Abuse — The Real Issue

I first heard the news about the Amish beard-cutting when I was in Grabill, Indiana. One of the people in the audience gave me a newspaper clipping. I was not surprised that it originated from the Bergholz, Ohio group led by Sam Mullet, because I’d heard about his fanaticism before. I figured that people’s attention spans are short, so I thought it would blow over. Yesterday I checked the internet, and realized this story is as much in the news as the shooting at Nickel Mines was five years ago.

You can read Ira Wagler’s take on this issue here: “Amish” Thugs; The Bergholz Gang. While I agree that this behavior is reprehensible, I don’t think it helps to denounce Bishop Sam’s Amish validity as Ira has done. In my opinion, this is part of the problem. The Amish way of dealing with deviant behavior is all within the realm of the church because they don’t recognize that there is sometimes a psychological basis for this behavior. If the person “repents” he makes a public confession in church, which means no one may never speak of it again. This tends to create a shroud of secrecy around the wrongs and turns the issues underground, only to resurface later. This process also ignores the needs of the victims. If the person doesn’t “repent” or follow the instructions of the church elders, the only response the Amish have is to excommunicate that person — in other words, drive them away and make them feel they don’t belong. 
Most of the Amish (and former Amish) I know in Holmes County think of Geauga County as backward. Ira mentioned that he talked to his Amish friends in Holmes County to get the scoop on Bishop Sam. It seems he may have adopted their point of view when he pointed out the fact that Bishop Sam emerged out of Geauga County. I quote:

Bishop Sam emerged from the strict plain Amish settlement in Geauga County, up near Cleveland. The Geauga Amish have always had an unsavory reputation. Just a notch above the Swartzentrubers. “Low” Amish. Uncouth. Rough. Hard core, far more so than the mad bishop who tormented me all those years ago. Their laughter is hard and mirthless. Many drink. Or smoke. Or both. And their youth practice bed courtship. All the bad stuff my father raged against in his writings, all his life. That’s Geauga. 

From what I can tell from Ira’s post, Sam Mullet was ordained as minister and then as bishop in Holmes County (actually Wayne County, but the two counties are often called the Holmes County community). Whether he was ordained in Geauga or Holmes doesn’t really matter. I don’t know of any Amish who “discipline” their members in other ways than what I mentioned above (except if we count Bishop Sam, who allegedly uses all kinds of bizarre physical punishment). My point is, though, that none of the Amish I know have a way of dealing with sociopaths or sadists among them who commit great evils. They don’t usually turn to the law. So, a fanatic can be spawned out of any Amish community, whether it’s Aylmer, Ontario Canada; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; or Shipshewana, Indiana — just as one did out of the Geauga and Holmes communities. Until courts, social workers, and other professionals (and the Amish themselves) have a different way of responding to these fanatics, they will be able to do as much damage as Bishop Sam has done before they’re stopped. The Amish need to stop hiding from the outside world that atrocities happen in their communities and cooperate with law enforcement. Society needs to be able to deal with the Amish who break the law in the same way they do with anyone else who breaks the law.

Ira Wagler, a self-proclaimed libertarian, wrote that he thinks they should “nail him. Put him away for a while.”
My opinion: The hair will grow back on the people who had their hair cut. I am much more concerned about the possibility that the people in the Bergholz community are being physically or sexually abused as was alleged in a report from 2007:
Abdalla also said there are “some very serious allegations” of molestation and attempted rape in that Amish community. The sheriff’s department is also investigating the death of a 2-year-old Amish boy who lived in the community. An autopsy on that toddler was never performed though required by law, Abdalla said.
I do not know what became of this investigation, just as I don’t know what will become of the current one on the hair cutting incidents. To me, cutting hair from an adult’s head is a petty crime compared to abusing children. After all, the adults had the ability to defend themselves, and the children don’t. The children in Bergholz are the ones left without advocates, while the world focuses on forced haircuts. In one report an Amish man was quoted as having said that he’d rather be dead than have his beard cut. That is taking Amish martyrdom a bit too far, if you ask me.

I find it interesting that the men in the Amish community had to be violated before the Amish became willing to cooperate with the law to try to stop Sam Mullet and his cronies, yet they were quiet when the allegations were made about the child sexual abuse in 2007.  This is interesting, but not particularly surprising — having lived among the Amish, there is no doubt in my mind where the power lies — certainly not with the women or the children.

I did a little poking around on the internet and found that Crist S. Mullet is a registered sex offender in Bergholz, Ohio. This doesn’t surprise me either. In his description, there is mention that he has scars on both his elbows and his knees. If I were in law enforcement, I would want to know how those came about, especially if he is the son of Bishop Sam Mullet.

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15 thoughts on “Abuse — The Real Issue”

  1. I have no idea whether anyone is monitoring this man’s activity.

    When you realize that the Amish are human and have the same problems among them as anyone else, it’s not so shocking to know that someone would end up on the sex offender list. It’s just that we’ve held them up on a pedestal for so long, we’ve lost that perspective.

  2. You hit the nail on the head in your comment, “when you realize that the Amish are human and have the same problems among them as anyone else”.
    I am currently reading your book, it is very interesting, knowing several Amish families it is fascinating to see just how similar the different communities are. The Grabill Amish are currently struggling with a lot of younger adults leaving the Amish Church and joining the Charity Church. Those that leave still dress sort of Amish, but drive, remain in their homes and harass those that remain Amish, it has caused a lot of pain for many people. One family we know has had all ten of their adult children leave for the Charity Church, the parents want a relationship with their children and thirty plus grand-children, so they still live as Amish, yet are no longer active in the church. The wife wants to join the Charity Church but the husband can’t because he drinks and smokes and the Charity people are dead against these vices. There are no physical attacks, such as beard/hair cuttings, but there seems to be an awful lot of emotional blackmail and much needless unhappiness caused. Perhaps all need to remember that the first commandment of Our Lord Jesus Christ was to love one another.
    I am sorry that you had to experience so much pain, but glad that you are the person you are today.
    By the way I enjoyed your talk at the Grabill Library and enjoyed meeting you. I look forward to your next book.

    Martine

  3. There was an Amish sex offender in Pinecraft. In the back of my mind I think he died. I think at one time he was the bishop here. They the church bailed him out and kept their mouths’ shut.

  4. Oh my. I’m with you, hair will grow again. Other issues need to be addressed.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog the other day. It’s always good to see you. :) Will try and email you soon!

  5. Saloma, I undestand Your comment, but as Polish young person I didn’t know about it. In our media we have mostly news or articles with good (or sometimes funny, but not negative) view on Amish communities. I agree with You, that they are people like Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Atheists and other. But for me Your blog is something new.

  6. Hey, Saloma.

    I figured your take would be different from my own.

    As a “self described” libertarian, I do believe the law should protect those who are assaulted, as the Amish victims were assaulted in this instance.

    I do have problems, though, with your linking of this crime to the Amish life style in general. I’ve heard it from others as well. If this hair cutting violence is a natural culmination of a deeper issue, why has something similar never happened before, in all of Amish history? It has not. Why?

    Sure, there are a LOT of abused women and children among the Amish. And yes, it would be good if they got counseling. Same is true of a LOT of women and children in outside society as well.

    Who gets to decide? That’s my beef. And there is only one power that could step in. The state. You know how I feel about that.

    The “children in Bergholz” are many of the children all around us. I’m willing to let parents decide what’s best for their offspring. Whether or not I agree with those choices. Including the parents in Bergholz.

    I will always defend the right of the Amish to be who they are. Always. Good, bad, or ugly. The price of religious freedom is too high to do otherwise.

    Thanks, though, for your thoughtful commentary. Hope so see you again, soon.

  7. Bean, thank you for thoughts. Very interesting about the Grabill community. Many Amish are vulnerable to being converted, and very often that causes friction when they go back to “save” others among the Amish. Your conclusion is a good one.

    Katie, what you related is all too common, I’m afraid. Much is done to preserve the image that many people have of the Amish.

    Karen, it’s always good to see you, too. Thanks for your comment.

    Zim, welcome to the blog. The Amish are much in the news these days.

    Ira, I have no idea why forced hair cutting has not been done before in Amish history. However, we need to keep in mind that Bishop Sam was part of other Amish communities and his experiences there helped shape him into who he is. He didn’t just become the way he is overnight. And fanatics do exist among the Amish, whether or not they cut others’ hair. And many splits have taken place in the Amish churches.

    Oh my, I hope you don’t mean what I think you are saying. Do you really mean that parents have the right to beat or sexually abuse their children in Bergholz or anywhere else if that is what they believe in? (And some deranged parents do). I suppose I see “the state” as a much more benign entity than you do. Children have the right to be protected from abuse, and it so happens that the only entity that can govern such things is “the state” no matter how you feel about that. Don’t you think we have more of an obligation to protect children from abuse than we do to ensure that Amish men can keep their beards?

    And about religious freedom… how far do we take that? If Sam Mullet and his cronies believe in cutting others’ beards, should we protect their right to do so? No, of course not — any more than we would say the Bergholz parents have a right to beat their children.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you meant… if so, please clarify.

    I look forward to seeing you again, too.

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

    Saloma

  8. No, parents do not have the right to abuse their children. The definition of “abuse” has drastically changed over the last few decades. Problem is, what is really abuse?

    You use the explosive term, “beating their children.” What does that mean? A slap? A spanking? Or beating with a switch? With a stick? I most definitely believe parents have the right to apply corporal punishment to their children.

    Some would say that the fact any children are forced into being raised Amish is itself abuse. What is abuse? Who defines the term? Always, the state. I really do believe that far more children have suffered by being torn from parents falsely accused of “abuse” than were ever saved from actual physical or sexual abuse. The parents’ rights should never be violated, except in the real cases of physical abuse, and in all cases of sexual abuse.

    But then, what is “sexual abuse” these days? Can it be words? I simply don’t trust the definitions of the state.

    I take freedom of religion very far. Up to the point where others’ rights are violated. As was the case in this instance. Once that happens, it’s time for the law to intervene. And that’s why I supported it as a libertarian.

    I left the Amish. I strongly disagree with the Amish way, the Amish beliefs, the Amish lifestyle. But I will just as strongly defend their right to live and believe as they see fit. It’s no one’s business but their own. Most certainly not the business of the state.

    And this case of “beard cutting” was most definitely an aberration. Sure, it may have birthed from the Amish power structure. But it was conceived and carried out by mentally deranged men. Such can and do appear now and then from the fringes of any social strata. That’s how I see it.

  9. Hi Saloma, I came here on a recommendation from my mom in law. I just wanted to say I enjoyed your take on it. I work in a place where we see and deal with many Amish women and if you open even one ear you will soon have your head filled with terrible tales of sexual abuse. Rape and molestation are all too common in their lives. I would love to see more of them with the courage to go to law enforcement and have their attackers suffer the reward of their actions. But in a culture that scorns education for men and women, abuse and silence will continue. I believe they have the right to practice their religion, but sexual deviants should be punished- and not just by the church.

  10. Marylou, thank you for your perspective. I agree with you wholeheartedly about sexual deviants needing to be punished. And anyone who has been sexually violated knows what that is like.

    I’m often asked how prevalent abuse is among the Amish, and I always respond with saying that I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t think anyone else does either. There is often silence that shrouds abuse — Amish or not. However, the cloak of silence around abuse among the Amish seems thicker, partly because of the cultural training for women to be silent and submissive. One has to break all these cultural norms to break the silence. And breaking the silence is the first step in the healing process.

    Thank you for your comments.

  11. Ira, thank you for clarifying what you meant. I think where we are missing one another is about the allegations about “serious abuse” from 2007, and those stories that are coming from Amish people who used to live under Bishop Sam’s rule. I understand that so far this is hearsay, but so are the allegations that Bishop Sam orchestrated the beard cutting.

    The Crist S. Mullet that is on the sex offender list in Bergholz has a scar on each of his elbows and knees. Does that make you the least bit curious about how those scars came about? Most of us don’t injure ourselves quite so symmetrically as that. Put together with the allegations of abuse, the mystery death of a two-year-old, and the fanaticism that Bishop Sam has shown himself capable of, I’d say “beating their children” is a mild comment.

  12. This is the same situation that Catholics are facing. Has been for some time now. Covering up the abuse of children is satanic in my opinion. Abusing a person that is defenseless, small, has no outlets, I can think of nothing worse. Nothing!

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