Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports for NPR: “Watergate Figure, Evangelist Chuck Colson Dies at 80”
Charles Colson, who served time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal and later became an influential evangelical Christian, has died. Colson went from being one of the nation’s most despised men to a hero of conservative Christians.
Colson passed away at a Northern Virginia hospital on Saturday afternoon following a brief illness, according to a news release from his media representatives.
… In 1974, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served 7 months in federal prison.
… Soon after his release, Colson started Prison Fellowship, which served prisoners and their families. It became the world’s largest prison ministry; it’s now in more than 100 countries.
But not everyone is impressed. Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has criticized Prison Fellowship — in fact, he’s sued it and won — for pressuring prisoners to convert to Christianity by offering them better conditions. Lynn says Colson never changed his methods, just his boss.
“Sadly, when he went from being Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, he turned into a man who thought he was God’s hatchet man,” Lynn says. “Literally turning these very formidable political skills that he had in the service of very far-right religious and political agendas.”
Michael Cromartie of the conservative influence tank Ethics and Public Policy Center said the same of Colson, but viewing it as a positive:
“He took the dynamism he carried into politics and brought it into the world of Evangelical Christianity and became, next to Billy Graham, probably one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” [Cromartie] says.
And like Graham, Colson lived without scandal — since his conversion.
As “one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity.
I don’t think that counts as living without scandal. I think that counts as being at the center of one of the worst scandals of this generation of the church.