May 3, 2012
Prophet to the Church
(second of a
By Mike McManus
Chuck Colson, best known for
creating Prison Fellowship, gave hope to the most hopeless Americans,
the 2.3 million behind bars. He personally visited 600 prisons and
inspired 30,000 volunteers to minister to prisoners. He launched “Angel
Tree” in which volunteers bought Christmas gifts for 9 million children
on behalf of their jailed dads.
Less well-known is his fight for prison
reform and work as a prophet to the church – calling for courageous
stands on behalf of life from conception till natural death, protecting
traditional marriage and religious liberty.
He created Justice Fellowship
to fight for such laws as the Prison Rape Elimination Act championed by
Senators Ted Kennedy and Jeff Sessions, a bipartisan duo. Sessions, who
had been Attorney General of Alabama said, “I have sent thousands to
prison for horrible crimes, but not to be raped.” Some 12% of juvenile
prisoners are raped and 8%-9% of adults. Wardens were often
indifferent, such as one in Texas who sneered at a victim who dared
complain, “Man up! Fight or submit.”
However, California, Oregon
and Massachusetts adopted the standards, held people accountable and
have “virtually eliminated rapes,” says Pat Nolan of Justice Fellowship.
Each year nearly 600,000
prisoners are released to the streets. Most are simply warehoused in
prison, not helped to overcome drug or alcohol addictions suffered by
80% or illiteracy, let alone trained for jobs. Colson persuaded Sen.
Sam Brownback, a Republican, to team up with Sen. Joe Biden to pass the
Second Chances Act with $100 million to establish mentoring programs. PF
demonstrated that if faith-based mentoring begins in prison and
continues after release, the recidivism rate drops to 8-tenths of one
A bigger victory can be seen
in Texas which was going to build three new prisons in 2008. Justice
Fellowship persuaded the state to scrap the prisons and spend much less
to divert drug users into community programs where they got treatment.
Result: crime fell 10%.
South Carolina adopted the
Texas model, canceling a new prison and helping non-violent offenders,
saving $175 million and $200 million in operating costs over five years.
Rev. Jim Liske, CEO of Prison
Fellowship, reports the more radical reform of creating in-prison
seminaries: “We are turning prisoners into pastors, who are changing
the prison culture building the church inside the walls, at a cost of
only $100 per inmate per month.” The first 30 prison pastors graduate
this year, 100 in 2013 and 1,000 in three years in 26 prison seminaries!
To contribute or volunteer, go to
In the summer of 2009 Chuck
Colson and Prof. Robert George of Princeton and Prof. Timothy George of
Beeson Divinity School drafted what became known as “The Manhattan
Declaration,” signed by top Catholic Bishops plus leading Evangelicals
and Orthodox, and 526,000 Christians.
“Colson foresaw very bad
things down the road on the life and marriage issues and religious
liberty,” Robert George told me. “The zealous promotion of gay marriage
would have consequences eroding the rights of conscience – that Obama
would repeal regulations eroding religious liberty in the area of human
life and marriage. He saw that when Massachusetts adopted same-sex
marriage that Catholic Charities was driven out of providing adoption
services because it declined to place children with homosexual couples.
He argued that now is the time to unite the church across historic
denominational lines to protect those values.”
Consider the closing
paragraph of the Declaration: “Because we honor justice and the common
good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our
institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research,
assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we
bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual
partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from
proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and
marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to
Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render
to Caesar what is God’s.”
This was a ringing declaration to fight
any law that violated their conscience. That’s exactly what happened
when the Obama Administration issued regulations requiring all health
insurers to provide free contraceptives, sterilization and
Among the Declaration signers were
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President of Catholic Bishops and Richard
Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the
Southern Baptists who quickly and stoutly opposed the regulation. It is
in the courts.
Catholic and evangelical universities
have made it clear that they will shut down rather than “render unto
Caesar what is God’s.”
Chuck Colson “fought the good
fight…finished the race…kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7).
2002 Michael J.