Common Misconceptions About The Amish - Part Three

Posted by Mose Shetler on

If you've not read the first two parts of this series, I invite you to click on these two links and read them before continuing on here. 

Let’s dive right into our next common misconceptions about the Amish.  

In this article I will refer to the offender as “he” just to make it easier, but the same would be true for a female member. The other thing to remember is that various sects of Amish will have different degrees of tolerance for offenses, so I’m going to write in general terms but for some sects it might look just a little different, but as a whole this is how things are done.

Crime - There is a lot that could be said about this subject. The misconception is that the Amish “do nothing” or “sweep it under the rug” which are both not true.

They are quick to call the authorities on things like break ins, harm done to another and even sexual abuse. The Amish member who commits a crime will have to deal with their consequences twice. Once with the authorities and once with the church once the offense is in the open.

They have a law within themselves and are quick to forgive in most cases. The idea of forgiving is difficult for those outside the Amish to fathom and this is where misconceptions about the Amish and crime stem from.  They weigh the offense and depending on what the crime was, depends on what punishment the offender will have to endure.

Let’s say the crime is something like abusing a dog. Once he is found out, either by another person and reported or by himself and wanting to “make his things right.” The church will allow for him to bring it to the leadership in church, which is the Bishop, ministers and a deacon. After church services and when the non members have departed the Bishop will bring the offense to the congregation and the offender will simply admit to “failing before God and man and ask for forgiveness.” Some offenses require this confession to be while he is on his knees, and for more minor offenses like not obeying one of their rules of the church they can stay sitting for the confession of failure. After the confession the Bishop establishes this person to again be in good standings with the church and “nobody is to look at this person for this crime/misbehavior.”  And that is it.

If the crime is something more severe, maybe sexual abuse, there is usually a breaking point and once it is found out someone will report it to the authorities. There is a local fellow who was abusing his daughters, even his married daughters and a single sister in law who lived on the property. From reports I’ve heard through the grapevine, one of  his son in laws had enough and turned his father in law in to the authorities and justice has been served. That man was arrested and is sitting in prison and his daughters are finally free of his abuse. The church took it one step further and that man is being shunned while sitting in prison. As far as I know he will be shunned until he would get out of prison and then he would have to deal with the church before ever becoming a member of the church again.

Sexual abuse is a hard one for everybody. It is usually a secret held tight between the offender and his victim and once the family might learn of it they don’t quite know how to act, it brings shame to a family and some folks have a hard time facing up to the fact that this has been going on under their noses for a long time. For each case of sexual abuse not reported in the Amish community you will find the same in an English community. The misconception is that the Amish do nothing and it is simply not true. From time to time you will hear of some family not doing anything, but most often they do “do” something.

Some crimes seem to come in waves and spurts. In our area we have some Swartzentruber Amish youth who do what they call “tomcatting.” Tomcatting is pranking people. But the pranks are crimes, they destroy property and even borderline harm people. They might trash someone’s house or barn or throw apples, eggs or pumpkins at traffic passing on the road. Most often they target their own sect of Amish rather than others. Because the adults might have participated in this kind of activity as youth they “understand” and even though it scares depending on the incidences they aren’t apt to  report it to the authorities as they see it mostly as a faze the youth will grow out of. The youth are largely not members of the church so there is no real punishment or shunning to dish out from the church’s standpoint. It’s a problem, it is reported and talked about, but little punishment is dished out.

Pictures - My how times have changed for many of the Amish. At one point in time you could have made a blanket statement and said, “The Amish do not allow their pictures to be taken.” In today’s world this is no longer true for many Amish. Even those whose church’s might not allow it, the individual oftentimes does not care and will allow to have their picture taken. A few sects of Amish even allow for camera’s or at least tolerate if their members have them. In some cases a camera is purchased because they are selling puppies and they need images of each of the puppies to put on the websites to sell them. I’ve noticed a much more relaxed attitude around cameras and pictures. There are still some sects that do not want their picture taken and yet, depending on the individuals, even they don’t  mind it.

School - The misconception is that all Amish children only attend school to the 8th grade and then they get jobs and go to work. While this is true for many Amish, it is not uncommon for them to leave 8th grade and head to a local place that provides classes and help to take the GED tests and they end up with their diploma. Beyond their GED many girls, especially, take typing and computer classes so they are equipped to work in an office somewhere. Within the Amish community you have a whole bunch of self starters, innovators, really, and the youth seem to find their way into modern society in their own way. Conventional high school doesn’t happen much, but they find ways to move ahead and come alongside their peers and make it happen one way or the other.

I hope my series has helped you understand the Amish a little better. Feel free to leave a comment if something isn’t clear and I will try to elaborate a little bit more on the subject. I enjoy sharing with my readers of my heritage and teaching others that the Amish are not much different than anyone else is these day. The big difference is their sense of community, they still do life together where the rest of the world seems to isolate themselves more and tries to conquer life alone.

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