Monday, August 1, 2016

Born Again by Charles W. Colson

Born Again
Charles W. Colson
Published 1976
The Well-Educated Mind (Biographies)

Before I began this biography, I knew nothing about Charles Colson; I was only a baby when he was a top aide to President Richard Nixon.  Born Again is Colson's story about the high point of his career as Nixon's Special Counsel (through the President's 1972 reelection campaign), his conversion to Christianity, his conviction during the infamous Watergate scandal (though that is not why he was convicted), and his time spent in federal prison for obstruction of justice and defamation.

In the Oval Office with Nixon

Colson was portrayed in the press as Nixon's "Hatchet Man," a man who would do anything to get Nixon reelected, even "throw his own grandmother under the bus."  His opponents didn't like him very much; if you put an agenda before people, you're not going to make a lot of friends.  

After Nixon was reelected, Colson decided to take a break from politics and return to his private law practice.  However, two events were brewing simultaneously: a conversion and a conviction. 

While the Watergate issue was becoming public, Colson had already been feeling egregiously about himself and his conduct during his political career under Nixon.  (That's his conscience talking, and that's usually how God gets our attention.)  He decided to inquire about a close friend's obvious grounded peace and joy; his friend had become a Christian, and it had changed his life.  Maybe this was the change Colson needed.  He started to read Christian literature and soon after joined a prayer group consisting of both Republicans and Democrats, including one who did not like Colson at all.  

Meanwhile, the heat was on Colson regarding the Watergate and Ellsberg scandals.  Colson had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in until after it had already occurred, and he had no knowledge of Nixon's wiretapping; he believed that President Nixon was keeping information from him. Unfortunately, Colson was connected to the defamation of Daniel Ellsberg (who had military information about the Vietnam War) by leaking Ellsberg's FBI files to the media - with the intent to destroy his character - and later tried to cover up the leak.  But before he knew any specifics, an indictment hung over his head for a long time.

Colson founded a prison fellowship ministry.

After Charles Colson prayed to commit his life to Christ, he started to see things differently.  His sin of pride became very clear to him.  When he learned that he was to be indicted, and that there would be a trial and he could end up in prison, he knew it wasn't the end of his life; however, he continued to feel bitterness toward justice.
The evil of my pride had been exposed . . . but the process of ego slaying was still going on.
After speaking to a Christian friend about the reality of prison, his friend told him a difficult truth:
"It's really tough, Chuck . . . but what really matters is . . . what God knows.  He knows your sins; He knows mine.  And He's always ready to forgive us."
Colson contemplated how "God does not promise to spare us the pain or punishment that comes from our mistakes [sins], but He would always forgive us, love us, and provide the strength to see us through our most difficult experience."  This was the realization he needed to accept his fate.

Even after his lawyer told him he could get him off because he was not guilty of plotting and aiding in the Ellsberg scandal, Colson revealed that his guilty conscience of scheming to destroy someone's character was enough to convict him; hence, he pleaded guilty to something that he was not even on trial for.  He was sentenced to 1-3 years in a federal prison, though he only served seven months.  

Colson worked for prison reform.

The remainder of his story is a look at the dangerous life behind walls and bars and fences - a completely different way of survival.  Not only did he have to learn to assimilate to this new life, but he also became a leader.  He led in the sharing of the gospel and formed prayer groups and connected with men who desperately needed God.  In addition to personally learning about his new faith, he put it to use and was a helper to fellow prisoners in need.  

Finally, while this is not a major part of his autobiography, Colson founded a Christian prison ministry, Prison Fellowship, after he was released.  This ministry is still operating today and serves prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families.  He also worked to influence prison reform - something he actually instituted while he was still a prisoner himself.  So to those who accused him of conveniently finding religion when he was under the microscope for bad political deals, his salvation was definitely real. He continued to serve His Savior and fellow man for the remainder of his life.  Good on him!

Charles W. Colson


Cleo said...

I liked his biography much more than I thought I would. It was exciting to see God working in his life and Colson taking the opportunities given to him. His struggles definitely sounded genuine to me and I admired his willingness to forge a new path in his life, in spite of the challenges he knew would come his way. It was wonderful to re-visit his story in your review! :-)

Unknown said...

Interesting. I love biographies so I might just have to give this a try. Thanks for the review!

Ruth said...

You know, I think you would probably enjoy reading through The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. You can start with the biographies first. I'm almost done with the bios, and I have thoroughly enjoyed most of them on the list. You should check it out.

Ruth said...

Me, too. I wasn't sure how I would like it, but I got into it instantly, and it was an easy read, too.