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The various Amish or Amish Mennonite church fellowships are Christian religious denominations that form a
Lancaster County Amish 03
very traditional subgrouping of Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt modern convenience.

The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish. In the early 18th century, many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons. Today, the most traditional descendants of the Amish continue to speak Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch. There are also Old Order Amish communities, especially in the American state of Indiana, where a dialect of Swiss German predominates. Over the years, there have been numerous divisions among the Amish churches. The 'Old Order' Amish, a conservative faction that withdrew from fellowship with the wider body of Amish in the 1860s, are those that have most emphasized traditional practices and beliefs. As of 2000, over 165,000 Old Order Amish live in Canada and the United States. A new study, produced in 2008, suggests their numbers have increased to 227,000.Amish church membership begins with baptism, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. It is a requirement for marriage, and once a person has affiliated with the church, she or he may only marry within the faith. Church districts average between 20 to 40 families and worship services are held every other Sunday in a member's home. The district is led by a bishop and several ministers and deacons.The rules of the church — the Ordnung — must be observed by every member. These rules cover most aspects of day-to-day living, and include prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles, as well as regulations on clothing. Many Amish church members may not buy insurance or accept government assistance, such as Social Security. As Anabaptists, Amish church members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service. Members who do not conform to these expectations and who cannot be convinced to repent are excommunicated. In addition to excommunication, members may be shunned — a practice that limits social contacts to shame the wayward member into returning to the church. During adolescence (rumspringa or "running around" in some communities), nonconforming behavior that would result in the shunning of an adult who had made the permanent commitment of baptism may meet with a degree of forbearance.Amish church groups seek to maintain a degree of separation from the non-Amish world. There is generally a heavy emphasis on church and family relationships. They typically operate their own one-room schools, and discontinue formal education at grade eight. They value rural life, manual labor, and humility. Due to intermarriage among this relatively small original population, some groups have increased incidences of certain inheritable conditions such as polydactyly. Some high-profile cases have focused attention on the sexual abuse perpetrated upon Amish children. In a few isolated areas it has been called "almost a plague in some communities." Because Amish Bishops mete out punishment for sins, (generally in the form of shunning), they keep discipline within the authority of the church, thus sexual abuse may be less-often reported to law enforcement. Since men dominate their society, women and children who have been mistreated have little recourse. They themselves may be shunned for seeking outside help. Mary Byler was allegedly raped more than a hundred times between the ages of 8 and 14 by her brothers, and then she was excommunicated and shunned for reporting her abusers. Another young woman claimed to have been raped repeatedly by her brother-in-law, who was eventually punished by being shunned for two-and-a-half months. Some groups have also been accused of tolerating severe physical abuse of children. Although the rate of physical or sexual abuse does not appear to be higher in the Amish community than in the general public, their physical and social isolation from the outside world make it more difficult for victims to seek help.The Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper Intelligencer Journal published a four-part series on domestic abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse inside Amish (and Mennonite) families within the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. These articles suggested that abuse may be systematically silenced inside Amish (and Mennonite) churches, because of the emphasis on Gelassenheit and male authority in the church. The series, published on August 4, 2004, began with an article entitled "Silenced by Shame: Hidden in Plain Sight," and ended with an article entitled "The Ties That Bind Can Form the Noose." As the article "Beliefs, Culture Can Perpetuate Abuse in Families, Churches" makes clear, child and spousal abuse may be concealed or denied. One reaction from an Old Order woman was the following: "They made Plain women look too stupid and ignorant to know how to get help."The Amish community recently started to address the issue of abuse awareness. The Amish publisher Pathway Publishers ran several series in the magazine Family Life that touch upon the subjects of sexual and physical abuse. They have also distributed, free-of-charge, resources for abused persons, and for their families. Some Amish have objected to the articles, preferring that the subject not be raised, claiming these problems exist only among the "English".

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