way of staging a comeback: witnessing Christ's love to the ickiest congregation imaginable, prison inmates.
He got famous all right, but look at the millions of dollars he left on the table -- book royalties, prize money and the like. Virtually the whole of it he donated to the Prison Fellowship Ministries he founded in 1976. What sensible modern American would do such a thing? The Colson kind of American is just the kind to do such a thing. Because of ... because of ...
Redemption -- the concept we can't get our arms around. Colson could. He got it. Better said: He lived it. Prison and its attendant sufferings made a powerful mark on a man who once said he would walk over his grandmother to get Richard Nixon re-elected.
The much-despised Nixon is perhaps the distorting element in any consideration of Colson's extraordinary rebirth as servant of God. The fact was -- is -- that Colson, in prison, woke up to the painful understanding of an extraordinary reality in the lives of all men and women, Nixonites or not. What he saw with awful clarity was the fallen nature of us all: our capacity, irrespective of political orientation, to decide "right" and "wrong" for ourselves; to walk all over our grandmothers, unless constrained by the inhibitions proceeding from a more gracious place than our hearts.
Colson knew the source of that self-will to be the horrifying reality called sin. Ah. Sin. That's where we really trip up modern people. Does anyone believe that old stuff any more? Colson came to believe it, but in fact, you don't have to "believe" something rationally for it to circle you with open, carnivorous eyes, waiting to pounce. You can say, phooey, or in more modern parlance, "! $ %! %$"! Neither alters the consistent human experience of wayward behavior. "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts," as the matchless Book of Common Prayer insists, matchlessly. "... And there is no health in us."
The possibility that Colson grasped and extolled is that of victory over our deeds and misdeeds through repentance and amendment of life. Forgiveness obtained through the mercy of Christ would blot out the obstruction of justice -- Colson's Watergate-connected offense -- not to mention sins far grosser.
The man who would have walked over his grandmother realized the narrowness of his escape. "I shudder to think of what I'd been if I'd not gone to prison," he said in 1993. He would have missed not just the experience of prison but the prison-induced necessity, as he saw it, of putting before -- even the worst of prisoners -- the possibility of salvation through the Son of God.
Yeah, yeah, sure, we know. Unicorns, pillars of fire, sons of God, curious figures closed to a world self-sealed from the intrusions of science and reason! Against Colson, much of the practical world of "diversity" and secularism closed intellectual ranks -- glad enough to acknowledge his good deeds, reluctant to attribute his source of inspiration to anything higher than the human desire for a good press.
The modern era's attempts to expel religion from public life, by prohibition or ridicule, seem to the modern era sheer necessity. Chuck Colson saw that necessity as folly. He plowed a straight furrow, caring nothing for scoffs and uncharitable views of his motives. He served neither the networks nor the pundits nor the wiseacres of either political party. Prison bars failed utterly to block the light that flooded the cell where God spoke and a humble, fallen man listened humbly.
To read a related article about Chuck Colson, click here.
To read another article by Cal Thomas, click here.
Posted by Brett at 10:59 AM