Monday, Feb. 07, 2005

Charles Colson

Reborn and Rehabilitated
The spectacular Christian rehabilitation of Charles Colson — the man who once advised Richard Nixon to firebomb the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank — began after Colson's Watergate prison term, with his best-selling conversion narrative, Born Again. His resurgence accelerated as he founded Prison Fellowship Ministries and built it into a $50 million organization that operates in all 50 states and 110 countries. His ministry's success (a University of Pennsylvania study found that graduates of the prison program were 60% less likely to be reincarcerated than was the average con) and his campaign for humane prison conditions helped define compassionate conservatism and served as a model for the faith-based initiatives that Bush favors.

Colson, 73, is now regarded as one of evangelicalism's more thoughtful public voices. And, says Ted Olsen, online managing editor of Christianity Today: "If he gets on a bandwagon, it's likely to move." After decades of relative abstention, Colson is back in power politics. He helped cobble together an alliance of Evangelicals and Catholic conservatives, advised Karl Rove on Sudan policy and put his prestige behind an anti-gay-marriage lobbying body, the Arlington Group. And he has recouped one more lever of power: in 2000 Florida Governor Jeb Bush reinstated the rights taken away by Colson's felony conviction — including the right to vote.