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A Methodist Nobel Peace Prize winner

by Linda Bloom
October 13, 2009

Plenty of opinions have been expressed, pro and con, about whether President Obama is deserving of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

It made me wonder what the reaction might have been in 1946, when a Methodist layman, John R. Mott, received the peace prize, sharing it with another American, Emily Greene Balch, a professor who had worked with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Surely, in the year following the end of World War II, the prize committee might have found any number of heroes to honor with the award. But it recognized the efforts of a man who united “millions of young people in work for the Christian ideals of peace and tolerance between nations.”

Mott, who died in 1955 at the age of 89, was one of six founders of the World Student Christian Federation in 1895 and then its chief executive, and he served with the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations.

In his acceptance speech in Stockholm, Mott noted that he had spent 60 years traveling the world. “In this worldwide effort, I have concentrated on successive generations of youth,” he said. “If I were to add a word, it would be a word of abounding hope.”

The current generation of youth, he said, was responding to the Nobel Prize ideal “and are planning, as no previous generation, for a great united advance in the furtherance of peace and good will throughout the world.”

Mott had a saying about planning: “Plan as if there were no such thing as prayer. Pray as if there were no such thing as planning.”

He used both strategies to push for the creation of the World Council of Churches, which occurred just two years after he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He preached at the opening service of the council’s inaugural assembly in Amsterdam in 1948.

Mott’s real legacy is the number of Christian young people who are still advocating for peace around the world.