With all the discussion of Christians having the best chance to endure in the coming winter of dislocation, I was shocked SHOCKED to see no mention of the Amish. Say what you will about Anabaptists, but I don’t know how any respectable Christian — Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox — can think he is all that prepared for exilic conditions without at least contemplating the way the Amish have lived in exile.
If you are going to talk about Christian community, I don’t know how a set of people who gathers for one service on Sunday (okay, good Presbyterians gather twice), coming from sometimes as far away as a one-hour drive, and maybe for a mid-week Bible study or prayer meeting qualifies as anything more than the membership you experience at the local Moose Lodge. And if you’re going to talk about transformationalism, the Amish have a record of forming real culture according to a religious w-w that goes back farther than Kuyper or Edwards. (Of course, Benedict goes back farther, but given the matter of celibacy and procreation, the Benedictine model is hardly going to survive as a community-building practice.)
Sure, Anabaptist theology has problems. But when Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox can form communities with the kind of coherence that the Amish have, then we should all stop talking about exile and community. Instead, lets consider the benefits of spiritual disciplines that provide a welcome add-on to lives already well defined by economic, political, communication, education (the list goes on) systems well beyond the control of the faithful.
With that in mind, consider this excerpt from the New Republic:
Smucker then launched into a brief history of the Amish, explaining that what began three centuries ago as a handful of families escaping persecution in Europe by sailing for the nascent Pennsylvania colony is today 273,700 adults and children spread across 30 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. (Though two-thirds of them have remained in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.)
Amish belief then as now is completely grounded in the New Testament, which they hold to be the sole and final authority on all things. From it, they take their impetus to remain separate (“and be not conformed to this world”—Romans 12:2), as well as their orders to renounce violence in all spheres of human life, to refuse to swear oaths, and to obey literally the teachings of Jesus Christ. Still, they shun their undisciplined and wayward, to make it a little easier to keep the community of faith intact.
And the Amish are a true community, in every sense of the word. They believe that what we call “individualism” is actually pride, or, more bluntly, selfishness, which opposes God’s will, which should be yielded to with a dedicated heart. This communal spirit is regulated by an unwritten code of conduct, the Ordnung, which prescribes clothing and grooming and language, and prohibits things like divorce, military service, owning or operating automobiles, taking electricity from public power lines, and installing wall-to-wall carpet.
Basically, the Amish way of living argues implicitly that tradition is sacred, that preservation is as important or perhaps more important than progress, that obeying and yielding are virtuous, that the personal reality might not be the supreme. And in this way, above all else, they take the integrity of individual choice really, really seriously.
Or, as Smucker summed it up: “The Amish are very intentional. Whereas we just take on everything we’re offered without even thinking about it.” . . .
Baseball, he went on, was forbidden by church elders around 1995. Baptized men had been wearing uniforms, and traveling to play league matches, and neglecting their duties at home. So, now, the game is strictly for the unbaptized. What I saw in the schoolyard was the noncompetitive stuff all kids play until the eighth grade, when their formal education ends. (“Knowledge puffeth up”—1 Corinthians). The only ones who can ball for real are the boys who have entered Rumspringa, the few free years of “running around” in the secular world that the Amish allow their youth (and about which we make feature-length documentaries and National Geographic Channel reality shows).
Rumspringa—ostensibly a time for finding a mate—is a kind of inoculation. A manageable dosage of culture is introduced to unbaptized Amish, the hope being that this exposure will keep them from succumbing to the whole pathology later on. From their sixteenth birthday ’til their mid-twenties, they sample what they’ve been missing—cars, hip-hop, food courts, double plays. Then they make the biggest decision of their lives: get baptized and get married, or forsake their world for ours.
“The unbaptized, if they play competitively in uniforms, that means they’re from a faster, more liberal district,” Smucker told me. “But you can still tell they’re Amish by how they carry themselves.”