Monday, April 23, 2012

In Memoriam: Charles Colson

Chuck Colson, 1931-2012

  • An "evil" politician - a mastermind behind Watergate.
  • Ruthless enough to "walk over" his grandmother to get Richard Nixon re-elected.
  • Convicted of a break-in to discredit Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.
  • In prison had an eye-opening conversion to Christianity.
  • Founded Prison Fellowship
  • Spent the rest of his life advocating for prisoners.
He was a controversial figure, challenged for his prison conversion, but who stuck to his faith and beliefs. As reported on the CBS News web site, Colson said in 1993:
"I shudder to think of what I'd been if I had not gone to prison. Lying on the rotten floor of a cell, you know it's not prosperity or pleasure that's important, but the maturing of the soul."
I was never one who liked or followed Colson's politics. I was impressed by his faith at the beginning. He did stand up for people who had few other people to stand up for them- prisoners. His conservative credentials helped convince many conservatives and law-and-order supporters to care about the prisoners. As a result many good and helpful things were accomplished. But that is only part of the Colson story.

Sadly, his public faith may also have hidden the deeper issues of Colson's joining politics and religion. Frank Schaeffer has a piece on his blog that talks about Colson's darker side. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most beloved and bigoted homophobic and misogynistic voices with the death of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson, a Watergate felon who converted to “evangelicalism” but never lost his taste for dirty political tricks against opponents.

Colson was a vocal far right leader who tried to fill my late father’s religious right leadership (Francis Schaeffer) shoes by borrowing material from his books, even repeating one of Dad’s book titles as if he (Colson) was writing a sequel.

Colson had his “books” ghost written by Harold Fickett and other writers, some of whom like Fickett (who I worked with closely many years ago) used to complain to me almost daily about what an egomaniac Colson was to work for and how he did all he could to hide the fact that his work was written by others while rarely sharing credit.

Colson teamed up with far right Roman Catholic activist Professor Robert George of Princeton to launch the dirty tricks campaign to brand President Obama as “anti-religious” with Colson’s and George’s “Manhattan Declaration.” This was a trap they set for the administration that finally paid off when they talked a number of bishops into branding Obama as anti-religious because he wanted women to have access to contraception even if they worked for Roman Catholic controlled institutions.
Yes, his "conversion" was real- he did become a believer- but in the end it probably didn't change his underlying right-wing beliefs. It just reinforced them with a religious coating. He did do some good things. No question, but under the public persona was still the same person.

We are all in danger of that, of course. We all will have a god who supports our views. I just hope that at times that god in my life and the life of others, can be the same as God.

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