The Amish are known for being hard working, humble, and firm in their beliefs. In all my years of friendship and other connections with the Old Order Amish, I know of only a few who don’t fit that description.
But as powerful as those attributes are, they are not what sets the Amish apart from their English counterparts. Plenty of non-Amish people also have those traits.
It seems to me that this country needs both cultures, the Plain and the non-Plain. We each offer insight and balance to the other’s world. I’ve seen the positive and powerful effect that the Amish commitment to simplicity, family, and the Ordnung have had on families outside their culture. But English (non-Amish) men and women fought wars that allow the Amish to exercise their freedom. And the efforts of English trained in the medical profession have brought about advanced facilities and medicines that have saved the lives of Plain and non-Plain alike.
One summer evening, while I was staying with Amish friends, I had an opportunity to ask an older Amish man, “What do you think is the main cause for the separation between the Amish and English cultures?”
Most older gentlemen aren’t afraid to state their opinions. They’ve seen a lifetime of changes and they’re not worried about being politically correct. To them, honesty is not offensive, and I was sure that would be true of this man.
He replied, “I’ll share one example, but it is a representation of a lot of life. See, the English folks often feel they shouldn’t watch television nearly as often as they do. They worry about what it’s doing to their family, and they talk about making changes. Despite the good intentions of putting down boundaries they’ll feel good about, most continue doing more of the same. But the Amish decide what’s best for the family and community, and they don’t allow anything into their homes that will take away from God and family.”
I could have given a rebuttal of how television shows can broaden our minds and horizons, give us some much-needed downtime, and, when done right, be a good bonding time for families. Since my goal wasn’t to debate, but to glean from his perspective and experience, I held my tongue.
Besides, he made some good points, and he had experience to back him. See, eight out of ten Amish youth choose to stay with their families and communities after they turn eighteen. That can’t be said of the non-Amish world.
I admire the Amish ability to take the hard road and how they do all they can to make sure the next generation follows them. They have spiritual, emotional, and physical fortitude to do what they believe is right.
Still, they also have areas of weakness. I for one can’t imagine what good things would be missing from this world if everyone was limited to an eighth-grade education.
I think one of the greatest challenges for the Amish is their strict and often fearful obedience to the Ordnung—the rules by which they live. Sometimes it seems as if they believe the Ordnung came straight from God, so they don’t dare challenge it. For example, women wear head coverings because the Word of God addresses that topic, and they interpret the Word literally. I applaud that level of faith and discipline. But the women also wear their hair parted in the middle and in a tight bun because the Ordnung declares that’s the way it needs to be. Many of the women say they do it out of respect for their elders or parents. But since no one dissents from such practices, I have to wonder if they obey these rules out of fear of displeasing God, of embarrassing loved ones, or of being shunned.
We non-Amish also have codes of conduct based in our fear of what others may think—not necessarily God, but friends, neighbors, and society.
As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, there is nothing new under the sun.
The main difference between the Amish and the English is how they deal with situations. The English give leeway for people to decide what is best for them. We give room for one another’s personal comfort zones. The Amish make decisions based on their belief of what is best for the community as a whole. For example, having everyone wear their hair the same way and dress in the same style helps to downplay individuality and focus on outward unity as well as inward unity.
Do you think our faith-filled non-Amish society would be improved if we followed a set of rules like the Ordnung? Or has our freedom to follow our conscience allowed us opportunities to serve God and others in ways we couldn’t otherwise do?
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Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times and CBA best-selling author who has written seventeen works of fiction. Her connection with the Amish community has been widely featured in national media outlets. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal listed Cindy as one of the top three most popular authors of Amish fiction. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.
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