The extraordinary outpourings of sympathy that met the news of Chuck Colson’s passing on April 21 underscored the remarkable personal and public transformation of the man once infamous as President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” His 1973 conversion to Christianity drew national attention and launched him on a lifetime of exemplary ministry and service.
For Christians Today, Going To Church Is Not Enough
In 2011, Alliance Defending Freedom presented him with the Edwin Meese III Originalism and Religious Liberty Award in appreciation of his lifelong commitment to defending religious freedom. Earlier this year, Colson shared with Faith & Justice editors some observations on the changing role of Christian faith in today’s culture.
What is the most significant cultural change you’ve seen in your 40 years as a Christian?
The booming, surging movement when I became a Christian was the “born again” movement – it was the evangelical church coming alive out of its fundamental wilderness, which is where it was in the earlier part of the 20th century. It suddenly came alive, and it suddenly was a big force. “Born again” was a good term then. In the years since, evangelicals have been stereotyped as being “bigoted” and “right wing” and “judgmental,” and that’s a bad turn. We’ve got to take very aggressive steps to educate ourselves on how to be more winsome in the public square.
"We've got to make our worldview known and defended."
The homosexual lobby has become increasingly aggressive, and very much threatens our civil and religious liberties. At the time I became a Christian, relativism was just taking root on the American scene – now it has absolutely taken over. So, we’ve got some areas to work hard on.
What kind of responsibility do pastors have to address political issues from a Scriptural basis?
Christians should be very much engaged in the public square. What’s going on in society today is a battle of worldviews – and we’ve got to be able to make our worldview known and defended. Abortion is a cultural and political issue, and so is homosexual “marriage.” So, it’s appropriate that we deal from the pulpit with cultural and political issues, because they overlap.
On the other hand, I’ve argued against allowing ourselves to be put in the hip-pocket of any partisan movement. Christians are not a special-interest group. We are promoting the common good by standing for liberty and doing those things that produce a healthy, flourishing society. The Manhattan Declaration – which you co-wrote with Drs. Robert and Timothy George – has now been signed by more than 500,000 people from the Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical traditions. What is it about this Declaration that is uniting so many believers across the country?
The Manhattan Declaration is the most fundamental statement of faith that we could make, across confessional lines, about the primary cultural issues – life, marriage, family, religious liberty – which create a good and just society. [The sanctity of] life was the peculiar contribution of the Christian faith – the most radical doctrine in the history of Western Civilization. That is, the Imago Dei, that all human beings are created in the image of God, and have innate dignity.
It’s the fact that we give dignity to the human being that gives us our ethics and our freedom. It has been at the heart of the development of our political system. We have religious liberty because we are made free in God’s image. Free people made in the image of God have got to be able to have their freedom preserved, and the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are the most fundamental of all. It goes to our ability to be dignified human beings, respected, and no one can tell us how to think, or what we have to believe.
What is the greatest challenge facing conscientious Christian citizens in America today?
It is to pray fervently – fervently – for revival of God’s Spirit in the churches. The churches have to come awake first. The churches have to understand the need for engaging in these issues … that we have not only the Great Commission, which is to make disciples, but a cultural commission, which is to take dominion, and to work, and to protect God’s creation.
“It’s the fact that we give dignity to the human being that gives us our ethics and our freedom.” Chuck Colson
The big hurdle that we have to get over is that many, many Christians simply think that they’re good Christians if they go to church on Sunday, study their Bibles, and be nice people. But our faith is not about us, as individuals. It’s not about the therapy we get out of church. It’s “what can we do in service to God?” And the prayer that I pray constantly is, “Lord, use me for the advancement of Your Kingdom.” I’m not interested in the church as a place where I can be made to feel better. I want the church to be a place that equips me to do a better job for the Kingdom.
What kind of impact do you see Alliance Defending Freedom having on today’s legal system?
Alliance Defending Freedom is one of the great ministries of our day, because it is right on the front lines of the kind of fight I’m talking about. It’s done a superb job in defending the Christian position and the liberty of all citizens. Your public arguments don’t come from a special-interest, narrow-minded, bigoted group. They’re for the common good, because religious liberty is so fundamentally important to society. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of this ministry.