Christian journalists and bloggers pay tribute to Christian author and Prison Fellowship founder Charles (Chuck) Colson:
Colson’s legacy is enormous. Convicted in 1974 as part of the Watergate scandal, Colson – then White House special counsel – was sent to federal prison. Paroled in 1975, Colson began Prison Fellowship the following year, helping to put prison ministry on the church’s radar. When society was saying, “Lock ’em up and throw away the key,” Colson was echoing Hebrews 13:3: “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.” He reminded the church of Jesus’ words: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” No one can think of prison ministry without Chuck Colson coming quickly to mind.
In many ways, Colson’s life encapsulated the eclectic nature of evangelicalism. His example shaped how evangelicals would promote ministry and social justice, evangelism and ecumenicism, cultural and political engagement, radio and writing, and scholarship and discipleship.
In November of 2009, the Manhattan Declaration was born in the heart of Chuck Colson. This document encouraged Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians to stand for their convictions on the issues of the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. With nearly 525,000 signatures including well-known religious leaders, this document clearly reminds us what Chuck Colson said in a speech at Harvard Business Schoolin 1991, “A society without a foundation of moral absolutes cannot long survive.”
Chuck Colson trained a new generation of church and lay leaders. He challenged us by warning, “There’s too much of the world in the church and not enough church in the world.”
A Southern Baptist, Colson remained politically and theologically conservative his whole life, but Prison Fellowship gained a reputation for working with both Republicans and Democrats for criminal justice reforms focused on transitioning prisoners into society. Colson also gained a reputation for working across theological aisles, helping to launch the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together initiative and becoming co-author of the 2010 Manhattan Declaration, a statement on conscience and marriage endorsed by a broad spectrum of Christian leaders and now with over half a million signatures.
One of the things that made Colson so interesting, of course, was that he actually became a born again Christian prior to going to prison. He was converted in a bipartisan Bible study group.
Here is the essential fact — he converted prior to pleading guilty. He’d been charged with conspiracy to cover up the Watergate burglary right after his conversion. He told prosecutors he wouldn’t plea bargain and he hadn’t done what he’d been charged with. But, he told them, he had obstructed justice and if they wanted to charge him with that, he would plead guilty. They did and he did.
It was always a joy to respond to Colson. He had an approachable manner, apparently something that he also carried in the White House. And unlike many EC [Emergent Church] critics who never turn up to discuss or defend their criticisms, Charles Colson interacted with us, influenced us, and was influenced by us.
The Church of Jesus Christ lost a mighty saint today. His influence will continue to be felt, both here and for all eternity.
Colson’s legacy, like every persevering Christian, is one of a man brought low by his sin, but made new in Christ– and used for his purposes in ways he would have never imagined. When Colson converted to Christianity, the timing of his conversion (1973) led many to speculate about the sincerity of his claim to faith– they thought this might be a “jailhouse conversion.” But nearly 40 years later, Colson’s perseverance lends credit to his testimony.