Religion column: Working for unity and peace in a divided world

·3 min read

"My prayer is … that all of them may be one.” — Jesus, John 17: 20-21

This is the “week of prayer for Christian unity” between the Catholic feasts of Peter and Paul (Jan. 18-25). An Episcopal priest conceived the idea, since Peter and Paul disagreed in the early church. Franciscan friars at Graymoor, New York, have promoted unity for more than a century. While ecumenism flourished in the past century, today almost every manifestation of Christianity faces division and disunity.

Timothy Jessen
Timothy Jessen

Though there will be no observance locally, highlighting those who work for unity is crucial in these divisive days. Locally, a rabbi and a prominent evangelical pastor "seek to find common ground in service to our community In spite of different religious perspectives.” So did the multifaith community in Dallas after a threat to their Jewish community. A pastor with the strong tradition of bishops in his church meets for fellowship and prayer with another pastor from the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition, which has firmly stood against bishops in church government.

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And some people are simply able, due to their background and experience, to bring people together despite racial and religious differences. Brad Pontius is the local and global outreach minister at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, but his background is broad — true of many today. With a grandmother who was a staunch Roman Catholic, having grown up as a Methodist, and with some training in Strict Calvinist/Reformed teaching, Pontius is primarily a globalist in his outlook on the church. He worked overseas in Latin America and with the para-church group Youth for Christ.

Jesus prayed for unity “that the world might believe” and Pontius’ present association with the Stone-Campbell movement for more than 20 years fits. Its founders’ goals were for unity above all else! The purpose of the ecumenical movement bringing churches together was to focus first on missionary outreach. Why should nations like America take their denominational differences abroad?

Pontius also has a deep insight into work with other faith traditions. In his global outreach, Pontius points out he has partners “in Myanmar and Cambodia with Buddhists, in Indonesia with Muslims, in India with both Hindus and Sikhs.” His own theory of ministry is that all Christians need to be evangelistic, Pentecostal (emphasizing the Holy Spirit’s work) and ecumenical — reaching out to others working for similar purposes. His congregation is also working locally to resettle an Afghan refugee family.

With others, Pontius was one of the main architects of the well-loved Pourhouse Cafe on East Kirkwood Avenue, close to Indiana University. That ministry gave one-quarter of a million dollars to mission enterprises locally and around the world. For almost 14 years, until the pandemic shuttered it, it “poured” love to a constant stream of students, recovery groups, internationals and church folk who relished its warm fellowship and mission.

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Pontius with his wide experience in church and world has one thrust in ministry: “to share with the wider church opportunities to move beyond narrow, provincial understandings and become a multicultural, global and inclusive community in applying the faith.” He also seeks to “see the image of God in each person.” Jesus in his high-priestly prayer for his followers would approve. Unity can come when we work and pray hard for it.

“What is the world like when God’s will is done? No more is neighbor just ally or friend. Peace thrives in places where once there was none. This is how God works when rivalries end. This is a new world when God’s will is done. … filled with the Spirit who joins us as one.” — Adam Tice in new Presbyterian hymn book

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Religion column: Working for unity and peace in a divided world

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