Known for dressing in plain clothing, with hats and untrimmed beards, the men of the Amish community are frequently ridiculed, along with their women who dress in quaint, old fashioned attire, including bonnets and aprons. They well represent those in the Christian faith who consider it best to withdraw from secular society and carve out a holy lifestyle away from the temptations of “the world”.
They draw a stark contrast to those who are all about “being in the world, but not of the world”.
The Amish instead prefer to even go without technology, electricity, plumbing and cars for fear that these advancements in their lives will lead them to losing their faith. But who are the Amish?
They are most closely connected to a group called the Mennonites but there are also links to Quakers and Anabaptists. To understand the Amish, you’ve got to go back to the history of these groups…
But before you do, you might like to watch this clip of a young woman who grew up Amish, before she ran away. If you’re looking for the darker side of it all, you’ll find it here…
Rewind to a guy called Menno Simmons who was originally a Roman Catholic priest but then changed his mind and became an Anabaptist along with his brother (who unfortunately was martyred for his beliefs). Menno changed his mind about a number of things he had been taught in his Catholic years, including his understanding of communion, violence and baptism.
The Anabaptists have a bunch of theological ideas different to Menno’s Catholic past, in particular they take issue with infant baptism. Menno was involved in the founding of so many Anabaptist congregations that these churches started to become connected to him by name also; hence, the Mennonites. If you want to know what they believe, go here.
Unfortunately for the Mennonites, persecution caused them to flee to America… much like the pilgrims weren’t too welcome in England… and the Mennonites found refuge with a guy known as William Penn… as in Pennsylvania. William Penn was a Quaker, also known as “Friends”. They were friends of God who “quaked” (ie. trembled) in his presence with a holy, righteous fear. My personal favourite part of the Quaker’s characteristics has always been what is known as a ‘Quaker silence’. They could be fairly lengthy, perhaps even going for a month without speaking. The reason can be summed up by a G. K. Chesterton* quote: Let us be silent that we might hear the voice of God.
Personally, I’m a fan of the a few things the Quakers did (and have been for years). Sure, some may consider them a little quirky, but I don’t feel like their good ideas get the airtime they deserve. Anyhow, back to Menno…
These Mennonites were about the first people to head to Germantown in Pennsylvania. If you’re interested in language (like me) then the clip above explores the negative ramifications of their linguistic history. One of the main players that stepped forward once the Mennonites had made it to America was a Swiss guy who was also a bishop. His name was Jacob Amman and people followed him… and thus you get…the Amish.
They broke away from the main groups of Mennonites because of Amman’s different beliefs on shunning and excommunication. In essence, Amman played hardball. Those who did wrong were shunned by all in the community and social isolation ensued for religious reasons as opposed to health-related ones.
Interestingly, the shunning even includes between spouses to the extent that they bar the wrongdoer from sex with their spouse. There is nowhere in the Bible that supports this form of discipline. There is only a verse that says both in the relationship agree to withhold from sex for a time in order to pray, perhaps if there is a serious issue that needs to be navigated. Then the married couple are to come back together so that they aren’t tempted by abstaining. This is very different to the Amish “No sex until they repent”. That is sexual and spiritual abuse in my mind.
Yet it probably explains the bizarre courting ritual shared in the clip above. Another thing many people might find bizarre is the foot-washing behaviour that some Amish engage in today. This is based on a one-off incident where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet just before he was crucified. Even in more mainstream denominations, foot washing has seen a resurgence in recent years, including at weddings with the bride and groom washing each other’s feet during the ceremony.
Personally, I feel that one should wash their feet beforehand. But, in my humble opinion, at least the foot washers are several (thousand) steps ahead of the Moonies when it comes to wedding practices.
Throughout this post I’ve refrained from including any of HNAC Alison’s perspective on the Amish and even public foot washing and Moonies. Safe to say, it’s probably best I don’t, as there’d be too many expletives in the response.
In sum, I guess when you take any verse of The Bible and think about how you could follow it through way beyond the original intention, then there’s no limit to where it might take you.
Yours in a home with a fully functioning toilet,
* For the record, G.K. Chesterton was not a Quaker