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Ronald J. Sider, 
If Jesus is Lord – Loving Our Enemies in an Age of Violence

Baker Academic, 2019; 256pp; £16.99

ImageWhite Evangelicals are justly criticised for their right-wing forms of Christianity, and their immoral support of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, there are white evangelicals who should be praised for their grasp of economic justice, their commitment to nonviolence, their advocacy for racial justice, and their concern for climate change. They read the same Bible, but let it speak freshly and urgently without the blinders of right-wing ideology. Ron Sider is an example of such a splendid left wing evangelical. His 1978 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has sold over 400,000 copies and made a profound impression on me in my twenties.

I really like this 2019 book. He begins inspiringly: 'The justice that is Jesus is the justice that is nonviolent.' He addresses straight away the cogent criticism of just war Christians (who believed that some wars are morally justifiable) - that pacifists 'fail to love their victim neighbour … take no responsibility for history … prefer[ring] tyranny to justice.' In response, Sider argues that 'The problem with [the just war] critique of pacifism is that there are never only two options (to kill or do nothing). There is always a third possibility: to intervene non-violently to oppose and seek to restrain the aggressor.'

As you would expect, he reviews thoroughly the teachings and actions of Jesus, the rest of the New Testament, and the histories of the early church and pacifist witness since then. One of his strengths is his ability to address voices critical of pacifism in a fair way.

He deals convincingly with the passages in the New Testament that have been read to support serving in the military and justify killing. He has a whole chapter dealing with the ‘Problems of Pacifism’, followed by one on the ‘Problems of Just War Thinking’. His critical treatment of just war thinking is the best I have ever read. If there is a weakness it is in his chapter on ‘Nonviolence and Atonement’. Only here do I feel that Sider is limited by his evangelical reading of scripture, rather than liberated as in so much else of what he writes.

Sider inspired the organisation of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT works to reduce violence by 'getting in the way.’ Now 81, Sider’s life work is about non-violently ‘getting in the way’ of injustice and oppression. I am grateful for his witness of transformative pacifism.


Topics: Religion