WASHINGTON-Not many funerals draw the nation's political elite, evangelicals, and ex-convicts. Charles Colson's memorial service on Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral did, by the thousands. And those thousands heard not so much about Colson-the Nixon confidante, redeemed prisoner, and founder of Prison Fellowship-as they did about his Savior.
"Chuck never forgot that he was saved by a Savior who was crucified as a prisoner," said Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School and a close friend of Colson's who gave a gospel-filled homily. "We do not grieve as those who have no hope."
The service was filled with Scripture readings and congregational hymns like "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
Emily Colson, Chuck Colson's daughter, urged the audience to consider the service a "celebration." She read something her father wrote before he died: "I want my funeral services to be joyful … death is but a homecoming. It's the culmination of life."
Indeed, the service concluded with a quarter-peal of the cathedral's bells-a 45-minute performance-so it sounded like a wedding as those in attendance left.
"My dad became, as Scripture says, a new creation, and he loved his family differently," his daughter continued. "He put God first, family second, above all else. That's the mark of a great father and a great Christian leader."
"Who will take the place of Chuck Colson?" George asked the audience. He noted that people asked the same question when evangelist Dwight L. Moody died, and not many years after Moody's death, John Stott, Billy Graham, and Chuck Colson were born.
The answer to George's question seemed to be in the room: There was Eric Metaxas, author of the bestselling biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce (two especial heroes of Colson's), who started hosting Colson's radio program Breakpoint after he fell ill. Metaxas, who delivered a challenging speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this year (see "No pious baloney," Feb. 2), has already become a cultural voice in the way Colson was.
A few rows over was Eric Teetsel, the new (young) director of the Manhattan Declaration (see "Campus tilting," by Marvin Olasky, May 5), an organization Colson hatched with Princeton University's Robert George and Timothy George (no relation). The Manhattan Declaration is a Christian statement on life, marriage, and religious liberty that has drawn more than a half million signatures.
Lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund who have been working on related religious liberty cases, like the one to allow churches equal access to New York City public schools, were also in the audience.
Many of the influential people from Colson's past also came to the service, notably Doug Coe, the head of the Fellowship who was Colson's key mentor in his early faith as the Watergate scandal was erupting around him. Coe, 83, rarely makes public appearances, and people swarmed him with warm greetings and hugs.
Al Quie, 88, a former congressman and governor of Minnesota, also made a rare public appearance-he was also part of the group that discipled Colson in his early faith. He gave a tribute to Colson, but again turned to the gospel. "Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, they were one," he told the audience.
Danny Croce, an ex-convict who is now a chaplain at the prison where he served time, also spoke.
"If anyone would follow Christ, let him be a friend of sinners and eat with them," he said. Croce described how Colson set up a scholarship fund for prisoners to receive theological training, a scholarship he received to go to Wheaton College, graduate with a theology degree, and become a prison chaplain. Then choking up, he said, "[Colson] was a friend of sinners. He even ate with me."
"My father was a defender of the weak," Emily Colson said, talking about her 21-year-old son Max who is autistic and captured his grandfather's heart and attention. "What will we do in the shadow of such an extraordinary role model? There is work to be done. … Seek the truth, defend the weak, live courageous lives."