Robert Jesenik-Born Again

Author of Book: Charles ("Chuck") Colson
Date Read: March 22, 2024

Book Report

Title : Born Again

Date: March 22,2024

Author: Charles (“Chuck”) Colson

Thankfully before I self surrendered, my Pastor reminded me of Chuck Colson’s prison ministry and series of books he has written. Born Again is his autobiography, with emphasis on 1968-80 or so. I knew he had been a high ranking person in President Nixon’s Whitehouse,and had gone to prison for Watergate, and had become a devout Christian somehow. My hope was to get more color on his journey, his faith, his prison time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Truly a must read for everyone 30+ years old.

Rarely do I reread a book, especially within 2-3 weeks of the first time, but I did this time, and am glad I did! The depth of some of his experiences and wisdom were much easier to pick up the second time, and I even then waited another week to reflect , be in the right frame of mind to write this report. Today is the day! As a result, this will be one of my longer reports, hardly a summary:)

Colson’s life was basically as “All American” as one could get. Grew up in small nuclear family in upper New England, Ivy League Schools, Marine’s, Georgetown Law School, served on staffs of several US Senators. Married, two kids, divorced and remarried, successful law firm in DC and Boston. At age 36, he was recruited by President Nixon and became his “hatchet man” during Nixon’s first term, and was very involved with the reelection campaign of Nixon in 1972.

By 1972 he had reached a level of power, contacts, friendships, enemies, few people ever do. But something inside him was missing, something that meant significance and substance, as his job and career just weren’t fulfilling his desire for satisfaction and peace.

He left the Whitehouse in 1973 and went back to his law firm, just as the Daniel Ellsberg break-in furor was erupting , as well as the Watergate frenzy. Convinced Nixon had done nothing wrong, he became his chief defender in the media and talk shows, becoming further tainted with his prior association with Nixon and with his ongoing defense of Nixon’s behavior. Colson spent 1973-1975 dealing with US Federal Prosecutors defending himself, and then with not one, but two Special Prosecutors as Nixon fired the first one.

The middle 1/3 of the book begins to explain how Colson’s spiritual journey to Christianity evolved. Starting with accepting Christ as his Savior, defending his Whitehouse years and behavior from a now Christian perspective and new set of values. Ultimately this conflict between old and new values, allegations of hypocrisy by the media(“Nixon’s hatchet Man finds God”), led him to ignore his legal counsel’s advice and eventually plead guilty. If for no other reason,just his association with Nixon during the Ellsberg psychiatrists office break-in created responsibility in is mind, even though he wasn’t charged for that.

What I found interesting is his journey to conversion, and how it began inconspicuously upon his return to his law practice. On a client trip to Boston,visiting the President of Rockwell, he sensed how much happier and at peace Tom Phillips was than ever before. Chuck asked Tom what happened, and he explained becoming Born Again and accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior. Chuck certainly never expected that answer, but after some explanation, Tom offered Chuck to come back and visit someday and discuss if he had an interest. A couple months later, after Chuck had been thinking about Tom a lot, it so happened that Chuck and his wife Patty were taking a much needed vacation to Maine. So he took advantage one evening and slipped away to visit Tom’s home and learn more about his happiness. Chuck asked Tom ” You’ve changed and I’d like to know what happened?”

Sitting together in Tom’s den, Tom explained “The success came all right, but something was missing- I felt a terrible emptiness”. Chuck replied ” I don’t understand- I knew you in those days Tom. You were a straight arrow, good family life,successful, everything in fact going your way”. Tom replied “But I didn’t seem to have anything that mattered. It was all on the surface. All the material things in life are meaningless if a man hasn’t discovered what is underneath.” So at a Billy Graham crusade,Tom accepted Christ, and he could feel Christ’s presence , His peace within him.

Phillip’s went on to call out Colson “You guys brought all this Watergate stuff on yourselves. If you had just put your faith in God, and your causes were just, He would have guided you. And His help would have been a thousand times more powerful than all your phony ads and shady schemes put together”. Tom went on to suggest Colson would never understand what he meant until reading a small paperback- “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. Phillips took a moment and read him a chapter on pride and self conceit- pride leads to very other vice-it is the complete anti-God state of mind….This reading really shook Chuck as the book explains.

Eventually after the evening ended, Colson drove back to his wife, and spent the remainder of the vacation reading the book. A passage that really impressed him was “Immortality has a connection with the difference between totalitarism and democracy. If a person only lives 70 years, then a nation which may last a thousand years is more important than the individual. But IF Christianity is true, then the individual is more important and incomparable,for he’s everlasting, and the nation is only a moment.”

This struck Colson right between the eyes. With his new Christian perspective of living eternally in Heaven, he concluded even the lowliest individual was more important than a nation. Our country was founded on this principle with Thomas Jefferson leading the charge-the nation exists only to serve the individual, created and maintained only with the individual’s consent. What a far cry from today I’d say! Amazing when a nation strays from its founding principles, specially crafted to avoid what the individual/our founders experienced in England under their King.

Colson goes on to explain that he then saw what happened to himself- everyone who spends time in government becomes some degree of a “statist:(nation first), dedicated to preserving all the government institutions at any cost. Or in my vopinion, adding more instiutions. Sound familiar in today’s world?

Over the next months, as news of his faith grew during all the Watergate media attention, he describes the incredible public outpouring he received, the small prayer groups he started being invited to, and the former “adversaries” in politics who became “brothers” and so forth. In late 1974, the noose tightening around Nixon and his senior team, they were all indicted except Nixon, and Colson began his 1-3 year sentence while he also testified against his former compatriots. Much more drama in the book to read, but all this happened as a result of his faith conversion. He concludes” God does not promise to spare us the pain and punishment that comes from our actions and mistakes. HE will always forgive us,love us, and provide the strength to see us through the most difficult experiences”.

With his sentence in hand, he began in a small prison near Washington DC used for holding federal trial witnesses, and was then eventually transferred to a camp in Alabama. Suffice it to say his examples and experiences in prison 50 years ago are very similar to mine in 2024! During his first year, his father passed away. He was able to get a furlough for the funeral, and attended, though in his heart he felt his ordeal these past few years greatly contributed to his death, feeling terrible about that. The night upon his return, he was reading the Bible and saw a passage from Apostle Paul where he warned his disciples against despair “It is through many tribulations that we must enter the Kingdom of God”. Based on the Book of Acts and his experiences outlined there, Paul would know!

Colson’s eventual ministry after prison grew from the seeds he planted in Alabama by starting a prayer group for some of the men going thru parole hearings and seeing the Holy Spirit move to help many of them be successful, much to their unexpected surprise. From there other prisoners wanted to get involved and it grew from there. All contrasted to when he arrived and was told to hide his Bible as it was frowned upon to even have one. The book goes on to share lots of his and other prisoners life experiences while in Alabama until his release.

After Colson’s release, he was home, struggling with what might be his next chapter. While considering a host of business opportunities, one Saturday morning he awoke from a sound sleep with a vivid picture of men and women coming to Christ in prison, being disciples, getting out and being greeted by people on the outside, and getting their lives together. He took that as a sign, and went on with some of his friends in his prayer group to mentor, seek Congress’s help for funding, meet with Bureau of Prison officials to seek support. In time , after a couple iterations this led to the Prison Fellowship Ministry, with an intense character development/prerelease program taught from a biblical perspective to volunteer inmates. As he calls it, a “new method to fulfill God’s Great Commission to go make disciples”.

In the book’s epilogue, written in 2003, some 20 years later than when the book was written, he states Prison Fellowship Ministry is now in 114 countries with thousands of volunteers.

As an aside, my friend Derek and I, totally separate from this book, have started teaming on a book to assist prisoners with post-release success planning, which really means in prison preparation of life skills, career planning/education/training, personal financial planning, developing/maintaining a network of friends/ family/and community and character development/accountability. I certainly hope we can glean some synergy/partnership from Prison Fellowship Ministry as we embark on this journey while in prison and when eventually out, whenever that might be! BJ