Chuck Colson Death Chuck Colson The Shack Chuck Swindoll H.R. Haldeman How Now Shall We Live Books by Charles Colson Charles Colson Biography Charles Colson Born|Again
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|Special Counsel to the President (for Public Liaison)|
November 6, 1969 – March 10, 1973
|Preceded by||New office|
|Succeeded by||William J. Baroody, Jr.|
|Born||Charles Wendell Colson
October 16, 1931
|Died||April 21, 2012
Falls Church, Virginia
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Billings (married 1953, divorced 1964)
Patricia Ann Hughes (married 1964)
|Children||Wendell Ball II (born 1954), Christian Billings (1956) and Emily Ann (1958)|
|Alma mater||Brown University
George Washington University Law School
|Occupation||Lawyer, author, activist, Marine, blogger|
Charles "Chuck" Wendell Colson (October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012) was a Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, and later a noted Evangelical Christian leader and cultural commentator.
Once known as President Nixon's "hatchet man," Colson gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate scandal, for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to defame Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg. In 1974, he served seven months in the federal Maxwell Prison in Alabama as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges.
Colson became a Christian in 1973. His mid-life conversion to Christianity sparked a radical life change that led to the founding of his non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship and to a focus on Christian worldview teaching and training. Colson was also a public speaker and the author of more than 30 books. He was the founder and chairman of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, which is "a research, study, and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview", and while he was alive included Colson's daily radio commentary, BreakPoint, which was heard in its original format on more than 1,400 outlets across the United States.
Colson received 15 honorary doctorates, and in 1993 was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's largest annual award (over US$1 million) in the field of religion, given to a person who "has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension". He donated this prize to further the work of Prison Fellowship, as he did all his speaking fees and royalties. In 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.
Colson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Inez "Dizzy" (née Ducrow) and Wendell Ball Colson. He was of Swedish and British descent. During World War II, Colson organized fundraising campaigns in his school for the war effort that raised enough money to buy a Jeep for the army.
After attending Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge in 1949, he earned his BA, with honors, from Brown University in 1953, and his J.D., with honors, from George Washington University Law School in 1959. At Brown, he was a member of Beta Theta Pi.
Colson's first marriage with Nancy Billings, in 1953, bore three children: Wendell Ball II (born 1954), Christian Billings (1956) and Emily Ann (1958). This marriage ended in divorce in January 1964, after some years of separation. He married Patricia Ann Hughes on April 4, 1964.
Colson served in the Richard Nixon administration in January 1969.
Colson was responsible for inviting influential private special interest groups into the White House policy-making process and winning their support on specific issues. His office served as the President's political communications liaison with organized labor, veterans, farmers, conservationists, industrial organizations, citizen groups, and almost any organized lobbying group whose objectives were compatible with the administration's. Colson's staff broadened the White House lines of communication with organized constituencies by arranging presidential meetings and sending White House news releases of interest to the groups.
In addition to his liaison and political duties, Colson's responsibilities included: performing special assignments for the president, such as drafting legal briefs on particular issues, reviewing presidential appointments, and suggesting names for White House guest lists. His work also included major lobbying efforts on such issues as construction of an Antiballistic missile system, the president's Vietnamization program, and the administration's revenue-sharing proposal.
Slate magazine writer David Plotz described Colson as "Richard Nixon's hard man, the 'evil genius' of an evil administration." Colson has written that he was "valuable to the President ... because I was willing ... to be ruthless in getting things done". Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman described Colson as the president's "hit man." This is perhaps complimentary when read in comparison to the descriptions of Colson which pepper the work of Rolling Stone National Affairs' Political Correspondent, Hunter S. Thompson during the period.
Colson authored the 1971 memo listing Nixon's major political opponents, later known as Nixon's Enemies List. A quip that "Colson would walk over his own grandmother if necessary" mutated into claims in news stories that Colson had boasted that he would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon. In a February 13, 1973, conversation, Colson told Nixon that he had always had "a little prejudice." Plotz reported that Colson sought to hire Teamsters thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators. Colson also proposed firebombing the Brookings Institution and stealing politically damaging documents while firefighters put the fire out.
Colson's voice, from archives from April 1969, is heard in the 2004 movie Going Upriver deprecating the anti-war efforts of John Kerry. Colson's orders were to "destroy the young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader." In a phone conversation with Nixon on April 28, 1971, Colson said, "This fellow Kerry that they had on last week...He turns out to be really quite a phony."
Colson also became involved in the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP or CREEP). At a CRP meeting on March 21, 1971, it was agreed to spend US$250,000 on "intelligence gathering" on the Democratic Party. Colson and John Ehrlichman appointed E. Howard Hunt to the White House Special Operations Unit (the so-called "Plumbers"), which had been organized to stop leaks in the Nixon administration. Hunt teamed with G. Gordon Liddy, and the two headed the Plumbers' attempted burglary of Pentagon Papers-leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles in September 1971. The Pentagon Papers were a group of military documents comprising an exhaustive study of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. Their publication helped increase opposition to the war. Colson hoped that revelations about Ellsberg could be used to discredit the anti-Vietnam War cause. Colson admitted to leaking information from Ellsberg's confidential FBI file to the press, but denied organizing Hunt's burglary of Ellsberg's office. He expressed regret for attempting to cover up this incident in his 2005 book, The Good Life.
Although not discovered until several years after Nixon had resigned and Colson had finished serving his prison term, transcripts of a tape-recorded June 20, 1972 White House conversation between Nixon and Colson clearly show both men's early involvement in obstruction of justice in the Watergate investigation.
On March 10, 1973, seventeen months before Nixon's resignation, Colson resigned from the White House to return to the private practice of law, as Senior Partner at the law firm of Colson and Shapiro, Washington, D.C. However, Colson was retained as a special consultant by Nixon for several more months.
On March 1, 1974, Colson was indicted for conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglaries.
As Colson was facing arrest, his close friend, Raytheon Company chairman of the board Thomas L. Phillips, gave Colson a copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, which, after reading it, led Colson to become an evangelical Christian. Colson then joined a prayer group led by Douglas Coe and including Democratic Senator Harold Hughes, Republican congressman Al Quie and Democratic congressman Graham B. Purcell, Jr.. When news of the conversion emerged much later, several U.S. newspapers, as well as Newsweek, The Village Voice, and Time, ridiculed the conversion, claiming that it was a ploy to reduce his sentence. In his 1975 memoir Born Again. Colson noted that a few writers published sympathetic stories, as in the case of a widely reprinted UPI article, "From Watergate to Inner Peace."
After taking the Fifth Amendment on the advice of his lawyers during early testimony, Colson found himself torn between his desire to be truthful and his desire to avoid conviction on charges of which he believed himself innocent. Following prayer and consultation with his fellowship group, Colson approached his lawyers and suggested a plea of guilty to a different criminal charge of which he did consider himself to be culpable.
After days of negotiation with Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski and Watergate Trial Judge Gerhard Gesell, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice on the basis of having attempted to defame Ellsberg's character in the build-up to the trial in order to influence the jury against him. Journalist Carl Rowan commented in a column of June 10, 1974 that the guilty plea came "at a time when the judge was making noises about dismissing the charges against him", and speculated that Colson was preparing to reveal highly damaging information against Nixon, an expectation shared by columnist Clark Mollenhoff; Mollenhoff even went so far as to suggest that for Colson not to become a "devastating witness" would cast doubt on the sincerity of his conversion. On June 21, 1974, Colson was given a one-to- three-year sentence and fined $5,000. He was subsequently disbarred in the District of Columbia, with the expectation of his also being prohibited from using his licenses from Virginia and Massachusetts.
Colson served seven months in Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama,—with brief stints at a facility on the Fort Holabird grounds when needed as a trial witness— entering prison on July 9, 1974, and being released early, on January 31, 1975, by the sentencing judge because of family problems. At the time that Gesell ordered his release, Colson was one of the last of the Watergate defendants still in jail: only Gordon Liddy was still incarcerated. Egil Krogh had served his sentence and been released before Colson entered jail, while John Dean, Jeb Magruder, and Herb Kalmbach had been released earlier in January 1975 by Judge John Sirica. (Although Gesell declined to name the "family problems" prompting the release, Colson wrote in his 1976 memoir that his son Chris, angry over his father's imprisonment and looking to replace his broken car, had bought $150 worth of marijuana in hopes of selling it at a profit, and had been arrested in South Carolina, where he was in college. The state later dropped the charges.)
Born Again, Colson's personal memoir reflecting on his religious conversion and prison term, was made into a 1978 dramatic film starring Dean Jones as Colson, Anne Francis as his wife Patty, and Harold Hughes as himself. Actor Kevin Dunn would also portray Colson in the 1995 movie Nixon.
During his time in prison, Colson had become increasingly aware of what he saw as injustices done to prisoners and incarcerates and shortcomings in their rehabilitation; he also had the opportunity, during a three-day furlough to attend his father's funeral, to pore over his father's papers and discover the two shared an interest in prison reform. He became convinced that he was being called by God to develop a ministry to prisoners with an emphasis in promoting changes in the justice system.
After his release from prison, Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which today is "the nation's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families". Colson worked to promote prisoner rehabilitation and reform of the prison system in the United States, citing his disdain for what he called the "lock 'em and leave 'em" warehousing approach to criminal justice. He helped to create prisons whose populations come from inmates who choose to participate in faith-based programs.
In 1983, Colson founded Justice Fellowship, using his influence in conservative political circles to push for bipartisan, legislative reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system.
On June 18, 2003, Colson was invited by President George W. Bush to the White House to present results of a scientific study on the faith-based initiative, InnerChange, at the Carol Vance Unit (originally named the Jester II Unit) prison facility of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Fort Bend County, Texas. Colson led a small group that includes Dr. Byron Johnson of the University of Pennsylvania, who was the principal researcher of the InnerChange study, a few staff members of Prison Fellowship and three InnerChange graduates to the meeting. In the presentation, Dr. Johnson explained that 171 participants in the InnerChange program were compared to a matched group of 1,754 inmates from the prison's general population. The study found that only 8 percent of InnerChange graduates, as opposed to 20.3 percent of inmates in the matched comparison group, became offenders again in a two-year period. In other words, the recidivism rate was cut by almost two-thirds for those who complete the faith-based program. Those who are dismissed for disciplinary reasons or who drop out voluntarily, or those who are paroled before completion, have a comparable rate of rearrest and incarceration.
Colson maintained a variety of media channels which discuss contemporary issues from an evangelical Christian worldview. In his Christianity Today columns, for example, Colson opposed same-sex marriage, and argued that Darwinism is used to attack Christianity. He also argued against Darwinism and in favor of intelligent design, saying Darwinism helped cause forced sterilizations by eugenicists.
Colson was an outspoken critic of postmodernism, believing that as a cultural worldview, it is incompatible with the Christian tradition. He debated prominent post-evangelicals, such as Brian McLaren, on the best response for the evangelical church in dealing with the postmodern cultural shift. Colson, however, came alongside the creation care movement when endorsing Christian environmentalist author Nancy Sleeth’s Go Green, Save Green: A Simple Guide to Saving Time, Money, and God's Green Earth. In the early 1980s, Colson was invited to New York by David Frost's variety program on NBC for an open debate with Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the atheist who in 1963, brought the court case (Murray v. Curlett) that eliminated official public school prayers.
Colson was a member of the Family (also known as the Fellowship), described by prominent evangelical Christians as one of the most politically well-connected fundamentalist organizations in the US. On April 4, 1991, Colson was invited to deliver a speech as part of the Distinguished Lecturer series at Harvard Business School. The speech was titled "The Problem of Ethics," where he argued that a society without a foundation of moral absolutes cannot long survive.
In November 2009, Colson was a principal writer and driving force behind an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox Christians not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences. He previously had ignited controversy within Protestant circles for his mid-90s common-ground initiative with conservative Roman Catholics Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which Colson wrote alongside prominent Roman Catholic Richard John Neuhaus. Colson was also a proponent of the Bible Literacy Project's curriculum The Bible and Its Influence for public high school literature courses. Colson has said that Protestants have a special duty to prevent anti-Catholic bigotry.
On October 3, 2002, Colson was one of the co-signers of the Land letter sent to President George W. Bush. The letter was written by Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and co-signed by four prominent American evangelical Christian leaders with Colson among them. The letter outlined their theological support for a just war in the form of a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.
On June 1, 2005, Colson appeared in the national news commenting on the revelation that W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat. Colson expressed disapproval in Felt's role in the Watergate scandal, first in the context of Felt being an FBI employee who should have known better than to disclose the results of a government investigation to the press (violating a fundamental tenet of FBI culture), and second in the context of the trust placed in him (which demanded a more active response, such as a face-to-face confrontation with the FBI director or Nixon or, had that failed, public resignation). His criticism of Felt provoked a harsh response from former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin Bradlee, one of only three individuals to know who Deep Throat was prior to the public disclosure, who said he was "baffled" that Colson and Liddy were "lecturing the world about public morality" considering their role in the Watergate scandal. Bradlee stated that "as far as I'm concerned they have no standing in the morality debate."
Colson also supported the passage of Proposition 8. He signed his name to a full-page ad in the December 5, 2008 The New York Times that objected to violence and intimidation against religious institutions and believers in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8. The ad stated that "violence and intimidation are always wrong, whether the victims are believers, gay people, or anyone else." A dozen other religious and human rights activists from several different faiths also signed the ad, noting that they "differ on important moral and legal questions," including Proposition 8.
In 1990, The Salvation Army recognized Colson with its highest civic award, the Others Award. Previous recipients of the award include Barbara Bush, Paul Harvey, US Senator Bob Dole and the Meadows Foundation.
In 1993, Colson was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's largest cash gift (over $1 million), which is given each year to the one person in the world who has done the most to advance the cause of religion. He donated this prize, as he did all speaking fees and royalties, to further the work of Prison Fellowship.
In 1999, Colson co-authored How Now Shall We Live? with Nancy Pearcey and published by Tyndale House. The book was winner of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2000 Gold Medallion Book Award in the "Christianity and Society" category. Colson had previously won the 1993 Gold Medallion award in the "Theology/Doctrine" category for The Body co-authored with Ellen Santilli Vaughn, published by Word, Inc.
On February 9, 2001, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) presented Colson with the Mark O. Hatfield Leadership Award at the Forum on Christian Higher Education in Orlando, Florida. The award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated uncommon leadership that reflects the values of Christian higher education. The award was established in 1997 in honor of US Senator Mark Hatfield, a long-time supporter of the Council.
On March 31, 2012, Colson underwent surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain after he fell ill while speaking at a Christian worldview conference. CBN erroneously reported on April 18, 2012, that he died with his family at his side but Prison Fellowship later (12:30am on April 19 and again at 7:02am) pointed out that he was still alive as of that moment.
"Chuck Colson embodied and made possible an immeasurable amount of good in the lives of the people, families and communities he served in bringing a message of faith and hope. Ann and I are praying for Patty, the Colson family and all the people he touched throughout the world who will miss him." —GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney
"He played political hardball for keeps. He was ruthless. He wanted to win at all costs and he had a reputation as a person who wanted to win at all costs ... I think if he's going to be remembered for anything, he's going to be remembered as a person who had a complete turnaround in his life." —Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Michael Cromartie
"For nearly four decades, Chuck Colson's life and example have been a constant and necessary reminder to those of us in and out of public office of the seductions of power and the rewards of service. His famous redemption story and tireless advocacy on behalf of the marginalized and the outcast have called all of us to a deeper reflection on our lives and priorities. He lives on as a modern model of redemption and a permanent rebuttal to the cynical claim that there are no second chances in life. Our thoughts are with the Colson family, and all who have been touched by the life and service of this extraordinary man." —Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell
“God gifted Chuck Colson in incredible ways, and he gave it all back to the kingdom for Christ. We were honored to work with him and help carry his message to a hurting world, and I am grateful to have gotten the chance to meet and know Chuck. His passion, focus, energy, stamina, drive, and commitment made everyone who came in contact with him a better person and a better warrior for Christ. Our thoughts and prayers are with Patty, Emily, and the rest of his family during this time." —Zondervan President and CEO, Scott Macdonald
“I want the world to know about the Chuck Colson I came to know when he was not in the limelight, a person who cared about the little things and ordinary people and not indulging himself with an extravagant lifestyle nor condoning wastefulness. For me, Chuck’s faithfulness in such private matters gave credibility to his public message. The more I got to know him, the more I respected him.” —adjunct professor of Historical Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and theological editor on The Faith, Stan Gundry
(This is not a complete list. Colson had a long list of publications and collaborations, including over 30 books which have sold more than 5 million copies. He also wrote forewords for several other books.)
1995 Gideon's Torch, Word Publishing, ISBN 0-8499-1146-X
|1976||Born Again||Chosen Books||ISBN 978-0-8007-9459-0|
|1979||Life Sentence||Chosen Books||ISBN 0-8007-8668-8|
|1983||Loving God||HarperPaperbacks||ISBN 0-310-47030-7|
|1987||Kingdoms in Conflict
(with Ellen Santilli Vaughn)
|William Morrow & Co||ISBN 0-688-07349-2|
|1989||Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages
(with Ellen Santilli Vaughn)
|Servant Publications||ISBN 0-89283-309-2|
(with Jack Eckerd)
|Word Publishing||ISBN 0-8499-0873-6|
|1993||The Body: Being Light in Darkness
(with Ellen Santilli Vaughn)
|Word Books||ISBN 0-85009-603-0|
|1993||A Dance with Deception: Revealing the truth behind the headlines||Word Publishing||ISBN 0-8499-1057-9|
|1995||Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission
(co-edited with Richard John Neuhaus)
|Thomas Nelson||ISBN 0-8499-3860-0|
|1996||Being The Body
(with Ellen Santilli Vaughn)
|Thomas Nelson||ISBN 0-8499-1752-2|
|1997||Loving God||Zondervan||ISBN 0-310-21914-0|
|1998||Burden of Truth: Defending the Truth in an Age of Unbelief||Tyndale House||ISBN 0-8423-3475-0|
|1999||How Now Shall We Live
(with Nancy Pearcey and Harold Fickett)
|Tyndale House||ISBN 0-8423-1808-9|
|2001||Justice That Restores||Tyndale House||ISBN 0-8423-5245-7|
|2004||The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions
About Intelligent Design (with William A. Dembski)
|Inter Varsity Press||ISBN 0-8308-2375-1|
|2005||The Good Life
(with Harold Fickett)
|Tyndale House||ISBN 0-8423-7749-2|
|2007||God and Government||Zondervan||ISBN 978-0-310-27764-4|
(with Harold Fickett)
|2011||The Sky Is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times||Worthy Publishing||ISBN 978-1-936034-54-3|
(Some of these ISBNs are for recent editions of the older books.)
(This is not a complete list.)
|2006||Wide Angle||Purpose Driven Publishing||ISBN 978-1-4228-0083-6|
|2011||Doing the Right Thing DVD||Zondervan||ISBN 978-0-310-42775-9|
|2011||Doing the Right Thing Participant's Guide||Zondervan||ISBN 978-0-310-42776-6|
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