America's most esteemed religious figure and the leading Republican presidential candidate are among the scores of leaders praising the life and impact of Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Chuck Colson, a man who was once at the center of a political scandal so big it led to the downfall of a president.
Evangelist Billy Graham said Colson will be greatly missed and released the following statement.
"For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ," Graham said.
"When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them," he said.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney also reflected on Colson's passing, saying he "embodied and made possible an immeasurable amount of good in the lives of the people, families and communities he served in bringing a message of faith and hope."
Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Colson a patriot who loved his country and loved serving his God.
Other political leaders also commented on Colson's accomplishments. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Colson's life is a "constant and necessary reminder to those of us in and out of public office of the seductions of power and the rewards of service."
House Speaker John Boehner said Colson lived an extraordinary life, and he was a man who "experienced tremendous lows yet went on to spark a movement of ideas and people focused on spiritual transformation."
Indiana Congressman Mike Pence also admired Colson's faith and said in a statement, "Having been given a second chance, Chuck Colson devoted his life to carrying the Christian message of second chances to those in prison, and he saw countless lives changed by his compassion and example."
Pro-life leaders praised his commitment to enriching the lives of those society has cast aside. "Chuck Colson launched a visionary movement with his quiet dignity and concern for others.," said Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. "He also provided thoughtful analysis of the society in which we live, eloquently defending his belief that all life is valuable, from conception to natural death."
The Family Research Council also paid tribute to Colson. FRC President Tony Perkins said that Colson "experienced a conversion that has multiplied God's grace to millions of people worldwide. He inspired tens of thousands of volunteers to heed the words of Jesus to visit Him in prison. " Perkins went on to say, "I have long admired Chuck Colson, because of his commitment to showing both the truth and the love of Jesus Christ. By his example, he taught Christians how to fully integrate one's Christian faith with a role in the public realm."
Colson helped bring together the diverse communities within Christendom, first by spearheading with Catholic leader Richard John Neuhaus, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together."
The documents laid out the beliefs the two groups have in common in an effort to present a unified witness to the world. Later, his work on the Manhattan Declaration brought together the same groups and sought to bring in Orthodox Christians in an effort to defend traditional marriage, the sanctity of life, and religious freedom.
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition praised Colson for bridging the racial and theological divides that separate the Christian community. "Although his physical voice may be silenced, his ideas and convictions will carry on via a generation committed to reconciling redemption with reconciliation," Rodriguez said. Carl Moeller,
President of Open Doors USA, a ministry to the persecuted church worldwide, said Colson was a "strong and coherent voice" on religious freedom issues. He added that Colson's testimony and willingness to engage the culture from a Christian standpoint made him an example for a generation of Christian leaders to follow. Moeller said Colson's "unswerving allegiance to Christ made him a giant in the arenas both of religious liberty and the encouragement of leaders around the world. It is time for all of these leaders-including me-to stand up and do what he did so well for all these years: articulate the relevance and truth of the gospel in all areas of human life to a new generation."
Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability noted that Colson was one of the first ministry leaders to join the movement for ensuring accountability in finances and spending. "From the inception of ECFA, Chuck had consistently been a passionate supporter of ministry transparency and integrity," he said.
Alliance Defense Fund President and CEO Alan Sears called Colson a friend who always stood with him. "Chuck Colson's life was an endlessly eloquent demonstration of the power of God and of Truth to change hearts and transform lives. He was a man of courage--a man who called Christians to take a stand and not bend to the cultural and political whims of the day," Sears said.
Michael Cromartie is the Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He said Colson "played political hardball for keeps. He was ruthless. He wanted to win at all costs and he had a reputation as a person who wanted to win at all costs ... I think if he's going to be remembered for anything, he's going to be remembered as a person who had a complete turnaround in his life."