A redemptive life

Rebounding from Watergate, Charles Colson helped others embrace faith

  • Follow Editorials

As special counsel to President Nixon, Charles Colson became one of the most reviled political figures of the 20th century for his role in the Watergate scandal.

Charles Colson, the tough-as-nails special counsel to President Nixon, went to prison for his role in a Watergate-related case and became a Christian evangelical helping inmates. He died at age 80.
  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Charles Colson, the tough-as-nails special counsel to President Nixon, went to prison for his role in a Watergate-related case and became a Christian evangelical helping inmates. He died at age 80.

But what made Colson equally, if not more, famous was how he found the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and touched the lives of countless inmates through his successful prison ministry.

Colson, who died Saturday at age 80, was a master architect of his own redemption.

His obstruction of justice placed him hip-deep in the 1970s Watergate affair. This is the attorney referred to as Nixon’s “hatchet man.” This is the man whom gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson said should be tied “behind an Olds 88 and dragged down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Colson even described himself as “ruthless.”

But people who choose to remember Colson only in these ways are missing, truly, one of the most profound examples in modern times of rebuilding a life and a legacy.

Colson served seven months in prison for his crimes, but that short time behind bars was transformative. While jailed, he witnessed injustices toward his fellow prisoners and lackluster attempts at rehabilitation. After his release, he founded the Prison Fellowship outreach ministry in 1976. It went international in 1979, and now has offices in 112 countries.

A staunch opponent of the warehousing approach to incarceration, Colson worked tirelessly for prison reform, and for inmates to find faith and, from there, hope. One study of his methods, conducted several years ago in a wing of a Texas state prison, found that recidivism fell by two-thirds among inmates who participated in Colson’s program.

He won the Others Award, the highest civic honor bestowed by the Salvation Army. He won the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which comes with a $1 million cash award. He took that money and used it the same way he used all his book royalties and speaking fees – he gave it back to further the work of Prison Fellowship.

Colson’s post-Watergate career is no cynical dodge of his ignominious role in the downfall of the Nixon presidency. He never ran from that reality. But he used that adversity to forge a better life – not just for himself, but for untold others around the world.

Colson helped show the incarcerated that prison, while a low point, also can be a launching pad. The right attitude and outlook can propel inmates to a better life. We pray that someday all prisoners can benefit from his example.

Every inmate, former inmate and family Colson worked with he referred to as “living monuments” to God’s grace.

Colson makes a striking monument himself.

Comments (12) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 04/26/12 - 07:41 am
3
4
Author of Nixon's enemies

Author of Nixon's enemies list.
Proposed firebombing the Brookings Institute.
Covered up Watergate investigation.
Leaked Daniel Ellsberg's FBI file to the press.
Spent a whole 7 months at FPC Montgomery(listed as the best place to go to prison).
Tried to hire the Teamsters to beat up war protesters.
Glowing obit for a thug, criminal, racist, anti gay, anti anything beyond his limited view of "christianity", dominionist.
"One study of his methods, conducted several years ago in a wing of a Texas state prison, found that recidivism fell by two-thirds among inmates who participated in Colson’s program." Totally disproven (and actually showed a 4% increase in recidivism), but a little research would have shown that. How did it show such great success? Simple, don't count the inmates who drop out. It would be like having a school with 177 students. 102 drop out so you claim a 100% graduation rate for 75.
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/hey_wait_a_minute/2003/0...

His prison "ministry" seems to be awarded special priviledges that other aren't. The rules don't apply to his group.
http://motherjones.com/politics/2003/11/jails-jesus-charles-colson

It will be interesting to see if the AC ignores most of the crimes commited and focuses only on the "cheery" parts in the lives of other criminals.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 04/26/12 - 09:25 am
4
2
What a changed life Colson

What a changed life Colson led after Waterfgate. He has had an incredible ministry and authored many wonderful books. "How Now Shall We Live" is one of his best. I know Heaven is rejoicing.

howcanweknow
2306
Points
howcanweknow 04/26/12 - 10:09 am
5
3
You see why folks like

You see why folks like Techfan must immediately smear Colson, and question his motives. Colson's testimony to the power of what God can do to change a life is something no atheist or liberal can refute. The facts are just there for everyone to see, and can't be disputed. Truth, obviously, is something that really gets under the skin of such folks because it's so hard to avoid.

During his early years, Colson was basically a high-priced thug. He admitted that very openly. He was highly intelligent -- probably too much so as he believed he was infallible and would not be caught. But as often happens, he was wrong.

You can't argue the fact that during prison and meeting God for the first time, Colson was an absolutely changed man. From self-centered to serving others in ministry. From having nothing to do with Christianity to being a great defender of the faith that he discovered was so real and powerful -- more so than any such "power" he believed he had in the White House. Again, Colson was no idiot. He was smart and calculating, and based his decisions on careful research and reason. His decision to willfully accept and defend Christianity sticks in the craw of folks who feel compelled to label Christians as stupid or faith as nothing but blind allegiance to some myth. Like so many others (e.g., C.S. Lewis, Francis Collins, Saul of Tarsus), a brilliant, educated Christian is just something that folks like Techfan simply can't tolerate -- as it disproves so many of their sacred cows. Their only tactic is personal smears, and we grow so weary of reading of their silly attempts.

Colson is a prime example of the "unanswerable argument" for Christianity. You can try to discredit the Bible. You can try to argue that science cannot prove God exists. You can call Christians all sorts of disparaging names (see Techfan's tirade above). But, you cannot argue against the truth of changed lives. Colson was an atheistic, power-hungry beast before he met Jesus Christ. Afterward, he was a self-giving minister to those in great need. What wrought such a dramatic, 180-degree change in life of such a person? You can try to spin it away, but your attempts betray your not-too-hidden agenda.

Colson was lost. He encountered Jesus Christ as his Savior. Colson was found. And, we are the better because of this miraculous transformation in the heart of one man touched by the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 04/26/12 - 12:22 pm
3
3
The man was a criminal and

The man was a criminal and was involved in plots that came close to destroying this country as we know it. The AC blasts Obama almost daily, yet the editorial was pretty much "Oh, he did a few bad things, but then became so wonderful". The AC doesn't seem to give this type of pass to anyone else. In Colson's wonderful change, he went from a narrow minded, bigoted, hateful, paranoid, political hack into a narrow minded, bigoted, hateful, paranoid, religious hack. With Nixon, they tgought everyone was out to get them so they did anything to get Nixon elected (legal or not). As a "religious" leader, everyone is out to get them so he spread hate against others in the name of religion. His group uses government funding to convert inmates. Often with far right religious wardens (and private prisons, who also receive government funding) they are the sole determination of who gets what benefits. Another religious group, or gasp a Muslim group, are kicked to the side. Join Colson's group, you get rights not afforded other prisoners. Want more computer time? Want more freedom in the prison? Want to get out early? Join his group or forget it. He used the same bare knuckled tactics and had the same attitude, he just from being a hit man for Nixon to being a hit man for the religious right (and the taxpayers got to pay for it). If you chose to read farther, you can find out this information.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/business/10faith.html?pagewanted=all
A list of the far right religious statements:
http://www.rightwingwatch.org/search/node/colson%20type%3Ablog?page=1

Bizkit
30674
Points
Bizkit 04/26/12 - 03:06 pm
4
2
Wow. Tech I never noted the

Wow. Tech I never noted the similarities between Colson and Obama till you pointed them out. Both are narrow minded, bigoted, hateful, paranoid, political hacks. Both manipulate numbers like jobs saved and created, unemployment,etc. But Obama does have Colson beat by ordering the murder of an American citizen without due process. Both religious zealots too. I don't think Colson ordered any murders, but he probably did-which seals their similarities.

allhans
23523
Points
allhans 04/26/12 - 03:49 pm
2
1
The snooping that is being

The snooping that is being done now is so much easier to hide. Colson and Nixon didn't have the advantage that the current crop of office holders have.
............... Snoop, snoop and no one cares .

Bizkit
30674
Points
Bizkit 04/26/12 - 05:08 pm
1
1
Well we didn't get Bush for

Well we didn't get Bush for war crimes and Colson is dead and served his time, but hopefully once this culture of corruption ends its term we can find all the crimes and finally try the present president for war crimes, treason, and murder. Better late than never. I bet Romney will pardon him.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 04/26/12 - 11:50 pm
0
0
Agreed Albans, in this

Agreed Albans, in this administration, just another day at the office.

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 04/26/12 - 11:54 pm
0
0
Oops , make that Allhans.

Oops , make that Allhans. (iphoning)

Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 04/27/12 - 03:10 am
0
1
Can always count on the right

Can always count on the right wing to be consistent. Factless, but if it's against Obama, repeat it until the cows come home.

allhans
23523
Points
allhans 04/27/12 - 11:21 am
0
0
The snooping going on today

The snooping going on today makes the Nixon era look like childs play.
Anybody that thinks there
is any privacy now is living in la-la land.

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs