Charles Colson was one of Richard Nixon’s top aids in the White House. In 1974, Mr. Colson pleaded guilty to a Watergate related charge. Mr. Colson shared with a Vancouver audience the turmoil and emptiness he experienced despite working side by side some of the world’s most influential people. Here now is Mr. Charles Colson.
Thank you very much and good evening. We thank all of you for welcoming my wife, Patty and I, to this beautiful city, one of the most beautiful that we’ve ever visited in the world. I came back here quite eagerly when Henry invited me because I’ve been here twice before but never had the opportunity to bring my wife. This truly is one of the great cities that I have visited anywhere in the 44 countries of the world. The people are as beautiful as the city, so we thank you for giving us such a warm welcome.
It’s wonderful when we can come together as we do tonight from probably different denominations and different religious traditions and maybe no religious traditions at all, and have a great evening of fellowship and music and entertainment and food and then someone like myself, to able to share my faith with each of you. You can’t do that necessarily everywhere in the world. Some places people of different religions are fighting one another like northern Ireland.
Patty and I were in Northern Ireland a few years ago and there, as you know, for the past twenty years, tragically, the Protestants and Catholics have been fighting in the streets. While we were there, there was a incident that indicated maybe they were making a little bit of progress however, because on a Sunday afternoon on one of those beautiful country roads with the rock walls on either side and the emerald green fields, two cars came to an intersection and collided. One was driven by a Catholic priest and the other was driven by a Anglican bishop. The cars collided in the middle of the intersection, the wheels were spinning, the smoke coming out, the priest fell out of the car onto the road and the bishop fell out of his car onto the road and the two of them saw each other. The bishop staggered to his feet and went over to the priest and grabbed him and helped him up and he said, “I’m so sorry that I ran into you. I was thinking about my sermon this morning and I’d forgotten where I was going and I apologize. And the father got up and said, “Not at all, bishop, it was an entirely my fault.”
Here they were in the middle of road, their cars wrecked, holding one another up and finally the catholic priest said, “Bishop, I have something you need. You look pretty badly shaken.” Went back to the glove compartment of his car and pulled out a pint of Irish Whiskey, brought it back to the Bishop and said,” Here this will steady your nerves. Take a drink.” Well, the bishop looked around and no one was there, and he wasn’t a Baptist he was an Anglican, and took a big swig of the whiskey and put it back and said, “Boy that was a wonderful act of Christian charity. That’s just what I needed. Isn’t that marvelous our people our fighting downtown but you offer to share your whiskey with me. Father, won’t you have a drink with me as well?” The priest looked at him and said,” No, thank you, I think I’ll wait till after the police have come.”
Life, I have discovered is a series of paradoxes. In the States this year, maybe you caught it on the television in Canada, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Watergate. Now where else but in the United States would you celebrate the anniversary of a burglary and a bungled burglary at that. All of the network camera crews are coming around wanting to do interviews with me. Mike Wallace did a special two hour program on Watergate and Ted Kopple and the various programs like the Today show and Good Morning America and I was on them all.
Mike Wallace at the end of a long, long interview said, “Chuck, how do you now look back on Watergate?” And maybe if you saw this program you’ll remember my response. I said, “Mike, thank God for Watergate.” He looked at me with a startled expression. I said, “Because I learned the greatest lessons of my life. The teaching of Jesus is true. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” I suspect that Mike Wallace is still sitting scratching his head saying, twenty years later, that fellow Colson still speaks in riddles. Strange sayings, lose your life for my sake in order to find it. I have to tell you good people tonight that if my life stands for anything it is the truth of what Jesus taught his disciples: He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for My sake shall find it.
I grew up in America in the great depression years. No one here, I suspect is old enough to remember the great depression but as a grandson of Swedish immigrants I grew up watching people in bread lines and not enough food to eat, thinking to myself that the most important thing would be if I could ever get to college and no one in my family had gone to college. I had that great sense of wanting security and wanting to find my meaning and my purpose in life and to get a good education and get a good job.
I won a scholarship to one of our great universities, Brown University in the United States and graduated with academic honors. That was the time of the Korean war and I was commissioned lieutenant in the marines. I can remember the day I put those gold bars on my shoulder and the globe and anchor of the marine core, the proud American United States marines tradition, I can remember thinking, there’s my meaning and there’s my security as a marine officer.
The war was over and I came back and went to law school at night and earned the doctorate of law. I can remember thinking, there is where I’ll find my security and my meaning and my purpose-in a law degree. I started a law firm that was very successful and grew. I got into politics and became the youngest administrative assistant in the United States senate. I can remember thinking I’ll find my meaning and purpose in the law and politics. I went up the ladder. The law firm grew and was successful and at age 39 the President of the United States asked me to come and to serve as his special counsel.
The White House works just like it does for those of you in business. You’ve all had the same experience. When I went to the White House you get an office way down the hall from the President and then you move yourself closer and closer and closer. I ended up in the office immediately next to the President of the United States. I can remember looking one day out over the south lawn, the beautiful manicured green lawns of the White House, and thinking to myself, my father was right who used to tell me in those depression years if you work hard, if you put your mind to something, if you really go for it, that’s the great American dream, you can succeed. Here I am sitting in the office next to the President of the United States. Walking in and out of his office everyday of the week. One of the most powerful positions of the world. Limousines outside waiting for me. Admirals and Generals saluting. Everything a person could want and, curiously enough, that was the first time in my life that I felt empty inside.
After the 1972 election when president Nixon was re-elected I decided that I’d been four years in government and that was enough. It was time then to go back to my family back to my law practice. I’d been in government long enough and I decided to leave. This was before the great scandal that all of you remember as Watergate. As I was getting ready to leave I had this empty sensation. I thought it was just being burned out. You know four years in government you got a little beeper when you walk anywhere, got a telephone beside your bed, a crisis day and night, the president of the United States calling you at all hours, you’re tired. I had this empty and tired feeling inside.
Watergate was now just beginning. When I left the White House one of the first things I did was to go back to Boston to, once again, be the general counsel of the Arathion company, one of the largest corporations in America. It’s president was a great friend of mine. I’d not seen him in four years because he was a defense contractor and we didn’t want to see one another. We didn’t want to give the appearance of conflict of interest. We worried about things like that. I went back into his office not having seen him in four years and he was a man much like myself. He started at Arathion, one of fifty thousand employees. He was 25 years old. He was an engineer who’d gone to engineering school at night. At age 36 he became executive vice president and at age 40 he was president of one of the largest companies of America. A dynamic, hard driving, hard charging guy.
I walked into his office this day and he was different. Something was changed. He was asking questions about my health and how I was weathering what was then beginning to be the Watergate storm, the great Watergate controversy which eventually engulfed the president and our entire government. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, I said, “Tom you’re different, you’re changed. Something’s happened to you. What is it?” He looked me square in the eye and he said, “Yes, I have accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to him.” I don’t mind telling you good people I took a firm grip on the bottom of my chair. I’d never heard anyone talk that way. I mean, I just thought little old ladies with tennis shoes standing on street corners handing out tracts talked like that. I mean, here’s a business man hard at it, practical business man, engineer, talking about Jesus Christ as if he were here today. I studied about Jesus when I went to Sunday School, ancient, historical fiction. This man was talking about him as if he knew him personally. Well, I nervously changed the subject. Went back to Washington became general counsel at Arathion and many other companies at that time.