Chuck Colson’s 1970s best-selling book Born Again tells the story of his conversion to Christianity. Widely known as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and mastermind behind the Watergate break-ins, Colson was known as a ruthless leader who looked out for number one.
While under arrest for charges related to Watergate, Colson was forever changed as he turned his life over to Jesus Christ. In Born Again, Colson describes what Christian love truly is. He recounts a vivid story illustrating the transforming power of Jesus. It is the story of an encounter between two sworn enemies.
While leading a Bible study at Angola prison, Colson brought to the group Eldridge Cleaver, former head of the Black Panthers, and at the time of a recent convert to Christianity. Colson had forgotten that this Bible study group included Tommy Turrant, former head of the Ku Klux Klan. Hearts withered in fear as the cell door clanged shut and the jailer walked away. Cleaver’s and Turrant’s eyes locked. The two men rigidly stood inches apart.
For those who may not remember the 60’s and 70’s, it may be hard to imagine how explosively volatile this situation could have been. In any other context, the infamous leaders of these two hate groups would likely have torn each other to ribbons.
Colson feared that he had inadvertently brought together two lives that might result in blood shed (not to mention the ending of Bible study groups in this prison), but no violence erupted that day. What happened is something that only the love of Jesus Christ could achieve. The former Black Panther and Ku Klux Klan leaders embraced, weeping healing tears. Each said to the other, “You’re my brother in Christ,” “I love you,” and, “please forgive me.”
False ideologies, hate, and violence were swept away as the two men found common ground around something big enough to unite even the world; the reality of Jesus Christ.
The word of God says that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). That’s a tall order, since most of us are pretty partial to our own interests. Only the Spirit of God can truly shape us to love others as Christ would love.
Cleaver and Turrant proved their Christian authenticity by leading Bible studies and evangelism together behind bars. Their example before the other inmates was transformative (if not a bit shocking). In calling us to truly love others, it may seem like God is asking quite a lot from us, but the Lord comes along to empower us to rise up to this assignment: His Spirit lives in the believer, which is made possible by history’s greatest Lover of all, the risen Jesus Christ.