Chuck Colson: From Prison to Platform


Charles W. "Chuck" Colson (1931-2012), President Richard M. Nixon's famed "Hatchet man" turned evangelical speaker and author, was born in Boston to Inez and Wendell Colson. He became heavily involved in American politics from a very early age. While still in high school, he volunteered for the re-election campaign of the governor of Massachusetts, and later worked in various government posts and on other campaigns.

Colson earned his B. A. from Brown University in 1953, after which he served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, rising to the rank of Captain. After his discharge from the Marines, he worked for two years with the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. From 1956 to 1961, he served as administrative assistant to Massachusetts Senator Leverett Saltonsall. During this time, he continued his education, earning his J. D. from the George Washington University Law School in 1959.

Colson went into private law practice in 1961, and after working on President Nixon's 1968 campaign, he was appointed Special Counsel to the President in 1969. In this role, he worked closely with the President on a wide range of official and political projects, and earned a reputation for his ruthless pursuit of the administration's goals. During the 1972 re-election campaign, Colson and others were involved in unscrupulous activities surrounding what would soon become known as the Watergate scandal.

Colson resigned from his White House post in early 1973, returning to private legal practice. As the scandal continued to unravel, however, evidence of Colson's involvement led to his indictment for obstruction of justice in March 1974. While he was facing arrest and imprisonment, a friend and mentor gave Colson a copy of C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which led him to give his life to Christ and join a Washington prayer group to be discipled.

After His conversion, Colson's desire to live out his newfound faith with integrity led him to plead guilty to the charges against Him. He was sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, fined $5,000, and disbarred. Colson ended up serving 7 months in federal prison in Alabama before being released in January 1975.

This experience in prison transformed his life and gave him a new direction, leading him to leave politics and devote his energies to Christian ministry.

In his definitive Christian worldview book, Kingdoms in Conflict, Colson wrote, "[God's] rule is even more powerfully evident in the ordinary individual lives, in the breaking of cycles of violence and evilin the actions of those little platoons who livein the midst of the kingdoms of this world." His many other books include Born Again (an account of his conversion testimony), Loving God, Who Speaks for God?, and How Now Shall We Live?.

Colson's great accomplishment was founding Prison Fellowship, the largest global outreach to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. "His ministry joined justice with compassion and inspired Christians around the world to serve the ones society dismisses as beyond all hope."

As a longtime advocate for the welfare and rehabilitation of those behind bars, Colson brought prison reform before Congress through the work of Justice Fellowship. Humble and gracious, he became "one of the most eloquent and inspirational voices of our time." Colson was widely known in the American Church for his ministry activities, his apologetic writings, his daily radio program BreakPoint (which still airs on hundreds of stations around the world), and his faithful advocacy for biblical values in culture and politics.

In recognition of his work for the cause of Christ, Colson received numerous awards and honors, including in 1993 the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He donated the $1 million award to Prison Fellowship.

On March 31, 2012, after speaking at a Christian worldview conference in Virginia, Colson fell hill and underwent surgery for a brain hemorrhage. He passed into the presence of the Lord three weeks later. In final message, he spoke of the power of individuals to bring about change in the culture for Christ: "[I believe] that societies are changed by movements at the grass rootsover the backyard fence and the barbecue grill; I don't believe they are changed from the top down."

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

Bernard R. DeRemer chronicled the lives of dozens of heroes of the faith in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps Magazine. He continues to serve in this capacity as a volunteer contributor to Disciple. He lives in West Liberty, Ohio.

Sources: Prison Fellowship, Merrifield, Va.;

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