Charles Colson passed away on April 21, 2012 at the age of eighty. He was many things to many people and not all of them were always inspiring. Most people first heard of him because of the 1970s Watergate Scandal involving U.S. President Richard M. Nixon and members of his Administration. Colson was labeled Nixon's 'hatchet man' because he was the king of dirty political tricks and a zealot when it came to serving the president.
Colson began his life in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1931. During World War II he organized a patriotic fundraising campaign at his school and managed to raise enough money to buy a jeep for the Army. After attending prestigious schools which included Brown University and George Washington University Law School and graduating with honors, he served as an officer in the Marine Corps during the early 1950s and attained the rank of captain.
Colson was married to Nancy Billings in 1953 and had three children with her. He accepted a position working for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1956 to 1961. He worked on the 1960 political campaign of a Republican running for the U.S. Senate and founded a successful law firm in 1961. Charles divorced his first wife in 1964 after years of separation. He married his second wife, Patricia Ann Hughes, later that same year.
In 1968 Colson worked on Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and became the Special Counsel to the President after Nixon won the election. More than just a legal position, Colson's job was to establish and maintain important political contacts, ties and handle lobbying. He became Nixon's 'go to' guy for anything and everything important. As the time of Nixon's bid for re-election drew near, Colson became an important part of the president's inner circle of trusted advisors.
In 1971 Charles Colson drafted the infamous 'Enemies List' of people that opposed or could hinder Nixon's re-election. Other members of the Administration say that Colson bragged how that he would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon. As part of the Committee To Re-elect The President, he allegedly had a hand in a number of unsavory and possibly illegal acts committed to give Nixon a better change at re-election.
Although Richard Nixon won re-election in November of 1972, the June 17, 1972 break in at the Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate complex began to haunt the president as hearings were held, his vice president resigned over other personal legal issues, and many of his top advisors were implicated and indicted in what became known as The Watergate Scandal. With impeachment proceedings set to begin against him, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as President.
Possibly sensing impending doom and under a lot of pressure, Charles Colson left his White House job to go back into private law practice in March of 1973. About a year later in March of 1974, he was indicted for conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglary. During this time of trouble Colson was contacted by Thomas L. Phillips, the CEO of Raytheon who was also a friend of Charles and an Evangelical Christian. Phillips gave him a copy of 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis and encouraged Charles to be born again.
Colson made the decision to become a Christian in 1973 and started attending prayer groups hosted by Douglas Coe, a noted Evangelical who headed an organization known as The Fellowship which sponsored prayer groups and breakfasts for politicians, athletes and others. During this time Colson eventually pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction of justice charge and was sentenced to one to three years in prison with a five thousand dollar fine. He was also disbarred as a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Released from prison in January of 1975 after serving seven months, Charles Colson wrote a book called 'Born Again' which was published in 1976. The book provided a personal recollection of his life to that point which included his legal issues, conversion and embracing of Evangelical Christianity.
As the easily recognizable public face of the Watergate Scandal and the political dirty tricks associated with the Nixon Administration, Charles Colson was now in a position to influence people in a positive way and I believe he did. 'Born Again' was hugely successful and I am sure it helped to inspire the evangelical fervor of the Christian community which exploded in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Colson started a prison ministry known as Prison Fellowship in 1976. Charles became an advocate for prison reform and the inclusion of faith-based programs in jails and prisons everywhere. He spent the remainder of his life writing and speaking about his faith and encouraging people to embrace conservative Christianity. He wrote a number of additional books and often acted as an intellectual advocate for issues supported by conservative Christians.
I was in high school during Nixon's first term as the President of the United States. It was during his Administration that a U.S. Astronaut named Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon, relations with China improved and the Vietnam War ended. When the Watergate scandal hit it was a national slap in the face that made many lose faith in government. I became a born again Christian in 1972 and that helped me through those dark days.
When Charles Colson published 'Born Again' and began speaking about his conversion, it was a much needed breath of fresh air. Although many thought that he was nothing more than a phoney who had been caught with his hands in the cookie jar and was now trying to avoid a trip to the woodshed for punishment, no Christian that read his book or heard his testimony could doubt his sincerity.
Time has proven the conversation of Charles Colson to be a real one because he did far more than just talk the talk, he walked the walk. Charles encouraged people to embrace Biblical Christianity and inspired Christians to serve the Lord. I would say that his book and testimony helped to influence me to work with young pastors that planted Bible-believing churches in locations throughout the Northeast in the late 1970s.
I am thankful for the conversion of Charles Colson and his subsequent labors in the name of the Lord because I believe he was able to focus people's attention back on Jesus Christ and away from the matters of this world. The troubles of this world will consume us if we allow that to happen, but Christians should always be looking up and working for the Lord while it is day. Brother Colson certainly provided us with a good example of how to do that.
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