August 19, 2003

The Amish and Why I Left the Order

This morning, Peter, Jim, and I got into a ridiculous discussion about the Amish people. They both decided that Lancaster County would be a better place without the Amish for many reasons. First, the Amish buggies are constantly causing traffic congestion. Second the influx of tourists gaucking at the Amish every summer causes traffic congestion. Third, Amish children playing on country roads causes traffic congestion. I am perhaps misquoting them a bit, Their prejudice made me angry because I was part of an Amish family until the age of 19 and I still think of myself as Amish despite all that has happened since I left home. Granted I had to leave that family because they were on the verge of shunning me. I desired worldly things. And, they surely would have shunned me once they knew about my sexuality. Perhaps it becomes necessary to look more closely at the origins of the Amish in order in order to understand the direction my life has taken.

The Amish subculture was an outgrowth of a group of Swiss Protestants, the Anabaptists, who separated from the organized Protestant church early in the sixteenth century. The Anabaptists believed that the individual must be rebaptized as an adult in order to be aware of his or her commitment to the church. Corollary to that belief was the separation of church and state. As a result, the state placed a bounty on the lives of Anabaptists, and they were hunted and killed by the hundreds. Despite adversity, the Anabaptist movement spread throughout the Netherlands and Germany during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries though its adherents were often forced to meet secretly. A Dutch Catholic Priest, Menno Simons, renounced his Catholic faith (about 1536) and worked to organize the Anabaptists during the middle of the sixteenth century. His Anabaptist following became known as the Mennonites.

The Amish followed their leader, Jakob Ammann (1656- 1730?) and separated from their Mennonite brethren. The argument that led to the departure of Ammann’s followers was over “shunning.” The Amish believe in shunning (excommunicating from the group any individual who has intercourse with the broader culture) while Mennonites do not. The practice of shunning began as a response to the harsh realities of persecution. The broader culture put naysayers to death, but the Amish thought separation from family and church to be a fate worse than death.

As a result of continued persecution and the Thirty Years War many Amish and Mennonites fled Europe. They settled in Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, and parts of Canada. To this day the Amish maintain a strict and closed society that allows little or no intercourse with the larger culture. They shun the use of any modern technologies. Because they are a closed society, all members of the limited Amish population have an obligation to the community to marry and procreate. A man or woman who desires persons of the same sex is seen as an abomination to God and the community. It was suggested to me, as a child and teenager, that my adult obligations to God and community must include procreation, support, religious instruction, and righteous direction of my future family. I was constantly reminded that God destroyed sexual deviants. Sodom and Gomorra was but one story in which Biblical text was used to support such a position. However, my Amish culture seemed to have no problem with the idea that the hero of the story, Lot, in order to protect God’s angels, offerd his daughters to the men of Sodom to be raped.

Thus, I experienced a core sexual identity so dissimilar to those prescribed by my culture that I left the Amish order. At the beginning of the third millennium, both Amish and Mennonite orders do not accept any human sexual behavior other than those best described as heterosexual.

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