By Ginny Dent Brant
Chuck Colson, the former White House “Hatchet Man” who became a modern day prophet, has passed on to his heavenly reward. He was the first in the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate charges. He became an evangelical leader, author of 30 books, cultural philosopher, founder of Prison Fellowship and The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and commentator for his daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint.
He proved that prison can be a good thing. It was the place where God obtained his full attention. His time there gave Chuck a new mission in life–teaching and training prisoners to enable them to be “born again” in Jesus literally all over the world. What he lost in Watergate, his significance and power, was found in discovering God’s will for his life.
In 1975, his first book, Born Again, became a best-selling memoir. In 1978, it became a movie which impacted millions. Chuck Colson’s conversion also had an impact on my dad, Harry S. Dent, Sr. My father started the Senate Prayer Breakfast and regularly attended the White House Prayer Breakfast. When Chuck Colson (who never darkened the doors of this White House event) showed up and proclaimed he was a changed man, several people including my father pondered, “How convenient!” After all, he was being investigated for the Watergate break-in. When Chuck Colson came to my father and apologized for wrong doings against him, my father realized his conversion was authentic. It took guts for Colson to ask my father’s forgiveness for how he treated “the Southerner in the White House.” It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. It was also a wake-up call for my father and many others who were beginning to see something in Colson’s life that was lacking in their own—a real transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.
We all Start Somewhere
After Chuck Colson’s release from prison, he began his prison ministry. In the early years, he visited Columbia, SC to speak at our Governor’s Prayer Breakfast and Columbia International University. I’ll never forget walking into our den and catching him doing the unthinkable—smoking a cigarette. The horror on my face startled him into confession. “Ginny, please understand, I’m a work in progress, and smoking’s been a part of my life for 30 years. I’m trying to break a tough habit.” Eventually, he beat it. It was a great lesson for me that we are all a work in progress. We need to be patient with other Christians as God takes us from where we are to what he wants us to be. We all start somewhere.
The Media’s Impact on Our Culture
In the 1980’s, Chuck Colson’s soul was burdened about the changes in our culture. I’ll never forget what he told me years ago. It grieved him to see what the media was showing on TV and its effects on mainstream America. He boldly set up a meeting with the president of one of the major TV Networks. “Mr. President,” he stated, “the violence, sexual promiscuity, and disrespect as shown in these TV shows is having a profound impact on this country. The evangelicals in America are concerned.”
That president looked him straight in the eye and responded, “Mr. Colson, I appreciate your concerns, but we market what people want, and I have the research and polls right here that prove your evangelicals are watching everything you’ve just described to me.” It was a humbling moment for Chuck Colson to realize the very people he was going to bat for were batting 500 in hypocrisy. But Colson did not back down. He’s continued to stand for what is right and be a transformer of our culture.
34 Easters Behind Bars
One of my fondest memories of Chuck Colson was an Easter Service my dad, Chuck and I participated in during 1988, at a maximum security prison in SC. It was the most moving Easter Service I’ve ever attended. I sang “The Day He Wore my Crown” in voice and used sign language for visual effect. My father identified with the prisoners and gave his testimony exclaiming, “I came close to standing in your shoes. God delivered me from myself at age 48.” The homerun came when Chuck Colson stepped up to the plate and delivered a chilling message about freedom in Christ. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Here we fellowshipped with prisoners behind three sets of prison doors; yet, we stood united in Christ. Many prisoners’ faces beamed with their new found freedom in Christ. After the service, my dad and Chuck Colson went to death row to pray with some of the inmates. I later discovered this was an annual event for Chuck Colson. For 34 years, he celebrated Easter by preaching a Risen Christ to prisoners. That Easter took on a new meaning for me. Freedom from bondage to sin is a precious gift Christ has secured for us . . . even behind three sets of bars. No one is above or beneath the power of the gospel.
The Cost of Being a Christian
I have several of Chuck Colson’s books that were given to me as gifts. Among them is Life Sentence. After autographing the book, he told me the story behind the title—a title he had to change. The original title was The Cost of Being A Christian. It was his journey as a young Christian discovering the deep truths of the faith and discerning each of us must pay a price for our faith. He realized, however, that book title would never sell in our “me-first,” self-centered world. Simple solution. He changed the title and after hooking the reader, he gradually enabled believers to see that we, whether behind or outside prison doors, pay a price for our faith. The reader discovers this life sentence becomes the most fulfilling adventure of one’s life.
A Transformer in our Day
In November of 2009, the Manhattan Declaration was born in the heart of Chuck Colson. This document encouraged Evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians to stand for their convictions on the issues of the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. With nearly 525,000 signatures including well-known religious leaders, this document clearly reminds us what Chuck Colson said in a speech at Harvard Business Schoolin 1991, “A society without a foundation of moral absolutes cannot long survive.”
Chuck Colson trained a new generation of church and lay leaders. He challenged us by warning, “There’s too much of the world in the church and not enough church in the world.” His message through books and orations always inspired Christians to be God’s change agents in this world. His latest book The Sky is not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times, cautions us not to cower in fear, but boldly restore this culture to Christian principles.
Among his 15 honorary doctorates, he was awarded the Salvation Army’s “The Others” award (Mother Teresa was the first recipient) and the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Throughout his ministry, all awards, royalties and honorariums were donated to Prison Fellowship. He was a modern-day prophet—a man who’s mark was telling the truth, even when we were too comfortable to hear it.
Truly, our loss is heaven’s gain. But who will take up the torch and carry the message? Who will be the transformers and change agents of tomorrow? Hopefully, all of us who confess that Jesus is Lord. As for Chuck Colson, his life sentence has now been commuted to eternal rest by a loving, forgiving God. What a joy to hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For herein lies the significance of a man—not walking in the halls of power, but serving his omnipotent Creator.
Ginny Dent Brant is an educator, counselor, writer, soloist, Christian speaker and Bible study teacher. She is president of Laity Alive and Serving which her father, Harry Dent, a former aide to Richard Nixon, started in 1985. She is the author of Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World. For more info go to www.ginnybrant.com