Moved up to the top, lest we forget too quickly!
"Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord."
The demented man who invaded a peaceful, one-room schoolhouse and murdered five young Amish girls was not Amish himself. He was an evil man who had molested family members in the past and had fashioned a horrific fantasy about doing it again. This time, though, it would not be family members who would be his victims. It would be members of a peaceful group of Americans who hold themselves apart from modern things, modern beliefs, modern thoughts. And when he was done, putting a bullet through his own head, five girls aged seven to thirteen, lay dead, or dying. Five girls aged six to thirteen remain hospitalized from their wounds. Why the Amish? What was it about them that would draw this animal to them?
Evil is drawn to the peaceful, the innocent, the set-apart. The Amish have no system to protect themselves from the outside world other than to teach the Bible, and teach their own children that the outside world is a bad place. So the Amish make an alluring target for one such as the animal who invaded and slaughtered the innocent.
Who are these people? Who are the Amish, those who refer to those of us outside their world as "English"?
From Religious Tolerance:
The Amish movement was founded in Europe by Jacob Amman (~1644 to ~1720 CE), from whom their name is derived. In many ways, it started as a reform group within the Mennonite movement -- an attempt to restore some of the early practices of the Mennonites.
The beliefs and practices of the Amish were based on the writings of the founder of the Mennonite faith, Menno Simons (1496-1561), and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The Amish who split from Mennonites generally lived in Switzerland and in the southern Rhine river region. During the late 17th century, they separated because of what they perceived as a lack of discipline among the Mennonites.
Some Amish migrated to the United States, starting in the early 18th century. They initially settled in Pennsylvania. Other waves of immigrants became established in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri Ohio, and other states.
The faith group has attempted to preserve the elements of late 17th century European rural culture. They try to avoid many of the features of modern society, by developing practices and behaviors which isolate themselves from American culture.
"In America, the Amish hold major doctrines in common, but as the years went by, their practices differed. Today, there are a number of different groups of Amish with the majority affiliated with four orders: Swartzengruber, Old Order, Andy Weaver, and New Order Amish. Old Order Amish are the most common. All the groups operate independently from each other with variations in how they practice their religion and religion dictates how they conduct their daily lives. The Swartzengruber Amish are the most conservative followed by the Old Order Amish. The Andy Weaver are more progressive and the New Order Amish are the most progressive."
"Be not equally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"
We know the Amish as those folks who drive black buggies in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, wear overalls and blue shirts, and don't use electricity, telephones, or other modern conveniences. We know the Amish from films such as 1985's "Witness" which starred Harrison Ford. An interesting and enjoyble film, but one which had little to say about the Amish, aside from their backward ways.
The Amish separate themselves from mainstream, modern society for religious reasons: they do not join the military, draw (nor are forced into) Social Security, or accept any form of assistance from the government, and many avoid insurance. Most speak a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch (or Pennsylvania German), which the Amish call Deitsch. The Amish are divided into dozens of separate fellowships, which are each broken down in turn into districts or congregations. Each district is fully independent and has its own Ordnung, or set of unwritten rules. This article primarily discusses the conservative Old Order Amish fellowships that observe strict regulations on dress, behavior, and the use of technology. There are many New Order Amish and Beachy Amish groups that use electricity and automobiles, but still consider themselves Amish.
As a very conservative Protestant group, they hold the following in concert with other conservative protestant denominations:
- Adult baptism is done after one makes a commitment to the church. (No infant baptism)
- Belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, incarnation, sinless life, crucifixion, resurrection ascension, and atonement of Jesus Christ.
- One lives on after death, either eternal rewarded in Heaven or punished in Hell.
- Salvation is by grace from God.
- The Bible's authors were inspired by God. Their writings are inerrant. The Bible is generally to be interpreted literally.
- Satan exists as a living entity.
- Salvation: Essentially all conservative Protestants, including Amish, look upon salvation as an unmerited gift from God. However, Evangelical Christians have traditionally looked upon the salvation experience as an intense emotional event which happens suddenly, as a convert repents of their sin and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. The new Christian's subsequent ethical behavior and daily routine are of secondary importance to the experience of being saved. The Amish have always looked upon salvation as being experienced in everyday living. Salvation is "...realized as one's life was transformed day by day into the image of Christ."
- The state: The Amish are enthusiastic supporters of the principle of separation of church and state.
- Authority: They believe that their church has received the authority from God to interpret his will. "Submission to church is submission to God."
- Rituals: Evangelicals look upon their two ordinances -- communion and believers' baptism -- as rites that are primarily between an individual and God. To the Amish, "The church itself, as a body of believers, shared in communion as a sign of their unity with Christ and with one another. Baptism in the Amish church symbolized a commitment to both god and fellow believers."
- The world: They believe in remaining quite separate from the rest of the world, physically and socially. Part of this may be caused by the belief that association with others -- often referred to as "The English" -- may be polluting. Part may be because of the intense persecution experienced by their ancestors as a result of government oppression. Amish homes do not draw power from the electrical grid. They feel that that would excessively connect them to the world.
- Nonresistance: They reject involvement with the military or warfare. They believe that Amish must never resort to violence or to take up arms in war. However, they do not generally view themselves as pacifists, because this would involve them in political action to promote peace. Their rejection of violence does not extend to the disciplining of their children.
- Local control: They believe that each congregation -- called a "district" -- is to remain autonomous. There is no centralized Amish organization to enforce beliefs and behaviors.
Evangelization: Most believe that it is not their role to go out into the larger community and attempt to seek converts among The English. However, some Amish groups have recently become active in evangelization.
- Customs: The Ordnung is an oral tradition of rules which regulates how the Amish way of life should be conducted. Specific details of the Ordnung differ among various church districts. The rules are generally reviewed biannually and occasionally revised as needed.
- Sex roles: In common with many conservative Christian faith groups, their family life has a patriarchal structure. Although the roles of women are considered equally important to those of men, they are very unequal in terms of authority. Unmarried women remain under the authority of their father. Wives are submissive to their husbands. Only males are eligible to be become Church officials.
- Oaths: Their faith forbids the swearing of oaths in courts; they make affirmations of truth instead.
All this does indeed move these people away from their neighbors almost as absolutely as if a huge wall was erected between them and the outside world. But it doesn't keep the Amish from being friendly with outsiders, nor does it keep them from having "English" friends. They do business with the outside world as their large and successful farms attest. They run restaurants - if you haven't sampled Amish cuisine, you ain't lived! - and gift shops, supply milk, grains, and such to outside businesses. This is a culture of creativity, love, and faith. And in a nation such as the United States, and Canada, they have been able to flourish to a great degree. But there are drawbacks to the Amish culture as well.
Although there are maybe 200,000 Amish, of varying depth of faith, the gene pool they draw from is quite shallow. And so the Amish are prone to genetic defects. For example, the vast majority of Amish in Lancaster County, PA, are descendents of about 200 Swiss citizens who emigrated in the mid 1700s. Because they traditionally do not marry outsiders and because few outsiders have joined the order, the "community has been essentially a closed genetic population for more than 12 generations." Thus, intermarriage has brought to the fore certain genetic mutations that were present in the initial genetic pool (as they are in any population), making the Amish host to several inherited disorders." These include dwarfism, mental retardation and a large group of metabolic disorders. One in 200 have glutaric aciduria type I; they are born healthy, but can experience permanent neurological damage when a mild illness strikes. From 1988 to 2002, the Clinic for Special Children in Lancaster County, PA, has "encountered 39 heritable disorders among the Amish and 23 among the Mennonites.....For 18 of the disorders seen regularly at the clinic, the incidences are high, approximately 1/250 to 1/500 births"
So we can see that the Amish suffer for their faith. Simply by following the tenets of their Ordnung, they remain susceptible to disorders of the body. They are also targets of fools who seem to delight in goading them. Amish men will not "return evil for evil" which makes them handy targets for bullies who cannot take on someone who will fight back. This shows less about the Amish than about the cretinous individuals who target them. The Amish remain misunderstood and caricatured. They have their problems and their grievances. But they do not go running to the authorities with their problems. For good or bad, the Amish resolve problems within the community.
I was reared in southeast Pennsylvania. So the Amish were a 'back-of-the-mind' presence. Labcaster was only a few hours drive to the west. My great-grandmother lived near a Mennonite community and eventually went to a Mennonite Home as she aged. We were as familiar with them as many folks are - not quite sure of who these folks were, but conversant enough to talk about Shoo-Fly Pie, barn-raisings and Hex symbols.
What happened in Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania had nothing to do with the Amish as a people or an ethnic group. It had everything to do with the ease with which they can be assaulted and victimized by the Evil of the outside world. The community now is in mourning. And it is enduring a spotlight that it never sought and hates. Spare a little time for these 'Pennsylvania Dutch' and render up a prayer for their protection. They remain a blessing on this nation.
Patrick is also blogging on this. Go read!
The Amish: Their history, beliefs, practices, conflicts, etc.
Amish and Mennonite Cuisines
Dutch Country Visitors Center
The Amish and the Plain People of Lancaster County, PA
Amish Country Traditions
“And be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
An Update: There are places you can donate to the families who suffered this assault. I lost the first one I read, found on a blog, which the Amish set up for the family of the gunman. That's right, the Amish, as a part of their Christian walk, have indeed opened an account for the relief of the killer's family. If you have read that blog post, or know the addy, please let me know.
Camojack at Uncommonly Sensible takes a look at this.
Don Singleton posted "Shoot Me First" - a must read.
And please give, if you can, and pray regardless.
The Anchoress has more on this, in her well-written analysis, as well.
GINA COBB has a quick look, saying, "A story of genuine heroism -- an Amish schoolgirl who faced an unjust death with a kind of courage rarely seen this side of heaven -- is being lost among the hyperpoliticized charges involving ex-Congressman Mark Foley."
Julie D. at Happy Catholic posted "Those two girls were superbly equipped to live Christ's truth in every way. I pray that my own children are as well equipped for the trials they encounter in their lives. I pray that I am."
In The Weight of Purity, feminine-genius says, "A man who claimed to hate God and suffer an obsession with impure thoughts prepares to avenge himself on God and girls -- and is bowled over by purity and piety."
MacBeane Gene, over at Here, there and back, has some "Amish Thoughts", where he remarks, "Had the Amish believed in a formal education I could very well be among the group driving their buggies to bury the innocents killed in Pennsylvania. I am sure that some distant cousins of mine are there. My maternal Grandfather, a minister, left the community for an education. He was descended from the earliest Swiss Mennonites migrating here buying their land from William Penn. One of my ancestors was the first Amish Mennonite bishop in this country."
New Update: Found that posting about the Amish Fund set up for the family of the killer. You will find it at Right Wing Nation. Please take a look and donate, if you can. See, also, the post titled, "Treating The Amish With Respect"; a worthwhile read.
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Congratulations are in order to Sister Toldjah on her 3rd Blogiversary, as well as Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters on his 3rd Blogiversary. And congratulations to The Anchoress whose visitors recently passed the two-million mark! Well done, Folks! Keep on blogging!