What made you decide to leave the Amish faith?
Until one of my readers asked me this question, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t addressed my reasons, except in passing. Though it takes a whole book to really convey the nuances of what went into my decision, I will attempt to give at least a short answer to this question.
If the Amish way of life could be separated from the religion, I may still be living their lifestyle. But I found the religion to be a punitive one that embraces the pain of life more than it does the joy of life. Perhaps this is left over from the days when our ancestors endured persecution for their religious beliefs. The way this plays out in the religion is that there is more focus on wrongdoers than on the people who are upstanding members of the community. In fact, in my experience, every church district has it’s “black sheep family.” This family is watched closely and criticized for anything considered “not the Amish way” while the popular families, or those who are gut oh tzene (well looked at) can get away with doing some of these same things without notice. It is typical for there to be a pecking order in a closed community, and the Amish are no exception.
My family was one of the black sheep families. One of the reasons was that my father had a mental illness that the Amish had no idea how to handle. Instead of helping my family, they scapegoated us. I often felt, as I was growing up, that I had no advocates — there was no one I could turn to when I needed someone to help me through a perilous childhood — one in which I endured physical beatings, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and rejection. I had to rely on myself, or my inner resources, to get me through these hardships. When I was twenty, my life had became unbearable when my father became increasingly violent and unpredictable. After seeking help from outside the Amish, and having my mother refuse to allow that help, I knew it was up to me to change my situation.
Even if I had been born into a happier Amish family, I would have needed a different personality to adjust to the Amish culture. I seem to have been born to ask questions, which is not what you want to do among the Amish. To be a “good” Amish person, I would have needed to accept the rules without trying to understand them. It would have required that I accept that I could not get more formal education past the eighth grade, without questioning why. No matter how hard I tried, I could not put aside the questions that boiled up from within.
When I left the Amish the first time, I went to Vermont. I had loved reading about the New England States in my geography book in school, so I had chosen Vermont when I left. I was only there for four months before the Amish organized a van load of community members (the bishop and his wife, my uncle, also a minister in the community, and his wife, my older brother, a sister, and a friend) and drove to Vermont to see me. The story goes that they just wanted to talk with me, but when I found out who was in the van, I decided I didn’t want to find out if they would physically put me on the van to take me back. Either way, I knew I would not be able to hold up to the pressure from this many people, so I decided to keep my dignity intact and go back “willingly.”
I gave the Amish way of life another chance. I no longer needed to live with my parents, which was an improvement to what my life had been like before I left, but I found that was still not enough. I just couldn’t conform without question to the Amish religion and way of life. When I decided to leave the second time, David, who I had met in Vermont, came to Ohio with his pickup truck and helped me to move to Vermont. I married him a year and a half later and we have now been married for nearly 28 years.
To sum it up, I would say that the first time I left, I did so to get away from my father’s violence. The second time I left I did so because I realized that the Amish religion (and way of life) did not fit who I am.