Legacy of Chuck Colson

April 21, 2012

Chuck Colson, who went to prison in the wake of the Watergate scandal before becoming a born-again prison minister, died earlier today. Colson had been a mean, dirty political operative--even earning the reputation as President Richard Nixon's "hatchet man." It is a persona that differs dramatically from that he offered the last few decades as he led Prison Fellowship and preached the gospel. Colson's transformation from Watergate felon to prison minister embodied the message he later preached and was a great witness of what being "born again" means. His conversion was not merely a simple walk down the church aisle, but a dramatic life-altering experience. Although his fall from political grace occurred due to a lack of personal grace, his political redemption came as he found personal redemption. Time magazine famously declared 1976 to be the 'year of the evangelical.' Colson's book, Born Again, helped thrust evangelicals into societal discussion that year. Over the following decades, Colson remained an influential religious-political figure as evangelicals held strong political clout--which is why he is mentioned in my book on confessional politics. During this time, Colson converted from being a secular Republican operative to a religious conservative activist. While his politics remained essentially the same, he defended them with nicer tone and behavior. With this change, Colson demonstrated why Christians in politics should not be judged merely on their policy positions. Simply holding a certain political position should not be enough--one must also embody biblical teachings in how one talks and treats others. Sadly, many Christians in politics today move in the opposite direction as Colson--converting from a nice Christian minister to a mean partisan hack. To his credit, Colson's prison work, which included concerns about prison reform and humane treatment of prisoners, helped put social justice issues on the political agenda for many conservative Christians. On the other hand, his ministry work also, unfortunately, blurred church-state lines that have become increasingly mixed over the past few decades. Overall, however, Colson's life is an inspiring story of grace, redemption, and hope.

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