Name: Charles “Chuck” Colson
Why you’ve heard of him: Colson was Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and spent seven months in prison for Watergate-related charges. Entered Alabama’s Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian and became a staunch advocate for prisoners. After telling his story in the bestselling book Born Again, Colson used the royalties to found Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
Position: Founder and Chairman of the Board for Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International (1976 to present); Commentator for Breakpoint
Captain, U.S. Marine Corps (1953-55)
Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1955-56)
Admin. Asst. to U.S. Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.) (1956-61)
Partner, Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm (1961-69)
Special Counsel to President Richard M. Nixon (1969-73)
Partner, Colson and Shapiro Law Firm (1973-74)
Area of expertise/interest: Restorative justice; worldview analysis and cultural criticism
Books: Colson has written over 20 books, including Born Again (1976), Kingdoms in Conflict (later reissued as God and Government) (1987), The Body (1994), Loving God (1997), and How Now Shall We Live (w/ Nancy Pearcey) (2000)
Assessment: Other than St. Paul, there are few ex-prisoners who have done more to fulfill the duties of a Christian like Charles Colson. Along with Prison Fellowship, he has overseen the founding of Justice Fellowship (the nation’s largest faith-based criminal justice reform group) and Angel Tree (a program that provides Christmas presents to more than 500,000 children of inmates annually on behalf of their incarcerated parents). The ministries now reach over 40,000 prisoners in 100 countries around the world.
As an author, Colson has written some of the most influential books in the evangelical community, including The Body and How Now Shall We Live? (both co-written with Nancy Pearcey). His Kingdoms in Conflict (1987), a centrist view of the relationship between church and state, is one of my personal favorites. He is also the co-author, along with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together“, a seminal document that highlights how the two groups can work together while still respecting their profound theological differences.
While others have used the infamy of Watergate to line their own pockets, Colson donated all of his speaking honoraria and book royalties to Prison Fellowship and accepts only the salary of a mid-range ministry executive as compensation. The man who was once considered “Nixon’s evil genius” has become a model of Christian charity and service. Colson is truly a prime example of how God can transform a person’s life and use them for His purposes.