A Dedication to Chuck Colson
This past Saturday, April 21, America lost one of the most intriguing men in recent church/state history. Who else can say that they were deeply and directly involved in the political crimes of a U.S. president, went to jail for it, and came out “born again” and dedicated to making American politics more “Christian”? That’s right — no one except Chuck Colson. He was the Chuck Norris of Civil Religion in America.
I remember in Junior High once, my history teacher randomly showed us a video of Chuck Colson preaching about his prison ministry. She was super vague on the details of why he went to prison, but said he has been doing “amazing” things since he left. This was public school, mind you. I had no clue back then how “over the line” my teacher had gone in showing that to us.
But that was part of his allure. He was “above the fray” when it came to ministry. Prison ministry is one of those areas of life that people across the board want to avoid, or ignore. Colson understood that prison only “works” if it’s coupled with some sort of counseling, especially once the prison term is over. His dedication to ministering to prisoners echoes Jesus’ words so perfectly “When I was in prison, you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36).
And yet, he was not perfect. In the video, you’ll see him testifying before Congress saying that crime and violence are not the problem, but immorality is. He’s right, of course. The root of violence and crime is a lack of morality or ethics or personal accountability. Even for those who are destitute or psychologically or mentally ill, their crimes arise out of a lack of community to help guide them and steer them away from criminal behavior. In this case it is their actions which are immoral, but ours. The immorality of selfishness that pushes us away from “the least of these” is what leads to their crimes. This is Chuck’s message, his legacy.
But most will remember him for understanding morality only in religious and politically conservative terms, and believing that conservatism is what will bring morality back to this nation. This is his blindspot, his imperfection. I won’t go into detail here as to why, read a few of my other articles and it will be clear what I think about this. Instead, I’d ask each of us to remember Colson in his best form — not his worst. Remember Colson as someone who cared for prisoners when WE wouldn’t; who advocated for the least of these when WE created them; who shined a light on our need to be better people individually and corporately.
We each have ugliness in our lives and in our views of the world. In this social media-addicted world our words and opinions are out there for history to track and throw back into our faces when we least want to be reminded of our own naivete. Would you like to be remembered for your ugliest opinions or deeds, or for your best?
In respect, and admiration, this post is dedicated to Chuck Colson and to prisoners of all kinds who desire freedom from their physical, spiritual, emotional, or psychological chains. May they find peace.
Some links of interest:
- NYTimes article on the Life of Chuck Colson
- Prison Fellowship Ministries
- Chuck Colson website
- Pew Research Center report on “Religion in Prisons”. Conducted just a month ago, in March 2012. Extremely detailed information about the religious services provided in prisons as well as the types of religious activities inmates partake in.
- A particularly powerful story from author, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his relationship with a convict in prison and their journey together. A very hard, must read.