Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, received a Presidential Citizen Medal from George W. Bush on Wednesday. It is the second-highest honor for a civilian.
"For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God's boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners, and their families," the citation reads. "Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society. The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals."
While Jeb Bush restored Colson's civil rights in 2000, Colson has not received a pardon for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Congratulations on receiving the Presidential Citizen Medal. What does the medal mean to you?
Two things: The first is that redemption is possible, because it was 35 years ago this year that I left the White House in disgrace and now have come back to receive a very lovely award. And I told the President this is a great example of redemption. He started talking about the redemption that he'd seen in the prisons with me. So first of all, it stands for redemption — it's possible for anybody.
But what makes me probably happiest about the award is that the word will go through the prisons pretty quickly and every prisoner can know that there's hope. Which is what I've given my life to. That is the first thing that's really meaningful to me.
Redemption and that message now being spread to others who are in prison or who have been in prison.
So you feel that this reflects on your post-conversion life as a whole?
Oh, yeah. My Christian life.
Would a presidential pardon make a difference to you at this point?
No. I haven't asked for one, and I won't. I've gotten the only pardon I care about, which is from Christ.
When I was in the Marines, we had this thing called a Presidential Unit Citation, and that meant that if a unit was particularly valiant in battle, the whole unit got a Presidential Citation. Every member of that unit could wear that ribbon.
This [Presidential Citizen Award] was not a recognition of me personally. This was a recognition of the movement that I'm a part of, Prison Fellowship — the workers, the staff, the volunteers, the thousands upon thousands of volunteers. So I look at it as a — and I told a staffer yesterday — I look at it as a presidential unit citation for Prison Fellowship, not for me. I take it on behalf of a lot of people who make this work possible.
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Charles Colson also writes columns for Christianity Today.