Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Corruption of Conscience

In honor of the recent homegoing of Chuck Colson, an abridged version of his address “The Corruption of Conscience” (given during the Wheaton College Graduate School commencement ceremonies on May 6, 2000) is featured below. Charles W. Colson is the author of over 15 books that have sold over 5 million copies, and his daily radio commentary, “Breakpoint,” reaches an audience of over 3 million people. Mr. Colson first achieved national notoriety as an aide to President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 to 1973, when he as known as the White House “hatchet man.” After converting to Christianity and serving seven months in prison on Watergate-related charges, he founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, now the largest prison outreach organization in the world.

More than ever before in American history, indeed in Western history, we are witnessing the near-death of conscience. By virtue of being created in His image and likeness, all men have a conscience that is sensitive to God’s Law. Paul writes:”For when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15, NASB). But for many years this God-given internal moral compass has been rapidly faltering. I regularly confront that brutal truth in prisons across the country. An incident in Indiana a few years ago brought it home to me dramatically. I had visited the prison several times before, but that day a young inmate responded to my proffered handshake by smacking my hand away–a first for me. In many years of visiting prisons, I had never before encountered such direct and immediate hostility from a complete stranger. For obvious reasons, prisoners are rarely cheerful, but I saw in those eyes that day a chilling hardness I had never encountered before. Since then, however, I have seen similar hardness reflected in the eyes of countless other inmates, particularly younger ones.

Click HERE for the full address.

Charles W. “Chuck” Colson (1931-2012)

In the early 1970s during the days of Watergate and the waning years of Richard Nixon’s administration, Charles “Chuck” Wendell Colson was Special Counsel to the President and notoriously feared as the White House “hatchet man.” He was brazenly labeled as “incapable of humanitarian thought” according to the media of his day and freely admits playing political dirty tricks on behalf the President and the Republican Party. After word of Chuck Colson’s dramatic conversion to Christianity, the Boston Globe reported “if Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.” Nonetheless, justice prevailed and he was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges in 1974. As a convicted felon Colson was sentenced to a one to three-year sentence, fined $5,000 for obstruction of justice, disbarred in the District of Columbia and prohibited from using his licenses from Virginia and Massachusetts. Colson eventually served seven months in Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama and was released in January 1975. Later that year his memoirs Born Again were published. On April 28, 1976 Colson was invited to address Wheaton College in Edman Chapel where he shared his testimony and urged evangelical students to engage the political process.

Listen to the unedited audio of Colson’s Wheaton College Address (excerpted below)

It’s no time for despair…We live in America, in the most priceless freedom that man has ever known, because this country was begun by disciples of Christ. The pilgrims that came here cam to have the freedom that Jesus Christ offers every single human being, the most radical, revolutionary experiment in the history of mankind, the radical idea that “No…God doesn’t rule through a divinely ordained king, but God rules, His sovereign rule is in the ilfe of every single human being, that every single human being draws his power from God, that the individual is supreme in the eyes of the sovereign God, and that government is created to provide the needs of the aggregate collection of God endowed individuals, endowed with the power of God.” And look back upon the history of the Great Awakening in 1740, the cradle of the American Revolution. What was it? It was a spiritual revial that George Whitfield led, riding up and down the colonies from Savanna to New Hampshire and back south again, preaching a rebirth in Jesus Christ, that every American might know the human freedom of having Christ in his life…

What a priceless freedom we have, and it isn’t going to be saved for us by any human being. We can’t cop out, we can’t expect Washington to do it, we can’t expect the government to suddenly have the power of God; that was the very thing our forefathers rejected. We can’t expect one of our number of born-again believers to lead this nation on his back unless the hearts of the American people are turned to God…God’s secret plan for the nations is Christ in you, and it begins here today, this day. May the Love of the Lord Jesus be with you.

Twenty-five years later, Chuck Colson returned to Wheaton College and gave both the undergraduate and graduate Commencement addresses to the Class of 2000.

He continued to work tirelessly with Prison Fellowship, a non-profit organization devoted to prison ministry he founded in 1976. Colson was a public speaker, author, radio commentator, and founder of the Wilberforce Forum (now the Chuck Colson Center) as the teaching and advocacy arm of Prison Fellowship. Colson has received 15 honorary doctorates and in 1993 was awarded the Templeton Prize, donating the $1 million award to further the work of Prison Fellowship. In 2008, Colson was honored by President Bush with the Presidential Citizens Medal for his years of work with prisoners and their families. Chuck Colson died on April 21, 2012 at the age of 80.

The Papers of Charles Wendell Colson are located at the Billy Graham Center Archives on the campus of Wheaton College, Illinois. Additional materials pertaining to Colson and the Watergate hearings are contained in the Wesley G. Pippert Papers at the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections.

The Other Wheaton College

Delivering the 2010 commencement address at Wheaton College, NBC Today Show anchor Ann Curry famously flubbed when she cited several distinguished alumni: evangelist Billy Graham, filmmaker Wes Craven and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. The problem, as she quickly learned, is that these notables graduated from the Wheaton College in Illinois, not the one located in Norton, Massachusetts, where Curry had been invited to speak. “I am mortified by my mistake,” she wrote, “and can only hope the purity of my motive, to find a way to connect with the graduates and encourage them to a life of service, will allow you to forgive me.”

Curry’s eloquent apology was accepted. In fact, her mistake is common. Both colleges frequently field inquiries meant for the other. Though both institutions were founded by families named “Wheaton” rooted in the East, there is no known connection between their bloodlines.

Wheaton Female Seminary, c. 1840

Founded in 1834, Wheaton Female Seminary was designed to accommodate young women of the middle classes seeking the same education as that provided by colleges for men. Wheaton was chartered as a four-year liberal arts college in 1932, and became co-educational in 1988.

Notable alumnae from Wheaton College of Norton, Massachusetts, includes 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, former EPA Director Christie Todd Whitman and Oscar-nominated actress Catherine Keener.