The Watergate Scandal was a major political scandal that rocked the United States in the 70s. The term ‘Watergate’ has since become a word synonymous with corruption, fraudulence and moral decay; it reflects a crisis that brought a great nation to the brink of destruction and destroyed a President. At the centre of it all was one man – the facilitator and scape-goat – a man that God had chosen to be his own: Charles Wendell Colson.
Throughout his early career Chuck Colson was ambitious and ruthless: there was no moral line that he would not step over for the sake of his President, Nixon. It was this ambition that saw Chuck cross ethical boundaries in the lead up to the Watergate scandal resulting in his political disgrace and the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence.
In the midst of this however, God was at work. He led Chuck one day to the offices of Tom Philips, a powerful CEO, who a week before had become a Christian at a Billy Graham crusade. Phillips explained to an uncomfortable Colson why he had accepted Jesus and handed him C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. In that short book Chuck read a vigorous defence of the gospel and challenge that Jesus could only logically be a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. Chuck later recalled ‘there was my choice as simple, stark and frightening as that … No one had ever thrust this truth at me in such a direct and unsettling way’. It took him six days from that point, but finally Chuck gave himself over to God.
But this was just the beginning: as the Watergate scandal continued to unfold around him, Chuck was being confronted daily in the newspapers and courts with his past wrongs. It all came to a head when Chuck was offered a plea bargain – confess to a particular crime and he would avoid jail. It sounded like a good deal – except that Chuck had not committed the crime with which he was charged. Chuck refused the plea bargain, shocking everyone by instead pleading guilty to a different charge believing that if he honoured God, God would honour him.
Of course God’s plans are often different to ours, as in this case when the judge sentenced Chuck to three years in prison. As he walked out of court, Chuck famously declared ‘what happened in court today was the court’s will and the Lord’s will. I have committed my life to Jesus Christ and I can work for him in prison as well as out’.
Chuck had no idea how prophetic his words would prove to be. Chuck ministered to the other inmates while in prison and within three years of leaving the prison, had 7000 volunteers running gospel seminars across 600 prisons thus beginning Prison Fellowship International. This ministry is now operating in more than 100 countries! Chuck later established a number of other ministries to care for families of the incarcerated and to promote justice throughout the world.
Although Chuck had no idea of the suffering he would cause himself and his family as a result of his guilty plea, God remained in control and used this suffering for His glory and as a means of shining His light into some of the darkest places in America. Praise be to God!