Monday, April 23, 2012

An Open Letter – Thoughts Upon Hearing of Chuck Colson’s Death

The death of Chuck Colson on April 21, 2012 elicited a letter and a reminiscence from a relative who had known Colson at some distance. The following is my response to that letter.

I remember when Colson became a believer – after he was indicted, if I recall, but before he was convicted in the Ellsberg case, I had great doubts about the sincerity of his faith but when he turned his efforts to improving the conditions of prisoners and bringing the message of Christ to them that is what convinced me that he was for real. I fully expected him to do as some of the other Watergate conspirators (particularly John Dean) ended up doing, becoming “color commentators” for network news outlets.

In a recent blog entry (Friday, April 13th) I used the example of Colson’s conversion and the subsequent doubt about the genuineness of his conversion (along with comparisons of the conversions of the Apostle Paul and C.S. Lewis) to raise the question of why it is so hard for right-leaning evangelical Christians and Tea-Partyers to accept Obama’s long-standing confession of faith in Christ. The response I get from the conservatives I talk to is, “well, he is just faking it,” or “but he believes in Jeremiah Wright’s Liberation Theology,” or “but he is a socialist.” And I say, so . . .? When Newt Gingrich’s confession of faith (or Rick Perry’s for that matter, or in Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s) is taken as valid, and when Obama clearly centers his faith on Jesus Christ and his atoning work at Calvary (which he explicitly testifies to) why does it matter if he does lean toward a particular political interpretation of the will of God in our world? (I don’t think one can clearly link him, through any of his writings, to Wright’s theology, but for the sake of argument let it be the case that he is a raving Liberation Theologian.) Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker subscribe to political interpretations of the will of God that scare the pants off of me but I still can see enough orthodox Christian belief in them to not question their faith in Christ. I just think their politics is crazy and I’m chagrinned that they conflate that nonsense with Christianity.

Colson was able to bring his natural politician propensities into the accepting cocoon of a Conservative Evangelical political world and so, thankfully, was eventually recognized as the sincere servant of Christ that he had become. And not only by conservatives but also (although often somewhat grudgingly) from liberals as well. Poor Jimmy Carter did not fare so well. His politics is despised by conservatives and his faith depreciated (or at best nervously tolerated) by liberals. I think I may be one of the remaining ten people who admire the man.

As one who also admires Barack Obama but who admittedly does not know his deepest thoughts or his standing before God, I pray for his success in the things he hopes to do for our nation. But my constant and most sincere prayer is that the drumbeat of rejection and criticism coming at him and his wife from evangelical Christians will not result in a loss of faith on his part. I want him and his family to come out of his presidency intact, with the marriage sound and the children unscarred by the war they’ve been through.

Barack Obama came to Christianity out of atheism (not Islam) of his own accord, first prodded by the urging, and later inspired by the “witness,” of those he worked with on the streets of Chicago. He found a home in the congregation of Jeremiah Wright’s church. The conservative Christian outcry against Wright’s infamous sermon – which I may be the only person in the country to have listened to in its entirety, and which expressed sentiments about the nation’s sins and consequent judgment under God that would have elicited loud “Amens” in most of the conservative churches I’ve been a member of – caused Obama to commit his most heinous sin, in my view, by throwing his pastor of 20 years under the bus. 

Wouldn’t it be a shame if, after encountering the mistrust and venomous rhetoric of that part of  the larger body of Christ that disagrees with him politically, Mr. Obama concluded that the Church was not the warm accepting community of the redeemed he thought he had entered, and decided to distance himself from it?

It seems that I remember Jesus pronouncing a woe upon those who cause another to stumble, said that it would be better for them if a mill stone had been tied to them and that they had been cast into the sea. And wasn’t it the Apostle Paul who warned the Galatian Christians that, by their carnivorous bickering, they were devouring each other? There must be some lesson in those warnings for the 21st century Church of Christ.

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