Friday, April 8, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Amish - A Response

A good friend recently read the book "Amish Grace" and wrote a blog post in response to it.  I would strongly suggest that you read his blog post first before reading this, because what I am about to say is mostly in response to what he said.

I appreciate this post, since these are all things I grew up learning about in the Mennonite Church and often times struggle to maintain now that I find myself in an evangelical church that tends not to emphasize such things.  This is one reason that I love Pastor Jeff, because his goal is to be Biblical and he therefore tends to stress all of these things.  In fact, on Sunday night after a discussion on politics, evangelism, and our purpose as Christians, someone commented that Jeff would make a good Anabaptist (in case you don't know church history, the Amish come from the Anabaptist tradition).
I do have some disagreements with you, however.  I'm not sure where you got the idea that the Amish do not use technology in order to preserve community.  Perhaps it was in the book that you read, but I have heard entirely different things from within the Amish community.  At the time of the Enlightenment, when technology started taking off, the Amish felt that these things were all inherently "worldly" and that it was wrong to partake in any of them.  Many Amish people despise "the English" for their use of such modern conveniences and consider them to be inherently sinful.  I have heard of Amish communities responding so extremely against anything "modern" that they ostracize members of their community simply for wearing underwear.  (When Aaron was out West on the harvest crew there was an Amish guy who was publicly shamed by his father in front of the church for having worn underwear).
Also, on the note of forgiveness, while the Amish community does stress forgiveness as extremely important it would be wrong to assume that every single one of them gave up their right to anger and resentment after the shooting.  Also, while the Amish communities paint a nice face on the exterior, their communities have a similar amount of hate and unforgiveness running within them as modern American families, they are just better at hiding it many times.
All of this aside, I must say that I also highly respect the qualities of the Amish that you mention above and feel that many Christians today ignore these things in the Bible.  I agree that we can learn from them and SHOULD learn from them.  However, it is important that we don't become more Amish, but rather that we become more Biblical.  This should always be our goal.
One last note (sorry, I'm going long), while the Amish have a lot right as far as understanding Christian morals and some aspects of the Christian life that mainstream Christianity has forgotten, I fear that they have lost the most essential element of Christianity - the Gospel.  There is an extreme spirit of legalism that is rampant among the Amish, to the point that I wonder whether we can legitimately call them "brothers and sisters" at this point.  I am in no way qualified to stand in judgment over another's soul, so I say this with fear and trepidation that I may be stepping out of line, but the Bible says that by their fruits you will know them.  And while their response to the Nickel Mines shooting was both heartwarming and inspiring, I believe that their response was, as you perhaps unknowingly implied above, more a matter of culture and tradition than it was a matter of Gospel transformation.
So what do I mean when I say that I do not see Gospel fruit in the Amish?  I could write more than this, but I will try to keep it short.
1) There is an extreme lack of evangelism among the Amish and even a hate for anything not of them (although this does not appear at a cursory glance).  This is entirely unGospel-like - since Jesus did not go to the religious but rather to the sinners, the dirty and notoriously bad sinners.  It is an acknowledgment of our sin that causes us to be willing to go to sinners, and whenever an individual or group stand back hostile and appalled by another's sin, it is simply because they are not willing to recognize their own.
2) The same legalism that shapes many "Old Order Baptist" communities also shape the Amish and "Old Order Mennonite" communities - namely the condemnation of cards, alcohol, television, etc - and if we're not going to be supportive of one group's legalism and cry out that they have departed from the Gospel because of it, we must say the same for another group.
3) Ok, this is getting too long...I'll just wrap it up.
Long story short, I fully agree with you that we could learn more about community, forgiveness, and other things from the Amish, but I also fear that the Amish have so departed from Biblical Christian faith that I would struggle to call their beliefs Christian or even assert that their practices are rooted in the Gospel (they may be rooted in Scripture, but there is a difference between something being the result of the study of Scripture and something being the result of Gospel transformation).

Ok, I'll stop rambling now.  Your thoughts were just too good, they inspire so many more thoughts (which you said was the goal of your post anyways).

1 comment:

  1. Awesome thoughts, friends! Much appreciated.

    To be completely honest, there were a few articles that I read about.from the Amish that did mention the worldly nature of things such as technology, etc. etc. and the book 'Amish Grace' did also mention this. I chose not to get too much into that because I wanted to intentionally remain on the surface of things so that people would begin dialogue. Also, I think I am naturally inclined to being a "glass-half-full" person, so when I saw the two sides of this absence or distaste for technology, I saw the positive aspect of it and how it could and probably does have a positive affect on their community.

    When thinking about the painting of a nice face for the Amish, I did not really see it necessary to point out the fact that they are still humans, of course they still have problems within their homes, families, and communities. This could also be (on the part of some, not all, you might already know this side of them) a misinterpretation of their culture and how their community works. This misinterpretation often happens when it comes to "Shunning" in the Amish community. That is a lot to describe, so we can talk about it later, or I'll just write a blog post about it!

    I did notice the lack of evangelism in the Amish, which was/is sad. It was mentioned in the book briefly, but they did not dwell on it, so I did not either. The book and the blog post were meant to describe certain aspects of the Amish community and since it was known that they separate themselves from the rest of the world, or the English, their lack of evangelism was implied in my mind while I was reading the book. I do like what you said though, we SHOULD learn from them, but we ought not become like them, but become more Biblical. That was very good and I agree with a resounding YES. Your thoughts on not referring to them as brothers and sisters was interesting... I will have to think on that further and get back to you. Thank you, again, for the thoughts!