Those he hated and harmed not remembering Chuck Colson fondly

Those he hated and harmed not remembering Chuck Colson fondly April 23, 2012

“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:

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.”

David Badash: “Chuck Colson, Anti-Gay Manhattan Declaration Author, Watergate Felon, Dies

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.

Joe.My.God. “Anti-Gay Activist and Watergate Felon Chuck ‘Enemies List’ Colson Dies at 80

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.


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  • For some reason, Karl Rove’s description of Colson reminds me of The Manchurian Candidate.

  • Caroll

    I prefer the appellation “Chuck ‘Let’s Firebomb the Brookings Institution’ Colson.”

  • LL

    Some people are just bastard-coasted bastards with bastard filling. As long as you don’t go out of your way to attend the funeral and point this out, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging it. 

    The difference between speaking ill of the dead and speaking ill of the living is, the dead are no longer around to give a shit what you say about them. 

  • Honestly, if people showed up at Chuck Colson’s funeral bearing signs that say “God Hates Chuck Colson,” I don’t think I could possibly be offended. In fact, given Supreme Court pronouncements on the subject of protesting at funerals, I think it might be a moral imperative to do so.

  • If there is a just, loving God who isn’t in the business of sending people to eternal torment in hell, I think that if Chuck Colson is healed of whatever spiritual injury it was that caused him to treat people the way he did, and given the insight to realize exactly why what he did was wrong and how much harm he did, I think that would probably be punishment enough for his immortal soul.

  • Saffi

    To my mind, the worst kind of sin is that which leads others into committing offenses that they otherwise would not have.  And the worst kind of blasphemy is claiming God’s approval and blessing on one’s own evil actions.  By both of those measures, Chuck Colson belongs among the very worst people this country has produced in the last 100 years.

  • Tricksterson

    That Karl Rove had an obvious mancrush on Colson says all that needs to be said about either of them.

  • Nequam

    More simply, there are some people whose lives, not deaths, are what we should mourn.

  • konrad_arflane

     I dunno. Seems like the occasion to do that sort of thing would be at Fred Phelps’ funeral.

  • I’m not going to pretend I’ll miss Colson, but if I believed in an afterlife I wouldn’t want him to suffer for all eternity. I’m a little sad now that he won’t get some kind of punishment, because the world isn’t fair or just and I’d like it to be. Fairness and justice are the principles that won’t let me approve of infinite torment for finite wrongs any more than I approve of someone like Chuck Colson getting out of what I feel he’s owed by everyone he harmed.

  • aunursa

    Who would have known … 17,300 hits including its own website.

  • I’d like to think that.  I wish I believed that.  But, I’m not sure I actually think it’s punishment enough.  I think a few dips into a lake of fire might be warranted.  Good thing I’m not God.

  • Fred Phelps is going to die some day, and probably relatively soon. He’s old, he runs on bile, and he’s in a high-stress job. And I hope that nobody protests his funeral. I want his family to reflect that his final legacy was utter indifference from a world he continually baited and trolled. Let them look to every horizon from the gravesite and see nobody and nothing. Let his deeds and words be completely forgotten by a world that can’t move past him fast enough. Let them realize that decades of shaking signs and provoking people earns them nothing but total lack of attention just when they were hoping for it the most.

  • Matri

    I wouldn’t bet on it. He relished in all the fear-mongering when he was alive.

    You can’t heal what you don’t have.

  • Nequam

    I dunno about a funeral protest, but I would buy a charity song download of the Heartland Men’s Chorus performing this:

  • Have you read about the way Fred Phelps has treated his family? It is not easy reading. They are his victims in every sense. I hope that, when he dies, they will all be able to escape him.

  • Tricksterson

    Unfortunately I doubt any of them ever will.  In fact most of them probably don’t even think of themselves as victims and those are the worst off of all.

  • Dash1

    Speaking as one who’s had a tiny bit of relevant experience, I agree that that would be quite punishment enough. For what it’s worth, my father had very strong feelings against punishment (spanking, yelling, etc.). When we did something wrong, if it was at all possible, he would sit us down and have a talk about what we’d done, and why we’d done it, and whether it was a good idea or not (hint: if it had been a good idea, we wouldn’t have been having the talk), and who had been harmed thereby, and what we were going to do about it (apologies were generally in order), and why that was appropriate, and what would be a better way to handle a similar situation in the future. It was an interactive experience–that is, you couldn’t just sit there and listen to a lecture. You had to participate.

    I do not exaggerate when I say that, upon more than one occasion, all of us kids pointed out to him that other dads would just spank their kids or yell at them, and couldn’t he do that, too?

    It is not a pleasant experience to review your wrongdoing and be expected to be grown-up about taking responsibility for what you did. I don’t particularly believe in an afterlife, but if that’s Mr. Colson’s punishment, I anticipate he will soon be looking around hopefully for a lake of fire and offering to take a dip therein to avoid further discussion. I know I will. 

  • Matri

    Huh. So Hell wouldn’t be defined by the presence of the lake of fire, but the absence of it.

  • Mau de Katt

     “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

    Says it all right there.

  • Turcano

    Fun fact: my dad went to junior high with Karl Rove.

    Also, where’s my copypasta on Frank Shaeffer?

  • christopher_young

     More a comment on the company that Rove keeps than the virtues of Colson.

  •   Let them realize that decades of shaking signs and provoking people
    earns them nothing but total lack of attention just when they were
    hoping for it the most.

    Actually, shaking signs and provoking people earns them several million dollars from their many lawsuits against municipalities which failed to properly vindicate their perversion of the First Amendment. These “people” fought tooth and nail for the right to disrupt the funerals of the recently deceased and to wantonly inflict emotional harm on the bereaved. Personally, I hope when Fred Phelps dies, a hundred thousand people descend on Westboro and turn that little hick-town into Mardi Gras. I hope they have parade floats.

    Some of Fred Phelps’ family have already escaped him. 

  • Tricksterson

    Physically perhaps.  Speaking from personal experience you never entirely escape the psycological consequences of abuse.  However I am happy that Nathan got away and become productive.

  • Artipalmer

    It’s evident that the people on this site do not know the love of god nor his incredible Grace. These same people would probably want to send the apostle Paul to hell for his past

  • EllieMurasaki

    You do know you’re on a Christian blog, right?

    And frankly, if Paul deserves hell—no one does, which is good because it doesn’t exist, but if—it’s because of his telling people women should shut up in church and be obedient to their husbands. Possibly with a side of anti-gay bullshit; depends exactly what he meant by ‘arsenokoites’.

  • Lori


    It’s evident that the people on this site do not know the love of god
    nor his incredible Grace. These same people would probably want to send
    the apostle Paul to hell for his past 

    Colson’s sins weren’t his past. He was exactly the same person from before Watergate until the day he died. He expressed himself somewhat differently over the years, but the essence remained the same. That’s the point.

    I’m not surprised you missed that since your reading comprehension seems to be somewhat lacking.

  • Tricksterson

    Most of the people on this blog either don’t believe in hell or consider the idea of it revolting so the answer to that would be no.

  • What’s wrong with calling sin by its proper name? Or do you not believe Scripture anymore, Frank?

  • John C

    In my mind, this blog and its comments confirms the true ugliness of ‘progressive Christianity.’  A great man of the Christian faith has died – and some people have nothing to offer but ugliness after his death…just plain bile. 

    It’s little wonder that millions and millions of congregants have run away from left-leaning churches and its teachings for the last 45 years…..

    What a pathetic blog post.

  • JKramer3

    I find politics to be unkind. I know that others find my political decisions to be unkind.
    I wish to become a person like the late Rev. Fred Rogers/Mister Rogers. I found in Fred Rogers a liberal evangelical christian clergyman. He was both liberal and evangelical. Fred Rogers won a Christopher award, who motto is “It is better to  light a candle than to curse the darkness”. In choosing a ny spiritual/religious/metaphysical belief system for one’s religious perspective, one must choose what is invisible. God is invisible. Love and kindness are invisible. Just because one chooses to believe something like Christianity,or God, or Jesus as God, or the Bible, does not mean that they can prove it to be true. One has to choose what one cannot proven to be true. Although, I choose to believe my christian upbringing and faith, does not mean that I can prove Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism false. Myself, I am choosing to be a liberal conservative christian. But I wish to live my own life, and try not to criticize the lives of others. We do not know what is on the other side of death. No one does, but we have to choose what we believe about it on this side. I have found many of your comments to be unkind, and about what cannot be proven, but based on based on invisible foundational beliefs. No one knows for sure, but I believe ….  is now my motto.   

  • Bobashim

    Un-like most people writing here  I knew Chuck Colson to be a great man- extremely caring & selfless. If  I disagreed with him – he was never hurtful, and never anything other than decent – I saw him as ultimately honest, and giving- He worked tirelessly to live out his faith and in doing so he improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the planet

    Whether you hated him as it seems so many here did – or you saw him as Rove did- One cannot deny how he cared for thousands of families ( just like mine) while a parent or provider was in prison-  He helped remake prisons from open sewers where men like me were sent to rot – to a place where a man could regain some humanity and have hope for a different life- If for no other reason,  because he did this,  I will laud him until I draw my last breath.

  • EllieMurasaki

     He was never hurtful TO YOU. He was never anything other than decent TO YOU. The problem here is what he has done to people who are NOT YOU.

  • Lori


    Myself, I am choosing to be a liberal conservative christian. 

    What is a liberal conservative christian?

  • Lori

    I saw him as ultimately honest

    How are you defining “ultimately honest”? Do you simply mean that he didn’t lie to you? Because Colson lied many times about many things. The lying did not stop with his conversion, but continued throughout his life. The last public statement he ever made was based on lies. How is that “ultimately honest”?

    If for no other reason,  because he did this,  I will laud him until I draw my last breath.

    I’m glad that Colson’s prison work helped you and your family and I can certainly see why that makes you predisposed to think well of him. If his Prison Fellowship had been the only thing he did after his conversion I’d probably agree with you even though I don’t share Colson’s religious beliefs. Prison Fellowship was not his only work and that changes things. What you’re basically saying is that as long as Colson helped you it doesn’t matter how many other people he hurt. In a way that’s understandable. Desperate circumstances tend to make us selfish. It’s still a pretty lousy thing to say. Helping one group of people did not give Colson a free pass to treat other groups of people like crap.

  •  So let me ask you. Suppose that someday it turns out that, in addition to all his good work with prisons, Colson also occasionally liked to kill drifters and dine on their flesh. Would you still “laud him until you draw your last breath”? Would you say “Sure, there was the canibalism, but how about his work with prisons?”

    What if it was children he liked to cannibalize?

    Do you _really_ think that his good works excuse any evil he might have done?

    Or is it just that you don’t consider the harm he *did* do to *real people* to be “bad enough”?

    Do you really believe that his good deeds were so good as to sponge away his sin, or is it just a matter of “Sure, he lied and hurt gay people, but I don’t consider hurting gay people to be a bad thing, so fuck them.”

    Sure, he killed a lot of hoboes, but they were just *hoboes*.

  • Tricksterson

    I suspect that the idea that “gay” and “people” belong together migh boggle his/her mind.

  • I’d love to know what Jr. High school he attended, having grown up in a suburb west of Denver in the same period. Care to share?

  • Turcano

    Dilworth Junior High School in Sparks, Nevada.

  • Ah – no help there. I’m hoping to find out where he lived in Denver. Must have been somewhat earlier. Thanks anyway.