Paul Greenberg

Each of us may seek redemption in our own way. So does each national culture. Consider the life of John Profumo, namesake of the Profumo Affair in England. As secretary for war in a Conservative cabinet back in the early 1960s, John Profumo's name made the screaming headlines on the front page of every London tabloid morning after morning. For he had done the unthinkable for an English gentleman:

No, not engage in a torrid affair with a notorious prostitute who'd shared her favors with, among others, a naval attache/spy at the Soviet embassy. No, his offense was much more serious: He'd lied about it to Parliament.

Not done, you know. Bad form. Or at least it used to be when there was still an England.

John Profumo was forced to resign in disgrace. Disgraced most of all in his own eyes. He resolved to spend the rest of his life doing penance, helping the poor in anonymity. And he did.

. .

John Profumo began his new and better life as a drudge, washing dishes and cleaning toilets, at Toynbee Hall in London's East End, a refuge for the down and out. He could identify. Eventually, he was persuaded to put down his mop and take charge of the place, but only reluctantly.

By the time he died not too long ago at 91, after devoting some 40 years of his life to good works on the quiet, John Profumo had been made a CBE, commander of the Order of the British Empire. He'd been forgiven by all except possibly himself. A gentleman after all, he'd found redemption the English way, by doing the honorable thing.

. .

I used to think only the English knew how to do these things. Charles Colson proved that disgraced American politicians can find their way to redemption, too, just differently. Even in the eyes of those of us who raise an eyebrow whenever a politician is described as an evangelist, and whose first reaction is to think of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Charles Colson did it his way, the American Way. He made Prison Fellowship a big business, raising funds, creating franchises, holding rallies, spreading the Word worldwide. Call it the late 20th-century, all-American version of the New Testament's great commission. Only behind bars, where Christians have landed before.

What the Christian brings to the world is a realistic response to man's real condition: fallen. Broken. In need of healing. Charles Colson was just responding to the brokenness of the world, beginning with his own. And he believed others would follow. They did.

You know, there may be something to this Christianity thing after all.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.