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Nonviolence is a term used to characterize the strategy of coercion without the use of physical force, for the furtherance of social ends, such as that used by the Indian leader, Gandhi, as well as by certain types of western pacifism. While illustrations of so-called nonviolence can be cited which approach the spirit of New Testament nonresistance, the latter is not to be equated with the Gandhian type of nonviolence, which is aggressively coercive in its strategy as well as non-Christian in its basic philosophy.

The chief source of Gandhi's philosophy was the Hindu idea of suffering as a means of appeasing the gods. As the Hindu endures self-inflicted suffering in order to wrest from heaven some good for himself, so the nonviolent coercionist may employ the hunger strike, the picket line, non-cooperation, and similar strategies to compel his social or political opponent to do him good Gandhi's followers even threw themselves before the wheels of British military vehicles, risking their lives in an effort through embarrassment and frustration to thwart the imperial power and thus compel it to do that which the coercionist desired.

While such a strategy is preferable to violence and bloodshed it is in reality a form of warfare rather than the New Testament way of peace. Nonviolent coercion is a strategy for compelling the other party to do one good, to do that which is just. New Testament nonresistance is not a strategy. It is the way of love and the cross, not seeking suffering for the achievement of some social end, but rather following Christ in sacrificial service for the good of the other party, whether this good is reciprocated or not.

In nonviolent coercion the primary aim is to obtain the good for oneself or one's cause, although there may be love for the one against whom the coercion is directed. The greater the love, however, and the nearer the way of the cross is approached, the more will be the aim to appeal to the other party and win him to the way of love, rather than to embarrass him and to compel him, and thus the nearer will be the approach to New Testament nonresistance.

The nonviolent protest of the African American minister Martin Luther King and his followers against discrimination in transportation facilities in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956-57, inasmuch as it was a strategy of simply declining the use of the buses, without aggressive acts of embarrassment or attempts to restrain others from using the buses, and inasmuch as great emphasis was placed on prayer and on love for those who engaged in unjust discrimination, would seem to be more a strategy of appeal and less one of compulsion, and thus would seem more nearly to approach New Testament nonresistance than is the case of most forms of nonviolence.

See also Nonresistance, Pacifism


Gregg, Richard Bartlett. The Power of Non-Violence. New York: Fellowship Publications, 1944.

Hershberger, Guy F. War, Peace, and Nonresistance. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1944. Also Rev. ed. in 1953 and 3rd ed. in 1969.

Shridharani, Krishnalal Jethalal. War Without Violence. New York, 1939.

Author(s) Guy F Hershberger
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Hershberger, Guy F. "Nonviolence." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 12 Apr 2024.

APA style

Hershberger, Guy F. (1957). Nonviolence. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 12 April 2024, from

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