Chuck Colson Dies at 80; Remembered for Dramatic Faith Conversion, Life

Chuck Colson, who became a born-again Christian amid the Watergate scandal and later became the most prominent advocate for the spiritual transformation of prisoners, died Saturday afternoon, according to Prison Fellowship ministry. He was 80.

"Evangelical Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices today with the death of Charles W. 'Chuck' Colson. The Prison Fellowship and Colson Center for Christian Worldview founder died Saturday afternoon from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage," said Prison Fellowship ministry in a statement.

Colson had suffered from intracerebral hemorrhage, which resulted in him undergoing surgery about two weeks ago to remove the blood clot on his brain. Initially, his condition improved and he was able to talk to his wife and children. But late Tuesday, his condition took a turn for the worse and doctors had advised the Colson family to gather by his bedside in preparation for his departure.

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Prayers for Colson's condition and for his family have flooded Twitter as news spread Wednesday that "God may be calling him home," according to Liske's update Wednesday morning.

Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, had tweeted, "My friend Chuck Colson is reportedly near death. Join me in praying for a miracle. God can do ALL things – and we pray 'They will be done!'"

And the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference had tweeted, "Chuck Colson's journey speaks to a man who fell into grace rather than falling from."

While many descriptors apply to Colson – evangelical leader, cultural commentator, prolific author, and Prison Fellowship founder – he was once fearfully known as President Richard Nixon's "hatchet man," or "evil genius" as Slate magazine writer David Plotz once described him.

But while Colson was facing arrest for his involvement in the Watergate scandal in 1973, a friend gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which led to his dramatic conversion. He published the memoir Born Again in 1975 – two years after becoming a born-again Christian. The memoir was made into a film in 1978 carrying the same title.

Since his faith conversion, Colson has dedicated his life to helping prisoners experience the radical transformation possible in Christ through his non-profit Prison Fellowship. For over 30 years, Colson kept the tradition of ministering to prisoners in jail every Easter Sunday. This year was the first time in 34 years that Colson did not spend Easter Sunday ministering in prison due to his hospitalization for the blood clot.

"Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner," said Colson in a statement in 2008 in response to receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal. "Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God's grace and sovereign design."

President George W. Bush in 2008 awarded Colson the Presidential Citizens Medal – the second highest honor to a private citizen – for his Christian-based outreach to prisoners, ex-convicts, crime victims and their families. The award was created by President Richard Nixon to recognize citizens "who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens."

"Through his (Colson) strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society," the White House had stated in the recipient citations. "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."

Prison Fellowship currently has programs in some 1,300 correctional facilities in all 50 states in the United States. The ministry partners with some 7,700 churches and has some 14,000 volunteers nationwide. Globally, Prison Fellowship's programs reach prisoners and their families in 110 countries.


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