“I found him to be one of the most kind and gentle and thoughtful human beings I’ve ever met.” — Karl Rove, on Chuck Colson
Political powerbroker turned Christianist political powerbroker Chuck Colson died Saturday. Karl Rove’s remembrance, above, is neither typical nor accurate.
Mark Silk’s headline does a good job of summarizing the trajectory of Colson’s life — “Political Warrior to Culture Warrior“:
Colson became increasingly unattractive — a professional Christian given to smarmy and not-quite-honest preachments.
… This year, in his final intervention in public affairs, Colson denounced the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate as representing “the first time” in American history that a church-state battle had been decided “by a bureaucrat in a government agency simply writing it and putting it out as law.” That, of course, was nonsense. Federal rule-making with respect to the application of new legislation with respect to religious rights is normal and customary.
Chuck Colson ended his life as much a warrior in the culture wars as he had been in the wars of Richard Nixon. And if he was not overly scrupulous about his methods, well, he was a pretty old dog when he learned his new tricks.
Those inclined to pay tribute to Colson have deemed him an “evangelist” or a “church leader,” but Silk’s term is more accurate. He was, above all else, a culture warrior — fighting the same battles he once fought in the White House, with the same honesty and decency he displayed there.
Here’s a sampling some of the past posts from this blog discussing Colson’s ongoing culture war:
- “Charles Colson says he’s always been civil toward ‘the lavender shirt mob’“
- “Charles Colson needs to be held accountable for lying“
- “The Munchhausen martyrdom of Rick Warren, Chuck Colson and Fr. Jonathan Morris“
- “Charles Colson: Still repeating a lie he knows is a lie“
- “The fatuous foolishness of the Manhattan Declaration“
- “Pulling a Lieberman“
- “Toxic smugness“
After the jump, a roundup of some of the reactions to Colson’s long and painfully influential career.
“Chuck Colson was a cruel, vain, and arrogant man in all phases of his life, a dissembler and a hater to the end.” — Jeff Sharlet
Anthea Butler: “Chuck Colson, Watergate Felon and Evangelical Leader, Dies at 80”
Colson’s life both before and after Watergate was one in which the most powerful people funded and supported the work that he did, whether it be the Nixon administration or Prison Fellowship. Both worlds were mediated by Colson’s worldview. Both were worlds of power and prestige. The message may have changed for Colson, but his support system remained ensconced in a particular kind of power.
Frank Schaeffer: “Colson: An Evangelical Homophobic, Anti-Woman Leader Passes On”
Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most beloved and bigoted homophobic and misogynistic voices with the death of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson, a Watergate felon who converted to “evangelicalism” but never lost his taste for dirty political tricks against opponents.
Colson was a vocal far right leader who tried to fill my late father’s religious right leadership (Francis Schaeffer) shoes by borrowing material from his books, even repeating one of Dad’s book titles as if he (Colson) was writing a sequel.
Colson had his “books” ghost written by Harold Fickett and other writers, some of whom like Fickett (who I worked with closely many years ago) used to complain to me almost daily about what an egomaniac Colson was to work for and how he did all he could to hide the fact that his work was written by others while rarely sharing credit.
Colson teamed up with far right Roman Catholic activist Professor Robert George of Princeton to launch the dirty tricks campaign to brand President Obama as “anti-religious” with Colson’s and George’s “Manhattan Declaration.” This was a trap they set for the administration that finally paid off when they talked a number of bishops into branding Obama as anti-religious because he wanted women to have access to contraception even if they worked for Roman Catholic controlled institutions.
Colson worked closely with various right wing Roman Catholic bishops to launch the current Republican Party war on women and gays in the name of “religious freedom” having become one of the chief practitioners of the evangelical/far right myths of victimhood at the hands of left wing media, colleges etc., etc. Colson was also a key figure in organizing the Prop 8 anti-gay marriage California iniatives. Colson was a key figure in calling the depriving of women of insurance coverage for contraception a religious “civil liberties” issue and provided evangelical cover for the Roman Catholic bishops’ misogynist bigotry.
… Few men have done more to trade (betray?) the gospel of love for the gospel of empowering corporate America and greed through the misuse of the so-called culture war issues to get lower middle class whites to vote against their own economic interests in the name of “family values.”
Colson co-authored the Manhattan Declaration with National Organization For Marriage (NOM) founder Robert P. George, whom Colson routinely praised.
The Los Angeles Times described Colson’s Manhattan Declaration as incautious, “apocalyptic,” “disingenuous,” “irresponsible and dangerous,” and chastised its “Christian religious leaders who, even as they insist on their right to shape the nation’s laws, are reserving the right to violate them.” The Times also labeled the Declaration’s attack on same-sex marriage as a “canard,” “as is the declaration’s complaint that Christian leaders are being prevented from expressing their ‘religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife’.”Colson repeatedly attacked same-sex marriage and homosexuality. He wrongly stated “homosexual behavior” is more “dangerous than smoking, it lowers the life expectancy dramatically.” Colson also falsely stated that legalizing same-sex marriage was “sanctioning behavior known to be dangerous.” And, again falsely, stated that gays and lesbians “don’t want marriage; they want their sexual choices affirmed as normal and moral.”
And as late as last year, despite years of research to the contrary, Colson was publicly advocating that homosexuality was both a choice and avoidable if parents “properly” raised their children.
David Sessions: “How Nixon Aide Chuck Colson’s Ideas Transformed American Evangelicalism”
Colson’s bestselling 1999 opus, How Now Shall We Live?, co-authored with Nancy Pearcey, was envisioned as a complete philosophical defense of Christianity against its modern opponents, Darwinism chief among them.
… Colson married his theorizing with persistent political activism, including several high-profile evangelical political stunts. In 1994 he led an entourage of prominent evangelicals who collaborated with Catholic writers and theologians to sign the statement “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” published in the Catholic-flavored journal First Things. The event was a watershed moment in the emerging political coalition of evangelicals and right-wing Catholics, who united to announce their alliance against “widespread secularization.”
In 2002 Colson and other evangelical leaders signed an open letter to President George W. Bush praising his “bold, courageous, and visionary leadership” and giving their blessing to the Iraq War. And in 2009 Colson was part of another major ecumenical statement: the Manhattan Declaration, an evangelical-Catholic manifesto that called for civil disobedience against abortion and gay marriage.
1. Chuck Colson says anti-bullying laws are actually meant recruit children into homosexuality.
2. Chuck Colson says that if gay people get any more civil rights, it will be time for Christians to revolt against the government.
3. Chuck Colson says that homofascists are repressing the religious freedom of Christians to oppress gay people.
4. Chuck Colson says that all school children need to be taught that God hates gay marriage.
5. Chuck Colson says if you’d only obey God’s moral laws, you wouldn’t be a dirty and eternally damned homosexual.
6. Chuck Colson says Apple is run by communists because they deleted the Manhattan Declaration app from the iPhone.
7. Chuck Colson says that if all Christians don’t sign the Manhattan Declaration, the Nazi party will take over America.
David Mark and Adelle M. Banks: “Nixon felon and evangelical icon Charles Colson dies at 80”
As recently as February, Colson was still contributing to political debates, writing an open letter with fellow evangelical leader Timothy George that criticized the Obama administration’s health care contraception mandate.
“We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” he wrote with George, comparing the mandate to policies of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Steve Benen: “Chuck Colson, felon turned religious right powerhouse”
The problem was, Colson’s efforts didn’t work quite as well as he’d led others to believe.
Tony Jones: “For Chuck Colson, Truth Was Truth”
By saying that “truth is truth,” Colson is essentially saying…well, nothing. That’s called a “self-referential argument,” or a “circular reference” and it’s nonsensical; it doesn’t say anything, and it doesn’t mean anything.
Hemant Mehta: “Chuck Colson Is Dead … Let’s Remember Some of the Things He Said”
Here’s just a smattering of comments he made and wrote after he had been “redeemed” — comments that should be condemned no matter who says them.
Michael Dobbs: “Charles Colson, Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ man, dies at 80”
A self-described “hatchet man” for Nixon, Mr. Colson compiled the notorious “enemies list” of politicians, journalists and activists perceived as threats to the White House.
To the very end of his long career, Colson maintained that enemies list. While others may remember him fondly, those who found themselves on that list most remember his enormous capacity for hatred, dishonesty and dirty tricks. They witnessed it and suffered it firsthand.
What’s remarkable about Colson’s legacy is not just how angry he managed to make the enemies that he bore false witness about and harmed for so long. Their anger is understandable and wholly appropriate. What’s really remarkable about Colson’s career is how very many such enemies he chose to make and how much damage he was able to do.