This evening, Mr. Charles W. Colson, the Founder of Prison Fellowship, will make his acceptance speech on receiving the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. John Marks Templeton, a very successful businessman, established the Templeton Prize in 1972. The award’s rationale is stated quite succinctly:
Progress is needed in religion as in all other dimensions of human experience and endeavour … It is urgent that progress in religion be accelerated as progress in other disciplines takes place.
Aware that Nobel Prizes are awarded in various categories, but not in religion, Sir John Templeton decided to establish a prize to honour those who advance the world’s understanding of God. By calling attention annually to the achievements in this area, the award serves to stimulate the quest for this deeper understanding of God and pioneering breakthroughs in religious knowledge.
To emphasize the importance of religion in human culture and progress. Sir John Templeton has ensured that the monetary value of the Templeton Prize always exceeds that of a Nobel Prize. This year his prize was valued at 650,000 pounds sterling, more than $1,000,000.
Through the years, some of the Templeton Prize’s recipients have been well-known throughout the world. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, was the first recipient, in 1973, before she was so widely known and respected. Christian evangelist, the Reverend Dr Billy Graham, was the recipient in 1982; and Mr. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian who has written so eloquently about the freedom of human conscience, received the Prize in 1983. Other recipients were, perhaps, less well-known worldwide, but no less deserving of the award: the Reverend Nikkyo Niwano, Founder of the Buddhist Rissho Kosei-Kai in Japan and the World Conference on Religion and Peace (1979); Dr. Inamullah Khan, the Founder and Secretary-General of the Modern World Muslim Congress (1988); and the Right Honourable Lord Jakobovits, the former Chief Rabbi for the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth (1991).
Sir John Templeton does not personally participate in the process of selecting each year’s recipient. He has relegated that task to a panel of eminent judges, including, currently, Dr. James Billington, the U.S. Librarian of Congress, Mr. George Gallup, the Executive Director of the Princeton Religion Research Center, Dr. Otto von Habsburg, President of the Paneuropean Union, and Baroness Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Great Britain. Former judges include the Dalai Lama, President Gerald Ford, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Mrs. Anwar el Sadat, and His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.
The panel of judges follows the guidelines which Mr. Templeton has laid down. The qualities which they look for are freshness, creativity, innovation, and effectiveness. A nominee’s contribution to progress in religion may have been made in the year prior to his or her selection or during an entire career. The Templeton Award is for progress in religion, not for good works. Such contributions to progress in religion may include:
- new concepts of the spirit,
- new organizations,
- new methods of evangelism,
- new and effective ways of communicating God’s wisdom and infinite love,
- creation of new schools of thought,
- creation of new structures of understanding the relationship of the Creator to his ongoing creation of the universe, to the physical sciences, the life sciences, and the human or man sciences,
- the releasing of new and vital impulses into old religious structures and forms …
Applying these exacting criteria to the 1993 nominees, the panel of distinguished judges selected Mr. Charles Wendell Colson as this year’s Recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Mr. Colson is no stranger to an American audience. Born in Boston, he graduated from Brown University in 1953. His meteoric rise in politics is well known. At age 24, he became assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. At age 27, he became Senator Leverett Saltonstall’s administrative assistant, the youngest person on Capitol Hill to serve in that capacity. After working for a time at a prominent law firm, Mr. Colson joined the Nixon campaign for President. In 1969, at age 38, he resigned his law practice and was appointed Special Counsel to President Nixon. In 1972, he was a key advisor to the President and a major strategist of that year’s highly successful campaign for the re-election of the President. However, certain events which took place during 1971 and 1972 would eventually earn ‘Chuck’ Colson notoriety and castigation, rather than fame and fortune.
In 1973, he left the White House to return to private law practice. Then a pivotal moment in his life occurred. A close friend, Tom Phillips, told Chuck Colson about how important Jesus was in his life. After some wrenching soul-searching, Mr. Colson himself made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and became a ‘born again’ Christian. When he made his conversion public, many people were skeptical. The skepticism deepened after he was charged in the Watergate and Ellsberg conspiracy cases. Not many realized that, in accord with his Christian beliefs, he had approached the Watergate prosecutors and confessed to leaking stolen documents to the press — documents that smeared Daniel Ellsberg. At that time, the prosecutors had not known of the offence!
Mr. Colson pleaded guilty in federal court to an obstruction of justice charge and was sentenced to one-to-three years in prison. For most people, such a fall from high places would have been devastating, and it surely was painful for Mr. Colson. He was disbarred by the State of Virginia and suspended from the practice of law by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Moreover, while he was in prison, his father died. He experienced firsthand the humiliating devastation which prisoners undergo. But his life had been radically and dramatically changed when he was ‘born again.’ He had committed his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. In prison, he became deeply aware of the plight and needs of his fellow prisoners and resolved to do something for them. It appeared that God was calling him to a special ministry.
In 1976, Mr. Colson used the first royalties of his best-selling autobiography to found Prison Fellowship, an evangelical outreach organization whose mission is to bring the message of Jesus Christ to prison inmates. The Fellowship had very humble beginnings, but it has grown into a worldwide network of prison ministries in 56 nations. Close to 50,000 volunteers work in more than 800 state and federal prisons in the United States. It is noteworthy that Mr. Colson donates all of his book royalties — he has written 12 books — and speaking fees to the Prison Fellowship.
Prison Fellowship brings the hope-filled message of the gospel — salvation through Christ — to prisoners. It shows them a way to break the cycle of crime which has led to their incarceration. It helps free them of self-defeat, hate, and victimization.
Mr. Colson personally opposes the death penalty, as do I and my brother Catholic bishops. The Fellowship also serves as an advocate for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners. It works to reform sentencing laws. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population have been convicted of non-violent crimes. Prison Fellowship argues that they should be punished through alternatives other than prison — ways that would allow them to repay their debts to their victims and to society itself. Prison Fellowship supports the rights of crime victims; restitution is one of the cornerstones of its work for reform.
Through the years, the Fellowship has expanded its efforts. Through its Life Plan Seminars, it gives inmates practical re-entry skills and teaches them how to set goals and manage money, friendships, and jobs. Marriage Seminars help prisoners and their wives to communicate better and survive the pain of separation. Mentor programmes help newly released prisoners to keep from returning to the vicious cycle of crime.
Prison Fellowship publishes the only nationwide newspaper written for prisoners. It reaches 95 per cent of all federal and state penal institutions. Mail Call is a program that helps identify wholesome pen pals for prisoners who are lonely and have no one with whom to share their thoughts and feelings. There is also a program, aptly named Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts for the children of jailed parents.
I now have the honour and pleasure of introducing to you Mr. ‘Chuck’ Colson!