Wheaton College was deeply affected by the life and ministry of Charles W. Colson, who died Saturday, April 21 at the age of 80.
Colson, who served as special counsel to President Richard Nixon, was known for his role in the 1972 Watergate scandal. Shortly before beginning a prison sentence related to the scandal, he gave his life to Jesus Christ.
In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship International (PFI), one of the world's largest outreaches to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. Colson hosted BreakPoint, a daily radio commentary that airs more than 1,200 outlets nationwide, and led the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, a research and training center.
“Chuck Colson was a foremost Christian thinker for our generation,” says Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “In some ways, he has been to us what C.S. Lewis has been. He spoke and wrote with evangelistic passion and razor-like acuity.”
The Institute for Prison Ministries (IPM), a department of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, was formed in 1984 as a result of the shared vision of Colson and Wheaton College trustee Kenneth Wessner. IPM is a center for correctional ministry that works through networks, collaborations and strategic partnerships to provide leadership and training to those engaged in correctional ministries for the advancement of the gospel.
In 1988, IPM established The Charles W. Colson Scholarship, which provides former prisoners with a college education and life formation program that develops them as Christian leaders. To date, 48 Colson Scholars have graduated from Wheaton’s undergraduate, graduate, or correctional ministries programs.
IPM director Karen Swanson says Colson maintained connections with the Colson Scholarship program throughout the years. “Chuck would always make time to meet with the Colson Scholars when he came to Chicago,” she says. “He took his time when talking with them and was genuinely interested in them.”
“Mr. Colson is a role model for countless women and men who have been or are behind bars,” adds Colson Scholar Christopher Yuan, who graduated from Wheaton’s Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis program in 2007. “He weathered the storms of his critics questioning his conversion, and remained true as a witness of a forgiving God of second chances. As a fellow ex-offender who has been transformed by hard time, I echo his words, ‘I thank God for prison.’”
In a 2000 address at the Graduate School commencement, Colson spoke about the influence Christian colleges can have in culture.
“While living in a world that exalts the momentary and temporal, Christians must always keep in mind the eternal and permanent,” Colson said. As servants of the Lord in society, the Christian academy is uniquely equipped to raise up men and women passionately committed to living for God in the light of his truth in every field of endeavor, passionately committed to the development of personal character and conscience that are pleasing to him.”
In 1984, Colson donated his papers to the Billy Graham Center Archives. Prison Fellowship also donated its records. Listings of the Colson Papers and Prison Fellowship holdings are available on the Billy Graham Center Archives website. Audio of the two Commencement addresses Colson gave to undergraduates and graduate students in 2000 is available on the website of WETN, Wheaton’s radio and television station. The Billy Graham Center Archives has prepared a webpage in Colson’s memory. Additionally, the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections blog has posted a remembrance of Colson. More information on the Charles W. Colson Scholarship is available here.