Friday, August 9, 2013

Do The Amish Still Shun?

A question often presented to us here at the Millersburg, Ohio, Barn Inn Bed and Breakfast is, "Do the Amish still shun?"  This is a subject I address with some reticence, as church edicts vary vastly from community to community, families, and church districts.  Answers given often lead to more questions.  Amish ways are ambiguous and obscure, often leaving one mystified by this "Hidden practice."

Meidung means avoidance and is the practice of social rejection of someone who leaves the Amish.  It is most rigidly enforced if one has joined the church and then left. Avoidance or shunning may also be directed against a former Amish person even if they have never joined the church, as in the case of my parents who never joined the old order, but joined the more liberal Beachy Amish-Mennonite church. Some leave their stricter church to go to a more liberal Amish church so that they can utilize a particular technology that would be considered a sin in their former church; for example, having a gas refrigerator instead of an ice box.

The Amish justify sunning by certain scriptures, one being II Thessalonians 3:14. "If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed."
Shunning takes on different forms in different states and regions.  With about ten varying sects in the Holmes County, Ohio region, the bann or Meidung is enforced differently from church to church.  Much mystery and intrigue surrounds the shunning, as some things are simply not talked about to people outside the community.  Many church edicts are intentionally obscured from public view and understood only by those raised within the society or those few outsiders who have joined. 

In most cases church rules are not written down in.  It is a society where years of tradition and practice are deeply engrained and understood. Violators of the ordnung are given opportunity to repent and conform to church dictates.  Typically they have 6 months, until the next communion service, to comply.  If, after that, they have not shown submission, they are ex-communicated and shunned, or, as our people say, "Put in the bann."  The bann is considered "Tough love."  They believe this will remind the wayward soul the error of his ways and hope it will draw him back to the fold.  I believe that it is enforcement of the ordnung that keeps the culture intact.

Generally speaking, the stricter the Amish sect, the more severe and rigid the shunning.  While not as common in practice, we have seen examples of conservative Amish-Mennonites ex-communicate and shun deviant members.  In the case of the later, it may relate to a divorce and remarriage situation.  Divorce is non-existent in the Amish church; however, there are some cases of separation.  Amish shunning may stem from a member utilizing forbidden technology, expressing independent beliefs, or be a result of almost any other ordnung infraction.  There have been cases where an excommunicated member has lost not only family relationships, church and community friendships, but also his entire business. Shunning may take the form of not being able to drive  your car onto Amish property, not eating at the same table, not being permitted to bring food to a family gathering, or the Amish not doing business with you.  For example, a strict Amish man would not shear our sheep because my husband was once an Amish church member.  In another case an Amish man would not sell maple syrup to a man who was raised Amish, but had never joined the church; however the would-be buyer's wife had joined, so no deal.

Submitted by Loretta Coblentz
August 9, 2013

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