The prodigal son, Chuck Colson, goes home

By Tom Quiner

There is a special place in heaven for Chuck Colson

The young man was insufferable.

He showed contempt for his father by demanding his inheritance before his father died:

“Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.”

This is the set up to the most beloved parable Jesus ever told, known as “The Prodigal Son.” A parable is an earthly story that relates a spiritual truth. Jesus told 57 of them. This one’s theme is riveting.

You know what happens. The young man takes his loot and squanders it on loose living.

He hits rock bottom. He slinks home a broken man and throws himself on his father’s mercy:

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”

The father is faced with three choices:

1. Reject him for his licentiousness and send him away.

2. Accept him back and let him work off his debt as a hired hand.

3. Embrace him with open arms and celebrate his return.

Donald Kaul would take the first choice. (Remembering Charles Colson.)

Jesus took the last.

I refer to Mr. Kaul’s remarkable column last week which denigrated the recently departed Chuck Colson. If you missed it, Mr. Colson was one of President Nixon’s henchman. By all accounts, he was a really bad guy. He was convicted of crimes associated with the Watergate break-in and went to prison.

He was a modern day prodigal son who squandered his inheritance by breaking the law.

It was only when he hit rock bottom that he began to see the path to life. That path was to help the least in our society: the incarcerated. That path, he told us, was revealed by God.

What Chuck Colson did for the rest of his life was remarkable. He seized his second chance with a vengeance and worked relentlessly to atone for his sins against God and man.

Rather than working for himself, he worked for others.

Rather than pursuing power, he gave up power by funneling proceeds from his prolific book sales into his prison ministries. He even gave away the $1.1 million Templeton Prize he won in 1993 for promoting religion.

Donald Kaul is a cynical man who only sees the worst in a person. Perhaps that is because of his choice to exclude God from his own life. God is the source of all beauty and the One who reveals it to man.

Chuck Colson’s eyes were opened when he hit rock bottom. How do you turn a criminal into a productive citizen? By changing his heart, said Mr. Colson, just as his own criminal heart had been changed by God.

He could see the potential beauty in the hardened hearts of the imprisoned.

Mr. Kaul was “never entirely convinced of Colson’s transformation from thuggish rogue to saintly do-gooder.” Kaul reminds me of the older brother in the Prodigal Son who resents the Father’s embrace of the wayward younger brother.

Mr. Kaul even sneers at the good work Chuck Colson did in the second act of his life:

“In fact, his work with convicts aside, the case can be made that he did more harm after his release from prison than he did before he entered. He was a key figure in forming the toxic coalition of Catholic and evangelical leaders to fight for laws banning same-sex marriage and abortion … He didn’t mitigate his zealotry; he merely learned to practice it legally.”

The “toxic coalition” to which Kaul refers is “Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Like a couple of squabbling brothers, Catholics and Evangelicals don’t always get along. Colson helped them find common ground.

And what was that?



Once again, Chuck Colson worked on behalf of the little guy, the preborn, whom the likes of Kaul deny personhood. With Colson’s active participation, ECT embraced the idea that marriage is about creation.

Perhaps the difference between a Chuck Colson and a Donald Kaul is simply this: Colson believes life is beautiful. He spent the rest of his life working on behalf of Life.

Americans typically embrace stories of redemption. I can’t help but think that Jesus is speaking to the Donald Kauls of the world when he says:

“… this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”

There is a special place in heaven for Chuck Colson.