Sally Schwartz wrote:
I grew up in Canton and later taught in Ashland Ohio so seeing Amish and Mennonites was a common experience. I think if I were Amish, all those tourists coming to stare would really tick me off. I haven’t seen the TV programs you mention but see all those Amish romance novels around and think they can’t be a lot of help in people’s perceptions. Wondered what you think of the groups who take up ministering to the Amish. Not those trying to assist those who have left on their own accord, but those trying to make evangelical converts. I have stumbled over some of this on the Internet.
Sally, you have great comments and questions here. Yes, if the tourist industry had been as vital as it is now when I was in my community, I might have gotten very self-conscious with so many eyes watching me.
Amish romance novels, oh yes. In my mind, they were a precursor to the reality shows. It's all the same… corporations exploiting the Amish name, dress, and cultural symbols for their own gain. And all except for Linda Byler, none of these authors were ever Amish, and they get the details all wrong. You are so right, these romance novels don't help people's perceptions of the Amish culture. In fact, they create many misconceptions, as if there aren't enough of them already.
You ask about groups that try to convert Amish youth out of their culture. Here are my thoughts on the subject.
Everyone who thinks about leaving the Amish has a hard decision to make. (For those who don't think about it and are content to stay in the culture their whole lives long, this is not an issue.) Those who have itchy feet have to decide for themselves if they are cut out to make it in the modern world, and whether they are willing to leave their family and community to take on the freedom and responsibilites that will be theirs if they leave. If someone comes along and tries to recruit youth out of the culture, it can short-curcuit that process.
It must be very confusing to Amish youth to try to figure out who is right about their spiritual lives. The Amish teach their children that because they were born Amish, God wants them to stay Amish, and if they leave they will go to Hell. Then along comes an evangelical Christian who tells them they can have a guarentee that they will go to Heaven if they will only accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Most of the evangelical Christians who try to recruit, will assert that this is the ONLY way to make it to heaven. So, in other words, unless you accept Jesus as your personal Savior, you will go to Hell. Who are the young people to believe? (Someone once pointed out that the word "lie" is in the word "believe." This is a good example of when is true). Either way, it is fear of Hell that motivates these young people in going one way or the other. And I don't think fear is a good motivator in deciding which path to take in one's life.
There are many youth who do not survive leaving the Amish. When they first taste of freedom, they do not know how to handle it, and they engage in risky behavior. They bring about the very thing they were afraid of. Very often, the body is taken back and buried as Amish. The funeral becomes a "warning" to others that they need to be ready at any time, because they never know when their end will come. There is the inference that God struck that person dead for disobeying the parents, the church, and ultimately God Himself. And ultimately, the mind goes to the "inevitable fact" that this person is now in Hell. This, then, becomes a powerful motivator (fear) to anyone else who has thought about leaving to stay and "obey."
I would love to see a study that looks at Amish youth who leave of their own accord versus those who are "recruited" out. I would want to find out if there is any statistical difference in survival rate. Either way, I find it so tragic when I hear of another youth who died soon after leaving the Amish.
So this is a long answer, but I do think there is a difference between offering a safe haven to those who have left the Amish culture, and actively recruiting them out. It is a tough enough decision for those who are restless, so I don't need to confuse them further. Ultimately, some Amish people are going to live a more settled and happy life among their people. Others will feel torn between the two worlds. And still others cannot fit themselves into the culture, and there basically is no way they can stay.
Thank you, Sally, for your perceptive questions, and for giving me permission to post your questions and my answer here.