2017 saw the passing of many Christian leaders and figures. Some of them were controversial, others were more widely acclaimed.
Largely centered on the United States, this list of people sometimes made history, sometimes made headlines, and sometimes influenced many within the Church.
Here are 10 notable Christians who died this year. They include a disgraced cardinal, a controversial megachurch pastor, a distinguished pro-life activist, and a respected theologian.
Eddie Long – Jan. 15
Bishop Eddie Long, head of one of the largest megachurches in the U.S., died following a battle with cancer that was initially kept secret. He was 63 years old.
As lead pastor of the Georgia-based New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, which boasted approximately 25,000 members, Long was outspoken on several social and spiritual issues.
He also garnered controversy on various issues, including multiple accusations of sexually molesting young men in 2010 and the abrupt closure of New Birth’s academy in late 2011.
Long’s New Birth Church was also one of six ministries investigated by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, former ranking member of the Committee on Finance. At the conclusion of Grassley’s investigation in January 2011, he noted that New Birth was uncooperative with the probe into financial accountability among major religious organizations.
Norma McCorvey – Feb. 18
Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff for the divisive 1973 decision Roe v. Wade who later became a staunch pro-life activist, died at age 69.
McCorvey served as the plaintiff for the landmark decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized abortion in nearly all circumstances.
Years after the decision, McCorvey became a born again Christian and spent the rest of her life campaigning to have Roe overturned.
“I long for the day that justice will be done and the burden from all of these deaths will be removed from my shoulders,” said McCorvey in 2003.
Anna Hayford – March 8
Anna Hayford, wife of former senior pastor Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way, died from pancreatic cancer at age 83.
Alongside her husband, Anna pastored at the California-based Church on the Way for over 30 years, seeing the congregation grow to approximately 10,000 members.
“Anna, who is a strong woman in her faith, was gracious and hospitable, and loved and admired by everyone,” stated the church.
“Often referred to as a gentle strength alongside her husband, she was a formidable leader in her own right with a ministry that touched the lives of thousands.”
Joseph Nicolosi – March 9
Clinical Psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, who practiced sexual orientation change efforts therapy, also called reparative therapy, died at age 70.
Nicolosi considered his specialty to be “reparative therapy” for homosexual men, which involved reducing unwanted same-sex attraction within them and helping them lead heterosexual lives.
He helped found the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality in 1992 and operated a psychological clinic in California until his death.
While many LGBT writers and activists celebrated his death, one former patient who is openly gay came to his defense in a piece on Patheos.
“I remember him telling me in my first meeting that if I didn’t want to change that I shouldn’t. His therapy was only for those who were dissatisfied with their sexual orientation,” he wrote.
“He was also straightforward in admitting that most of his clients experienced only degrees of change. I respected his honesty.”
Tony Alamo – May 2
Controversial evangelist Tony Alamo, of the California-based Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, died in prison at age 82 while serving a 175-year sentence for having sex with underage girls.
A Pentecostal minister, Alamo was the subject of many controversies in his decades of ministry, weathering allegations of heading a cult and in 1988 allegedly beating up the 11-year-old son of a member of his church.
In 2009, Alamo was convicted of taking underage girls across state lines for sex. For their part, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries has long maintained their founder’s innocence.
Bob Harrington – July 4
Bob Harrington, a popular preacher during the 1960s and ’70s known as the “Chaplain of Bourbon Street” for his ministry in New Orleans, died at age 89 due to kidney failure.
A frequent debater of atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Harrington is often cited in evangelical circles as a cautionary tale, as his fame and prominence led to a highly publicized fall from grace.
“Money gets to flowing and you find yourself riding in a big customized bus, you find yourself flying in a Lear jet, and you find your staff members picking up your briefcases. Unless you’ve got a solid base, you can really fall into this,” recalled Harrington in a 2000 interview.
“Frolic — after a while you got those Bathsheba’s, Delilah’s, and Jezebel’s out there in the church world … All those things — fame, finance, and frolic — led me to catch a pass that Satan threw at the peak of my success.”
Nevertheless, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles S. Kelley Jr. said that at his peak as an evangelist, Harrington was “second only to Billy Graham.”
Michael Cromartie – Aug. 28
Michael Cromartie, a notable evangelical scholar and former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, died of cancer at age 67.
In 1985, Cromartie began working for the Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank Ethics and Public Policy Center.
During his time as EPPC’s vice president, Cromartie oversaw the Faith Angle Forum and the Evangelicals in Civic Life program.
The Faith Angle Forum was part of Cromartie’s mission to bring together journalists and evangelical leaders to foster better understanding between the two groups.
Nabeel Qureshi – Sept. 16
Apologist and author Nabeel Qureshi, who authored the popular nonfiction work Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, died at age 34 following a battle with stomach cancer.
Born to Pakistani Muslim parents in California, Qureshi converted to Christianity and became a member of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
“We received this news with deep sadness and yet profound hope, confident that he is finally and fully healed in the presence of his Savior,” stated RZIM in a statement reporting Qureshi’s death.
“We know this is Nabeel’s gain, but a tremendous loss for all those who loved him and were impacted by his life and testimony on Earth.”
RC Sproul – Dec. 14
Robert Charles “RC” Sproul, the American theologian, author, Presbyterian Church in America teaching elder, and founder of Ligonier Ministries, died at age 78 several days after being rushed to a hospital due to breathing problems.
Sproul wrote about 90 books and was involved in the crafting of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a declaration of faith signed by about 300 evangelical scholars.
“I am sure I owe him more than I can even recall. My reverence for the holiness of God and the truth of his word would not be the same without his influence,” said John Piper of DesiringGod.com.
“He stayed close to the great doctrines of Scripture and their profound impact on life and ministry and church and missions. These have been the girders from which he has built a coherent, God-centered worldview.”
Bernard Law – Dec. 20
Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Archbishop of Boston who resigned in 2002 following the priest sex abuse scandal, died in Rome at age 86.
A native of Mexico who was a respected civil rights activist in his younger years, Law is most remembered for being what the Jesuit publication America Magazine described as “the face of the Church’s failure on child sexual abuse.”
“Cardinal Law came to represent everything that was wrong with the Church’s response to a metastasizing scandal of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy,” noted the magazine.
“Decades before, his decisions, like that of his predecessors, led to the reshuffling of ‘problem’ priests throughout Boston and other dioceses as criminal investigations were discouraged and the outrage of parents and the suffering of victims was suppressed.”