The Honorable Chuck Colson
Prison Fellowship Ministries
Charles W. Colson - Employment- Founder, Prison Fellowship Ministries; former partner, Colson and Shapiro; former special counsel, President Richard M. Nixon; former partner, Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm; former administrative assistant, U.S. Senator Leverett Saltonstall (R-MA); former assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; captain, U.S. Marine Corps (1953-55). Works- Author, 23 books including The Faith: Given Once, for All (2008), The Good Life (2005), How Now Shall We Live? (1999), and Loving God (1983). Special Mention- Syndicated Columnist; international speaker; radio commentator, BreakPoint, a nationally syndicated daily broadcast; served, seven months of federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to a Watergate-related charge (1974); converted to Christianity in August 1973 documented in the book Born Again (1976) and film of the same name; awarded, $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1993) (donated to Prison Fellowship); recipient, Presidential Citizen Medal, President George W. Bush, the second highest civilian award given by the U.S. government (2008), Humanitarian Award, Domino's Pizza Corporation (1991), The Others Award, The Salvation Army (1990), Outstanding Young Man of Boston, Chamber of Commerce (1960), and honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities. Education- B.A., Brown University; J.D., George Washington Law School. Personal- Father of three; grandfather of five; married to Patty; they live in Naples, Florida.Remarks
Thank you so much.Yesterday, I had a camera crew from The New York Times at my home because they are doing an article for the Sunday Magazine, and of these three reporters, or three photographers, I discovered none of them were born when I wrote Born Again. I ended up giving them copies. But I was showing them things in my house that they wanted to see because it is part of the domain series they do in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.
He looked at something I had from The White House, and he said, "Wow, that's ancient history." How to really hurt a guy.
I am thrilled to be here. I have had the privilege of speaking before at CNP meetings. I know what an influential group this is. I really believe fundamentally in what you do because what you are doing is creating a network among influential people who can understand and share some of the deepest convictions about the nature of life in this country and the things we believe in most fundamentally, but you can do it in a quiet way, and you can share ideas and edify one another.
I think organizations often get in the way. I am a great believer in movements, people engaging people, and I look back through history and I see that the greatest changes in Western civilization have occurred always from the bottom up. It has always been. Wesley created a whole network across England, which transformed England. And the hope right now in the period in which we live - which is a frightening and trying time, to say the least - is that we will have a network of like-minded people who are willing to work together and cooperate and not merely focus on building up their own organizations.
I am big on sharing all the resources we have with one another and working together. I am looking around this room, and there are many of you here who have been doing that with us in something we call "The Movement" and now based in the Colson Center. Much of it is teaching Worldview.
I think if I had to characterize the period we are in right now, I would go back to a book that was written in the 1960s by kind of an eccentric French reformed theologian by the name of Jacques Ellul, if you want to look his book up. It was published by Vintage Press, and it was entitled The Political Illusion. And in the early '60s, he saw what would come if media -- if technology continued to give media growing power. He said eventually what will come from that is the media will go where the so-called power in society is and where stories are made, which was the center of politics, and most of the media will be reporting about politics, and the politicians will like that because that gets them publicity, and there will gradually be a political illusion created in western life that will cause you to miss the fundamental point of life, which is to build civil society, absolutely prophetic to write that in the early '60s.
I think he was most influenced by a Danish philosopher who made one of the most prophetic statements ever. His name was Soren Kierkegaard. He was kind of a brooding Christian existentialist in Copenhagen. He wrote this in the 1850s. He died in 1855. "Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient little talking tube, which they could be heard over the whole land. I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged if it were used."
In 1850, he foresaw television, and maybe that is exactly what has happened to us.
I sometimes say the country has gone mad, mentally deranged, because we have been sold this idea that nothing happens unless it happens in the center of power, and nothing is important unless it is discussed with the talking heads, but the most important questions people live by are their family, their personal beliefs about life, where we came from, what is the meaning of life, why is there suffering, is there a way out, what is my purpose -- those are the questions that decide how people live.
I wrote a book 10 years ago called How Now Shall We Live, a far more important question than "who now shall govern us," because remember, politics is nothing but an expression of culture. It doesn't exist apart from culture. All a politician does is play to the cultural trends that he thinks will get him elected, but it is the trends in culture that inform politics. Yet, we live today in the grip of the political illusion, just what Ellul saw coming, just what Kierkegaard feared would send the people to be deranged.
What do you do about that? The media has such a grip on us. I thank God every day, at least once a day, in the midst of this national madness, that there is Fox Broadcasting. That at least gives us a remembrance of saner times in America, but I think what we have got to do is expose the lie.
I think we ought to start by educating people that really what matters is how you decide to live your life, and let's remember as conservatives, the most fundamental teaching of Russell Kirk who wrote a book called The Conservative Mind when I was a senior at Brown University and I was studying political philosophy. I think I was the lone conservative studying political philosophy at Brown University in 1953. Out comes this book, The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk. I grabbed it, started reading it. I have since read everything Russell Kirk has ever written. I love it. I love his stuff.Russell Kirk asks us to remember that ideology is the enemy of conservatism. It is the enemy of the gospel, because the gospel and conservatives live by revealed truth. We do not live by some utopian ideological formulation of how we can create the perfect society; every one of which has resulted in what? What have the utopian schemes of the 20th century all had in common? Murder, tyranny. They all inevitably lead to tyranny.
When we get into a struggle, we are not looking at which ideology is going to be the best politically for us. We are looking at what revealed truth says. We stand on the shoulders that went before us because you can see far further into the distance standing on the shoulders of the giants who have preceded us than you can by coming up with the latest ideas.
Obama has 50 lawyers in the Counsel's Office, half of them from Harvard Law School. Their utopian schemes are doomed to fail or to create tyranny.
So, as conservatives, we are committed. I have on the wall in my office "The Ten Points of Conservatism" by Russell Kirk.
Number one -- and this applies whether we are believers or not believers, whether we are Christians or Jews. This applies right across the board. Number one: preserve the moral order.
So, when we raise these moral issues, I read with amusement, bemusement, all of the comments about the conservative movement is split down the middle between the social conservatives over here and the economic conservatives over there. Come on. If you are a conservative, you are concerned with preserving the moral order, and if you want to preserve the moral order, you understand that moral restraints are essential to the right ordering of society. So there is nothing opposing or antithetical about those two points of view, they are absolutely mutually supportive. It is a moral battle. It is a battle of world views that we are living in today. If you want to see the moral roots of American struggle today, the American crisis today, just look at the economic meltdown, the Great Recession of 2008.
It started because a lot of congressmen made immoral decisions. They thought they could pump all this money into the economy; everybody could have a private home. And also, by the way, they were getting lots of contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. You look at Barney Frank and Chuck Schumer on television pontificating. I get sick to my stomach because those are the guys who brought into this mess by their immoral decisions.
Wall Street comes off just as bad. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, they came up with this idea of securitizing mortgages, and what you could do is take mortgages with varied risks and you could bundle them all together. Nobody could figure out what they were worth, and you could sell them off to these anonymous Swiss hedge funds, and make billions. And Goldman Sachs, while they were selling off those securitized mortgages, which they knew were way excessive, was also shorting them for their own personal account. So, when the crash came, they didn't lose anything. They made money and paid out record bonuses. Wall Street does not have clean hands.
The third thing that happened was that the mortgage bankers realized they didn't have to collect the loans they made, so they went wild. If you walked in and said “I need a $200,000 mortgage on my home,” they would say, "Take five." They were advertising free money, refinancing your homes. They wanted to give it away as fast as they could give it away so they got their fees, and then they didn't care if the mortgage defaulted in Zurich before some nameless, faceless hedge fund.
The worst sin was committed not by Wall Street but by Main Street when Americans decided to abandon the puritan work ethic, the puritan work ethic which built this country. They abandoned it. What was I told as a kid? I was told as a kid that you do a hard day's work, an honest day's work. You don't incur debts you can't pay. Deferred gratification is a virtue that you teach your kids. Save now, so that you can be secure later. We abandoned all of those things. We went $3,000 in debt per American family, the first time in history we had ever done that. Why? Because they bought a false world view. They bought a lie. They bought the lie that you can have anything you want. It doesn't matter, the sky is the limit, the credit card plastic is all you need, and spend and don't worry about tomorrow. That is the lie they bought. All of that has come due.
I have had an interesting experience. I talk to people who aren't Christian, and they will say, "Tell me why you are a Christian." I go through the moral rot and say that this wouldn't have happened if we hadn't abandoned a Christian view of life, a moral view of how we live together as people. I have done this with 35 or 40 friends who are not believers. I have yet to have one say, "Well, that doesn't make sense." They say that exactly does make sense. Of course it does, when you look at it.
Now, what has happened? When you do this, when the economic crunch came, it became inevitable, and it was the perfect storm because you elected a left-of-center government, to say the least. At the very time when all these foundations are crumbling in our society, the government steps in and takes them over, takes over the banks, takes over the insurance companies, takes over the automobile industries, starts having regulations for the rest. They love it, the statist mentality. The utopians seized upon this to create the perfect society, in their mind. Ideology triumphs over revealed wisdom. That is the ultimate liberal victory over conservatism, and so you are seeing the government in every one of these areas, and where they are really beginning to squeeze us hard is in three areas: life, marriage, liberty.
Those three are under unprecedented assault. I don't care if you are a Christian or a Jew or a non-believer or a skeptic or an agnostic or an atheist. You have to care about that because those are the three basic foundational building blocks for a just society.
And everyone is under attack. This horrendous medical plan, Obamacare, will bankrupt us. We won't even have to worry. There will be no economy with a few years of that. But it is all predicated on the fact that the government knows best about health. It is all predicated on getting rid of the intermediate structures of society, which is always the bain of every tyrant.
The church, is under great assault today; look at what is happening in the District of Columbia. They passed a gay marriage law, and Catholic Charities, which spends millions of dollars taking care of the poor, now has to comply. Fortunately, there is a courageous archbishop who stood up and is one of the original signers of the Manhattan Declaration, which I am about to tell you about, and he said, "No. We are not going to do that," and stopped paying health benefits to any employees of Catholic Charities, refused to participate in the adoptions.
Across the country, people are getting their back stiffened because they are seeing exactly what has happened. In the District of Columbia -- this is a perfect example -- there was a very, very successful voucher system. Obama came in and 7,000 kids were getting an education. If you have spent the time I have in the inner city of the District of Columbia, you know what a pit it is, and these kids need a break.
What did the elites do? The elites came in and said, "No, we don't like vouchers on principle." Why don't they like them on principle? Because it's a private structure that stands between the all-powerful government and the citizen, which the utopian can't tolerate. So we have lost the vouchers.
Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, said, "We agree that they work better than any other system, but we don't want that because, basically, the teachers union owns the party in power."
The same thing with tort reform, everybody knows it is needed.
What does the totalitarian do? What does the tyrant do? I don't want to draw any invidious comparisons with Nazi Germany because there is, of course, profound differences, but Tocqueville warned us. Tocqueville, who wrote Democracy in America, who is used as the greatest critic and the greatest defender of American democracy, Tocqueville said, "Democracy is going to work until the people believe that the central state will take care of all their needs and believe that government's job is to make them happy. Then you will have soft despotism." Those are his words. We never quote Tocqueville. We quote Tocqueville on how great America is and the churches are flaming. It's a great noble experiment in democracy, but his bottom line was that when the government becomes so powerful, that you depend upon it, you have lost your freedom.
Hannah Arendt survived what happened the Holocaust in Germany, though she was a Jew. She escaped to write one of the great books. It is very dense, so I don't recommend you read it, but read reviews of it. Hannah Arendt wrote a book called The Origins of Totalitarianism, and what she said she witnessed in Germany was the rise of the central power and the elimination of the intermediate structures of society, systematically eliminating them with local governments, with political parties, with churches, and she said society became atomized; that is, every individual was for himself. Does it sound like America? And there was no buffer against the power of the central government, and tyranny resulted, and six million Jews died.
This is why Robert George at Princeton, Professor of Jurisprudence, a brilliant scholar, Timothy George, the Dean of the Beeson Divinity School, and I got together last summer and drafted something called “The Manhattan Declaration,” 4,700 words. I am going to close with this today because I feel this is maybe the most important thing I have done in my life.
Starting Prison Fellowship has been great; it is in 113 countries around the world. but I am convinced for whatever time God is going to continue to give me to be active, that what I have got to do is help develop -- and we are doing this through the Colson Center -- movements and start people thinking about the fundamental questions.
All we do in this 4,700-word document is say we will not compromise when human life is being challenged at any level from conception to natural death. We will refuse to be party to that. We will never compromise on that.
Many of you in this room, I know believe that.
The second thing is a great defender of the institution of marriage.
Now, as Christians, we believe that this is the most fundamental and the first institution created in the Bible, Genesis 2, God created man and he created woman. What did He do in the very, very next verse? Joined them as one flesh. This is before the fall. This applies to all mankind. This is the fundamental moral building block of society.
Life, which all of us either because we believe we were created in the image of God or because we inherently know that human beings are different from animals and plant life, no matter what Peter Singer at Princeton says, we know that there is a dignity to every human life. You don't have to be a believer to know that. Everybody innately knows human beings are distinct. We innately understand that we are wired to connect, and that the only way you are going to propagate the human race is by bringing people together for a conjugal union, between one man and one woman, out of which come children that we raise. This is fundamental to a good society.
And finally, freedom of conscience, we are made in the image of God. Freedom of conscience is the fundamental freedom from which all other freedoms flow.
Some of the younger evangelicals, when we wrote these three points, which is what this document is about, said, "Well, what about the environment and social justice?" I said, "Look, if we are created in the image of God and life has an innate dignity, that is the crowning achievement of God, and we therefore protect that and everything that is associated with it." And everything I have done for 34 years going into the prisons is not because I like going into those rotten, stinking holes, but because every one of those people in prison is a child of God, made in the image of God, every human being, whatever his state of life is, and you can know that because the Bible tells you that. You can also know that because it's accessible to human reason.
At the time the Judeo-Christian tradition took over and broke the Greco-Roman world -- which had slavery, the caste system, oppression of women -- the fundamental truth was human beings are created in the image of God. We understand how vital our freedom is because if we are not free to hold these views, there will be no freedom in our society.
We end up with this document, with a statement which I am going to ask all of you to sign. I am going to ask you to go our website. We set up an independent website. Nobody owns it, which is a great thing, because then we are not competing with one another for the use of the names.
In the first four months, it has gotten 425 thousand signatures on the website. That is a website that was created overnight with no money. We are now spending some money to upgrade it and will in the next three weeks, but with no resources to put this website up, many of the organizations use their mailing list to promote it, and 425,000 people have signed it. And it is signed originally by the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church in America and many orthodox theologians. It is signed by some 50 Catholic bishops and cardinals, including one who is the closest cardinal in the Vatican to the Pope. It has been signed by every evangelical leader, with just a few notable exceptions.
It is an amazing document. Three hundred religious leaders have signed it, and we are getting sermons coming back from churches all over America. People are preaching this, which is marvelous. This should be Topic A for discussion for any of us who are conservatives and particularly those of us who are Christians. This ought to be Topic A because this is the question of how we shall live.
I ask you to take these words of the document to heart. I want to read them and get them exactly right, although I have given them so many times, I think I know them by heart.
After we talk about Martin Luther King and his letters from Birmingham jail -- by the way, the finest legal brief I have ever read on the transcendent law where he quoted Aquinas and Augustine and didn't have a single reference book with him -- more powerfully than anybody has done in the 20th century.
So we quote his letters from a Birmingham jail. We say this is right. He did not obey the law because it was not a just law, and the transcendent law cannot be violated, and we end up with this statement after 4,700 words.
We said, "We will fully" -- and this is a covenant. This is not just signing a statement. This is a pledge. And one of our original signers was put to the test this past week, and he stuck with the Manhattan Declaration under a lot of pressures for him not to -- "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."
That is our statement. That is our pledge. And I would ask you to leave this place understanding that we do live in an era of political illusion, understanding that we are being beguiled by utopian solutions to problems, when, in fact, the only solution is to live by revealed truth and the accumulated wisdom of Western civilization, the greatest and most humane civilization ever created, and to decide that we are going to make our decisions in life by what we believe is the way life is supposed to be lived, what is the right ordering of life. How do we answer those fundamental questions that constitute a world view?
When we answer those fundamental questions that constitute a world view, we discover exactly what our agenda is for influencing friends and neighbors and raising our families. We see the moral parameters by which human beings can live and flourish, and it means that we have to take a stand against the juggernaut which would seek to destroy the three most fundamental moral truths by which civilized people live: life, marriage, liberty.
God bless you.
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