[A]s Colson awaited arrest and prosecution for his Watergate involvement, Tom Phillips, then president of Raytheon, invited Colson to his home and witnessed to him about Jesus Christ.And that he did, as a model of repentance and a prison ministry innovator whose work blessed the lives of tens of thousands of convicts and their families. Some were skeptical about the sincerity of his conversion, possibly because he seemed no less intensely results-driven than he'd been in politics. But grace had transformed Colson's priorities, not his temperament. Like St. Paul after he'd forsaken his persecution of Christians in favor of church-building, Colson was as zealous for Christ as he had been for Nixon. He even took on some of the trappings of the executive. When we hosted a Prison Fellowship donor event at the Nixon library, smooth-talking Colson aides arrived a day early wearing blue blazers and PF lapel pins. They were as focused on pulling off a well-choreographed event for the boss as Nixon's factotums had been back in the day -- all the advance-man basics such as making sure the microphone was properly positioned and the drinking water in place, holding room properly arranged, and schedule double-checked.
“I left his house that night shaken by the words he had read from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity about pride,” Colson wrote in 2008. “It felt as if Lewis were writing about me, former Marine captain, Special Counsel to the President of the United States, now in the midst of the Watergate scandal. I had an overwhelming sense that I was unclean.”
After Colson left Philips, he got into his car, but couldn’t drive away. The conviction of the Holy Spirit came upon him and he began to weep, “I couldn’t (drive). I was crying too hard – and I was not one to ever cry.” “I spent an hour calling out to God. I did not even know the right words. I simply knew that I wanted Him. And I knew for certain that the God who created the universe heard my cry.”
At that pivotal moment, Colson was born again. “From the next morning to this day, I have never looked back. I can honestly say that the worst day of the last 35 years has been better than the best days of the 41 years that preceded it. That’s a pretty bold statement, given my time in prison, three major surgeries, and two kids with cancer at the same time, but it is absolutely true.”
The former counselor to the most powerful man on earth began to serve the King above every earthly king, which gave Colson’s life renewed purpose. From that day forward, he knew he belonged to Christ and he was “on earth to advance His Kingdom.”
When I was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2004, Colson sent me a Bible with a gracious inscription and called to offer congratulations and blessings. He said he was sure I'd be a good evangelical preacher. While I sent him some sermons, I can't recall if he responded. I assume he found my big-tent Anglicanism to be a bit pallid. He and my church definitely differed on whether gay and lesbian people should be afforded full sacramental status. In one of his last columns, he continued to assert that homosexual relations were inherently sinful. Giving in to Nixonian hyperbole for old time's sake, he vowed not to be cowed into silence by those writing press releases for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, preposterously implying that its criticism of his statements about homosexuality was comparable to his being on an IRA hit list or receiving death threat during Watergate.
When he called in 2004, Colson told me that he was pleased that another Nixon associate had joined the ranks of the converted or ordained -- meaning himself, another Watergate figure, Jeb Magruder, who became a Presbyterian minister, and Jonathan Aitken, a disgraced British politician who was Nixon's friend and biographer and later wrote a book about Colson. (During his celebrated visit to the Nixon library in 2009, John Dean asked Kathy to be sure to tell me that he'd been an Episcopal acolyte.) I chose not to say that, of this quartet of Nixon Christian soldiers, I was the only one who hadn't been in the slammer. My call to ordained ministry hadn't to do with being loyal to Nixon to the point of criminality but to a considerable extent with being viewed as disloyal by members of his family.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Hat tip to Carolyn Dennington