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Apr 24 2012

Chuck Colson Dies

Chuck Colson, the Watergate criminal who became a leading figure on the religious right, is dead at age 80. It will be interesting to see both his fans and his critics talk about his life and his views. His fans have already begun the hagiography, with the Worldnutdaily even declaring him to be a prophet:

News in 1973 of convicted Watergate figure Chuck Colson’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ was met with skepticism and ridicule by many in media. But nearly four decades later – with his death today at the age of 80 – Colson’s legacy as a historic evangelical leader with a distinct prophetic voice that has shaped culture and influenced countless lives is firmly established.

A prophet without a prophecy, apparently. Secularists like me will no doubt point out that Colson has been a consistent voice against equality — for women, for gay people and for non-Christians — since his conversion to Christianity. And we’d be right. In most ways, he was on the side of regressive policies.

But let’s also recognize that he was on the right side of many criminal justice reform issues, an issue that needs all the advocates it can get because neither party seems to give a damn. Justice Fellowship, one of his two major organizations working on those issues (the other is Prison Fellowship, which focuses on evangelizing prisoners), has taken strong positions against mandatory minimum sentences and in favor of drug treatment over criminalization, against high telephone fees and other things that prevent inmates from interacting with their families, in favor of better mental health services for inmates, in favor of stronger policies to prevent prison rape and violence, in favor of reforming the juvenile justice system and in favor of reforming both sentencing policy and sex offender registries.

Those are good things and he should be applauded for that, even while we correctly criticize him for his advocacy of regressive and authoritarian policies in so many other areas. Even a stopped wingnut can be right twice a day — maybe more.

20 comments

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  1. 1
    d cwilson

    Secularists like me will no doubt point out that Colson has been a consistent voice against equality — for women, for gay people and for non-Christians — since his conversion to Christianity.

    I’ll right, I’ll give him points for his positions on prison reform and drug treatment, but how is the above different from the standard conservative position pre-his conversion.

  2. 2
    Ing

    Bull, he did more harm than good. And his prison ministry did extra harm under the guise of good setting back actual reform efforts.

  3. 3
    feralboy12

    But let’s also recognize that he was on the right side of many criminal justice reform issues, an issue that needs all the advocates it can get because neither party seems to give a damn.

    Perhaps he would have accomplished more in this area had he run over his own grandmother.

  4. 4
    Area Man

    “Chuck Colson, the Watergate criminal who became a leading figure on the religious right…”

    It’s amazing to me how the people who so loudly tout their own morality are not only quick to forgive blatant crimes against their country, but raise the perpetrators up to hero status. It seems that the surest way to become a darling in the conservative movement is to break the law and get caught. Colson is hardly alone; there’s Ollie North (his own Fox News program and radio program), G. Gordon Liddy (his own radio program), John Poindexter (a cush job in the Bush administration), and now Allan West (Congressman). Next up will probably be Scooter Libby.

    It seems that in right-wing circles, a willingness to disregard the law is how you prove your loyalty to the cause above all else. And people wonder why we can’t find bipartisan agreement on anything.

  5. 5
    Ed Brayton

    Ing-

    Of course he did more harm than good. I never claimed otherwise.

  6. 6
    cjtotalbro

    Who in the world would guess that the way to finish this: “convicted Watergate f____” was with the word “figure”?

  7. 7
    tbp1

    Colson is like so many conservatives: when they run up against an issue the affects them personally, they change their reactionary tune, but only on that issue. Witness the Cheneys’ latter-day conversion to gay rights, or Sarah Palin’s advocacy for Down Syndrome children. On issues that don’t impact them or theirs, they are just are cruel, regressive and irrational as before. Colson might have taken some good stands on prison issues, but he remained viciously anti-gay, misogynist, anti-science (he was a creationist, apparently), and pro-torture. He was openly theocratic, not even pretending to hide his wish to impose Biblical law (his interpretation of it, of course) on everyone, whether they shared his theology or not, using the power of the state. As far as I can tell, he never apologized to Daniel Ellsberg, whose life he tried to destroy, with alarming success. Quite the opposite, in fact, he spent years dodging Ellsberg’s attempts to contact him.

    And let’s not forget that his prison term was not exactly years in Attica, it was 7 months in a minimum-security facility on a military base. I’m sure no prison experience is pleasant, but “lying on the rotten floor of a cell?”–give me a break.

    As Ed did, I will give him a few points for his stands on prison reform, but only a very few.

  8. 8
    ebotebo

    I’d a friend years ago who was busted with 0.5 gm.of LSD. He got three months in a minimum security prison in California. He said there were nothing but white collar criminals there. They had tennis courts and a pool, etc. He said it was great to have a three month vacation!

  9. 9
    democommie

    Wow, seeing that even people who think Colson was, on balance, a fuckbag and shitheel, are willing to cut him some slack…I just wish that he had died sooner and more slowly. He was in life an animate turd; the only thing that has changed is that he is now inanimate.

  10. 10
    matty1

    So, how did Obama kill him? ;-)

  11. 11
    cjtotalbro

    The whole appeal to his one or two not awful actions is pathetic. No one applauds a broken clock Ed.

  12. 12
    konrad_arflane

    A prophet without a prophecy, apparently.

    Hasn’t he said something along the lines of “if America doesn’t get right with God and outlaw abortion/homosexuality/whatever, bad things will happen”? Because that’s what most of the OT prophets spent most of their time doing (except for Israel instead of America and idolatry instead of sodomy). It’s not the most common meaning of the term “prophetic”, but it’s not actually wrong, I don’t think.

  13. 13
    Modusoperandi

    He went from a fundamentally dishonest lapdog for Nixon, and the same thing “for Jesus”. Both Republicans, apparently.

    As ‘one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,’ Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity. I don’t think that counts as living without scandal. I think that counts as being at the center of one of the worst scandals of this generation of the church.” ~ Slactivist

  14. 14
  15. 15
    bahrfeldt

    Profit. He found a different way (different for him) to scam a material profit. Not prophet. Period.

  16. 16
    billdaniels

    I’ve been following comments about Colson’s death on gay blogs. Lots of the comments repeat what Bette Davis supposedly said when she heard that Joan Crawford had died: “You’re supposed to say something good when someone dies. She’s dead. Good.” My feelings exactly.
    Colson was one of the writers of the odious Manhattan Declaration.

  17. 17
    dan4

    How was Colson against equality for non-Christians (yes, I agree with the “women” and “gay people” claim)?

  18. 18
    dingojack

    Dan – if, as tbp1 posted in #7, “He [Colson] was openly theocratic, not even pretending to hide his wish to impose Biblical law (his interpretation of it, of course) on everyone, whether they shared his theology or not, using the power of the state” then one only has to recall the biblical first commandment to see how it might impact on other types of theists.

    Dingo

  19. 19
    Gregory in Seattle

    “One should only speak good of the dead. He’s dead: good.”

  20. 20
    kermit.

    matty1: So, how did Obama kill him?

    Of apparent old age.

    His Dark Ops lab is capable of anything!

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