Ron Sider, Evangelical Activist Who Wrote ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,’ Dies at 82

By Bob Smietana, Jack Jenkins and Adelle Banks
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Ron Sider, evangelical activist who wrote ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,’ has died at 82. (Courtesy image)

Ron Sider, an author, seminary professor and evangelical social justice activist, has died, according to an online update from his son.

“I have some bad news:  my father Ron Sider died suddenly last night (July 27), of a cardiac arrest,” Ted Snider wrote in a post on his father’s Substack newsletter website. “Please join our family in grieving for him.”

Sider, a longtime professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, is best known for his 1977 book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity,” and for founding Christians for Social Action, which seeks to rally evangelicals and other Christians to put their faith to work in support of the common good. 

“The big lie of contemporary advertising is that we get love and joy and fulfillment through things,” said Sider in 2004 as he was completing his fifth edition of that book. “Every religion in the world knows and says we get joy and fulfillment through right relationships with God and neighbor.”

Christians for Social Action was inspired by “The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern,” a 1973 document that “specifically called for a rejection of racism, economic materialism, economic inequality, militarism, and sexism,” according to a history posted on the organization’s website. Originally founded as Evangelicals for Social Action, the group changed its name in September 2020 to Christians for Social Action.

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The group’s current executive director, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, mourned Sider’s passing in a statement, calling him a “gentle, humble man who lived both simply but also prophetically.”

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“Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity” by Ron Sider. (Courtesy image)

“I’m deeply grateful for him,” Toyama-Szeto said via email. “He was a man of profound insight and deep conviction. But through it all, I deeply appreciated his humble posture — he also asked questions, he was always seeking to understand and learn more, and he never took himself too seriously.”

He will be missed, Toyama-Szeto said, adding that, as one of her staff said, “He was like family.”

A native of Fort Erie, Ontario, Sider was raised among Anabaptists in the Brethren in Christ Church. After earning a doctorate in history at Yale, Sider began teaching at Messiah College in  Pennsylvania, then moved in 1977 to Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which later was renamed Palmer Theological Seminary.

“Over the years, Ron has challenged the followers of Jesus to embrace and live out the twin biblical mandates of evangelism and social action in his teaching, writing, and speaking,” according to his seminary biography. “His effective ministry has borne fruit in the seminary classroom, the local and global church, and further afield in the public sphere, both in the United States and abroad.” 

Adam Russelll Taylor, president of Sojourners, called Sider “a prolific author and tireless proponent of peace and justice.”

“His book Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger had a profound impact on me and so many others,” Taylor posted on Twitter. “May he rest in peace and love.”

Author and Christian activist, Shane Claiborne, said Sider “has been a dear friend for so many years… such a faithful voice for Jesus and justice. He will be missed,” in a Twitter post.

Sider, who had previously had health issues, described to Religion News Service in a November 2021 interview how he had a brush with death early that year.

“I almost died,” he said, recalling how he was leaving a hospital after bladder cancer surgery when he suffered “a massive blood clot” that affected his heart and lungs. He said his wife, who was allowed to enter the room with doctors when he was rushed back into the facility, described the situation to him

“She started singing and praying and then she said, ‘Ron come back. We need you’ and I blinked an eyelash. She said Ron if you hear me blink your eyes and I did,” recalled Sider, who said a friend joked that the medical crisis occurred on the day before the Jan. 6 insurrection, preventing him from having to immediately watch footage of it. “So I’m alive and the cancer is gone and I’m very grateful.”

In 2020, Sider edited “The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity.” The book compiled series of theological critiques of then-President Trump, lamenting, among other things, his personal behavior and approach to climate change.

“We’re all saying that if you start with a biblical set of norms, then there are huge problems with both the character and the policies of Donald Trump,” Sider told RNS at the time. “I hope a significant number of white evangelicals will, in fact, take that seriously in this election year.”

Sider often included his name and his presence with groups known for their anti-abortion stance but also took an expansive view of what “pro-life” meant.

“We continue to be very concerned with abortion and we’re opposed to abortion,” said Sider, then president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action, in a media interview after speaking to an evangelical conference that preceded the 2016 March for Life. “We want to reduce it, but it also relates to death by starvation and smoking and racism.”

Among other causes he espoused was work to address climate change. Amid an evangelical divide on the issue, Sider’s was one of the dozens of signatories of a 2006 document titled “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.”

He said he respected some who chose to oppose activism on global warming but was saddened by their stance. “Frankly,” he told media at the time, “they’re going to look really silly in another 10 years.”

Bob Smietana, Jack Jenkins and Adelle Banks are national reporters for Religion News Service. 

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11 thoughts on “Ron Sider, Evangelical Activist Who Wrote ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,’ Dies at 82”

  1. Brian Patrick

    I don’t know this late fellow who passed, but I’m skeptical of someone who Shane Claiborne extols praise on.

      1. Brian Patrick

        You’ll know them by the company they keep.

        In the case of Claiborne, the less said, the better. Suffice it to say that in a world where Claiborne was not as idolized by “evangelicals” as he is, bullies and tyrants such as Driscoll, Hybels, Wood, MacArthur would have a lot less influence, too.

        1. Mark Gunderson

          You admitted you knew nothing about him but you chose to pass summary judgment on his character based on who is grieving his loss.

          1. Brian Patrick

            Mark Gunderson,

            I’ll listen when you have something helpful and constructive to add. In the meantime, tell me what you would assume of some dead figure you don’t know if you heard that David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, or Richard Spencer were mourning their loss.

          2. Mark Gunderson

            Do you stand up at funerals and pass judgment on the deceased? Do you look around the room and determine the worth of those in attendance and then share it with everyone? Do you think this doesn’t mean anything because it’s online and nobody close to Ron Sider is likely to read it? (Christian journalism is not a large community).

            Do you not realize how offensive this is to others who have lost loved ones?

            I know loss.

            I know grief.

            What you are doing is profoundly unchristian. It depicts a faith that nobody who is hurting or in pain will want anything to do with.

          3. Mark Gunderson,

            I stand by what I said. It’s suspicious when someone of extremely heterodox viewpoints such as Shane Claiborne praises somebody. You and I both know Claiborne won’t be praising Richard Land, Albert Mohler, or Alyssa Childers when they pass from the mortal coil.

            It appears Mr. Sider was pro-life. That’s good, but many Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists etc. are also against abortion (and that doesn’t make them saved). I don’t know enough about him and the situation. I am concerned by some of the social-justice stuff the article described about him while I also acknowledge I don’t know much of the specifics.

            So, I will reiterate my original comment: “I am skeptical of…”. I’m deeply concerned about people who claim to be Christians but really preach a different “gospel” than the real one, i.e. the social-justice progressive gospel. Was that Sider? I guess I’ll find out at the end of my race.

    1. I don’t know Shane Claiborne but I knew Ron Sider and I can tell you that I would put him in the top five of most biblical, courageous, and yet humble Christian leaders of the past 40 years. You should check out his signature book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

      1. Mark Gundeson

        Given how quickly Brian was to write off Sider, I am not convinced he even knows why he does not like Claiborne.

        Shane Claiborne appears to be Christian committed to radical non-violence. So he opposes elective abortion, but also the death penalty and military service.

        You know, like anabaptists (Quakers, Brethren, etc).

        1. Brian Patrick

          Mark Gunderson,

          I’m familiar with both Anabaptists and Shane Claiborne. I have a lot of respect for many of the former. If you know anything about real Amish, Mennonites, Brethren etc. in Pennsylvania, you will know they are anything but leftist ideologues.

          This might come as a shock to you, but many conservative Mennonites in the United States are Trump supporters/Tea Partyers.

          As for Shane Claiborne, yes… here we have a “nonviolent pacifist” who sides with the so-called nation and people of Palestine… in other words, he sides with literal Canaan/Amalek over God’s nation on earth. He is so filled with peace and nonviolence that he calls on Hamas and the PA to lay down their arms right now for the sake of peace in the Middle East. Oh wait–he doesn’t do that, he only demands that of Israel.

          Therefore, I take anything Claiborne has to say as being worth half the weight of a baby duck’s down feather on Mars.

  2. I’m always concerned that the Christian ‘social justice’ mavens always seem to align with the current marxist front tropes, and rarely if ever plot a true Christian course for actual justice. I was much influenced by ‘Rich Christians’ when it was published, but looking back I know the issue is not hunger per se, not lack of production of food; but cultural and political arrangements that prevent the growth of wealth and legal protection of private property for all.
    __

    In 2016 it was 10 years after his 2006 spray about ‘climate’. Like all leftist scares, it amounted to nothing.

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