News that evangelist and Watergate figure Charles Colson has been hospitalized for bleeding in his brain brought me back to a weekend I spent with him a year ago. Colson, 80, was in Northern Virginia then for a leadership conference he launched to train up what his staff called “clones” — Christians who share Colson’s orthodox world view. The Centurion program (a name meant to conjure battle-hardened Roman soldiers) is part of a flurry of efforts Colson began in recent years as he felt the urgency of the ticking human clock.
March 1, 1974. Washington Post photo by Arthur Ellis. Charles Colson, former special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, puts on his jacket to face photographers after being indicted for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
A statement from Prison Fellowship, the large prison ministry Colson founded when he got out of prison himself, said he had surgery “Saturday morning to remove a pool of clotted blood on the surface of his brain.” He became ill Friday night while speaking at a conference he founded. WORLD, an evangelical magazine, quoted witnesses saying Colson’s speech became garbled and he had had to sit down.
He suffered an intracerebral hemorrhage and is in critical condition, said the Tuesday statement from the Virginia-based Prison Fellowship.
As news got out in the last day or so, Christian publications and figures have been asking the public to pray for Colson, who is considered a major conservative evangelical icon. His dramatic conversion story from scoundrel to servant in the 1970s made him a leader the likes of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and Dr. James Dobson, whose place in the spotlight has faded.
During the time I spent with him, it was clear Colson knew his window was closing. He was frustrated with what he sees as a seeker-driven and sometimes relativistic Christianity being preached in American churches and was insistent on using his remaining energy to promote his ideas in the public sphere. People who paid to come to the conference ranged from musicians to filmmakers to accomplished athletes.
Being on the stump, I learned, went somewhat against his introverted nature. He said he was tired and sick of meetings and travel and longed to spend more time at home in Florida with his wife.
In addition to the Centurion program, which trains hundreds of men and women to read the books he reads and understand the Christianity he practices, Colson also recently put together a program on ethics he hopes will be used in business and law schools.
Colson’s condition Wednesday wasn’t clear, Prison Fellowship CEO Liske described praying in the hospital and said “Chuck was responsive.”