Amish Forgiveness

If religion has all too often been a cause of contention, even violence, it is refreshing to see how much it can be an instrument of peace and forgiveness.  The shame is that such forgiveness sometimes has to be demonstrated in tragedies like the recent shooting of ten Amish schoolgirls in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Yet the Amish have gone out of their way to extend their forgiveness and concern to both the father and the wife of the man who killed or injured their children before killing himself.

The Amish are an offshoot of the Anabaptist or Mennonite movement begun in Switzerland in 1525.  True believers in a literal understanding and following of the Gospels, they are faithful to Christ's call to forgive one's enemies and whenever possible, "to turn the other cheek".  Although they do not consider themselves "pacifists"—they would see that as taking a political position, and they avoid all politics—they have generally refused military service and often, when popular sentiment has gone against them, have moved on to other territories to live their faith unimpeded.

Not that they have been without their own internal conflicts, some of which have led to there being at least four distinct groups of Amish. These are mostly distinguishable by the different degrees of strictness in keeping their general policy of trying to live the simple life, uncontaminated by most modern conveniences, like electricity, automobiles, and the assorted junk that is the price of telecommunications of all sorts.  Famous for their cooperative "barn-raisings", most groups worship at home rather than in church buildings.  Although most Amish are born into Amish families—there are very few converts, as most Amish refrain from proselytizing—continued membership is strictly voluntary.

Every young person is expected, after period of being allowed to consider doing otherwise, to decide for himself or herself whether to continue in the Amish way of life. Long experience has taught the Amish that however carefully controlled their children's upbringing, that nothing can replace the challenge of making a personal commitment at the threshold of adulthood. It is claimed that 80% to 90% decide to follow their parents' footsteps. (Others claim, however, that the attrition rate is much higher than that.) But only after such a commitment is made are they baptized and allowed marry within the group.  Few other Christians in today's world would ever think about living in this way—even among those who are otherwise serious about their faith. 

Certainly it is debatable that living as if we were still in the 18th. Century can make us automatically any holier, despite the lack of worldly distractions.  But what a different world this would be if all Christians were expected to take their faith as seriously and to follow the Amish example of non-violence and forgiveness!   

R W Kropf 10/10/06                  

Amish.doc    476 words    06-10-10.html