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A recently released PBS documentary is entitled The Amish: Shunned. Over the course of its nearly two hour long running time, the lives of five or so who have chosen to leave the church are portrayed. They may have departed a year ago or forty, but every person interviewed on camera has had to give up something dear to them. Following their own path can mean never seeing their families again. The anguish of giving up everything they have ever known is enough that most stay where they are.

In some ways, the Amish remind one of other reclusive religious groups, Orthodox Jews being the first that comes to mind. Amish children are minimally educated, only schooled past the eighth grade. Their religious life and time-honored roles is more important. Speaking a native language called Pennsylvania Dutch is emphasized over English, meaning that English language skills are often deficient by most standards. Having left the church, they are refugees and immigrants, having taken perhaps the largest leap of faith possible.

It is a testament to the religious freedom preached by United States that the group immigrated to the New World in the 18th Century. Although the Amish live in states beyond Pennsylvania, Amish numbers and presence are more prominent there. Theirs is a very legalistic faith, full of numerous commandments to obedience and right living. Rules are not to be disobeyed. The nail that sticks up is immediately hammered down. They would prefer to live their own lives as they wish.

We who pride ourselves on our individuality might object to this much of a focus upon regarding personal discipline and correction. Liberals, in particular, believe in an idealistic notion that we are enriched by differing cultural beliefs and multiple points of view. What this perspective leaves out is the human element, a cold intellect rather than warm humanity. In this setting, the personal is political, or at least powerful to contemplate.

The first example that comes to mind is an anecdote about a grief-stricken father. Without prompting, the man sat on the front porch of the house where his recalcitrant teenage son was now living. He stayed for eighteen hours solid, giving up sleep, convinced that if his son left the Amish church, he would go to hell. For those of us who have no notion of what eternal damnation entails beyond the superficial, we lack the understanding at just how much fear four letters produce in the minds of true believers. Evangelical Christians seek to save souls to ensure everyone reaches Heaven.  

Another father of a wayward Amish child fasted for a month solid, believing that God was punishing him. The gesture was a sign to his son of the grave importance of staying within the church. If these anecdotes were stripped of their humanity, it would be easier to harshly judge the participants. In an activist setting, fasting for religious reasons might well be a hunger strike. The two activities require only a single-minded belief and purpose. It’s only the variables that change.

Shunning is uniform among the Amish, but the limits and intensity this takes often depend on the family and the community. A woman who had left the church had a family who pushed the envelope. She was allowed to eat dinner with her mother, father, and numerous siblings. Word got back to the elders, and they decided that this practice could not continue. Other former Amish showed years of letters written deliberately by distraught parents in painstaking long-hand, begging their children to return.

One man who lives in a town adjacent to the Amish has made it his business to extend a particular hand to young adults who were raised Amish. He and his wife rent out two rooms and provide a welcoming atmosphere for those desperately seeking how to live on the outside world. They come straggling in, one by one, two by two. As part of their room and board, they perform chores. After getting a toe-hold in what the Amish call English society, they move on to jobs and apartments of their own. As one leaves, another takes his or her place.

Intentional communities and communes have been trendy among progressives for the past few decades. Viewing the prevailing culture of concrete and steel as supremely corrupting is found in all forms. But without conviction, it is difficult not to see the exercise as Ascetic, an empty exercise in self-denial. Most Christians believe that one ought to strive to live in this world and yet not to be of this world. This is a belief I share, though I think it is much more challenging and pleasing to God to engage rather than to withdraw.  

Originally posted to cabaretic on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 07:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 07:32:59 AM PDT

  •  I wasn't Amish Just a Christian fundamentalist ... (9+ / 0-)

    I wasn't Amish

    Just a Christian fundamentalist of another conservative stripe. I haven't seen most of my family for almost twenty years. The ones I do see, I see clandestinely, with them imploring me not to tell my parents or let anyone know. My father is now shunning my cousin because she came to my wedding and dared to post pictures of it to Facebook and Instagram.

    It might seem exotic or even romantic to some when the Amish do it, but it's a daily reality for a not insignificant number of Americans in more mundane circumstances, as well.

  •  Thanks for this. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, historys mysteries

    I saw this documentary several months ago, and was glad to see one of the shunned contributors was Saloma Furlong.  I had read her blog, and she was a contributor to a forum I read as well.

    I live in Kansas near an Amish community, and as a confirmation candidate in my church, I and my classmates went to an Amish service, along with a Baptist service on another Sunday, to gain exposure to different services and faiths in comparison to our UCC tenets.  They were very welcoming, even though I (as the only girl) felt very out of place in my colorful dress and my hair down, with everyone else in black and the other women all with head coverings.

    I went to school with several children who were Old Order Mennonite (Holderman, they are called around here), who also went to school through eight grade.  I recall a classmate of an older cousin who begged her church to allow her to continue on to high school, because she felt very strongly called to become a nurse.  The church elders refused her request.

    The Mennonite church has similar practices with their children, but don't have the rumspringa period, as far as I have ever heard.  Nor are they as strongly against technology; they drive cars, rather than the tractor or buggy, and their houses are hooked up to electricity.

    To the left, to the left....

    by CWinebrinner on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 09:27:40 AM PDT

    •  Mennonite covers a broad spectrum (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Thanks for making the old order distinction, because there's a great variety. I'm a Mennonite, and yet here I am. There is tremendous range in practices and belief among the Mennonites.  There's a congregation now where a member is in some trouble for conducting a wedding for two women.  The range of illustrations used in the articles about it is very amusing.

      •  Oh, yes! (0+ / 0-)

        The town I live in, Inman, KS, has 6 churches within a 2 mile radius.  One old order Mennonite, 4 progressive (I have no idea what they call themselves, so if that is insulting, my apologies) Mennonite, and my little UCC!  Sometimes I think my church has managed to stay alive just to provide a second place to worship for folks who have split from the Mennonite faith for whatever reason.

        And kudos to that member!  Do you have a link to any articles about it?

        To the left, to the left....

        by CWinebrinner on Tue Aug 26, 2014 at 08:42:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Street Prophets nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, midnight lurker
  •  Worldwide, There Would Appear to Be . . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    many more Mennonites than Amish. Some are indistinguishable by outward appearances, but the lifestyle (at least in the U.S.) may be considerably different.

    "A famous person once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' But as I once said, "If you don't teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like." – Max Headroom

    by midnight lurker on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 11:03:27 AM PDT

  •  There is horrifying abuse found... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in Amish communities. I think that the Amish are romanticized, but, in truth, they are just another patriarchal, fundamentalist religion, in which male power denigrates into abuse of wives and children. Interesting reading found here and here.

    •  Please do not (0+ / 0-)

      make such blanket statements. Yes, there is abuse in Amish communities, as in any community, but such statements serve no purpose other than being inflammatory.

      Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

      by Jilly W on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 12:02:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It would be a blanket statement... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        if I said that all Amish were abusive. These articles deal with the fact that the Amish are extraordinarily isolated and largely allowed to deal with their own "problems," and that children find it exceptionally difficult to seek help for abuse. The abuse is there, it's prevalent, and I'm not being inflammatory in pointing it out.

        •  saying that it's prevalent (0+ / 0-)

          is pretty blanket unless you have ironclad proof, which I doubt. You have your two citations, but those only prove those cases. It's like the puppy mill claim. I know more Amish who don't run puppy mills than who do.

          Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

          by Jilly W on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 06:26:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  On the other hand, I wish all Christians were (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jilly W, mygreekamphora

    like the Amish family whose two daughters were kidnapped -- who are now doing a community garage-raising for the couple who rescued the girls when they got away from their abductors and showed up at the strangers' door.

  •  I watched the film (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It was engrossing and held my attention for the full two hours, despite the fact that I was very tired and it was late at night when I started it. There are reasons people leave and reasons they stay, and I don't think anyone outside of the community will ever really fully understand either side, but this was a good attempt. A nice counterpoint would be (and I don't know if it's available on Neflix or Amazon Prime) the NatGeo series "Amish: Out of Order" which deals with Amish young people who have left and the attempts of an ex-Amish man named Mose Gingerich to help them acclimate to "English" life, as well as Mose's own navigation of his life. Like the film, the series is thoughtful and non-sensational.

    Where I live we have a lot of Mennonites of all varieties, from Old Order on up through very modern. We also have a Mennonite K-12 school and university. Some young folks leave the more strict Mennonites and move to a less strict group. I don't know if that results in any kind of shunning or not; I sort of doubt it.

    Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

    by Jilly W on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 01:14:32 PM PDT

  •  My significant other... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...Bonnie, has about 1/2 the family on her mother's side who are--or, were--practicing Mennonites. She's from central PA. (Being overly simplistic, I'd refer to Mennonites as a reformed segment of the Amish sect; but, as you'll see IN THIS LINK, it's actually the other way around. And, actually, both are spinoffs of the Anabaptist movement within Protestantism.

    "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

    by bobswern on Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 02:36:56 PM PDT

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