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Top 10 Questions Asked About the Amish

Courtesy of The Budget Newspaper, serving Sugarcreek and Amish Mennonite communities throughout the Americas.

1. What is the difference between the Amish and the Mennonites?

The Amish and Mennonites have similar beliefs when it comes to Christian doctrine issues like creation and redemption. Both have strong beliefs in living out their Christian faith for all to see. The main difference lie on outward issues, such as dress and technology. Amish tend to stay away from technology and maintain a plainer, more conservative style of dress. Mennonites are more varied than the Amish, with some accepting little technology and dressing as plainly as the Amish. Others embrace modern technology and dress no differently than most people. Many are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

2. When/How did they get started?

During the Protestant Reformation, a group called the “Anabaptists” formed. They believed that each individual should choose to be baptized by faith as opposed to being baptized as an infant. While many believe that the Mennonites originally broke away from the Amish, it was actually the other way around. A branch of Mennonites broke away from the fellowship because of arguments on the issue of excommunication. Led by Bishop Jacob Ahman, the group became known as the Amish and adhered to more stringent practices of shunning those who left the church.

3. Why don’t they use modern technology?

The Amish and Mennonites believe that God has called his followers to separate themselves from the world. They interpret that to mean that the materialistic desires of the rest of the world should not be a part of their culture. Another important aspect of the Amish culture is the nature of their community. A more simple lifestyle, such as the use of horses and buggies for transportation, allows the Amish to maintain a close-knit community. Another big reason the Amish maintain a simple life without the addition of modern technology is simply because they understand that these new devices do not add any fulfillment to life.

4. Why do they dress the way they do?

The plain and simple dress of the Amish is an outward show of their inner convictions of humility and modesty. They also believe it is important to differentiate the roles between men and women, which is why Amish and many Mennonite women wear dresses. The head coverings of the women are related to a biblical reference in I Corinthians 11, which emphasizes a need for women to have their head covered.

5. Does anyone ever join or leave?

Anyone is welcome to join the Amish and Mennonites as long as they are willing to meet the requirements for membership. These requirements vary, as they are more rigid among the Amish and conservative Mennonites and more relaxed among moderate and liberal Mennonites. It is very rare for someone to join the Amish, but it does happen occasionally. People also leave the Amish and Mennonites. Most people who leave the Amish become Mennonites. The Amish particularly try to keep their children within the church. Some sects will shun family members who choose to leave, even if they leave to become Mennonite. Others do not and they maintain good relationships with their non-Amish family members.

6. Do the Amish pay taxes?

Amish and Mennonites do pay taxes like other Americans. However, because of their belief in the community’s call to help one another, including the elderly, in times of need, they do have objections to paying the social security tax. Only those who are self-employed have been exempt from paying social security taxes and regardless of whether or not they pay the tax, few accept the benefits. All other taxes are paid without question.

7. What are their views on the role of women?

Amish and Mennonite women see family as their most important priority. Before marriage, many will work outside the home, though for stricter churches, education is not a strong priority. While a few will work outside the home following marriage, most choose to stay home and take care of domestic responsibilities, particularly raising children. They believe that the Bible specifically gives the job of head of the household to the men and to the women, in turn, submit to the husbands’ authority. This does not mean, however, that women are not respected or unable to make decisions. Women are praised for their hard work, their delicious cooking, the orderliness of their household and their ability to raise hard-working, respectful children.

8. What is their education system like?

While the majority of Mennonites embrace high school and college education, the Amish and some Mennonites do not think higher education is necessary. All Amish children do go to school at least until their eighth grade year. When the American education system still used one-room schoolhouses, the Amish integrated into the public school system. Some Amish still do. But many have chosen to send their children to parochial schools specifically designed for the Amish. Most are one-room schoolhouses emphasizing reading, writing and arithmetic. While most of these are private schools, in Holmes County, the public school district has several schools set aside specifically for Amish students.

9. Is it true they don’t go to war?

The Amish and Mennonites believe that by resisting violence, they are following Jesus Christ’s example. They also believe in his exhortation to “turn the other cheek.” Because the Bible declares that Jesus did not resist the beating and crucifixion, the Amish and Mennonites seek to emulate him. Rather than serve in the military while the draft was still in effect, the two groups generally found alternative ways to serve their country by working in hospitals or some other form of community service.

10. Is it true that Amish children are required to live in “the world” for awhile?

There are no requirements for young Amish to participate in “Rumspringa,” a time when it is permitted for them to “sow their wild oats.” At this time, some Amish will buy cars and dress in contemporary clothing. However, Amish parents do not promote this activity, they simply allow it, as long as the child is not a member of the church. After this time of living in the world, most Amish teenagers settle down, get married and become active members in their church and community.