America needs a “reformation of manners” if it is to get back on track, according to cultural commentator Chuck Colson. That involves personal responsibility.
Colson told a crowd of about 1,500 at Samford University Sunday night (July 17) that “the thing I am worried about more than anything is that we have lost our sense of civic responsibility.” The event, hosted by Samford, was billed as “An Evening with Chuck Colson” and was coordinated by a diverse group of religious, political and community leaders.
Colson, who was convicted for his role in the 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down the administration of President Richard Nixon, became a Christian and now focuses his life and ministry on developing Christian leaders who can influence culture through their faith. He founded Prison Fellowship Ministries in 1976 after serving out his sentence at Maxwell Federal Prison in nearby Montgomery, Ala.
Noting his more than 50-year career around politics and in Washington, D.C., Colson said he “can’t ever remember a time when I have sensed such anger and discontent and frustration” in American society. Referencing a recent New York Times poll that said two-thirds of Americans do not believe the country is “on the right track,” he said there is concern about the moral breakdown of society that includes the financial crisis of rising deficits and the recent immorality of such prominent politicians as Anthony Weiner and John Edwards.
People today are expecting a political solution to problems in America, but that is an unrealistic expectation, he declared. “Culture spawns politics. If the culture is sick, we can’t blame the people in Washington,” Colson said. “We must blame ourselves that we, as the church, haven’t been able to change culture to the Judeo-Christian values and culture as the way to live.”
He said when the Gallop organization did a poll of all government services that could be cut to balance the budget, 65 percent of respondents said to cut services. But, when the poll went line-by-line, not a single budget item got a simple majority.
He noted that during World War II, Americans pulled together to help the war effort. Today, however, “nobody is willing to sacrifice.”
“Don’t expect this government to solve your problems,” he said. “They can’t do it unless you are willing to take responsibility. But, I honestly believe we’re almost to the point where we can’t be governed.”
Life, marriage and liberty are the “fundamentals of the Christian faith,” and all three are under attack, according to Colson. “We stand the risk of being taken over by the values of our current cultures.”
Colson encouraged the audience to read and sign the Manhattan Declaration, which he co-founded in 2009 with Samford divinity dean Timothy George and Princeton University professor Robert George. His immediate goal, he said, is to reach 500,000 signers. The total so far is about 498,000. Learning about the declaration will help with “arguments that you can use to help your neighbors understand that Christianity is the only way,” he added.
“It is a covenant that we all will stand together” to fight the so-called culture wars, Colson said, “but at no point will we render to Caesar what belongs to God,” quoting the Christian gospel account in Matthew. “We have a character deficit in America, and character is built in the family. God forbid that we start deconstructing the family and say that any group can call themselves a family.”
The church, not society, is to blame “for not building a thriving, healthy culture,” he added. “We have ignored what it takes to build a strong family. We have ignored the biblical fact that a strong family is built on marriage between one man and one woman.”
Quoting one of his favorite theologians, G.K. Chesterton, Colson said there are optimists and pessimists in the world, and “Christians are the only ones who are both. We are optimists because we know that God is writing the final chapters of our history. All we have to do is join together, learn how to present our case winsomely, trust God with the outcome, and never despair.”
The Sunday evening event is one of three Samford-sponsored events featuring Colson. He will be honored at a luncheon Monday (July 18) hosted by Samford’s Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership and then will be the featured speaker for the opening night of the annual pastors school hosted by Samford’s Beeson Divinity School.