Chuck Colson: Teshuvah and Woody Allen

by Bob Schwartz

Chuck Colson (1931-2012) died this past weekend. His ruthless loyalty to Richard Nixon led to his central role in the Watergate scandal and to time in prison. That experience in turn led to his rebirth as an Evangelical Christian and to a lifetime of writing books (23 of them) and of helping the least among us—prisoners and others—to achieve fuller and better lives, at least by Colson’s religious lights.

If many were turned off by Colson’s politics before his conversion, it was not always easier after. Some questioned his sincerity. Others wondered whether any amount of transformation, however sincere, could balance his responsibility for helping to bring our democracy to its knees. Others saw the politics of his Christianity to be as socially destructive as the politics of his pre-Christian ruthlessness.

Two notes about Chuck Colson.

His first book Born Again (1976) is distinguished from all other books by participants in Watergate, from Nixon down through all his men. Most readers with particular political or religious inclinations didn’t read the book then, and even fewer do now. It is a compelling, candid, sincere confession of malfeasance and faith. Whether Colson’s work of the past forty years is to your liking or loathing, if you believe in the possibility of turning—in Hebrew, teshuvah—then you should believe in this. Personal transformation is not limited to those we approve of.

The second note is that Chuck Colson was a big Woody Allen fan. This was revealed last fall in an article  by Washington Post religion writer Michele Boorstein. Theories of humor and religion aside, this really isn’t hard to understand. Funny and smart is funny and smart, and this is probably something Colson appreciated. There’s no evidence that Colson and Allen ever met (though Boorstein did uncover a tape of Allen interviewing Billy Graham!). If they had, maybe they would have shared their experiences and views about the power of turning and confession for everyone, including artists and political operatives.