Living in an Amish Paradise? – Greg Albrecht

The following article is re-posted from the May/June 2006 Plain Truth magazine:

Imagine a rigid and repressive commune existing within the advantages and freedoms of modern, progressive and democratic North America. Imagine overbearing rules and regulations that people living in such an authoritarian subculture seem to willingly accept. Imagine a religion that imposes draconian restrictions on private life.

If the examination of such a culture continued in any detail, it would not be long before words like “Brainwashing” and “Cult” would be common reactions.

But when the group being considered is identified as the Amish, commentary invariably softens. Most casual observers think of the Amish lifestyle as pleasant, innocuous and even as a quaint throwback to another era. The average North American responds to the Amish lifestyle with curiosity, even admiration—rather than revulsion. The initial reaction of many is to appreciate the presumed innocence and simplicity of the Amish, whose people are called gentle and plain. The Amish are known as gentle and peace loving, for their pacifistic teachings, and plain and simple for their unadorned clothing and culture.

The Amish are popularly known as a people who are lost in time, a people who have been arrested in a former time and culture, relatively unaffected by the world that whirls around them. It’s a lifestyle that rejects modern innovations and technology—the cars, cell phones and computers that so characterize modern life in 21st century North America. This extreme retro way of life can seem attractive, especially during times when it appears we are enslaved to technology, with its devices and gadgets once touted as “conveniences” and “labor-saving” devices.

The Amish are committed to hard work, family and community. They use horse drawn buggies, favor clothing styles that come closer to 18th century apparel than contemporary culture, and they speak in a German dialect sprinkled with English words. In some ways the Amish life represents a life lived in the past, eyes firmly fixed on the historical/cultural rear view mirror, while distrusting and resisting virtually all change.

The romantic myth of the Amish has been perpetuated in the media, in the movie Witness, and in the television show Amish in the City. But there is a dark side to all of the idealism that tourists in Amish country see as they shop for crafts and attend quilting bees. Romanticizing and idealizing Amish beliefs and practices overlooks many of the unbiblical, not to mention dysfunctional practices of this faith community. The spiritually sinister beliefs that under gird Amish life suggest we reconsider momentary flights of fancy that might lead us to conclude that embracing Amish values would enable us to return to our very own Little House on the Prairie.

Deep in the Heart of Amish Country

Joe Keim, who leads Mission to Amish People (MAP), asked me to visit his church and ministry. After reading my book, Bad News Religion, he wanted me to explain to his church more about the virus of legalism that thrives in religious environments. Joe is ex-Amish, or “saved Amish”—in 1985 he left the Amish lifestyle in order to embrace Jesus Christ. Joe wanted me to share insights about legalistic religion and to learn more about the often bewildering world that faces those who reject the highly regulated, legalistic Amish lifestyle in favor of accepting true freedom in Christ.

During my visit to Amish country in Ohio, I found that even though my surname calls attention to my German heritage, I am considered an Englishman in Amish country—the word “English” is often used to describe anyone who has not shared the unique Amish religion and culture.

New Life is the home church of Joe Keim’s MAP, a ministry dedicated to helping those who have left the Amish ways and have embraced the fullness of Jesus Christ.

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