The Amish religion falls under the umbrella of Christianity, and within that, it is an offshoot of Anabaptism. Anabaptists are a subset of Protestants who believe baptism at birth to be immoral. They emphasize that baptism should not occur until one can make the decision for themselves.
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The Amish separated from the Mennonites, another Anabaptist sect, in the 1690s due to theological differences. The Amish, led by Jakob Amman, incorporated stricter theological rules and punishments that are now the more recognizable practices of the Amish: uniformity in dress, long beards and no mustaches, and the shunning and excommunication of those who break the religion’s laws.
To this day, over 300 years later, these strict rules remain staples of practicing Amish society.
In the late 1600s, the Amish migrated to the US and Canada after facing religious persecution in Europe. While establishing themselves in their new community, the culture of Amish martyrdom continued, taking inspiration from their Anabaptist forebears’ religious persecution during the Protestant Reformation. A prime example of this is the text Martyrs’ Mirror, which details stories of some of the thousands of Anabaptists who . . .
. . . were martyred at the hands of other Christians––both Catholics and Protestants––during the 16th and 17th centuries. Young Amish children are read these stories and taught that the highest virtue for the Amish is martyrdom and turning the other cheek.
This culture of martyrdom produces a parallel culture of victimhood. Despite the fact that there is no religious persecution of Anabaptists today, the Amish continue their martyrdom traditions. Amish children are taught not only to be martyrs, but victims; they are taught that the only way to heaven is through suffering.
In a culture that sees themselves as victims and martyrs, it is unfortunately no surprise that abuse runs rampant. Within the Amish Church, there is a crisis of unreported abuse of all kinds. Amish culture heavily discourages survivors from ever speaking out, threatening them with excommunication, shunning, and disconnection from community and the inability to get into heaven. This is in addition to the chronic under-education problems the Amish face as a result of the Wisconsin v. Yoder Supreme Court decision, and helps contribute to the inability of Amish children to seek a life outside the Church.
If an Amish child has not received an adequate education, not to mention being a victim of other abuses, too, it is extremely difficult for them to physically and emotionally be able to leave their communities and pursue a life in secular society. This creates a vicious cycle of abuse, ignorance, and suffering––a suffering that is condoned, even celebrated, by the Amish Church.
The practicing Amish society is one that has proven time and time again to resist change until forced to. Even in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Amish took the issue of education to the highest court possible in order to avoid changing their custom of educational deprivation for as long as possible. With this in mind, the only way to break the cycle of glorifying abuse and martyrdom within the Amish Church is to bring light to the issue and force the Amish to rectify the consequences of this culture. When victims are able to speak out, they must be uplifted so that their voices can no longer be ignored by the Church.
Then, instead of victims, they become survivors; and instead of martyrs, they become catalysts for change.
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A.A., Summer Intern for the Amish Heritage Foundation
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