FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Need for Ethics

with Chuck Colson | April 18, 2011
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Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson defines the meaning of ethics and explains why ethics are so crucial for a society to thrive.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson defines the meaning of ethics and explains why ethics are so crucial for a society to thrive.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Chuck Colson defines the meaning of ethics and explains why ethics are so crucial for a society to thrive.

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The Need for Ethics

With Chuck Colson
April 18, 2011
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Bob:  It was Edmund Burke who said the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  Chuck Colson says when we do nothing to oppose evil we are in league with it.

Chuck:  We are complicit in it.  We are absolutely embracing it.  There is a doctrine of law in misprision of felony; if you see someone committing a criminal act and you don’t say something, you’re equally culpable.  So it’s so clear that we’re not bystanders watching the passing scene as Christians.  We’re part of that passing scene, and if evil is triumphing it’s because we’re not being righteous and defending ourselves against it.

Bob:  This is FamilyLifeToday for Monday, April 18th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  Chuck Colson joins us today to offer us a mini course on ethics, on doing the right thing. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  I am thinking back to a class I took my freshman year in college.  The name of the class was “Contemporary Moral Issues,” and frankly I took it because they had classes like that in high school, and basically you read the newspaper and you talked about it.  It’s kind of an easy grade.

In college it wasn’t like that.  In fact, what it was was Intro to Philosophy, but they dressed it up as Contemporary Moral Issues.  But we got in and started learning about different philosophers, and it was really a challenging class and one that I still reflect back on years later.

Dennis:  Did you like it?

Bob:  I didn’t like reading all those old guys, you know? 


But I can still remember – I remember distinctly this professor talking about a guy who I’d never heard of before, a guy named Jeremy Bentham, who was a proponent of Hedonism, said the greatest good is pleasure, and you pursue pleasure.  They called it ‘hedonistic calculus.’  You were to determine how many hedones of pleasure you would get out of some activity, versus how many negative hedones of pain might accompany it, and you could determine whether it was a good thing to do.

Dennis:  What school did you go to? 


This is the University of Tulsa?

Bob:  This is how they explained it.  So you would say, okay, I’m going to go out with my friends tonight and I’m going to get drunk.  How many hedones of pleasure would I get out of that experience of getting drunk versus the negative hedones of pain I’d have the next morning when I woke up with the hangover or whatever implications of being drunk would happen.  And then you’d calculate and you’d determine whether it was good, based on whether you got more pleasure out of it than not.  As a college student I was thinking, that’s an interesting philosophy.


Dennis:  Bob, you scare me sometimes, at what you can remember.  And I’m looking over at our guest, and he remembered the guy you quoted.

Bob:  He knows Jeremy Bentham, don’t you?

Chuck:  Absolutely.  Bentham is one of the authors pro genitis of the utilitarian view of life that is do the greatest good for the greatest number, have the maximized human happiness.  And that gets rid of unwanted people in society; that is reducing humanity to cold calculus.  That’s the most dangerous philosophy there is.

Dennis:  And in case you missed Breakpoint today, that was your Breakpoint for today with Bob Lepine and Chuck Colson joining us on FamilyLife Today.

Chuck:  I might use Bob Lepine as a resource. 


Dennis:   Chuck, we do want to welcome you back to FamilyLife Today.  Many of you know Chuck as the founder of the international ministry, Prison Fellowship.  He has written a number of books, does the radio broadcast, Breakpoint, on more than a thousand outlets around the country with more than two million listeners.  And he has also crafted an important document, he along with several others, called The Manhattan Declaration.  We’ll talk about that before we’re done on the broadcast today. 

But, Chuck, we’re in a battle today, and Bob alluded to it, around ethics.  I think when you tackle the subject ethics, some people go, “I wonder how that’s really impacting me in raising our children and doing business today in this culture.”  You said there’s something that happened recently that has had a dramatic impact on all of us.  It all goes back to that class that Bob took at the University of Tulsa on ethics.

Chuck:  It does go back to that, exactly.  Ethics simply means the way things ought to be.  Now if the moms listening to us and the folks listening to us are saying, “How does that affect me?” you’re suffering with the economy right now, with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.  You’re suffering with an economy that has taken huge wealth out of our hands, that has caused government to step in and take over many of the functions previously done by the private sector. 

It’s affecting our freedom, basically, and why?  Because in 2008, and going back several years before that, the government passed the Community Reinvestment Act, which meant that the government started flooding mortgage money into the market. 

Wall Street then, in its cleverness, figured out these very exotic financial instruments.  They took all these mortgages which were coming in, coming into the marketplace, they bundled them all up together, they got the ratings agency to look the other way, they sold them off to Swiss banks and German banks.  They knew that they had failing mortgages in their mix, but they sold them anyway.  Then, at the lender level, the lenders were trying to give money away. 

And then the fundamental breakdown was in the public.  The public lost the Protestant work ethic, the idea that deferred gratification is a virtue, the idea that you save for the future.  The idea that you pay your bills, which is what built this country.  We just abandoned it.  We said, “Spend, spend, spend. Everything depends on my gratifying whatever I want.”  So it crashed.  It had to crash.  And it crashed because of a failure of ethics. 

That’s why it is so important that we understand the great ideas.  Men like Jeremy Bentham offered ideas in the Enlightenment period, the history of which has been very, very destructive.  We have to understand the right ideas of how a society lives by sound ethical standards, and they’ve been abandoned in our culture.

Bob:  You’ve been spending the better part of a year working on a curriculum that you’ve designed for who?  Who is the target audience for this curriculum on ethics?

Chuck:  College students, professional schools, businesses, some high schools.  Home-schooled kids would really benefit from this.  Churches should be doing it.  A church should take the course that we’re offering on ethics now and offer it on a six-week basis, because there are six thirty-minute sessions, and invite all the business men in the community to come.  They desperately need ethics.  They all talk about it, but there’s nothing out there.  No business schools are teaching it, colleges aren’t teaching it. 

Why?  Because it violates the cardinal rule of academic institutions in America today, and that is that there is no truth, that everybody has their right to their own opinion, that tolerance means that you accept any deviant behavior without any kind of discrimination, that it’s not compassionate to discriminate. 

We bought a myth.  We bought a lie.  We turned the world upside down.  Now our job as Christians is to turn it back right side up. 

But you said I’ve been working on it for six months or a year; actually I’ve been working on it for 20 years.  I went to Harvard Business School to give a Distinguished Lecture at Harvard because I had made a lot of controversy about the fact that Harvard Business School couldn’t teach ethics.  And a friend of mine had given $5 million to institute an ethics program.  I walked in the Aldrich Hall at Harvard Business School the day I was to speak.  I had taken two weeks to get ready for this, and I knew they were going to – the best and the brightest – I knew they were going to come over the parapets and eat me alive after I spoke.

Bob:  Chuck Colson, the guy who went to prison after Watergate, is going to come talk to us about ethics.

Chuck:  Right.  A convicted felon is going to come talk about ethics.  Exactly right.  Public Enemy Number One.  And the room was packed.  Kids were sitting on the steps, they were glued against the walls, not just students but faculty as well. 

I talked for 45 minutes on why in a relativistic environment where there is no truth, you can’t teach ethics, and I explained why they weren’t teaching ethics and why Harvard Business School graduates were going to prison for some of the S and L scandals back in those days.  And at the end of the 45 minutes I had a pithy prayer.  I said, “Lord, help me.”

 And it was terrible.  Not a single good question was asked.  In 45 minutes nobody asked a good question, because they weren’t trained in this.  They weren’t disciplined.  They didn’t understand what moral philosophy was.  They probably had never dealt with the question.  In fact they hadn’t dealt with the question of ethics.  They couldn’t because it’s not in their curriculum.  After that speech, Harvard gave up the course, returned the money to the friend of mine who had given them $5 million, and today they do not teach ethics. 

There’s a book just published by graduates of Harvard Business School called The Oath, in which they say, “Because we weren’t taught ethics here at Harvard, we think we should come up with our own oath, an honesty oath.”  That’s how comical it has gotten.  The students themselves have to come up with an honesty oath because they weren’t taught it – right and wrong – in their education.  So this whole teaching of ethics, an understanding of what is right and what is the standard we should live by has to permeate the whole educational system.

Bob:  And of course you know the argument in the culture today is an argument that would say, “Who decides for everybody else what’s right and what’s wrong?”  You believe in the priesthood of the believer as a Southern Baptist.  Don’t we come up with our own determination about what is right and wrong?  How do you have ethics when everybody decides for themselves?

Chuck:  The whole difference between conservatism and liberalism is this:  liberalism believes in ideologies.  It believes in man-made ideas.  It will give you promises of the kind of government we can have if you’ll just give me power. 

Ideology is the enemy of the Gospel.  The Gospel is revealed truth.   A conservative – the first principle of conservatism is I live by revealed truth; I stand on the shoulders of the giants who went before me.  I believe in the wisdom of civilization.  I believe in what has been revealed about human behavior.  I’m not going to make up the rules for myself.  The liberal says, “I can make up better rules.  I can improve the universe.”  Watch out when people tell you that.  Beware.

Dennis:  You know, Chuck, I’m listening to you and I’m thinking about the age we live in and what’s happened today, and how truth has come under attack.  There’s a passage that I’ve read multiple times here on FamilyLife Today by the prophet Isaiah.  I think this is happening increasingly to our marriages, our families as we raise our children.  I’m not going to read the whole passage, but it’s the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 59, and I’m just going to read two verses.

It says, “Justice is turned back and righteousness stands afar off, for truth has stumbled in the public squares and uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking.” And then he makes a statement here, and this is what is happening I fear to our families and in my opinion to the church today.  It says, “And he who departs from evil,” in other words, “he who doesn’t take on evil with the truth, makes himself a prey.” 

In other words, if we don’t push back against evil, if we as individuals, husbands and wives, moms and dads, together, band as a couple and as a family unit to say, “Evil will not reside in our household.  It’s not going to feast upon my children.”  If we don’t do that and don’t push back, then the very evil we were designed by God to conquer ends up preying on us.

Chuck:  Exactly.

Dennis:  Tracking us down.

Chuck:  We are complicit in it.  We are absolutely embracing it.  There is a doctrine of law in misprision of felony; if you see someone committing a criminal act and you don’t say something, you’re equally culpable.  So it’s so clear that we’re not bystanders watching the passing scene as Christians.  We’re part of that passing scene, and if evil is triumphing it’s because we’re not being righteous and defending ourselves against it.

Bob:  One illustration we have of that is 1938 Nazi Germany, and the experience of Kristallnacht and people who just said, “Well, that’s not our issue.  We’re just going to keep silent about it,” and Bonhoeffer said, “We can’t.”

Chuck:  Exactly.  And the Barmen Declaration which was signed in 1934 by the confessing church, the believing church, the orthodox church – most of the mainline pastors wouldn’t sign it, and those who did sign it went to prison.  But they stood against evil; they had the courage to do it.  But he was a hero because he stood against evil.  He died on the gallows four days before the Allies liberated Germany.  Look at the impact of his life today.

Bob:  Do you really think we’re in a position in our country today where standing against moral evil could put us in legal jeopardy?  Somebody could go to prison?

Chuck:  Absolutely.  We’re perilously close to it right now.  The hate crime laws give prosecutors wide latitude.  Take this Rutgers University case – tragic case.  Kid commits suicide because homosexual behavior filmed and it was shown on the internet.  It would have had the same embarrassment if it were heterosexual sex; it had nothing to do with being homosexual.  But he committed suicide.  That’s terrible.  So everybody’s out saying, “We can’t talk about gays anymore because it will drive them to suicide.”

Please.  But remember, we should never be engaged in gay bashing, but of course we can talk about something is abnormal behavior, something that as Christians we are told is an abomination before God.  We can’t be complicit in that.  But we’ve got to be loving, and in the Manhattan Declaration, which we’ve talked about, that is so important.  That document, with almost a half a million signatures – we talk about the fact that we have great compassion for people who are captured by the gay lifestyle.  We love them, and we want to bring them out of it.  We certainly don’t want to be gay bashing them. 

I’ve been 35 years working in the prisons; I’ve had more people with AIDS that I’ve held in my arms in the prisons, so when people tell me I’m being homophobic or gay-bashing, I say, “Come on with me in the prison.  I didn’t see you in there taking care of these people with AIDS.”  And, by the way, most of the AIDS shelters in America are run by Christian charities.  So we’re not homophobic.  We’re simply saying this is not a healthy lifestyle.  It’s very unhealthy.

Dennis:  What I like that you’re saying here, Chuck, is that no amount of truth that we believe or embrace can justify a hateful, mean-spirited attitude toward a person who needs help, who needs Christ.

Chuck:  Let me tell you a little story, because this really brings it home.  We had a guy who was in prison, and just a tremendous conversion to Christ.  He’d been in the Marines.  I grew to love this guy.  Ron Greer was his name.  After he got out he was an instructor for us, going back into the prisons, and he also ran a little church in Madison, Wisconsin.  He was very staunchly against the radical gay agenda, and he would preach on it in the pulpit. 

One Sunday morning, rather, the gay activists burst into the church.  They hurled condoms at the altar, and they disrupted the church service.  But they had called the police ahead of time, because they wanted to get press over it.  So the press come flooding in, the police come flooding in, and there they are disrupting it, and there’s Ron Greer at the pulpit, smiling and praying.  And they went up to him and they said, “Pastor, why aren’t you angry at what they’re doing?”  He said, “I have no more right to be angry with them, than I do if a blind man stepped on my foot.” 

That’s really what it is.  We can’t be angry, and we can’t be bashing them the way they’re bashing us.  Martin Luther King said, “He whom you would change you must first love.” 

We have to love these people, and I’ve done this in the prisons.  I know what it does.  And we’re not being judgmental, we’re not being harsh, we’re simply honestly standing up for what we believe to be the only moral order that people can live with rationally.

Bob:  What is your hope with this six-part video series that you produced on ethics?  If a mom and a dad, a teenager, a college student sits through it, at the end of six weeks, at the end of going through the workbook that’s with it, what are they going to come away with?

Chuck:  Well, I think it will change their lives, and that’s why I’ve put so much effort into this.  Brit Hume is the moderator.  It was filmed on the campus at Princeton, with 40 students, chosen at random.  No questions planted, very spontaneous.  Dr. Robbie George and I are the hosts.  We had some terrific academics come.  We had Ben Stein give a commentary on what was happening on Wall Street.  So it’s very professionally done, and it is very carefully done from the standpoint of building a case. 

It shows why the collapse of ethics is so dangerous, why truth is knowable, and we use Martin Luther King and his Letters from a Birmingham Jail, great anecdotes, great case studies.  We then talk about if you know what is right, why do you do what is wrong? 

I tell my own stories in the White House, a confession of knowing what was right and yet doing what was wrong, and how stubborn the human will is, how we are capable of infinite self-rationalization, but how character is then built and how conscience is then formed. 

Then we go into how this affects medical ethics today and life.  Then we go into how it affects the business community.  Then we go into how it affects international relations, and that gets into the human rights question.

Dennis:  What I like about it, Chuck, is you’ve designed this so it can be used in schools, in businesses, for homeschoolers, maybe get together with a group of homeschoolers and go through this with your children.   What age would you recommend?  Highschoolers going through this? 

Chuck:  I would say a senior in high school could do this course, if he’s a good student, if he’s studying and has a good, inquiring mind, and has been mentored by his parents.  This is the biggest thing:  we should be teaching some of these questions to our kids.  You’ve said it in other broadcasts that we did.  What you should so with the Manhattan Declaration is take the three points about life, marriage and liberty, and use them to catechize your kids.  I get people every day writing me letters that they take a Breakpoint commentary that I’ve done, which is a biblical worldview perspective on some current event, and they’ll sit around the breakfast table and talk about it with their kids.

Dennis:  That’s good.

Chuck:  So the kids ought to already be familiar with some of these issues.  If they are, they would watch a series like this.  I guarantee it, if they follow the logic of the arguments, you are not going to be taken in by a college professor who tells you there is no truth, because you’re going to say, “I smell smoke when I hear that.  That just can’t be true.”

Dennis:  Well, I want to implore, which is stronger than encourage, okay?  I want to implore our listeners to do two things.  Number one:  Go to the website where you can find the Manhattan Declaration.  We’ll tell you about that in a minute.  I want you to read it, and then I want you to consider signing it and then passing it on on Facebook, on Twitter, maybe to your email list, but pass it on, and encourage everyone you know to sign the Manhattan Declaration.

And then secondly, I really think what Chuck has done around this video project is of utmost importance to the next generation of business leaders, educators and young men and women as they take their place in the marketplace.  They have to have a system of beliefs around right and wrong, and this video series is going to equip a lot of people to be able to do that. 

Now I’d encourage you to think about, do what Chuck has talked about.  Maybe your church should host a gathering of business leaders over a period of six weeks and watch these videos, create a kind of a beachhead of sorts in the community to retake the high ground.  If there’s anybody that ought to be doing this, Chuck, it’s the church.

Chuck:  Exactly.  We’re the only people that can, because we’re the only people that believe that there’s absolute truth.  We’re the only people who can defend the classical wisdom of the West.  We have a huge – I call it a responsibility.  I call it a sacred trust God has given us to do that, and one of the things they could do, come to your website and link us over to, and people can see a trailer of this video series.  It’s available in multiple sources.

Bob:  Yes, and it’s very compelling.  I think that if folks watch the trailer they’re not only going to want to get it and watch it for themselves, but just as you’ve said, to get it in a place where it’s going to challenge future leaders to begin to reconsider ethics as a part of what it is to live in a civil society.  The video series is called Doing the Right Thing.  It features, along with Chuck Colson, Brit Hume, Doug DeVos, Neal Plantinga, Joni Eareckson Tada, Dr. Robert George, Alveda King, Ben Stein, Bob Rowling, a number of participants in this six-video series. 

You can find out more when you go to and click on the link for the Colson Center.  You can view the trailer for the Doing the Right Thing video series.  Again our website: and I want to encourage you to consider getting these videos, again to watch for yourself but then pass them on, so they can be shown in your church or shown to high school seniors at a Christian school or in a public school setting.  This would work perfectly in that kind of a setting.  Again it addresses the whole issue of moral relativism and says that there are absolute truths and that’s a principle we need to re-engage as a culture.

Again our website is, or you can call us toll-free 1-800-FLTODAY, that’s 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.”

Now, of course this Sunday is our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus in churches all around the world.  Christians will be gathering to remember what is at the heart of the Christian faith, that thing that the Apostle Paul said “If there is no resurrection, then we are most to be pitied.”  The story of the resurrection is told in a compelling film that we are making available to listeners this month, those of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation. 

We want to invite you to request a copy of the movie, Magdalena.  It tells the story of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, and it is powerful.  It is moving, and it presents the Gospel clearly. 

In fact, one of the things that I love about the DVD is that it is dubbed over in Spanish and Portuguese and French, Mandarin, Korean, Arabic and Russian.  So after you’re done watching it, you can pass it on to someone you know who is a native speaker of one of these languages, and it will communicate clearly and powerfully the story of the life of Jesus. 

If you’d like to receive the DVD Magdalena, again it’s our thank you gift when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month with a donation, you can do that online at, and when you do, just be sure to type “MAGDVD” into the online key code box on the donation form.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that’s 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.”  Just ask for a copy of this DVD when you make a donation, and again we’re happy to send it out to you.  We do appreciate your support of this ministry.

And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow.  We’re going to hear from Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in south Florida.  We’re going to hear about his days as a prodigal, and how God turned his life around.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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