Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
This week I told a friend that Chuck Colson was on his deathbed. Her response: “Who’s that?”
That ignorance is good, in a way. For many in my generation, Colson, who died today at 80, is forever a symbol of government hypocrisy. As part of the “dirty tricks” gang in the Nixon administration — using various evil methods to take down political opponents — he helped foster a public cynicism and distrust that still haunts us.
But the ignorance is also unfortunate, for Colson was one of the most influential figures in our generation — not only in politics but prison reform and evangelical Christianity.
After his own jail time, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which ministers to some 2000,000 inmates in 1,376 American prisons — and branches in more than 110 nations.
He spoke out for prison reform in speeches and books such as 2001′s “Justice That Restores.” His organization dealt with issues of parole, mental health, proportional punishment, women in prison and the role of faith-based organizations in working with prisoners. He called for victims of crime to have a role in the justice system — and even have a chance to meet those who committed the crimes against them.
Even in reporting his death, not everyone grasped the spiritual side of Colson. Of the 57 paragraphs in the Washington Post’s obituary, only seven or eight dealt with the faith that steered his life for more than 38 years — and three of the paragraphs mentioned the “skepticism and even hilarity” from many columnists who heard of his conversion.