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May 3, 2012

Column #1,601

Chuck Colson: Prophet to the Church

(second of a two-part series)

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 percent!

            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 abortion-inducing drugs. 

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).


© Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus

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