These last few days the trial has had me reflecting on why the outcome of this trial (which has yet to be determined) is so important to so many people, whether it’s those of us who have lived the life; the Amish who still live that lifestyle; and those in the outside world.
Many people have used the Amish as their moral compass. They represent the model of a good society; they are the embodiment of humble, salt of the earth people who wear simple clothing unattached to the latest fashions and they travel down country roads in horse-drawn vehicles that remind us of days of yore. Their rural lifestyle with their orderly homes and gardens, their handcrafted quilts and furniture, and their close-knit communities are also reminiscent of another time and age. Though these things are all true, it is obviously not the whole story.
These last few weeks, we’ve witnessed a particularly divisive split among the Amish, in this unheard of act of violent retaliation by one bishop and his followers against other Amish. It’s not that splits in the Amish community are rare — in fact, they are quite numerous. In the historic split back in the late 1600s, it was Jakob Amman who caused a rift and his followers became the Amish. Today, in upstate New York, there are five Schwartzentruber groups who do not dene (associate) with one another. In my native Geauga County there are two major groups. In Holmes County there are many variations of Schwartzentruber, Old Order, and New Order. But it is unprecedented for bishops to get together and decide not to honor one bishop’s decisions to shun people in his flock (or formerly in his flock). And his violent reaction is also unprecedented in Amish communities.
This trial seems to be the antithesis of the forgiveness after the Nickel Mines tragedy. It seems that our image of the Amish as a humble, non-violent, and forgiving people is on trial. In this public display of family and community splits, we see that the Amish are human and a whole lot more complicated than most people thought.
So what do the Amish teach us from all this? Are there different lessons to be learned from a guilty verdict than a not-guilty verdict?
For myself, I am reminded once again that we have to use our own conscience in discerning right from wrong; kindness from mean-spiritedness; compassion from hate. We cannot delegate this hard work to someone else, and we cannot use the Amish as our moral compass. I am learning, once again, that there are no easy answers.