Chuck Colson is in heaven.
I was in a leadership meeting with the founder of Prison Fellowship about two weeks ago -- on the day he first had the brain hemorrhage which eventually led him into eternity.
Through the years, I had the privilege of many interactions with Mr. Colson. Recently, we spent about a half-hour together on the phone -- and I had the privilege of telling him how he had changed my life.
The year was 1980, and I was the leader of Moral Majority of Washington -- the largest state chapter of that organization in the nation. I was a 29-year-old lawyer with a great deal of zeal for all that I considered to be “right.”
That year I put out a voter's guide to 150,000 of my "closest friends." One of the elections that I covered was the race for the Supreme Court between Justice Robert Utter and a challenger whose name I cannot presently remember. Both Justice Utter and the challenger were professing born again Christians.
I researched Justice Utter's judicial opinions, and I had some clear criticisms of his views. He was, I believed, simply wrong on important moral issues. As I recall them, more than 30 years later, the issues were abortion and parental rights.
As I wrote the voter's guide critiquing Justice Utter's opinions, a small voice in my spirit said something along the lines of, "This man is a brother; you should go talk to him first." I ignored the voice, reasoning that this was not a personal offense that would lead to a literal Matthew 18 situation. But there was still the voice, and I ignored it.
Justice Utter won reelection, and I went about my business. A few weeks later, however, I was sent an article from Chuck Colson criticizing my approach to Justice Utter. One other person followed on close behind Chuck Colson, raising the same critique.
I knew I had to go and make it right. The next morning I went to the Washington Supreme Court and asked to speak with Justice Utter. He immediately welcomed me into his office.
I told him that I had been wrong to ignore the voice telling me to talk to him first -- that I owed that to him as a brother in Christ. I asked him to forgive me. He did so immediately with a heart of grace and love.
Justice Utter and I became very good friends. We still didn’t agree on all constitutional issues -- but I think we probably influenced each other even in that sphere. To this day, I consider Robert Utter one of my most precious friends.
You see, Chuck Colson and Robert Utter had been long-term friends. And Colson knew his heart. And while I would say today that, as I got to know him over the years, Mr. Colson would agree with me on the legal issues which led to my original critique, Chuck Colson knew the value of relationships, and I did not.
Chuck Colson taught me this: It is possible to stand strong on principle and still love people. It is a lesson that I need to remember -- practically every day. But he was the one who showed me both the necessity of loving people and the rich reward we get when we follow Christ in this way.
The Christian community and, indeed, the world have been blessed in countless ways because of this great man. Chuck Colson became famous as a great sinner, but he was the one who taught me a great deal about forgiveness and love.
Michael P. Farris served as founding president of Patrick Henry College (2000-2006) and is now Chancellor. In addition to teaching Constitutional Law and coaching the Moot Court team, he organizes a mentorship program for PHC students called Tyndale's Ploughmen. He serves as Chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. Read full bio.