Have you ever heard of John Mott? I hadn’t either until I read about him in A People’s History of Christianity, but his recent influence on our Christian heritage is significant. He was born in Iowa in 1865. He attended Upper Iowa University, and then went to Cornell. While at Cornell he gave up a promising education in law to go into full time Christian work.
Mott never became ordained or went to the mission field himself, but he served as a leader in the YMCA for many years. Literally thousands of students became missionaries due to his influence. He was one of the most widely travelled and respected Christian leaders in America in the first half of the 20th century. In his last public speech he stated “While life lasts, I am an evangelist.” However, he was not the kind of evangelist we think of today. He was not preaching at tent meetings or organizing revivals. His outreach was to the existing Christian denominations, with a goal of achieving Christian unity. Through the YMCA he sought the cooperation of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for promoting unity through human understanding.
Mr. Mott sounds like one of the unsung heroes of modern Christianity, doesn’t he? But does your opinion of him change when you also learn that he was a founder and provisional president of the World Council of Churches? In the fundamentalist church where I was raised, the World Council of Churches was viewed as a work of the devil. In fact, anything that smacked of ecumenicalism was thought to be harmful to “real” Christianity.
In A People’s History of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass describes John Mott as “an evangelist of peace, church unity, and a kingdom where all people would be one in Christ.” Can that be bad?