Evangelist Charles Colson's final mission: Spiritually cloning himself

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By Michelle Boorstein
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 12:22 PM

Charles Colson assembles the newest members of his Christian army at a Loudoun County convention hall on a winter Saturday.

Seated before the aging Watergate-era felon-turned-evangelical leader are dozens of handpicked disciples: a woman who sings at patriotic events, a sports psychology professor, a real estate developer, a pharmaceutical salesman.

They've spent the year - and as much as $4,000 - reading the books Colson reads, watching the movies he watches, praying the way he prays. It's all part of an ambitious effort by Colson to replicate his spiritual DNA and ensure that his vision of Christianity doesn't die when he does.

"This is the time for us to metastasize and impact society!" the gravelly-voiced former Nixon aide tells his rapt audience. "And this is a really, really urgent hour."

For decades after emerging from a federal penitentiary, Colson focused on building what has become the world's biggest prison ministry. Now, at 79, he has shifted his attention to the final mission of his remarkable life: saving what he regards as true Christianity from American extinction.

Time is running out.

There are no clear heirs to lead the movement that made conservative evangelicals a political force in the United States. No new Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, James Dobsons or Charles Colsons. Even Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, is 58.

Like many other religious conservatives, Colson believes that his views about the inerrancy of the Bible and Jesus's role as the only path to salvation aren't being taught - not in schools and not in churches. Instead, he laments, those essential, unchanging tenets are being replaced by a seeker-driven Christianity-lite, something not far from secularism and relativism.

Which is why he is working furiously, long after many men his age have hit the golf course.

Walking to lunch between weekend sessions in Virginia, Colson admits he is tired. He's sick of meetings. He calls himself an introvert who forces himself to globe-trot to spread his message.

He lectures, blogs and broadcasts a daily radio commentary that is also sent out via e-mail; the commentary reaches about 2 million followers each weekday. (He also serves as a panelist for On Faith, The Post's online forum about religion and politics.) And he is molding hundreds of men and women eager to be his spiritual progeny.

"If Jesus Christ can pick some believers, zealots and prostitutes, and these people can change the world, then we can do the same. We don't need anything more," says one of Colson's followers, Steve King, a 57-year-old paddle-sports equipment salesman and former Olympic kayaker from Quebec.


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© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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