NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, April 16th. We’re so glad you’ve turned to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Notable Speeches, Past and Present.
This year marks 45 years since the late Chuck Colson went to prison for his part in the Watergate scandal. It was during that time he found Christ.
Or, rather, Christ found him.
Colson went on to a long career in Christian ministry. He wrote best-selling books, started Prison Fellowship and other organizations, and became a leading Christian thinker.
EICHER: He also became a sought-after speaker.
Today we’ll revisit one of his speeches.
He delivered it in 1993 at the Acton Institute’s anniversary dinner.
This was more than a quarter century ago. But Colson identifies cultural trends that are still relevant today. As well as the solution—which remains the same.
CHUCK COLSON: The single great issue of our times was never put more succinctly than it was by Lord Acton, for whom this institute is named. Lord Acton said these words, “Liberty is the highest political end of man, but no country can be free without religion.”
Now, listen to his reasoning. “It—religion—creates and strengthens the notion of duty.”
Old fashioned words. I’m an ex-Marine. Semper fidelis. Always faithful. Duty.
“If men are not kept straight by duty, they must be by fear. The more they are kept by fear, the less they are free. The greater the strength of duty, the greater the liberty.”
What he was saying was so fundamental. Radical, really, in today’s culture. The point he was making was that freedom depends upon liberty, which depends upon duty, which is only provided in one of two ways. Either by religious impulse or by the bayonet of the state.
And so every society makes that choice. Do we preserve liberty and freedom by that religious impulse, that gratitude to God for what He has done in our lives, that causes us to do good and to be virtuous and to be compassionate and to care about other people and to have a sense of duty and civic responsibility? Or do we do it at the point of bayonet?
Aquinas said that a moral consensus is essential for law and Chairman Mao said the opposite proposition and that is that politics begins at the muzzle of a gun. See, that’s the choice. That’s the most fundamental choice facing Americans today.
The choice today is not the question of who will govern us. Some of us would have some strong feelings about that. But that’s not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is the question the Jews of old asked and that is how then shall we live?
And look around us today, my friends, and see the choice that is being made by American cultural elites as to the question of how shall we live.
At the heart of that democratic experiment are moral truths and moral values and, ironically, through the 20th century we finally won that battle for the ideas of man in the 20th century, and we’re jettisoning the one thing that makes it what it is: its moral underpinnings.
America is rapidly secularizing. I was talking to the rabbi. I said, “How far back do you think we are in the culture war? Put it in a football analogy, what yard line are we on? Are we on the 20 yard line?”
The rabbi looked at me and said, “No, I think we’re slipping behind the 20 yard line.” Maybe a year ago when I was out here I might have said we were on the 20 yard line. I think maybe now we’re on the 10 yard line.
I mean, just look at the case of Lee vs. Weisman last year in the Supreme Court. I happened to do my doctoral studies in constitutional law. The worst single decision ever entered in the Supreme Court of the United States held that a rabbi that came in to give a prayer in a junior high school commencement in the state of Rhode Island, Debra Wiseman complained.
The rabbi gave an absolutely politically correct to whom it may concern civic prayer. But Debra Wiseman complained and said that she should not be made to sit and listen respectfully to something she disagreed with.
And the Supreme Court of the United States agreed 5-4 with Justices Kennedy, Souter, and O’Connor—three Reagan-Bush appointees—in the majority holding that it was her constitutional right not to be made to sit and listen respectfully to something she disagreed with.
Friends, that would have been just 10 years ago a mark of civility to listen to something you disagreed with. Now we’re saying it’s a constitutional right not to be made to listen to something you disagree with…
But it’s not just in law, it’s in education as well. You can hand out condoms in school, but you can’t pray. You realize what kind of a message that’s giving to young people as to what we as a society sanction?
See, that’s Acton’s point. Duty to Jesus Christ for what He has done in our lives gives us that impulse for virtue and righteousness and justice. Gives us a definition for justice. Brings to that society that which if it isn’t there must be replaced by fear, and you can’t have liberty without people who understand that duty.
Second, it’s critical… that the church become a community of character, as my friend Richard Newhouse puts it, in a sea of mendacity.
I’ve written a book called The Body in which I have a great passion that the church, the body of Christ, the people of God will come together and really love one another and let the world see the love of Christ incarnate lived out in our lives and let them see the reality of what they don’t have in secular life.
I could tell you story after story tonight of the people of gone out in our Angel Tree program and taken Angel Trees to 265—gifts to 265,000 kids last year at Christmas time in their homes where their mother or daddy is in prison. And this gift is from your father or your mother who’s in prison and brought to that child and to see the look on that child’s face and then to see those people begin to drift into the church. Why? Because they’ve seen the love of God lived out among us.
Being precedes doing, Christopher Dawson said. We have to be a holy community before we’ll make a difference in our society.
Third, one of the things that shocks me is the way so many Christians… believe that Christianity means Jesus and me. It does not. Much more than that. When Jesus Christ comes into your life and when you are transformed by him and when you follow him, you have to begin to look at the world with a whole new set of eyes and a whole new perspective.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Look at the world from God’s perspective. Don’t try to shape God’s perspective to your preconceived agenda. Look at what God says about the world and every aspect of it and then begin to develop a biblically informed worldview.
One of the places I guess you would least have to preach that would be here in Grand Rapids, in the tradition of Calvin and Kuyper and the great exponents of worldview, but how much our church needs to understand today that it’s not just ‘I’ve been saved,’ but ‘I’ve been saved for what?’ I’ve been saved to be a holy influence in the world and to see the world through God’s eyes and to live accordingly.
And fourth, have courage. Take heart. It’s lonely. But don’t despair. Fight your battle on your turf wherever God’s put you just one little piece at a time.
I’ve been able to get up and have great forums and great opportunities and write great articles, but you can make a little difference in your neighborhood, your own little groups, your clubs. Just begin to explain the truth. Know the truth, then begin to explain the truth.