G. K. Chesterton famously said that the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, but instead been found difficult and left untried. If you read most proponents of Christian nonviolence, you’ll find that they generally feel the same way about pacifism.
This is why Ron Sider’s latest book is so helpful. In Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried, Sider, a Mennonite ethicist who teaches at Palmer Theological Seminary, demonstrates that nonviolence has been far more effective than most people realize.
This approach to the issues of just war and nonviolence is beneficial for multiple reasons. By building this book around stories of small nonviolent campaigns around the globe, Sider glides past a more direct confrontation with the classic questions that divide just war proponents from supporters of Christian nonviolence. This frees him to focus instead on the ways these two traditions overlap, which are actually far more numerous than one might think given the high-pitched tone that often characterizes the debate.
The key to appreciating this book is understanding these similarities. Even just war theory, after all, treats violence as a last resort, permissible only when all nonviolent possibilities have been exhausted. 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.
The World Was Transformed
The particular strength of the book—and of Christian nonviolence more generally—is that it forces ...1
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