Nonviolent Action

What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried

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There are numerous examples throughout history of effective nonviolent action. Nonviolent protesters defied the Soviet Empire's communist rulers, Gandhi's nonviolent revolution defeated the British Empire, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful civil-rights crusade changed American history. Recent scholarship shows that nonviolent revolutions against injustice and dictatorship are actually more successful than violent campaigns. In this book, noted theologian and bestselling author Ron Sider argues that the search for peaceful alternatives to violence is not only a practical necessity in the wake of the twentieth century--the most bloody in human history--but also a moral demand of the Christian faith. He presents compelling examples of how nonviolent action has been practiced in history and in current social-political situations to promote peace and oppose injustice, showing that this path is a successful and viable alternative to violence.


Foreword by Richard Mouw
Part I: Proving It Works: From Early Beginnings to Stunning Successes
1. Early Developments
2. Gandhi: Defeating the British Empire
3. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhian Nonviolence: The Battle against American Racism
4. Nonviolent Intervention in Guerrilla Warfare
5. Wheelchairs versus Tanks
Part II: Defeating the Soviet Empire
6. Solidarity: A Trade Union and the Pope versus Communist Dictators
7. The Revolution of the Candles: The Nonviolent Overthrow of East German Communists
Part III: Recent Victories of a Growing Movement
8. "Gather the Women to Pray for Peace": Liberian Women Overthrow a Dictator
9. Nonviolence in the Arab Spring
10. Intervening, Accompanying, and Reporting: The Growth of Peacemaker Teams
Part IV: The Time to Act
11. Truly Testing the Possibilities of Nonviolent Action--for the First Time in Christian History
12. The Moral Equivalent of War


"Every once in a while a book substantially changes the conversation, and even the posture, of the church. What Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger did to change how Christians think about poverty, Nonviolent Action promises to do for how we think about war. This book is for every person who is appalled by evil but conflicted in how to respond to it in a way that honors Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It is not just for pacifists. It is for skeptics, war hawks, liberals, and conservatives--but is not for the faint of heart, for in the end it is a clarion call to take the cross as seriously as we have taken the sword."

Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and founding partner of The Simple Way

"Ron Sider's powerful blend of scholarship and passion has gripped me! In recent years I've traveled often to the Holy Land, where unholy violence continues to beget more violence. This book affirms the wisdom of the peacemakers I've met--both Israelis and Palestinians--who refuse the path of violence. With their active witness in mind, I fully endorse Ron's call to an organized, active campaign of nonviolence."

Lynne Hybels, advocate for global engagement, Willow Creek Community Church

"When Ron Sider talks, I listen. When he writes, I read. Whether or not one is a pacifist--I am not--one has something to learn about the power of nonviolent protest and resistance from Dr. Sider's careful and thoughtful study of successful nonviolent movements against tyranny and oppression. He shows that sometimes nonviolence is the most effective way--and therefore the right way--to overcome injustice and protect its victims. In my view, that isn't always the case, but Dr. Sider does the Christian community and everyone a great service in reminding us that sometimes nonviolence is the best option."

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

"This wise, balanced, and inspiring book is a richly instructive guide for all who have pledged their allegiance to the Savior who is also the Prince of Peace."

Richard Mouw, former president, Fuller Theological Seminary (from the foreword)

"Gandhi and King are not anomalies. Ron Sider shows that these outstanding witnesses to nonviolence are part of a long and often-successful tradition. Unfortunately, nonviolence has not been given the large scale study and trial it deserves. I hope this book of case studies inspires more people to seek the knowledge and training that Christian action for justice requires."

David Neff, speaker, writer, and former editor-in-chief of Christianity Today

"Ron Sider provides a profound and illuminating account of the effectiveness of nonviolent, grassroots movements that challenge unjust and discriminatory social practices. He concludes with a summons to faith communities to equip themselves for generating and sustaining such movements in their own responses to oppressive social systems that abuse vulnerable human beings in the contemporary world."

Thomas W. Ogletree, Frederick Marquand Professor Emeritus in Theological and Social Ethics, Yale Divinity School

"In Nonviolent Action, Ron Sider presents a compelling case for vastly increased investment by Christian churches and other faith traditions in the development of effective nonviolent strategies for resisting violent oppression and accomplishing social change. Creative thinking, solid training, and significant budgetary allocations could move nonviolence to the central role it ought to play. This convincing book makes an important contribution to a critical debate."

Marie Dennis, co-president, Pax Christi International

"Despite the unprecedented violence of the last century, the twentieth century also saw many dramatic successes for nonviolent resistance movements. In Nonviolent Action, Ron Sider eloquently and persuasively describes how and why these movements have been so effective. He then compellingly argues for the need to embrace nonviolent action on a scale never before seen as we look towards the future. There are few people better qualified to write a book on this topic than Ron Sider, whose steadfast work for peace and justice for more than forty years never ceases to inspire me. I encourage anyone who cares about the future of humankind and wants to live out Jesus's call to be a peacemaker to read this book."

Jim Wallis, author of The (Un)Common Good, president of Sojourners, and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine

"Thoroughly documented and clearly written, this book recounts how nonviolence has worked both in cases that are generally known and in cases that deserve greater attention. It explains how all persons can discern nonviolence to be both strategically and morally preferable to violence. It will be a valuable resource for understanding peacemaking as a needed skill."

Edward LeRoy Long Jr., James W. Pearsall Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture, Drew University

"This book is an inspiring addition to Ron Sider's magisterial collection of writings, and in many ways a capstone to his consistent witness for peace. I strongly recommend this important contribution to the literature of Christian peacemaking--that is, Christian discipleship."

David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, director, Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University

"The facts are in: nonviolent action is often more effective than the use of force in the quest for justice. Sider argues powerfully that both pacifist and just war Christians should join together in struggles for such nonviolent change. A powerful book."

David Hollenbach, SJ, University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice, Boston College

"Ron Sider is a vigorous and well-informed advocate for nonviolent action as the best way forward as we confront the deep problems of the twenty-first century. He brings his comprehensive knowledge of both just war theory and pacifism to bear on an impressive range of case studies from British India in the 1930s to the Arab Spring of the 2010s. I am happy to recommend this book very strongly both to peace activists who are looking to deepen their historical and theological knowledge of the basic issues and to theologians who are searching for a more experiential and pragmatic approach than what a simple reiteration of pacifist convictions offers."

John Langan, SJ, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University

The Author

  1. Ronald J. Sider

    Ronald J. Sider

    Ronald J. Sider (1939-2022; PhD, Yale University) was the founder and president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action and served as distinguished professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern...

    Continue reading about Ronald J. Sider


"[A] persuasive book . . . Sider recognizes that civil disobedience often functions as only one factor among many in ending oppression--but often the one that tips the balance. . . . Proponents of just war and pacifists need to recognize they are often on the same side and work together to make war a true last resort. History shows they can."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Sider] demonstrates that nonviolence has been far more effective than most people realize. . . . Sider is less concerned with making the case for nonviolence against just war than in demonstrating the true breadth of possibilities for promoting peace in God's world. Because of this helpful approach, even readers who dissent from the author's pacifism can find much to appreciate. . . . Nonviolent Action is a welcome addition to discussions of just war and nonviolence, particularly for how it opens our imaginations to the moral and spiritual dimensions of decisions on war and peace. Sider forces us to recognize the imago dei in our enemies. No matter you theological tradition, this is an essential discipline to cultivate."

Jake Meador,

Christianity Today

"Ron Sider's many books--about poverty, politics, and global justice--emphasize some of the most difficult and easily overlooked ethical obligations of following Christ. In Nonviolent Action . . . the author of the now-classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger makes the biblical case for pursuing peaceful alternatives to conflict."

Christianity Today

"Sider presents a compelling vision of a war-free world through an analysis of Christian ethics. . . . Sider dares Christians to boldly live out the ideal that nonviolence trumps violence. . . . He uncovers doubts many have about nonviolence--it works only in some instances, it can't fight the most egregious evils--but more than that, he proves that nonviolence is possible and effective, always. . . . While his approach is academic and well researched, it's also intensely readable. He summarizes events and ideas well without oversimplifying. While the task at hand is daunting, his voice is friendly and optimistic. Sider speaks equally to pacifists and just-war Christians. . . . Both groups will find that Sider pokes holes in their previous logic and belief, but rather than being left discouraged or disillusioned, they'll feel encouraged and empowered."

Melissa Wuske,

Foreword Reviews

"[Sider's] writings and his life story flow out of deep-rooted Christian convictions. . . . [The book's] stories are inspiring and have the power to convince many readers that nonviolent reactions against massively organized evil powers can succeed in bringing peace and harmony between warring peoples. . . . Sider never promises immediate success for nonviolent opposition . . . nor does he promise anything other than the high price that is often paid by nonviolent peacemakers. He does, however, make the case that such actions are required of those Christians who wish to be faithful to biblical admonitions. . . . His pleas for nonviolent actions against tyranny may be our best hope in the midst of a world where conflicting parties are gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Because we know that violence begets more violence, it may be that Sider's call for nonviolent action must be the wave of the future."

Tony Campolo,

Journal of Church and State

"[Sider's] call to Christians to support nonviolent action with their own lives and bodies will certainly challenge people to think carefully about what it means to lay down one's life for another, an example at the heart of the gospel. His proposal for an increased global Christian effort to lead the world in nonviolence merits deeper conversation in congregations across the country."

Rebecca Todd Peters,


"Nonviolent Action makes an important contribution to one's thinking and commitment to nonviolent action as a moral demand and realistic possibility. Two criticisms often leveled against pacifism are its morphing into passivity in the face of evil and its potential sectarianism. Sider successfully responds to both of these criticisms by offering readers . . . concrete examples of what has worked as alternatives to violence. There is an important ecumenical spirit in this book. . . . Sider effectively demonstrates the appeal of nonviolent action because it is a good way for all persons in confronting evil and oppression in our rough and tumble world."

Wyndy Corbin Reuschling,

Brethren in Christ History & Life

"For decades, [Sider's] work and words have pushed individuals toward deeper theologies of and commitments to social engagement. This book is no exception. . . . It gives the narratives of a cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, from India to Tunisia, from the Philippines to Nicaragua, from Norway to Liberia. The accounts are numerous and riveting, demonstrating that nonviolent action produces radical and favorable results, thereby building confidence in the reader that change through nonviolent action is very possible. . . . Sider focuses on where and how the just-war position and pacifism are unified, and this is a necessary and welcome shift on this controversial topic. This alone makes Sider's work here important and powerful. This book is versatile. It could be used in undergraduate and seminary courses but also in churches and non-profits. . . . For those in the field of missional theology, Sider's charge undeniably helps us consider how to be agents of change for the Kingdom of God in the world."

Stina Busman Jost,


"Christians have a moral obligation to seek peaceful alternatives to violence. Sider makes a case for nonviolent actions today and shows how practicing them has been successful throughout history."

U. S. Catholic

"By tying his argument not only to the biblical call of Jesus, but to successful pacifist movements, Sider has written a book that will be useful in both the academy and the church. . . . Sider's latest work is not a book to be read quickly. Rather, the reader is best served by engaging each story slowly and letting the lessons it contains sink in over time. One of the true gifts this book features is a robust bibliography that encourages future exploration on this exciting topic. Present here are not only additional stories of successful nonviolent action, but also useful current statistics from scholars such as Gene Sharp, Erica Chenoweth, and Maria J. Stephan. The fruits of their labor are intelligently deployed by Sider to prove that even without many resources, there is no denying the success nonviolent approaches have had in the last 100 years. . . . This compilation of stories is filled with accessible, engaging, and useful insights that will work to inspire readers of any background."

Tyler Campbell,

Englewood Review of Books

"[This book] considers how the basic tenants of nonviolent actions have applied to Christian behaviors and belief systems, and blends scholarly insights with social inspection of how Christians think about poverty and action. This isn't directed to a particular political or social group: conservatives and liberals alike need to be united only in Christian perspective to appreciate the ideological examinations and focus on nonviolent approaches that this book emphasizes. Packed with analysis of Christian beliefs and social translations, it will interest any Christian thinker."


"This book must be worth putting into a Home Group study!"

Christine McMullen,

The Reader