Christians and the Media Elite

SOURCES No. 3 - Christians and the Media Elite

"The irony of this occasion is not lost on me and possibly not on you. It was 20 years ago in this very place that I appeared to defend Richard Nixon."

Editor's Note:

The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., invited Charles W. Colson to speak at their weekly press luncheon on March 11, 1993, a few weeks after it was announced that Colson was to be the recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Colson's return to the National Press Club was rich with historic irony, and a symbol of his transformation from one of the nation's most effective political operatives to the leader of an international Christian prison ministry and an articulate and forceful spokesman for Christian perspectives on current issues.

 

His return visit was exactly 20 years after he spoke at a similar, but dramatically more hostile, press club gathering to defend President Nixon in the midst of Watergate. In addressing the press in 1993, Colson said, "Twenty years ago I came with a hatchet; today I return with an olive branch."

 

“Christians and the Media Elite,”

Delivered at the National Press Club March 11, 1993

 

I appreciate the opportunity to speak here today as a recent recipient of the Templeton Prize. There's a very nice thing about such awards: Though nothing you say is more profound or wittier or cleverer than before, people think it is.

 

The irony of this occasion is not lost on me and possibly not on you. It was 20 years ago in this very place that I appeared to defend Richard Nixon. It was a memorable occasion, which made the lead on all three networks that evening. Made memorable by my stirring, unqualified defense of the president - and by Clark Mollenhof's brutal but, as history proved, telling rebuttal.

 

 

Many of the journalists who covered Watergate ended up winning Pulitzer prizes or lucrative book contracts. I ended up in prison. So I learned my lesson. Since it is impossible to beat the media, I decided to join them. I have written 10 books, do a daily radio commentary on 250 stations, and have written numerous articles, including a regular magazine column. I can therefore - at the risk of having the ground shake under the Washington Post building - greet you as a colleague.

 

Let me hasten to add that I come now not with a hatchet as I did 20 years ago, but with an olive branch. I hope to persuade you today that the two camps which you and I represent should make peace.

 

My side is often stereotyped as the religious right - those folks described by the Washington Post as "largely uneducated, poor and easy to command." There is considerable diversity in that group, and I've occasionally been harsh on some in the so-called religious right who show more zeal than thought. But generally our side agrees on one thing: We harbor almost a fear and loathing of what we call the media elite. That phrase--even if you don't feel very elite--means all of you here today.

 

My proposition is simple: that both sides need each other for the greater good of our society.

 

Let me approach my thesis beginning with the subject I know best: criminal justice. Over the past 17 years, I have been in well over 600 prisons in nearly 30 countries. In one as a resident, the others as a visitor. I have visited penal institutions all the way from nearby Lorton to Perm Camp 35 in the Ural Mountains. And through our ministry we even operate one prison, which I'll tell you about in a few moments.

 

What I have experienced can be summed up tersely: The American criminal justice system is terminally ill. While I find Dr. Kevorkian appalling, we could use someone like him in public policy--to dispose of discredited government programs. (We all know that nothing in government dies of natural causes.) And criminal justice policies would top the list to be hooked up to the death machine.

 

The statistics tell the story. In 1973 there were 210,000 people in U.S. prisons; the incarceration rate was 98 per 100,000, well behind the notoriously high rates of the Soviet Union and South Africa. The crime rate at the time was rising, and many Americans began to feel new fears in old neighborhoods.

 

Last year, the total number of people incarcerated in America was 856,000 plus 425,000 in jails. Our rate of incarceration was 512 per 100,000 (including jails). We are now leading the world by a wide margin.

 

We have seen an unprecedented boom in prison construction over the past 20 years, investing over $37 billion (another $5 billion construction is in process today with $10 billion more projected). The cost of incarceration is nearly $20,000 per year per inmate--a staggering sum.

 

But in spite of the huge number of criminals being incarcerated, our crime rate has continued to rise. During this same period, violent crime climbed over 75 percent. And each year the people who commit these bloody crimes are younger. According to The Lipman Report, between 1985 and 1991, the number of 18-to 20-year-olds arrested for murder rose 113 percent, the number of 17-year-olds rose 121 percent, and 16-year-olds rose by 158 percent.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that 20 percent of high school students carry weapons to class. And in the city of Baltimore, according to the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, more than half of black men between the ages of 18 and 35 are caught up in the criminal justice system: either in prison, on bond, on parole, or on probation.

 

Lawlessness seems submerged just below the surface of our everyday life. The cost of crime, the price of prisons, the sacrifice of security--these are burdens that grow heavier each year. And when spark touched tinder in Los Angeles, many of us saw a vision of the future of many American cities, illuminated by the glare of neighborhoods in flames.

 

Statistics can leave us cold. But I have seen the dreadful cost of this system in the faces of thousands of human beings trapped in it.

 

When I was a prisoner I watched men spend most of their days lying on their bunks doing nothing, staring into the emptiness. Bodies atrophying, souls corroding. At night the inmates might sit around their tables playing cards and talking about how they would get even with those who had wronged them or with society in general. Prison talk usually centered around how they had been caught before and how they would get away the next time. I've never been in a place so filled with anger, bitterness, despair, dejection.

 

It is no wonder to me that after being released, between 66 and 74 percent, depending on whose statistics you use, commit new crimes within four years; the wonder is that the remaining 25 percent do not. The prison experience is brutal, dehumanizing, counterproductive.

 

Of course, prisons do serve one very important function. They separate dangerous offenders from the rest of society. On this score, they are effective--at least as long as the offender is incarcerated. And I should add that the failure of the system is not due to correctional officials. I've been greatly impressed with the high quality of people who serve in corrections--some of the most dedicated public servants I've known.

 

No, the blame for the mess we're in today rests squarely on the shoulders of politicians; and it is shared equally by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Both sides have been wrong. Dangerously wrong.

 

Let's consider first the liberal approach. The prevailing sociological view earlier in this century was that crime is caused by environmental factors--poverty, racism, oppression, lack of opportunity. So in the 1930s and '40s we began to experiment with various forms of human engineering. New prisons were built where these "deprived" individuals could be (in the fashionable term of the time) "resocialized." Prisons were seen as a constructive response on society's part to help people trapped in deprived circumstances. They had resorted to crime, after all, through no fault of their own.

 

Once this idea took root, it was hard to shake. In the 1960s, Ramsey Clark said flat out, "Poverty is the cause of crime." Millions of people in the inner cities caught on to the idea and concluded they weren't responsible for their behavior. They were merely victims of poverty; crime was a natural response to their circumstances, and perfectly excusable.

 

When he was president, Jimmy Carter said virtually the same thing in response to the looting that erupted in New York following the city's infamous 24-hour blackout. It was poverty that drove New Yorkers to riot, Carter argued. But his words rang hollow a few months later when studies showed that most looters were employed and stole things they didn't need or have any use for.

 

And last year during the Los Angeles riots were heard haunting echoes of Clark and Carter.

 

If the cause of crime is in the external environment, then it was natural to presume we could cure crime by changing the environment. Thus, we came to believe that prisons are capable of rehabilitating criminals. All sorts of people were placed in prison "for their own good" in the hope they would come out renewed, lawabiding, upright citizens, restored to being productive members of the community.

 

But rehabilitation proved to be a costly myth. I don't know anyone in corrections today who honestly believes that prisons rehabilitate, that they have any therapeutic or redemptive purpose at all. Nevertheless, the myth lives on, and so does the notion that individuals are not responsible for their behavior--that they are not morally depraved, they are simply socially and economically deprived.

 

The assumptions on the conservative side have been equally flawed. Conservatives seemed to believe that the solution to crime was simply to lock criminals up and throw away the key.

 

I don't know anyone in corrections who honestly believes that prisons rehabilitate.

 

I'm familiar with this approach myself. I wrote many of Nixon's law-and-order speeches (at least the more eloquent ones). In fact, since a Christian is called to repent of his sins, I will do so here. I helped shape the law-and-order mentality that has flourished ever since. Latter-day politicians have simply stolen some of my own lines that proved to be crowd pleasers. "Throw away the key. Get tough on crime," intones the politician--and he is drowned out by applause.

 

This is called the deterrent theory: Lock them up and we'll scare people out of crime. But it doesn't work either. The problem is that fear does little to change behavior. If it did, no one would smoke. Motivations are more complex than that, particularly when it comes to crime and violence.

 

Those of you who know your Bibles will understand instantly why the deterrent theory fails. The Apostle Paul, with poignant realism, wrote, "That which I want to do, I do not do, that which I do not want to do, I do. Is it the law that makes me sin? May it never be so, but until the law said, `Thou shalt not covet,' I never coveted." The fact is we are stubborn creatures, we humans. The more likely we are told not to do something, the more likely we are to do it. The failed experience of the touted "Scared Straight" program in Rahway, New Jersey, where lifers attempted to scare juvenile offenders away from a life of crime, offers convincing evidence. Our minds may lead us right, but our wills do not always follow.

 

If prisons did rehabilitate or if the threat of prison did deter crime, surely we would be living in utopian peace. But the stark fact is this: Though we've thrown more people in prison than at any other time in human history, few sensible people would be willing to walk through the combat zone of this city, or any other major city, after dark. One out of four American households will be victims of crime this year. Crime and the fear of crime disrupt our lives and haunt our nights.

 

Why have both of these approaches failed? The answer is as close as our conscience and as distant has our highest ideals. Both approaches have ignored our moral life. They have passed over our character and forgotten our soul. And that is where the cause of crime is rooted.

 

In the 1960s psychologist Dr. Stanton Samenow and psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson, sharing the conventional wisdom that crime is caused by environment, set out to prove their point. They began a 17-year study involving thousands of hours of clinical testing and examined the lives of 250 inmates here in the District of Columbia. Their landmark work was published in 1977, entitled The Criminal Personality. To their own astonishment, they discovered that the cause of crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression. Instead, crime is the result of individuals making, as they put it, wrong moral choices. Samenow and Yochelson concluded that the answer to crime is a "conversion of the wrong-doer to a more responsible lifestyle."

 

In 1987, professors James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein at Harvard came to similar conclusions in their book Crime and Human Nature. They determined that the cause of crime is a lack of proper moral training among young people during the morally formative years, particularly ages one to six.

 

In other words, the crime problem boils down to concepts that are foreign to our lips today, words that may even sound quaint--like morality and character. The root of our crime problem is the loss of individual character, and the resulting erosion of our character as a people. Neither the liberal solution nor the conservative solution reaches this deep.

 

The evidence of American history powerfully supports this conclusion. In the early 1980s, the same James Q. Wilson decided to survey our national history to find some trend or cycle that would correlate with crime data. He noticed a startling pattern.

 

Contrary to common expectations, crime did not correlate with poverty. During the Great Depression, for example, there was widespread poverty--34 million people unemployed--and yet crime dropped.

 

Nor did it correlate with factors like urbanization--masses of people crowding into the cities. The middle of the nineteenth century, for example, was a period of rapid urbanization. Yet the level of crime actually fell. Why? During thatsame period a great spiritual awakening took place. Just as industrialization was beginning, a more fervent morality was also taking hold. So from the mid-1800s to 1920, despite all the environmental, economic, and social pressures that should have led to increased crime, the crime rate actually decreased.

 

Conversely, during the good economic years of the 1920s, crime actually rose. Why? Because, as Wilson concluded, "the educated classes began to repudiate moral uplift and Freud's psychological theories came into vogue." People no longer believed in restraining a child's sinful impulses; they wanted to develop his "naturally good" personality. The weaker emphasis on moral training led predictably to an increase in criminal behavior.

 

The same philosophy, by the way, came back into fashion in the 1960s, bringing with it a sharp increase in crime, which still continues today.

 

My own experience of more than 17 years dealing with tens of thousands of inmates confirms what Professor Wilson discovered and what the late Dr. Samenow and Dr. Yochelson learned: that crime stems from moral factors. That being the case, we are led to the conclusion that the solution to crime must be moral as well. Anything else is merely a Band-Aid to treat a sickness of the soul.

 

What practical guidelines does this insight give us in confronting our crisis of crime and punishment? How do we provide a moral response to crime?

 

First, We need committed people who will transmit to prison inmates a message of hope and redemption. At this very moment, Prison Fellowship has 50,000 volunteers going into prisons, holding seminars, conducting Bible studies, mentoring inmates as they are released from prison, visiting their families, bringing gifts to their children. And we are seeing it make a powerful difference.

 

I would not be so presumptuous to say that only the Gospel of Christ can bring about moral reformation. I'm happy about every effort where individuals help individuals. But it is Jesus Christ who made a lasting difference in my life. And this is what I can offer to others.

In Humaita prison, inmates are constrained by the love of Christ.

 

Does it work? Emphatically, yes--even by the standards of the most skeptical critic. A 1990 study conducted by the Institute for Religious Research at Loyola College in Maryland compared two groups of exoffenders. They were similar in terms of crimes committed, age, gender, and race. The only difference between them was that one group had participated in Prison Fellowship programs and the other had not.

 

The study found that, overall, offenders who had taken part in the programs were nearly 22 percent less likely to be re-arrested than those who had not. Among women, the difference was even more notable: Women who attended Prison Fellowship seminars were 60 percent less likely to be arrested. Those who were re-arrested were charged with less serious offenses.

 

But the most convincing testimony to the effectiveness of moral reformation is the experience we have had in actually running a prison in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil.

 

Almost 20 years ago, two Christian laymen, Mario Ottaboni and Sylvio Marques (who is today a judge), persuaded the officials of the State of Sao Paulo to hand over to them an old prison in the center of the city that was about to be closed. Their plan was to run the prison on Christian principles.

 

And that's precisely what they have done. The prison is called Humaita. And of the 600 or more prisons I've visited around the world, I have never been in one where I felt the warmth of spirit that I did at Humaita. It was clean, the gardens in the entrance way were well maintained. The inmates were smiling, particularly the murderer who had the keys and opened the gates to let me in.

 

There are only two full-time paid staff in the prison; the rest of the prison is run by inmates. And wherever I walked, I saw people who were at peace. I saw clean living areas; I saw people working industriously. I saw signs on the walls, sayings from Psalms and Proverbs written in Portuguese. One sign I saw over the work area should hang over every factory in America: "He who lives by killing time...dies with it."

 

When an inmate arrives at Humaita prison, his chains are removed. One of the inmate staff takes off his chains and says, "In this prison, you are constrained not by steel but by the love of Christ."

 

Every inmate is assigned to a buddy system, something that has proven so effective in the military. Each inmate is accountable to another. They watch out for one another's interest.

 

Every inmate is assigned a volunteer family from the outside, who works with him during his period of incarceration and assists him on his release. Every inmate is given an opportunity to join either a chapel program or a valorization class where he learns character development.

 

In the center of the prison are the notorious punishment cells once used for torture. I was escorted there by one of the inmates. We walked down a long corridor of barred steel doors. He told me there was one inmate left in the last punishment cell. We got to the end of the corridor and he put the key in the lock and then said, "Are you sure you want to come in?"

 

Somewhat impatiently, I said, "Of course, I've been in punishment cells all over the world." He looked inside and said, "Yes, he's there, stand back." Then he slowly swung the door open. I could see in a corner a soft light, a couple of chairs, and as I walked into the room, I saw the inmate in that punishment cell. It was a beautifully carved crucifix of Jesus hanging on the cross.

 

"He's doing time for all the rest of us," my inmate guide said softly.

 

Does all of this make a difference? Absolutely. Over 20 years, the recidivism rate at Humaita has remained at a mere 4 percent. Contrast that, if you will, with a 75-percent recidivism rate in the rest of Brazil, about the same rate as here in America. The secret to Humaita's success is spiritual and moral rehabilitation.

 

Second, to deal with the crime crisis, we need a balanced criminal justice policy, one that charts a third way between liberal and conservative, offering both real punishment and real redemption. That means abandoning the idea altogether that prisons either rehabilitate or deter. Prisons succeed in keeping violent and dangerous criminals off the streets. Beyond that point, they accomplish little.

 

So we do need tough laws to incarcerate truly dangerous offenders. These facilities must be humane, but their primary purpose is to quarantine violent criminals and keep them away from the public. Bars and walls are merely a type of societal self-defense. We cannot fool ourselves that barbed wire and empty hours are a recipe for rehabilitation. The lesson of our recent past is clear. Prisons protect society. They don't reform lives.

 

So on the other hand, we ought to explore alternative ways of dealing with nonviolent offenders. Most people don't realize that 50 percent of the people admitted to prison each year have committed nonviolent offenses.

 

We could solve the prison overcrowding problem in America overnight if we had the political courage and honesty to take nonviolent, non-dangerous inmates out of prison, put them in work camps or in community-based treatment centers or in home incarceration and make them work. In this way, they could pay back their victims rather than sit in a prison cell at a cost of $20,000 a year to the taxpayers. It is redemptive for the individual, teaching responsibility for his actions. And it is redemptive for society, restoring the victims of crime.

 

Restitution is, of course, a biblical principle. And it works. In 1973, Minnesota revised its corrections system, coupling alternatives to incarceration with sentencing reform. The results are impressive. Minnesota has an incarceration rate of 73 per 100,000 residents--the second lowest in the nation. Even more impressive, Minnesota's incarceration rate is lower than many western European countries, including Denmark, France, the U.K., Switzerland, and Austria.

 

Alternative sentencing also saves taxpayers money. While each Californian pays more than $77 a year to operate the state corrections system, and every New Yorker pays more than $73, the average Minnesotan spends less than $21. And public safety has not been compromised. According to the FBI, while New York and California rank second and third, respectively, in violent crime, Minnesota ranks thirty-seventh.

 

Other states are catching on. Just a few weeks ago I saw a report from the State of Alabama where we were successful in passing a community-based corrections program. The state boasted that the growth rate of incarceration had dropped dramatically due to the use of alternative forms of sentencing.

 

We've had similar success in several other states. And the Clinton administration has given me cause for guarded optimism. Last week I read that the administration was considering freezing new prison construction and spending some of the money saved on nonprison alternative. If the policy is implemented, it will be the most refreshing change on the national scene in two decades. The numbers prove that alternatives to incarceration do succeed. All that's required are courageous politicians and an educated public.

 

The drumbeat message to kids is to live for the moment and go for the gusto.

 

Third, if the solution to crime involves a moral response, we must deal with out culture's crumbling moral consensus. Remember what Wilson and Herrnstein said--that crime stems from a failure in moral training. The prevention of crime has everything to do with the moral climate, habits, values, and attitudes of our people--particularly young people.

 

I'm always amused when politicians talk about winning the war on drugs as if we could build enough prisons, hire enough police and judges, and effectively seal off the borders to stop the drug flow into America.

 

In prison I never went to sleep one night without smelling marijuana burning.

 

If you can get marijuana into prison with all the guards and watch towers and security measures, you can surely get drugs into a country. II don't care what kind of treaties we enter into

 

with South American nations. I don't care how many guards we put on the border. I don't care if we send the Marines in to burn all the coca and poppy fields in Columbia. So long as people want drugs they will find them just a few handshakes away.

 

The problem is not on the supply side. If it were, we could have stopped the drug problem long ago. The problem is on the demand side.

 

Kids are not given training in the basics of right and wrong in the home. The surely don't get any education in traditional values at school. And the drumbeat message of commercials, television, and music is to live for the moment and go for the gusto. At ten, eleven, and twelve they go out on the street and smoke dope or crack. We bust them, they think we're crazy, and so do I.

 

The problem isn't lack of law enforcement, and it isn't material poverty. It is a poverty of values. In our violent, inner-city neighborhoods, people are crying for the order that grows only out of moral character and moral courage.

 

Crime, after all, is a mirror of a community's moral state. Today that mirror reflects a broken consensus. A set of traditional beliefs that defined the content of our character has been shattered like glass. Americans are left to pick their way among the jagged pieces.

 

No culture can survive without a moral consensus, shared beliefs about right and wrong, a common standard of truth. this is what defines the rules we live by. It binds us together with mutual duty. It motivates self-sacrifice. It undergirds the law. It allows the cultivation of public virtue. It permits freedom without anarchy. It is the agreement that society is governed more by transcendent truths than by individual desires, that society is more than the sum of the choices individuals make.

 

Without this consensus, how can we make any ethical judgements? How can we define the good life? How can anyone cry for reform when "form" has no meaning? The individual is abandoned to self-interest alone.

 

Ultimately, the goal must be reformation, not just reform.

 

I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's reaction when he was told a certain guest believed all morality is a sham. "Why, sir, if he really believes there is no distinction between virtue and vice," roared Johnson, "let us count the spoons before he leaves."

 

The problem is after decades of value-free tolerance, we don't have any spoons left to count. Look at all the "gates" that followed Watergate, the Wall Street scandals, religious frauds, fallen sports heroes.

 

So the problem is that our moral consensus has shattered. How do we go about restoring it? Where does moral conviction come from?

 

Though George will might argue that government can inspire and create public virtue--that statecraft is soulcraft--I respectfully disagree. I believe virtue is something that grows from within, not something enforced from above. The law does have a role in moral instruction. But the roots of our moral life go deeper than laws and bills and statesmen's speeches. Government programs can feed the body; they cannot touch the soul. They can punish behavior; they cannot transform hearts.

 

Ultimately, the goal must be reformation, not just reform. And this points directly to the essential role of religious values and religious hope in our common life. It is the only was to reach into the darkest corners of every community, in the darkest corners of every mind.

 

Religion provides a moral impulse to do good. It has sent legions of Christians into battle against disease and oppression and bigotry. It ended the slave trade, built hospitals and orphanages, tamed the brutality of mental wards and prisons. It motivated marches for civil rights and marches for human life. It has provided a voice for the weak and a hope for the hopeless. Religion also provides the power to be good. It subdues an obstinate will. It provides new values to old sinners--even to people like White House hatchet men.

 

I can sense that some of you are squirming, and I know what many people think: "Those Christians just want to cram their religious values down reluctant throats." But that is not my intention. I want simply to argue that Christians bring something important to our culture, something that cannot be easily replaced. I want to argue that they deserve an honored placed at the table. And that in a free, pluralistic society, we can contend in the public square for the truths we cherish without "imposing" them on anyone.

 

I believe in the separation of church and state. But I must also say that there is only one thing more dangerous than the entanglement of church and state-and that is the complete separation of religion from our social life.

 

This brings me back to my opening thesis. The peace of our society is threatened when children are not taught respect for life and property. When deception and fraud are commonplace. When our nation is drained of its ideals. All these things can be confronted only if we rediscover the moral consensus that restrains our baser instincts and inculcates virtue in society, character in individuals.

 

But to do so, we must appeal to the religious faith of our people. As historian Christopher Dawson argued, at the root of culture is "cult"--or religion, that which defines our deepest commitments.

 

The great paradox of our age is this: In the interest of tolerance, we are aggressively seeking to scrub religious values, and even reminders of our religious heritage, out of our public life. Yet it is that religious heritage, it is that tradition, it is that source of a true and vital religion that is absolutely essential for the recovery of character.

 

It is the very virtues that could save us that are dismissed and disdained. Religious values are banished from our public debate and stripped from our common life. But in the meantime, moral challenges press us forward. We jettison the life rafts and set sail on stormy seas.

 

There are those who say America is engaged in a culture war. And there can be no truce in this culture war until both sides begin to understand one another--until we wee that a society can be both tolerant and, at the same time, respect certain transcendent truths, ideas of right and wrong that inspire us to rise beyond narrow self-interest.

 

A good place to start is with you and me--with what we might call the conservative evangelical wing of the American church and what, for lack of a better term, is called the media elite. So long as we see one another as mortal enemies, we will make little contribution to public harmony.

 

I have to confess at this point that my side bears a substantial responsibility for the gulf that divides us. We have often acted as though the media were in league with the People for the American Way and the ACLU, hatching plots in the basement of CBS to grind our altars into dust. We have pictured you as extremists, who will not rest content until you've strangled the last abortion protester with the guts of the last televangelist.

 

You, in turn, have often painted us as bigoted enemies of American values. Every church is pictures as a carnival of corruption, with an Ayatollah in every pulpit.

 

Both of us are wrong. And if this is how the debate continues to be framed, if this kind of polarization continues, all of America loses.

 

And so let us offer one another an olive branch.

 

Those of us who represent the Christian faith share a common interest with you, the media, in the preservation of America's first freedom. Both us live or die by the same First Amendment. We are guided by the same landmarks of liberty.

 

A true and vital religion is absolutely essential for the recovery of character.

 

On our side we need to make a better case of what is required to developed public virtue in the moral reformation of a society--what Tocqueville called the "habits of the heart." We need to argue more convincingly that a free society depends not only on economic and political freedoms but also on the moral character that supports those freedoms. We need to invite you and others to join us in reasoned, dispassionate, thoughtful debate.

 

We would ask you, on the other hand, to look at what religion actually means in American life. What does it mean to preserving the family, with the many consequences this holds for the future of our nation? What does it mean when 50,000 Prison Fellowship volunteers go into the prisons regularly? When 100,000 volunteers deliver Christmas gifts to needy children?

 

To be frank, Christians chafe when we see front-page coverage of our shameful scandals. Our religious excesses are fair game for your coverage, of course. But how about giving the other side of the story, too? Why not consider accompanying some of our volunteers when we deliver those gifts at Christmas time? I must have read dozens of stories last year about religious abuses in America. But I read no national news of our own Angel Tree, which brought gifts to 260,000 forgotten children.

 

An escalating war between paranoia and bigotry serves no one.

 

I, of all people, realize that gripping stories make for successful journalism. But are we to be simply stereotyped as narrowminded bigots, led largely by hypocrites? Isn't there another side to show the public?

 

So I would appeal to you, in the interest of the public welfare: hear our case. Don't judge us by a few zealots, just as we should not judge you by those few passionate journalists who stereotype us as 'poor, uneducated and easy to command."

 

Let us come together to recognize that an escalating war between paranoia and bigotry serves no one. and in this truce, perhaps we can begin a serious discussion of our common moral life--in a society where crime makes that discussion increasingly urgent.

 

Charles W. Colson is chairman of the Board of Prison Fellowship, a ministry that exhorts and equips the church to help people suffering at all points of the cycle of crime: prisoners, ex-prisoners, victims, and their families. Former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, Colson founded Prison Fellowship after serving a seven-month prison term for Watergate-related crimes.

 

Colson is a highly regarded Christian author, speaker, and commentator. His books include the international best seller Born Again, Life Sentence, Loving God, Kingdoms in Conflict, Convicted, Against the Night, The God of Stones and Spiders, Why America Doesn't Work, coauthored with Jack Eckerd, and The Body: Being Light in Darkness. Colson can also be heard daily on his radio broadcast, "BreakPoint", which confronts current issues from a Christian perspective.

 

The Wilberforce Forum is a division of Prison Fellowship. Our hero and model is William Wilberforce, who fought Britain's slave trade and sought to reform the corroding values of nineteenth-century England. As Prison Fellowship seeks to bring biblical standards of Justice to bear on those affected by crime, the Wilberforce Forum seeks to equip believers to contend for Christian values in society.

 

Sources is a periodic publication of the Wilberforce Forum. It is designed to equip readers with provocative resources to stimulate discussion of the movements and issues that shape our lives.