“What exists is possible (p. 1),” says Kenneth Boulding. This is the opening quote in Ronald J. Sider’s book, Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried. Sider goes on to quote Mahatma Gandhi, “Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice (p. 17).” Which brings us to the central thesis of the book, “Nonviolent direct action exists [and]…it often succeeds (p. 14).”
This book isn’t an ideological, theological, or biblical defense for pacifism, rather it is a call to Christians on both sides of the debate, just war and pacifism, for nonviolent activism. Pacifists cannot stand idly by in the face of injustice, and intrinsic to just war ideology is the fundamental commitment that violence can only be used when all other options have been exhausted.
The vast majority of the book is stories of fearless, direct, nonviolent confrontation of injustice that seeks “to win over, not defeat, the oppressor (p. 31).” Many will think that nonviolent action is doomed to failure, but Sider’s goal through the retelling of these stories is to show:
If what exists is possible, then a vast expansion of nonviolent action is possible today. In fact, it has already happened. Successful nonviolent campaigns against injustice and oppression have become much more frequent in the last one hundred years, especially the last fifty. We now know that often, even in extremely difficult circumstances, nonviolent action succeeds. Now is the time to invest vast new resources to see how much more can be done nonviolently (p. 155).