Charles “Chuck” Colson, 1931-2012

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Krista Tippett and Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson died this afternoon at the age of eighty, and for traditional Christians of all stripes–Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestant–this is a great loss. His conversion to Christianity occurred in prison, and he changed from one of President Nixon’s hatchet men to the founder of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry that has helped thousands of prisoners find their way out of crime. I always referred to Mr. Colson as a “Catholic Baptist,” for he had a remarkably high view of the church and of church tradition for a Protestant. He was one of the forces behind the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” which focused on the common ground, the “Mere Christianity,” to use C. S. Lewis‘s term, shared by all traditional Christians. A staunch defender of the unborn and of traditional moral teachings of the Church, Mr. Colson was the chief driving force behind “The Manhattan Declaration,” a strong affirmation of traditional marriage in the face of continued attacks from both secular and from liberal Christian critics. I have signed the Manhattan Declaration myself, and encourage others to do so.

When I read some of the public comments on the news of Mr. Colson’s death, many were positive, but others questioned the sincerity of his conversion. Given the amount of work Mr. Colson did to improve conditions in prison and to defend traditional Christian teachings, there is no legitimate reason to doubt his conversion. Such attacks are more likely due to hatred of traditional Christian morality and of Mr. Colson’s defense of such rather than a sincere attempt to argue that he was not a true convert.

I have long enjoyed reading Mr. Colson’s books and essays, and I will miss reading new ones. May God be with his family and many friends in this time of loss, and I ask my fellow Christians of their charity to pray for the soul of Charles Colson: Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed in Christ, in the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Bloodthirsty Evangelicals

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A sad fact of contemporary American Christianity is the open-ended support many Christians give to war. Among the most fervent supporters of George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan have been conservative, Evangelical Christians. This is not to say that all Evangelicals support the wars–as with any group, there are exceptions. However, Evangelicals, who are mostly politically “conservative” (though I fail to see what is “conservative” about waging war) have tended to support U. S. military intervention abroad. Many Evangelical churches will have special services to honor our “heroes,” the troops returning from Iraq or from Afghanistan. Evangelicals in general are the most zealous supporters of “American Civil Religion,” with a U. S. flag prominently displayed in church and with patriotic songs sung at services on or near the date of national holidays such as July 4. Christians who protest the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are labeled as “wimps,” “liberal peaceniks,” or worse. Sometimes the rhetoric comes across as saying that a person who opposes these war is less of a Christian than those who support the wars. And some Evangelicals I have heard are bloodthirsty–there is no other accurate description. They will talk about nuking all “enemies of America” with an expression of sadistic glee.

Even if a Christian supports the notion that war is sometimes necessary, that does not imply that the Christian should accept the justness of any war a nation wages just because he is a citizen of that nation. Some advocates of just war theory opposed the Iraq War in particular–Iraq had never invaded the United States and was not a threat to the United States. “Preemptive war” is nowhere a part of just war theory. Yet millions of traditional Christians naively supported Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in their execution of an unjust war that killed many thousands onĀ  both sides.

Even if a war is necessary, no Christian should support it with glee, nor should the Christian rejoice at enemy deaths. Such a message is contrary to Christ‘s command to “love one another” and to “love your enemies.” A bloodthirsty attitude toward killing is incompatible with Christianity. Such an attitude is so contrary to the message of Jesus that, from a traditional Christian point of view, it is difficult to see how one who accepts that attitude could live in the eternal presence of God. Hatred of others and joy in killing and in war are products of Satan, not of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps Evangelical Christians, who are so literalistic on other parts of the Bible, should follow this advice literally.