Grieving the Loss of a Prophetic Peace Activist – Dr. Ron Sider
by Nicole Morgan, CMEP Executive Administrator
Dr. Ron Sider was a prophetic voice in the name of peacemaking and the founder of a CMEP board organization (Christians for Social Action). In addition, he served as an advisor and teacher to two CMEP staff members. He was the D.Min. Thesis Advisor to Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, and during the completion of my Master of Theological Studies, Dr. Sider was a Professor to myself (Nicole Morgan) – a former Sider Scholar and current CMEP Executive Administrator.
I learned of Ron Sider’s death as I was finishing up work last Friday afternoon and was hit by a wave of sadness. The world is more peaceful because Ron existed in it. The loss of his presence with us is a grief so many of us share.
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon remembers his influence, “It is hard to put to words the profound impact Ron Sider has had on my life both academically and spiritually. He and I would regularly discuss and often disagree about ideas like James Cone’s theology of the cross and whether or not pacifism was the only answer to living out the Gospel in a violent world. As my dissertation advisor, Ron advised me and heavily edited my thesis on ‘the spiritually transformative process of learning to love your enemy.’ His memory will live on in the ministry and efforts of myself and so many as we continue to work toward peace and advocate against injustice. Ron will be greatly missed!”
As a student at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University a decade ago I studied the intersection of theology and Public Policy and took several of Dr. Sider’s courses. I served as a Sider Scholar with Evangelicals (now Christians) for Social Action/Sider Center on Public Policy.
When I began seminary, I was not familiar with Dr. Sider or his work (having grown up in a more conservative evangelical environment). The first time I met him I was immediately aware of his kindness and humbleness. He greeted me while I was on a tour of the seminary. He wore a simple suit jacket with elbow patches and carried a briefcase with worn corners. I researched him later and learned of his most famous work: the book Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger published decades earlier. It was easy to imagine that the man I had only briefly met at that time was still living the principles of those convictions.
Once I was a student of his and had the chance to interact with him, that first instinct proved true. He welcomed debate in the classroom, shared reasons we should be cautious of putting too much into the scholarship of any one theologian, and challenged us to dig deeper.
In the class on Just War and Pacifism I took with Dr. Sider, he talked to us about how non-violence has not been tried. Not really. Nations devote billions of dollars to war. There are military schools and a large number of the population are trained to enforce the violent and deadly methods of using war to settle disputes. But non-violent direct action does not have government-funded training centers at that scale. National budgets are not prioritized to really try non-violent direct activism. In 1984, Sider spoke to the Mennonite World Conference along this same idea, and eventually, the Christian Peacemakers Team formed. Still not to the scale of the resources the world gives to wage war, but once again Sider’s prophetic vision was part of what set in motion a call to live by what many consider “radical” principles of peace and faithfulness.
Today the [now] Community Peacemakers Teams work in several locations around the world, including Palestine, where they are working to build “partnerships to transform violence and oppression.” CMEP’s former board chair Nate Hosler and our Executive Director traveled in 2019 to Northern Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams and learned directly about their impact on the border communities in Iraqi Kurdistan.
While Sider’s work and leadership have had such an impact on broad Christian culture, I most remember him for the significant impact he had on me. Because of the context of my religious upbringing in which men were the ones to lead, Ron was one of the first people to affirm in me my right to study theology and Christian leadership. I don’t think he knew he did that or that it was a goal of his, but the simple fruit of his authentic faith that viewed women as equals spoke volumes to me. When Ron spoke of his beloved wife, Arbutus, he talked about her work and her passions and the hobbies they did together. I was so used to hearing wives praised first and most often for their beauty and domestic skills. The pride in his voice for who his wife was as an individual felt like freedom for me.
I am grateful to Dr. Sider for his prophetic voice to Christianity, and for his quiet humble witness that made such a difference to me and to the world.
God of peace:
we thank you for the lives of faithful Christians
who have dedicated their lives to the mission of seeing
your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
We ask for your comfort for those who grieve.
Teach us to have the courage and patience
to live the radical truths of peace and holiness,
to invest our time and resources into feeding the hungry
and settling disputes without violence.
In the holy name of Jesus,
If you would like to share a memory of Dr. Ron Sider, please use the comment section to share your thoughts, comments, or prayers.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).