All right. We know that some of you have been watching some of the Amish “reality” shows that have appeared on TV in the last few years. And, you are thinking “Can this really be true?”
Well, the key thing to remember is that these shows are “entertainment”. They aren’t documentaries and they make no claims as such. Wikipedia defines a documentary as “a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record.”
On the other hand, reality TV is described by Wikipedia as a genre that “often highlights personal drama and conflict to a much greater extent than other unscripted television such as documentary shows.”
So, without condemning anyone’s show business career, let’s list a few things that are true about the Amish and Mennonites.
True: Not all Amish are the same
It’s pretty dangerous to generalize about the Amish. There are many variations of Amish churches, somewhat like the Baptist or Methodist denominations. Some are more permissive than others. In reference to the Ohio Amish groups, the most conservative group is the Swartzentruber Amish. They reject conveniences that “English” might consider the most basic – running water, indoor toilets, battery-powered buggy lights, even slow-moving vehicle signs on their buggies. Muddy driveways are common since gravel is not allowed. Farming is done without even the most modern of horse-drawn equipment (technology of 50 or 60 years ago).
On the other end of the spectrum, the Beachy Amish allow members to have electric, drive cars and tractors and have telephones in the house. They don’t approve of TV, movies or the internet, but they still require button-up shirts for men, homemade dresses and prayer coverings for women.
In between these groups are the New New Order Amish (yes, that’s two News), New Order Amish, New Order “Tob”, Old Order Amish, “The Dan Gmee” and probably a few groups we’ve missed. And within each “order”, the bishop in each district can make decisions about what’s accepted – even neighboring districts can be quite different. They pick and choose the types of technology that will serve the community, but not destroy it.
True: Not all Mennonites are the same
Amish and Mennonites (and Brethren, Apostolics and Hutterites), come from the same branch of Anabaptist Christian faith. Note that this is not anti-baptism. It means they believe in a Believer’s Baptism for those who have committed their lives to the Lord.
There are all varieties of Mennonites and most of them are more liberal than the Amish. Among the most conservative are Old Order Mennonites and Black Bumper Mennonites. Then there are the Conservative Amish-Mennonites all the way through the Mennonite Church USA conference. Many Conservatives may have grown up Amish, but “jumped the fence” to become Mennonite. Some Mennonites wear plain dress and a prayer covering, some do not.
True: Amish and Mennonites get along just fine
People are people and not everyone gets along with each other on a personal level. But as a community, the different Orders of Amish or Mennonites get along with each other. They may make fun of each other’s differences, but they generally will speak with each other and do business with each other.
Mennonite Disaster Service is one place where this teamwork is demonstrated. In the case of a hurricane, flood, tornado or other disaster, you may see both plain Amish and liberal Mennonites working together on one roof to repair shingles that have been torn away by the wind.
True: Amish do ride in cars
To clarify, some Amish will not ride in cars. But many Amish think nothing of hiring a driver to take them grocery shopping or on a hunting or fishing trip.
What’s the difference between owning a car and riding in someone’s car? They fear that owning cars and traveling at will could pull the community apart. The horse and buggy signifies the separation of being “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Families and neighbors should stay at home, work together, eat together and play together for the sake of the community. Traveling by tractor is accepted in the less conservative orders of the Amish, but again, many tractors don’t go much over 20 miles per hour.
Amish taxi drivers are often Mennonites.
By the way, Amish do go on vacation, usually by van, bus or train. They do travel on long trips to Florida or the western US, but they rarely fly unless there is a medical emergency. Air travel is not allowed by the more conservative orders.
True: Amish do pay taxes
Everyone pays taxes, including the Amish. They pay income tax, sales tax and property tax.
Amish do not collect Social Security, unemployment or welfare benefits because they believe that they should insure themselves. Insurance shows a lack of faith in God. Depending on where they work, they may continue to pay these payroll taxes even though they were exempted in 1965.
There are Amish-run LLC’s that lease workers to English businesses so that they can be exempted from payroll taxes. Note that once an Amish person exempts himself from paying payroll taxes, he o she cannot reverse this decision.
True: The Amish are community-centered, but not a commune
Each person in the community is expected to do business honestly and fairly. They are expected to pay their own bills and manage their own money. Individuals that have trouble with their finances are sometimes said to have “no management” and may be assigned a mentor by the church to teach them how to pay bills and control their finances.
True: Amish Aid does exist
Amish do not generally buy health insurance, but there is indeed a fund called Amish Aid or Amish Insurance. This fund is overseen by a committee of leaders and members of the Amish churches pay into the fund to help pay each others’ medical bills, etc. When there is an accident or sickness that incurs a huge expense, the community bands together to help raise money to pay the bill, such as fundraisers and benefit auctions.
The insurance “fee” is set by the committee of members. It’s voluntary, but most people are happy to participate.
True: The Amish do use cell phones, sometimes…
For Amish youth on Rumspringa, a cell phone is a must. Many Amish churches frown upon members owning a cell phone. That said, it’s not surprising to see Amish with cell phones, particularly for business use. Often, cell phones are limited to basic flip phones that do not have internet access.
True: Amish and Mennonites are people just like you
In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to think that living where life moves slower must be happier. Amish and Mennonites are just people like you. The same human problems plague us just like the English world…rebellious children, financial problems, marriage problems and so on. Problems are solved through the lens of living peacefully with one another.
For both the Amish and Mennonites, a key to their faith and community is submitting to one another. That means that each church member agrees to give up his/her own will for the benefit of the community, as Christ modeled for us. Loving your enemies, praying for those who despitefully use you and not taking revenge are tenets of the faith.