Colson, Charles W. (1931-), Presidential Aide and Religious activist

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Colson, Charles W.
(1931-), presidential aide and religious activist.

Charles Colson was an aide to President Richard M. Nixon, is the founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM), and is an influential celebrity among evangelical Christians. Colson received an undergraduate degree from Brown University in 1953, served in the Marines from 1953 to 1956, and earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1959. In 1956 Colson officially began his career in politics as chief assistant to Massachusetts senator Leverett Saltonstall. In 1961, shortly after Saltonstall's reelection, Colson established a law firm in Washington, D.C., yet remained active in politics. From 1969 to 1973 he served as special counsel to President Nixon, and he was implicated in the Watergate scandal. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974 and served seven months in federal prison. He became a born-again Christian in August 1973, and in 1976 he founded PFM.

PFM is an interdenominational organization that conducts Christian evangelism and Bible studies and provides practical assistance to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. The organization also works to reform the penal system and to protect the rights of crime victims. Since its inception in 1976, PFM has grown tremendously, and in 1999 it had 350 employees and more than 50,000 volunteers working in all of the state and federal prisons in the United States. It also has prison ministries in more than 80 countries worldwide. PFM is essentially an umbrella organization for a number of other organizations and ministries. For example, PFM distributes Inside Journal, a bimonthly Christian newspaper for prisoners, to every state and federal correctional facility in the United States. Formed in 1983, Justice Fellowship is another affiliated ministry that promotes biblical standards of justice through legislative lobbying and public education. Other ministries include Prison Fellowship International, Angel Tree, Neighbors Who Care, and Mail Call.

In the evangelical Christian world, Colson is a celebrated speaker, author of numerous books and tapes, and columnist for the popular magazine Christianity Today. Many of his books, such as Born Again (1976) and Loving God (1983), have become inspirational best-sellers. His evangelical radio broadcast, Break-Point, can be heard on 425 radio stations and reaches an audience of 5 million. His popularity in the evangelical community stems not only from his status as a former presidential aide and his work with PFM but also from his contribution as a specialist in the area of religion and politics. One of Colson's best-selling books, Kingdoms in Conflict (1987), examines the tense relationship between the Christian faith and politics. Further, he is often asked to offer a Christian perspective on a variety of social and political problems.

Colson's most recent honors include serving as a distinguished senior fellow of the Christian Coalition of Colleges and Universities. Also, in 1993 he won the prestigious $1 million John M. Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, honoring his work with PFM. (Previous winners include Mother Teresa and Billy Graham.) Proceeds from his speaking fees, book sales, and the Templeton Prize benefit PFM.

See alsoBorn Again Christians; Evangelical Christianity; Journalism, Religious; Prison and Religion; Publishing, Religious; Televangelism.


Colson, Charles W. Born Again. 1976.

Colson, Charles W. Life Sentence. 1979.

Jonathan F. Cordero