Charles Colson, who was sent to prison for a crime linked to the Watergate political scandal but later led a major Christian outreach ministry to prisoners, has died.
Mr Colson, who was known as Chuck, died on Saturday from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage. He was 80.
The Prison Fellowship, which Mr Colson founded, grew to become the world’s largest Christian outreach to prisoners.
Mr Colson had been known as the “hatchet man” for President Richard Nixon and was quoted as saying he would walk over his own grandmother to get the President re-elected.
He was sent to prison after pleading guilty for obstructing justice in a Watergate-related case in 1974.
Mr Colson had been involved in efforts to discredit an analyst at the Pentagon who had leaked secret government documents.
However before he went to jail he became a Christian. Commentators said the book Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis was influential in his conversion.
After being released Mr Colson went on to set up Prison Fellowship – a group which seeks the “transformation of prisoners and their reconciliation to God, family, and community through the power and truth of Jesus Christ”.
Mr Colson visited some 600 prisons in the USA and 40 other countries. He was a prolific author and was named by Time magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005.
Commenting on Mr Colson’s death, head of family-values group Family Research Council Tony Perkins said: “By his example, he taught Christians how to fully integrate one’s Christian faith with a role in the public realm”.
And Jim Daly, President of the Focus on the Family group, remembered Colson as “a gentleman and statesman of the highest integrity and character.”
Conservative Evangelicals supported Mr Colson’s work, but were concerned about his “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” initiative. It faced criticism for fudging some key theological distinctives.
One such critic, Dr Albert Mohler, Principal of the Southern Baptist Seminary, has since paid warm tribute to Colson’s life, praising him as a “Christian statesman”.