It’s probably the most unlikely friendship in American history.
I recently read Chuck Colson’s autobiography “Born Again”. It was absolutely captivating. But the most fascinating part of the story was his friendship with a Democratic Senator from Iowa.
In the early 1970’s, our country was entangled in one of the greatest political controversies of all time – Watergate. In addition, the Vietnam War further divided the country along political lines.
Chuck Colson was a conservative Republican and one of the closest advisers to President Richard Nixon. He had a reputation for ruthless political maneuvers and possessed an unwavering support for the Commander-In-Chief. As the pressure of Watergate began to unravel his career and his personal life, Chuck Colson did something most people simply couldn’t believe. He became a follower of Jesus.
Harold Hughes was a liberal Democratic Senator from Iowa. After serving in WWII, he became a truck driver and an alcoholic. This lifestyle alienated him from his family, and led him to thoughts of suicide. But one night, he cried out to God for help. His subsequent faith in Christ helped him overcome alcoholism and establish a political career. He eventually became Governor of Iowa, and later a United States Senator.
Before they met, Colson described Hughes as “…anti-war, anti-Nixon, anti-Colson and we couldn’t be further apart politically.” (pg. 146) When asked his opinion of Colson, Hughes said, “There isn’t anyone I dislike more than Chuck Colson. I’m against everything he stands for.” (pg. 160).
In the midst of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, their paths miraculously crossed in Washington DC. And they became the best of friends.
Why? Because they shared the most important commitment a man can make. They both fearlessly followed Jesus.
In spite of their dramatically different views on social, fiscal and political issues, they shared the deep bonds of friendship. When publicly describing this newfound friendship, Hughes once told a prayer gathering,
“I’ve learned how wrong it is to hate. For years there were men toward whom I felt consuming bitterness. I wasn’t hurting them, only myself. By hating I was shutting Christ’s love out of my life. One of the men I hated most was Chuck Colson, but now that we share a commitment together in Christ, I love him as my brother. I would trust him with my life, my family, with everything I have” (pg. 177)
I believe we can glean 4 important lessons from this incredible friendship between Colson and Hughes:
Political opinions should never be an obstacle to Christian friendship. Many followers of Jesus today have dramatically different political opinions. Christians can be counted as members of almost every political party in America – no matter how obscure. But if these two men can become friends, anyone can. Do you have any Christian friends with whom you disagree politically? If not – why not? Colson and Hughes proved that political disagreements just aren’t that big of a deal in Christian friendship. Who knows – one of your best friends in the world may turn out to be someone with different political opinions than you.
We should pursue friendship with Christians across the political aisle. I don’t have time to tell the whole story in the context of this blog, but Colson and Hughes didn’t become friends effortlessly. They had to work at it. Other Christians took the time to help them come together under the banner of Christ. But their friendship served as a powerful example of the uniting power of Christ’s love in the midst of a culture that was deeply divided. These unlikely friendships are worth pursuing in our lives as well.
Politics just aren’t that important. I have strong political convictions, and I exercise them in the voting booth. You should too, as it’s our civic duty. But aggressively proclaiming my political ideologies doesn’t help me forge friendships. It actually works against it. So I don’t freak out about politics anymore. I actually avoid the topic as much as possible. I don’t want politics to become a stumbling block in my pursuit of friendships with other Christians. Nor do I want politics to get in the way of someone who doesn’t follow Jesus yet.
Jesus doesn’t belong to one political party. One of the most annoying things in the world is when I hear someone’s faith questioned for no other reason than their political party affiliation. This is embarrassing. And offensive. Viewed through a Christian lens, all political parties have strengths and weaknesses. Colson was a Republican. Hughes was a Democrat. Both were followers of Jesus. Making political party affiliation a prerequisite for faith is nothing short of heresy. So don’t place politics before your faith. Or before your Christian friendships.
I pray that we all make an effort to follow the example set by Chuck Colson and Senator Harold Hughes. May our mutual love for Jesus Christ be the primary motive for pursuing Christian friendships – even unlikely ones.