The 3.5% Rule

The 3.5% rule is non-violence

This “3.5% Rule” devotional is not at all political.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan did an in-depth study[1] on the effectiveness of violent versus non-violent acts for the overthrow of oppressive governments. They set rigorous criteria for their study. Not even Mahatma Gandhi’s protests in India against the British was as non-violent. To their surprise, purely non-violent actions were more than twice as successful as violent acts. Their science-based study was so surprising that Ms. Chenoweth was asked to do a TED talk about it, and their research has been published worldwide, from Harvard to newspapers.

For me, this result wasn’t surprising. I was blessed by having an excellent Mennonite friend when I was growing up. He took me to many church services and conferences, which helped shape my trust in non-violence. So, it was just an affirmation when their study stated that the best way for people to achieve political change was through nonviolent or civil resistance. In fact, from 1900 to 2006, genuinely nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies.

The 3.5% Rule

Here’s the jewel in the results of their research. No campaigns failed once they’d achieved active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population. Granted, that may be a lot of people for a country the size of America. However, for smaller, more close-knit countries, 3.5% is a reasonable level of participation.

Now let’s go back to Israel when the Church was young. Luke has provided us in the book of Acts with detailed accounts of the first collisions the Church had with civil authorities. We have no documentation about the number of people that morally supported the Church, but there were enough people to sway Jewish leadership. We read in Acts 4:25, “Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.

I think it’s clear if you read Acts, chapters 1-5, that God’s hand is in all these first confrontations between the Church and civil authorities. For me, the big takeaway is that we must follow as God leads and not assume what God will do. He may shield us from abuse or allow us to suffer so we can celebrate suffering for Jesus. However, in every situation, God’s love is with us. Still, His focus is always on His work to advance His kingdom in this broken, ineffectual, and sinful world.

[1] –

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash

You may also enjoy: Come down that we may build up

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top