If you want more examples than those below, this article provides a good list of not only non-violent campaigns throughout history, but successful ones. The article also deals with what non-violence may look like today in countries like Syria or Iraq.
I am not going to go into a long history of the early Christian martyrs here. There are plenty of examples and they are easy to find. What I want to point out, however, is that in most or all of the persecution examples of early Christians, you won't find Christians defending themselves - with words or with violence. I have yet to find an example of a Christian who fights back. And if I did find an example, I would next want to know if their action was accepted by the local Christian community and the early church.
As one good example, you can look at the story of Perpetua. You find many of the common elements in her story that are present in the other Christian martyr stories. She boldly submits, she views her suffering as a blessing of sorts, and she doesn't fight back. She ultimately ends up grabbing a Roman's sword - not to try to turn it against him - but to help him slay her. Death and injustice is not the concern for Perpetua or the other early martyrs, but rather the souls of others and the purity of the martyr's own soul. Early Christians understood that their saviors message could easily be invalidated by the actions of his followers. They understood that a submitting to death wasn't submitting to evil, but rather submitting to their Lord and taking him at his word when he promised that he himself is just and would one day take vengeance on evil.
Bulgaria: As a fantastic example of non-violent resistance which actually "worked" according to most people's standards, check out this article about the Bulgarian salvation of the Jews. Bulgaria may have been the only European country who saw their Jewish population rise during WWII - and they were allied with Hitler! Essentially, the Bulgarian clergy and people refused to allow trains to leave with their neighbors and kept the Jews from being taken to concentration camps. The book "Fight" references this nonviolent action as well as several others during World War II.
NONVIOLENT ACTION, IN FACT, HAD A GOOD MEASURE OF SUCCESS AGAINST THE NAZIS. WE KNOW OF AT LEAST THREE DIFFERENT SUCCESSFUL NONVIOLENT CAMPAIGNS AGAINST THE NAZI PERSECUTION OF JEWS IN DENMARK, BULGARIA, AND EVEN BERLIN. REMARKABLY, NEARLY EVERY ONE OF BULGARIA’S FORTY-EIGHT THOUSAND JEWS WAS SAVED FROM HITLER’S REGIME—SAVED THROUGH NONVIOLENCE. AND THEN THERE WAS THE UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT LED BY PACIFISTS ANDRÉ AND MAGDA TROCMÉ IN THE SMALL TOWN OF LE CHAMBON, FRANCE. THE VALIANT COUPLE RALLIED TOGETHER SEVERAL PEOPLE TO PROVIDE SAFE HOUSES FOR JEWS. BETWEEN 1941 AND 1944, MORE THAN 3,500 JEWS WERE SAVED FROM THE NAZIS. SAVED WITHOUT VIOLENCE.
Sophie was a young girl executed in 1943 for treason, as she encouraged non-violence and an end to the war. Now I don't know if Sophie knew about the concentration camps and was acting on this basis, but the point is that she saw what she believed to be the atrocity of war perpetuated by her own people, and she encouraged others to nonviolently resist. What is fascinating about Sophie is that in 2003, a nationwide contest was held in Germany to vote for the most influential Germans of all time. Sophie Scholl placed 4th, beating out great, famous individuals like Bach, Goethe, Gutenberg, Bismarck, and Einstein. While Scholl may not have have killed Nazis or blown up bridges, she worked for what she thought would produce a more genuine, lasting peace, advocating the laying down of violence. While the fruit of her labor took decades to realize, she won the hearts of her country through her courageous and selfless pacifistic action.
Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by the Auca Indians in the mid-1900's. I don't think the men were ideological pacifists, though the action I am highlighting is an example of non-violence. I like this example not only because it's modern, but because they weren't being martyred for their faith, though they were being martyred as they sought to share it. While the five men had a weapon and could have fought back when attacked by tribal warriors, they attempted to flee without injuring any aggressors because the souls of their attackers were more important to them than their lives. They feared that were they to shoot any of the aggressors, the message of the gospel they sought to bring would fall on deaf ears. If self-defense is just, these men would have been just in killing others. However, they acted with a mindset aimed at eternity rather than self-preservation.
Martin Luther King Jr.:
Martin Luther King Junior advocated non-violence based on Christian principles. He lead a campaign for freedom that was non-violent and opposed groups that used violence (at least post 1955 or so). He and his fellow advocates faced beatings and persecution not for their religion, and beatings that came not only from government authorities. They endured beatings from fellow citizens and without due process. King thought that Christ-like love was the way to conduct oneself and that violence would only invalidate the message he was trying to get across.
I find it interesting that most who aren't pacifists agree with King. Many non-pacifists condemn other groups who proposed the use of violence, yet the rights of the black community were being suppressed and infringed much more than the Colonial rights of Revolutionaries in 1776. Most recognize the illegitimacy of using violence during the Civil Right's era not only to overthrow the government, but to harm fellow citizens as well. It's funny that this non-violent approach seems so intuitive when talking about fellow citizens (who happen to be black) fighting for their freedom. We're all about non-violence and can see the nobility behind it when King and the black community enacts it. Yet we can't embrace non-violence in situations where we ourselves might be oppressed, or where our forbears took up arms in rebellion in order to get what they deserved. King is a great example of what non-violence looks like in action, the reasons we may embrace non-violence for the sake of others and for the sake of our message, and how other groups who preach the same message but use violence are viewed as immoral and invalidate their message.
While King's life encompassed non-violence, perhaps the best example he showed was in 1962 when he was assaulted. The story is very moving. While non-violence wasn't effective in converting the aggressor, it was effective in displaying the love of Christ and encouraging the non-violent community. Check it out here.
One thing to note is that people always try to discredit pacifism via failed pacifists. It's as if all the martyrs and consistent pacifists through history mean nothing, and it's as if one person who failed at a higher, harder ethic disproves the ethic. With King, many look to his attempt to obtain a gun permit in the mid 1950's or his hiring of armed guards in the mid 50's as evidence of King's inconsistency. But that is not the whole story. King's push for non-violence arose largely after 1955. At this time, King not only disarmed himself, but disarmed the watchmen he had posted at his house. I believe if one wants to use a failed pacifist as a counter rebuttal (which is a flimsy argument anyway), King isn't on the table. You can find a synopsis of the issue with some fantastic quotes from King, and another telling of the issue here.
If you haven't seen the movie Hacksaw Ridge, you should. It's a story about a pacifist who joins the war effort. While I'm sure the movie hyperbolizes some aspects of what happened, it's a powerful look at the message non-violence brings. While I enjoy a good war flick about a hero who takes on an insurmountable force, you get a much deeper, more meaningful feeling after watching a movie like Hacksaw Ridge. There is a bravery you find in non-violence that you just can't find elsewhere. It's the willingness to face evil head-on without any other weapon but faith in the cause, hope in its attainment, and love for all involved - including enemies. It's a willingness to embrace death if that's what it takes to help others see true life. That's why you'll find that many times, martyrs and non-violent advocates like King are often more brave than those willing to take up weapons. They have counted their lives as nothing for the sake of the message they bring, and for the sake of the lives of others. It's not a fending off of death with a goal of self-preservation or the preservation of that which we love. It's a recognition that he who loses his life and counts it as nothing is really the one who gains it. As Jim Elliot said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
It's highly likely that you have never heard of Pablo Yoder because he's not in the spotlight. He's just a regular Christian missionary in Nicaragua. But this regular guy has a wonderful testimony of how he has implemented nonviolence and the impact it has had on his life and the lives of others.
2. Biblical Teaching
3. Biblical Examples
4. Early Church Teaching
5. Real Life Examples
6. Pacifism Applied
7. Evaluating the Christian Alternative to Pacifism
8. Pacifism Quotes to Ponder
10. Questions for Just-War Adherents