Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Hail And Farewell, Chuck Colson
My road to Damascus only involved a mere political conversion. Colson’s road was far more Pauline. Colson was tried, convicted and sentenced to federal prison on charges of obstruction of justice for trying to derail the investigation of Nixonian activities against Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Colson was released on parole after serving a year of his five year sentence. Part of the reason for his early release was his claim that he had found Jesus while serving his term and now wished to redeem himself by establishing a ministry.
My reaction to his release was the same as that of many lawyers and Nixon despisers—“where have we heard that before?” These “come to Jesus” moments are repeated on a near daily basis at parole hearings, and when the prisoner is released, there’s a 90% chance he will immediately revert to his old habits. I fully expected Colson to go temporarily underground and re-emerge as a political operative who left Jesus at the altar. Colson had been the chief political adviser and special counsel to a President. His fall from the pinnacle of power was great, and lesser men would have sought reaffirmation and a return to power. Not Chuck.
Obituaries on the left and right have covered Colson’s career and death. Some have been more unfavorable than others, and many expressed admiration for Colson’s genuine love for his newfound evangelical Christian faith, even when they did not hold the same views. Colson never wavered from that faith, and even wrote a book about his prison time and conversion entitled Born Again.
All the obituaries mentioned to a greater or lesser extent Colson’s founding of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Jim Liske, CEO of Prison Fellowship Ministries described it this way: “Prison Fellowship stated because Mr. Colson would not forget the men he did time with. He did time with them and wanted to make sure the message of true freedom in Jesus came to them.” Colson truly understood that stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. It is the imprisonment of the soul that the Tempter seeks.
My particular praise for Colson and grief at his loss goes deeper than the obituaries. Colson’s motives were pure. Mine are not as pure. Oh, I am very much a believer in Colson’s message to the imprisoned and the recently freed. But I see it in that light as well as another light that I consider equally important. Colson preached Christ’s message of love and redemption, of the “God of the second chance in the Nation of the second chance.” But he didn’t burden his sermon with comparisons or caveats. He leaves that to people like me.
Colson taught the way of forgiveness, and living the upright life after having lived an irresponsible or dangerous life. Many hardcore criminals listened, and have emerged into their communities to carry Colson’s message to those who are headed toward the same cycle of crime and imprisonment from which they themselves have now escaped thanks to Colson’s message.
But the fastest growing religion in the prisons today is Islam. And worse, the majority of those converting to Islam are becoming disciples of the most perverted version of Islamist thought—the Nation of Islam (aka the Black Muslims). While Colson taught the message of confession, forgiveness, redemption, and conversion to an upright life, the Islamists are preaching the message of hate, resentment, excuses and justification of their former lives by doing a better job of it after release.
Colson admitted that he deserved his punishment and would spend the rest of his life attempting to change his own life and that of his fellow prisoners. The Islamists blame the convict’s imprisonment on the system or the man, particularly the oppressive white man who is most likely a Christian or a Jew. No consciousness of guilt, no need for redemption, accompanied with a message of “next time you win. Colson preached that with God’s grace, the released convict could live the upright life. The Islamist preaches that upon release, the convict should seek revenge. Jesus forgives and cleanses the heart. Allah grants excuses and recruits his army of believers to game the system.
The Colson convert emerges clean of body and soul, ready to take responsibility for his own wrongdoing, seek forgiveness, and to become a valuable member of the society which he used to attack. The Islamist convert emerges clean of body, but dirty of soul, ready to destroy the society that wouldn’t tolerate his criminal activity previously, and now filled with both hatred and resentment toward the society which wronged him. At this point, the Islamist convert has been handed an excuse for his past crimes and a justification for ignoring the rules of an oppressive Judeo-Christian society and a secular government.
The true convert to Colson’s beliefs will abandon his evil ways and try to get others to do the same. The convert to Islamic radicalism may clean up his act and speak in religious style phrases, but he will represent what Christ warned us of—the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And for those reasons, I worry about the loss of Chuck Colson more than the average guy or gal. We need a thousand Chuck Colsons to counter the influence of the Louis Farrakhans. But I fear we are falling behind, and his guidance will be sorely missed.