Exchanging Lies for the Truth

Have we reached a point in our society where people who tell the truth can be declared mentally unbalanced? That's what happened recently to one of the most remarkable Christians I've ever met—a man who's living on death row. I met Johnny Cockrum when I visited the Ellis prison in Huntsville, Texas, for Easter services. I have visited death rows all over the world, and I can never quite get used to the oppressive atmosphere—the dank hallways, the foul odors, the utter hopelessness of the inmates. But this hellish atmosphere has nurtured one of the most powerful faiths I've ever witnessed. As Johnny explained to me, "On death row, everything's gone. All earthly things are stripped away, and you really come face to face with the reality of Jesus." Cockrum had been sent to death row after his conviction in 1986 for the murder of a convenience-store clerk. In 1990 Cockrum's uncontrollable anger drove him to stab a fellow inmate. Sent to a lock-down wing, Cockrum realized he could no longer endure what he called "the monster of hate and bitterness" that permeated his life. He cried out to God for forgiveness and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. And that's when his legal troubles began. You see, Cockrum realized that, as a Christian, he had to tell the truth about his crimes—about how he had cold-bloodedly shot a woman for a little spending money. But prosecuting his appeals meant his lawyers had to keep telling lies. Cockrum explained, "I had to choose between going along with [my lawyers'] lies or totally trusting the Lord and telling the truth, even if it meant my life." So he told his lawyers, "You can't lie anymore. I'm a Christian, and I won't allow you to lie on my behalf." But as the Houston Chronicle put it, "that's not the kind of thing defense lawyers like to hear." Against Cockrum's wishes, his attorneys continued to push the appeal on a blame-shifting ploy: They argued that child abuse and drug use excused Cockrum's crimes. An outraged Cockrum tried to fire his attorneys. And that's when his lawyers went to court to prove he was mentally unbalanced—simply because he wanted to tell the truth. Judge William Justice agreed—even though his own court psychologists had declared Cockrum perfectly rational. As outrageous as all this may sound to you and me, Judge Justice is simply reflecting what's going on in our secular society today. No one expects the truth anymore. Everyone lies. Lying has become so normative that when someone comes along who takes the radical view that he should tell the truth because he's a Christian, it's a cause for questioning his sanity. Talk about defining deviancy down. What's happening to Johnny Cockrum is hauntingly reminiscent of how the former Soviet Union treated believers. Since Communists believed God doesn't exist, anyone who believed in God was, by definition, insane and was therefore institutionalized. Well, if Johnny Cockrum is insane, we could use a few million more insane people just like him. He's a reminder that living for Christ means obedience to tell the truth, even if our secular society calls us crazy. Even if the cost is life itself.


Chuck Colson


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