Author and speaker Chuck Colson discusses the responsibility Christians have to live out their faith in the public square. (Part 1 of 2)
Mr. Chuck Colson: Politics is inherently corrupting. It has never been more corrupt than it is now by special interest money. And I don't have a partisan view here, because I've seen it corrupt Republicans just like Democrats. The system is sick. Now you gotta understand, politics is nothing but an expression of culture. If politics is sick, it is because the culture is sick. Who's responsible for the culture? The belief system, that's what culture means. So, what do we do as Christians? Okay, you can't ignore the political system because you gotta be a good citizen. Augustine said, "Christians will be the best of citizens, because they do out of the love of God, what others do only because they're forced to."
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John Fuller: Today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, we're going to explore the role of faith in politics and it can be a controversial combination and we'll get some help on this from one of America's greatest statesmen, the late Chuck Colson, whose godly wisdom and cultural insight are still very relevant today.
Jim Daly: Those are challenging words, especially in light of this election year. And I'm sure many of you can resonate with what Chuck Colson is saying there, because you may be feeling a little apathetic about the political situation we're facing. I know I am and we may be tempted to stay home instead of voting in the fall. But we want to challenge you and I'm gonna challenge myself about that, because God has commissioned us as Christians to play an active role in our culture and we do live in a democracy. And we need to be a living witness of His love and truth to those who don't even know what those concepts mean.
And that's why I wanted to bring this great program from our archives and share it with you today. It is relevant. Chuck Colson was a wonderful mentor to me personally, especially during the transition time with Dr. Dobson. He went out of his way to phone me from time to time. He would come here to Colorado Springs and have lunch with me. It was a wonderful expression of his concern for the future and future leadership.
Chuck passed away in 2012 after 35 years of dedicated ministry, serving hundreds of thousands of prisoners through Prison Fellowship and working as a Christian statesman, uplifting the truth of God's Word in today's culture. And to me, he was the modern-day Apostle Paul and I miss him very much. And I will always remember with such deep and great appreciate the friendship that we shared.
John: Well, as you said, Jim, this message from Chuck still rings true today. It was recorded in 2010, but wow, is it good to hear this again. And if you're not familiar with Chuck Colson, he really experienced both sides of that faith and politics equation. During the '70's, he served in the White House as a special counsel to President Nixon and then experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ and that was followed by, as you said, Jim, 35 years or so of real impact through ministry. Well, here now, more of that incredible story and Chuck's incredible insights on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: You have been in the halls of power. You served in the Nixon administration. In fact, some people may not realize you were in the Watergate scandal. And why don't you share with us, just from the outset here, being in the halls of power, what happened and how arrogance corrupts.
Chuck: I started in the White House when I was 37-years-old, Jim. And I'd been a friend of Richard Nixon for years and he asked me to leave my law practice and come in and work with him.
Chuck: It's a heady business. I love politics. You know, I could see very early on how seductive that power is. And by the end of the time I'd been there almost four years, I thought to myself, "I've done just about everything a person could do in life." I had this great feeling of, you know, my life had really counted for something, except I felt empty. So, after four years in that White House, drained, that was really what led to my conversion to Christ.
Jim: And you tasted it. You saw what--
Chuck: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --that power does to a human being. It's hard to manage as a human being, isn't it?
Chuck: It really is. You know, when the President calls you in, I can remember the mining of the harbors of Haiphong and the major decisions in the Vietnam War. I'd go home at night with Patty and I'd be almost ill because decisions we make could've brought about a nuclear Armageddon. I mean, we were balancing the Soviet Union and China with every decision we made in Vietnam. And when you're called in and you're one of the two or three people the President consults, you feel really responsible.
The flip side of that is, you begin to think that you're really responsible for those decisions. And you begin to think you can do just about anything. And you know, when I went to the White House, I was kind of self righteous. My dad had been sort of steeped in Puritan thought, even though he wasn't a believer in the sense that we know and think about it. And he was going to school nights and he was working days. And the few hours we would have together during the week, he'd say, "Chuck, never tell a lie. Always do a hard day's work--
Chuck: --for honest day's pay." And he taught me the Christian work ethic. So, I got to the White House and I put everything I'd earned practicing law in a blind trust. I wouldn't accept gifts from people and if I got a gift, I'd give it to the driver of my limousine or the White House switchboard operators. Nobody could corrupt Chuck Colson.
Chuck: I went to jail. I went to jail because when you think you can't be corrupted, that's when you're most vulnerable. We have the infinite capacity for self-rationalization. So, I ended up in prison, but thank God I did in the Watergate [scandal], because coming out of that and been converted to Christ a year before going to prison, but coming out of that came a burden to help prisoners. And so, I've spent the last 35 years traveling in prisons in 40 countries around the world.
Jim: Your conversion to Christ came after your service in government and just before going into prison?
Chuck: Yeah, I was in that lull period, that time when I'd left the White House. I wondered what life was all about, because I'd gone through the Marines and I'd started a law firm and I was the youngest administrative assistant in the Senate. I'd done just about everything and then, I end up in the office next to the President of the United States, right next to his office. And so, that was a fast rise. But I began to think, "What's next?"
Chuck: And I was really empty. It was more than just fatigue I realized after some months. And then I met a man (Clearing throat) had been one of my clients before I went in the White House. And he was so different that I asked him what had happened to him. And he said, "I've accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to him." I almost fell off the chair. I grew up in that vast spiritual wasteland of the Northeast. I'd never heard anybody talk that way.
Chuck: But then that man later led me to the Lord one night outside of his home. In a flood of tears, here I was a former Marine, ex-White House hatchet man. I just called out to God and 37 years ago this summer and my life has never been the same since, can never be the same again.
Jim: Let's talk first with orthodoxy, right believing as we know it. Today the church is seen perhaps by some, maybe where you were before you came to know the Lord, as an archaic religion, something that's ancient. Perhaps they don't even believe that Jesus ever lived. What does orthodoxy provide the church and the world?
Chuck: Well, it's simply right belief and Jude wrote a letter to the young church in which he said, "Defend the faith, entrusted once for all to the saints." So, the thing that has bothered me most as a Christian is to find people who really don't know what they believe, can't defend it in public and don't live it out, because they've got this very reduced idea of the Gospel being simply, "I'm gonna go to church and I'm gonna feel really good on Sunday mornings. And this is gonna be good for me. This is good therapy--a therapeutic model. And this whole experience is all about me. I once was lost; now I'm found and boy, I can live a wonderful, fulfilled life."
That's not what the Gospel teaches. The Gospel teaches, "Go into all the world and make disciples," not converts. And the acceptance of Christ into your life, that moment of belief, that moment when you're born again, that's the beginning of a journey in which you begin to learn. And it's been now 37 years for me. I'm still learning every day and I learn new things. I read the Bible. I see things I hadn't seen before. It's a wonderful, exciting thing. It's an exciting life and I see a lot of people just sitting vegetating in pews and I think, "They're missing it."
And the consequence of this is, we're making exactly the kind of image of the church that before I became a Christian, turned me off and I didn't want anything to do with it. It was people just having a good time on Sunday morning, dressing up in their best clothes. I couldn't understand why.
Well, when you understand the heart of what the Gospel really is and what has been handed to us by those who have gone before us, it's very humbling that we've been entrusted with this truth--the most important truth about reality. That's what Christianity it. So, for us to take that for granted is simply scandalous.
Jim: Right and it is important to know what we believe.
Chuck: Oh, absolutely.
Jim: I mean, that's fundamental to the faith. You had quite a profound experience from what I understand, what I read in one of your previous books at St. Paul's Cathedral, I believe, as you walked and--
Chuck: I did.
Jim: --looked at those.
Chuck: Interesting you remember--
Chuck: -- that to bring it back to mind. It was a vivid experience. Patty and I were in England. We had one half [of] a day off. And so, I wanted to see St. Paul's and I wanted to see it as a sightseer. So, we had a marvelous time, walking around, looking at that beautiful Christopher Wren designed building--one of the great architectural beauties in the world.
And we're sitting there and you look up to the vaulted ceiling of the tower and it is absolutely spectacular. And we were sitting there, decided to have some prayer. And there [were] crowds of people going through. And this Anglican priest was administering the service right in the heart of that tourist attraction. And what he was giving was the faith entrusted to the saints once for all.
Chuck: He was talking about the foundational truths of the Christian faith. And to one part of it in St. Paul's, people were just milling around as sightseers, but in the middle were this cluster of maybe 100 people, repeating exactly the truth that had been given in that one spot, by the way, for 1,400 years. And I realized, "Wow!" I got goose bumps thinking, "I am believing and reciting the truth that has been handed down through the years so faithfully." Men and women have given their lives, died for this. And one of the most thrilling experiences along that was also at Mars Hill--
Chuck: --because I realized after I'd climbed up that big stony rock, I was standing there where Paul defended the Gospel almost 2,000 years ago, before the wise men of the culture of the time and only a few followed him. But millions and hundreds of millions, billions followed since. And so, I'm entrusted with that. Now that's very humbling. When you think about that, that doesn't lead you to arrogance or a feeling, "I know better than anybody else." That leads you to great humility.
Jim: It does.
Chuck: God has entrusted me with something that men and women have given their lives for.
Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." We're talking today with Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, author, speaker and really today's statesman for the Christian community. And Chuck, as we talk about orthodoxy and the foundation that it provides for the Christian community to do orthopraxis. Now a lot of people don't know the word. It's doing right. If orthodoxy is thinking right--
Jim: --and believing correct things, orthopraxis is doing the right thing. Talk to us about that.
Chuck: Yeah, orthodoxy is simply right doctrine. It's understanding what you believe. Orthopraxis is living it out in life. And the biggest weakness of the church, well its two big weaknesses, No. 1, a lot of people do not know what they believe and you gotta start with that.
But once you know what you believe, you're now compelled to do something with that. And it isn't satisfactory; it's not acceptable to God that you just sit and enjoy it. Now you've gotta be able to live those doctrines. And the biggest criticism of the church today is that we're all hypocrites. That's a legitimate criticism. We are because we profess to believe these things, but we really don't do 'em.
And so, learning to do what you confess with your mouth that you believe is the full Christian life. This is the full circle. It needs both orthodoxy (right beliefs, right doctrines) and orthopraxis (right practice, do what you profess to believe).
Jim: You know, Chuck, when I look at this, the imagery that I have is like a building, an architect. And that is, where the base of the building, the foundation it's built on is the orthodoxy. It's what we believe. But for the most part, it's underground. It's the thing that drives us and motivates us. It's the love of Christ. The building that people see is the orthopraxis.
Jim: It's what we're doing, to the point where they say, "Tell me more about your God." And there's Scripture that supports that. Do these good works so that they might see them and honor your Father in heaven.
Chuck: Absolutely. That's exactly what we're taught to do. And we will be judged by our fruits, as Jesus told us we would be judged by the world. The world will decide if we're really legitimate and honest and authentic if they see us doing what we say we do. And that's a big burden for Christians and it's a heavy responsibility. But it is absolutely essential in today's culture, because we see the Christian influence, which built this great Western Civilization and built America as an exceptional country, which does go around the world defending human rights, but today's generation--I'm sorry to say this; it'll rankle some people, upset them--but the fact of the matter is, that we're living off the inherited capital of what's been left to us by our forefathers. And we gotta start getting serious.
The First and Second and Third Century Church, as you mentioned earlier, Jim, I just love that history, because they were engaged in saving babies. Babies were aborted. They're left outside to die, infanticide. And the Christians'd go and take 'em off the garbage dumps and raise the kids. They would go minister to the sick. They engaged the government winsomely. You said earlier, what's the responsibility of Christians in the political realm today? And they were taking issue with the Roman citizens, not over the fact that they were being persecuted, thrown into the lions' den, they took issue over the fact that they were neglecting newborn children.
Chuck: Bishop Athenagoras in the second century wrote a letter to Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of the Roman Empire, denouncing the Romans for that--
Jim and John: Hm.
Chuck: --and calling it murder. So, Christians started with this flaming passion for the dignity of human life and let's get that back.
Chuck: That's what Luther wanted to do. Luther started the Reformation because he believed the church had lost its orthodox roots and wasn't therefore living the Gospel. And so, his whole Reformation started with his crusade to take the church back to the church Fathers, the Patristic Era in the first, second and third [centuries of] Christianity. You want to know about vibrant Christianity? Read about the church then.
Jim: And Chuck, in that context, the thing that as I've read about that history, the thing that really gripped my heart is humanitarianism--
Jim: --starts with the early church.
Jim: It really does. The Christian community of that era started orphanages and hospices and hospitals. When the plagues of Rome hit Rome, the Christians were the ones that went into those infested areas of the city, feeding soup to the sick and dying. And in fact, writers of history would say, "Why do these men and women do this? They put their own lives at risk for others they don't even know." It puzzled them that these Christians would do that, didn't it?
Chuck: Well, this is why the church spread so dramatically in the first century, is because the Christians stayed in the cities during the plagues, tended to the sick, while everybody else left.
Chuck: And so, they would come back in and they couldn't understand it. The women were treated like human beings, which was not true in the society. And this is what so impacted the culture, so that within three centuries, Christianity became the dominant religion, declared so by Constantine. A lot of people say he declared that the Holy Roman Empire for his own power. Not so. He was forced to because the Christians had taken over the society completely.
And it's a glorious era. Rodney Stark writes a book, The Rise of Christianity, which I'd recommend to everybody. You need to have it on your bookstore here at Focus, because it's a powerful book about just this era. And I talk about it in the book called The Faith. If we could recover that today, oh, you'd turn this country upside down.
Jim: Chuck, when we look at politics today and where the Christian community is, one of the things that is so obvious and that you experienced is how politics can corrupt, even the best-intentioned Christian leadership, whatever. And how do we balance this? How do we engage the culture around us, taking cues from the early church, yet we don't put too much hope in what the political process will deliver? Because at times I feel that we as the Christian community, we're banking on the political solution being the solution. When Jesus showed up, again writers of antiquity would say that the Jews were expecting the Messiah--
Jim: --to be the one to overthrow the tyranny of Rome.
Jim: Are we sometimes repeating that same mistake?
Chuck: Well, we're repeating a mistake very similar to it. A French theologian some years ago wrote a book called The Political Illusion. He said, "The era of modern communication is when we're able to instantly listen to political debates, politics will become obsessive. We'll think it's gonna solve all our problems and we'll be deluded and all it will do is lead us into tyranny." His name was Jacque Ellul. He was absolutely prophetic. That's exactly what's happened.
Let me say a couple of things that'll shake up all kinds of people I'm sure. Politics is inherently corrupting. It has never been more corrupt than it is now by special-interest money.
Chuck: And I don't have a partisan view here, because I've seen it corrupt Republicans just like Democrats.
Chuck: The system is sick. Now you gotta understand, politics is nothing but an expression of culture. If politics is sick, it is because the culture is sick. Who's responsible for the culture? The belief system, that's what culture means.
So, the church reforms the culture, which leads to political change. And this was true in 19th century England. It was definitely true in the first three centuries. So, what do we do as Christians? Okay. You can't ignore the political system, because you gotta be a good citizen. Augustine said, "Christians will be the best of citizens 'cause they do out of the love of God what others do only because they're forced to."
Chuck: So, think about that. That gives us a duty. He said the duty of a Christian is to bring the values of the kingdom of God to bear in citizenship in the city of man. So, he understood that balance, that tension and there is a tension. So, we gotta be good citizens. We gotta vote. We gotta care about what's going on at the school board. We gotta care about all of the political system. Politics, after all, is nothing but how people organize their lives together. And that's what religion is about, how we live together. So, there's no conflict between politics and religion. They're mutually supporting. Never would have been considered any other way for centuries.
You've gotta work to change the culture. My hero is William Wilberforce. As you know in the 19th century England, he said God had given him two great objectives: the abolition of the slave trade, which he succeeded in doing and the reformation of manners, because he knew if he didn't change culture, you could end a systemic evil, but it wouldn't solve the problem.
So, we gotta be involved in both. And folks listening to us have gotta understand, do your duty as a citizen and vote and take part in the civic affairs, because you're a representative of the kingdom of God when you do it and do it with humility and in a winsome, loving way. But at the same time, be working to change the culture. That's the only long-term hope.
Jim: A quote that I've heard you say, "Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom to Caesar, nor did He give a sword to Peter."
Jim: That's an outstanding quote and it does speak to the heart--
Jim: --that a Christian needs to have in the culture.
Chuck: Yep. We need exactly that heart and we need the gentle heart of Jesus. I love Martin Luther King saying, "He who you would change you must first love." We have to love the people who don't understand us, because it's that love that's gonna change their attitudes and that's gonna make our case compelling.
John: Chuck, there are undoubtedly folks listening who have been told time and again, "You're a Christian. You just keep that stuff in the church, that faith stuff and you leave the politics to us." There's almost a second-class citizen created by such thought that says that faith ought not be mixed with politics. Would you just address that?
Chuck: Oh, my, that comes from a place where all smoke is created, the pit of hell. That is just false. That's a totally false dichotomy. We're good citizens. We're better citizens, because we care deeply about the commonweal, the common good. Reason as well as Scripture, teaches us that life, marriage and liberty are absolutely sacred.
Now we have to be willing to stand up and engage the culture winsomely. Don't listen to people who tell us just to go back into our ghettos and our churches, that we don't belong in the public realm. Of course we belong in the public realm. We belong there as a citizen and a citizen moved by love of God--
Chuck: ---which should be making you a better citizen. But we never delude ourselves into thinking that, that's gonna be all the answers. We have a lot more to do as Christians than simply to cast a ballot. We've gotta cast an image of a life lived. Christ lived, Christ's death on the cross and lived through us, we cast that across our culture and that's what really will transform things.
Jim: Chuck, often when the church and state are in conflict, it becomes about winning and winning a political victory or winning a vote. And I believe it was Tim Keller in his book, Counterfeit God, who said and I'm certainly paraphrasing, something like, "What we need to be careful of as the Christian community is turning into predators and the world our prey." How do we balance winning a victory with humbly pursuing God's design, as the early Christians did in the first, second and third centuries?
Chuck: Well, that's the state of mind that believers have to [experience]. It's a tension that you have to live in. I mentioned earlier that when I stood on Mars Hill and realized that I today convey the same message Paul did 2,000 years ago. That is very humbling. I stand on the shoulders of the giants who went before me. I don't have anything I can come and impose my will on somebody. I am a beggar who found bread, trying to show other people where they can find that bread.
And if I ever feel like I can tell people how to live, I can't, I can simply explain to them what's happened to me and how I believe the biblical worldview is the only one that you can live with rationally in life. And I love them enough to want them to appreciate that and enjoy that. I don't go to 'em as enemies.
I'll tell you one little quick story. A guy who worked for us, Ron Greer, for many years, ex-prisoner, former Marine, as well, pastor of a church in Madison, Wisconsin, his service was disrupted one night by the homosexual activists. [They] threw condoms at the altar. And of course, they'd set up the press in advance, so the press comes in. And Ron, African-American guy, stood at the podium the whole time smiling.
Chuck: And the press went up to him and said, "How can you be smiling when they're desecrating your church?" And he said, "I have no more reason to be angry with them than I would with a blind man stepping on my foot."
Chuck: Now if you keep that attitude in politics, you'll do all right.
John: A special presentation on today's "Focus on the Family" from the late Chuck Colson, some wonderful insights and this is really good stuff, Jim.
Jim: It definitely is and so relevant to the moral and political issues that we continue to face in today's culture. This was, you know, a few years ago, but it shows you just how relevant Chuck Colson was. A lot of what we shared in this program is based on the landmark book that Chuck wrote called God & Government: An Insider's View on the Boundaries Between Faith and Politics. I cannot more highly recommend you get a copy of that book than to say it. It is one of the best, if not the best and it will help you better understand the dynamic between our faith and culture and the important role each one of us plays in this political process. If you're able to help us financially with a donation of any amount, we'll be happy to send you a complimentary copy of this book as our way of saying thanks for stepping in the gap and helping families through Focus on the Family.
John: And we can tell you more about getting God & Government and a CD or a download of today's conversation, as well, when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: As we close, let me remind you to keep praying about the upcoming election this fall. We really cannot afford to sit this one out and there's so much at stake. Our votes do matter. In addition to the presidential campaign, this election will determine the entire House of Representatives and about a third of the Senate. And there are government leaders in your state and the local community, judges running for office, as well, plus a number of very important referendums. I know we have a couple here in Colorado. I urge you to participate and exercise your right as a Christian citizen, to vote your conscience. And then we'll trust the Lord for the results and keep movin' forward.
John: Yeah, we'll encourage you to stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to find everything that your family needs to prepare for this upcoming election, including our free Election Activity Kit and a link to our Commit to Vote 2016 website.
Now of course, we're a not-for-profit organization. We can't and won't tell you how to vote. We just want you to be aware of the details that you can find about your state and local issues and the national elections, as well, so you're equipped to know what you need to know to register and to express your values at the polls.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow when we find out why we dare not put our faith in one political party or another.
Chuck Colson: I don't carry the water for either the Left or the Right ideology. In fact, I'm suspicious of ideologies. I want to live by revealed truth.
End of Excerpt
John: More insights about faith and politics from the late Chuck Colson, next time on "Focus on the Family," as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Charles ColsonView Bio
Chuck Colson (1931-2012) was the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, a Christian outreach to inmates, ex-inmates, crime victims and their families. He was also the founder and chairman of The Chuck Colson Center for Worldview which seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview. Well-known as the aide to former President Richard Nixon, Chuck was also popular as an author, speaker and as a commentator for the nationally syndicated radio broadcast "BreakPoint." Chuck is survived by his wife, Patty, their three children and several grandchildren.