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Christian Denominations: Protestantism--Amish

Protestant denominations Amish
Figure 1.--This Amish boy is pictured with his dog. Notice the straw hat, white shirt, dark pants, and bare feet.

The Amish are a religious group who live in settlements in 22 American states and Ontario, Canada. The oldest group of Old Order Amish, about 16-18,000 people live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are the best known. The Amish stress humility, family and community, and separation from the world. Although Lancaster Amish are Pennsylvania Dutch, all Pennsylvania Dutch are not Amish. The Pennsylvania Dutch are natives of Central Pennsylvania, particularly Lancaster and its surrounding counties. Unlike the Amish, they are not all one religion. Instead, their common bond is a mainly German background (the Pennsylvania Dutch are actually the Pennsylvania Deutsch, or Germans). They also have Welsh, English, Scottish, Swiss, and French ancestry.


The Amish are on of the Mennonite groups which settled in America. The Mennonites were an early Protestant sect which developed among Swiss Anabaptists. The Mennonites were moderate Anabaptists. They were initially referred to as the Swiss Bretheren, but were renamed the Mennanites after an earlier leader--Menno Simons (1496?-1561). A Zurrich group seceded from the state church (1523-25). One of the principal issues was infant baptism. The Mennites were nonresistants (pacifists) and refused to take oaths because of a Biblical interpretation. The Mennites took the Bible as the soul authority in matters of faith and accepted only two sacraments (batism and the Lord's Supper). Mennites spread to Germany and were an important part of the Volksdeutsche that migrated to Russia. The offere by Tsarina Chatherine the Great was especially attractive to the Mennonites because they were allowed to live as communities under their own laws and were exempted from military service. Other Mennites established communities in France and the Netherlands. Dutch Menninites issued the Dordrecht Confession (1632). The Mennonites settled areas of eastern Pennsylvania. The first Pennsylvania colony was at Germantown (1683). The Amish are one of the Mennite groups in Pennsylvania. Other colonies were established in Ohio and other mid-Western states. Mennonite familes also established colonies in western Canada. As Russian policies changed toward the Folksdeutsche in the 19th century, many moved to Canada. Large numbers were killed with Stalin during World War II exiled the Folksdeutsche from their Volga farms to Siberia (1941). A small group of Canadian Mennonites established two Mexican colonies during the 1920s.

The Amish in America

The Amish in America are commonly called the Pennsylvania Dutch. Actually they have no relation to Holland. The term Pennsylvania Dutch is a corruption of the German word for German--Deutch. Thus the term Pennsylvania Dutch means in fact Pennsylvania German. The Amish while heavily German have there roots in many western European countries.

Historical Background

The Amish have their roots in the Mennonite ommunity. Both were part of the early Anabaptist movement in Europe, which took place at the time of the Reformation. The Anabaptists believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized, and that they should remain separate from the larger society. Many early Anabaptists were put to death as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants, and many others fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding their worship services in homes rather than churches. In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who were nicknamed "Mennonites." In 1693, a Swiss bishop named Jacob Amman broke from the Mennonite church. His followers were called the "Amish." Although the two groups have split several times, the Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same beliefs concerning baptism, non-resistance, and basic Bible doctrines. They differ in matters of dress, technology, language, form of worship, and interpretation of the Bible. The Amish and Mennonites both settled in Pennsylvania as part of William Penn's "holy experiment" of religious tolerance. Penn sought settlers for his new colony amomg the Quakers and Mennonites experiencing discrimination. This resulted in the first permanent settlement of Mennonites in America suring the colonial period. This was one Mennonite family and twelve Mennonite-Quaker families of Dutch extraction who arrived from Krefeld, Germany (1683) and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720s or 1730s.

Modern Ideas and Innovations

Although the Amish look like they stepped out of the rural 19th century, in fact they do change. Remember that Mennonites began arriving in America during the late-17th century so a 19th century image shows considerable change from the 17th and 18th centuries. Their lives move more slowly than ours, but they definitely are not stuck anywhere. They choose to examine change carefully before they accept it. If the new idea or gadget does not assist in keeping their lives simple and their families together, they probably will reject it. Each church district makes such decesions for itself, what it will and will not accept. There is no single governing body for the entire Old Order Amish population, but all follow a literal interpretation of the Bible and an unwritten set of rules called the Ordnung. Old Order groups all drive horses and buggies rather than cars. Electricity is an interesting example as to how the Amish approach these issues. There is considerable variation. Quite a number do not have electricity in the homes, but among these many have electric milking machines in the barns. The practicality and efficency of the milking machines led to their acceptance.

Old Order Amish

Old Order Amish is one part of the extended Amish-Mennonites community, often described as the strictest Amish order. They are notable for their nonconformist attitudes and staunch resistance to social change and technology. The most obvious differences are worship in private homes, a limited ural way of life, a horse-and-buggy culture avoiding machinery, a dialect of the German language, and 'plain' clothes like that of European peoples in the 19th century. They oppose education for their children beyond primary school which has resultedcin disputes with state authorities. They do not sponsor most organized church activity, including organized missionary work and evangelic effort. Unlike other Amish, the Old Order has been especially reistantbto technology. They do not own cars, telephones and cell phones, television, and computers. They do notvuse electrical devices in general. Other Amish often accept technologybif itvhas oractucal aplications. The Old Order are much more resistant tobtechnology. Some Old Order communities do not even use tractors which are used by most other Amish. Only the Old Order Mennonites, the Old Colony Mennonites, and the Hutterites to some extent share these views and religious practices. Sunday meetings are especially destinctive. The Old Order Amish have no meeting houses. The Sunday worships take place on individual family farms. The families rotate hosting the sunday meetings. Each district has a maximum of 40 families. Larger groups divude. The district have sunday worship meetings. services every two weeks. On the sunday with out axservice, families often attend searvices in another district. The benches and the songs books are property of the district and are moved for each sunday service. The sunday worship services are quite extended. Services begin with an hour if communal singing. This is followed by the first sermon which usually lasts about an half hour. Then comes silent prayer, Bible reading, the second sermon (often more than an hour), and finally concluding prayers. The entire services last about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. This is quite a long time for children to sit still. The children are sometimes allowed to take a break. After the services, the host family provides a meal for the congregation.


The Amish send their children to private, one-room schoolhouses. Children attend school through the 8th grade. After that, they work on their family's farm or business until they marry. The Amish feel that their children do not need more formal education than this. Although they pay school taxes, the Amish have fought to keep their children out of public schools. In 1972, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark unanimous decision which exempted the Old Order Amish and related groups from state compulsory attendance laws beyond the eighth grade. Many Mennonites and progressive Amish do attend high school and even college. For the many Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite children living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the ringing school bell signals a time to shift attention from field work to school work, a time to drop the hoe and pick up a pencil. Old Order children attend one-room schools through the 8th grade and are usually taught by a young, unmarried Christian woman. As a result of the County's growing Old Order population, enrollment in their one-room schools is surging. During recent years Old Order leaders have been over-seeing the construction of new one-room school buildings at the rate of about five per year. A 1972 Supreme Court ruling exempted the Old Order sects from compulsory attendance laws beyond the 8th grade. The one-room schools restrict worldly influences and stress the basics such as reading, writing and arithmetic. The importance of the community and cooperation among its members are also emphasized.

Figure 2.--This Amish boys are pictured in their standard dress of hat, dark shirts, suspenders and black pants. During the colder months they always wear shoes. This card read, "The Amish are a peace loving, God fearing group. Their manner and dress is different from all other of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Amish boy's hair, like his father's, is cut in a bang in front or parted in the middle and combed over the side to cover the ears. Broad-rimmed shallow-crowned black felt hats are traditional."


Most Amish are trilingual. They speak a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch at home; they use High German at their worship services; and they learn English at school. They speak English when they deal with anyone who is not Amish. They pronounce Amish with a broad "a" (Ah-mish). The Amish are a private people who believe God has kept them together despite pressure to change from the modern world. They are not perfect, but they are a strong example of a community that supports and cares for its members. They are a people apart; they are also a people together.

Amish Dress

Old Order Amish women and girls wear modest dresses made from solid-colored fabric with long sleeves and a full skirt (not shorter than half-way between knee and floor). These dresses are covered with a cape and apron and are fastened with straight pins or snaps. They never cut their hair, which they wear in a bun on the back of the head. On their heads they wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single. Amish women do not wear jewelry. Men and boys wear dark-colored suits, straight-cut coats without lapels, broadfall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. Their shirts fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. They wear suspenders (braces) rather than belts. They do not have mustaches, but they grow beards after they marry. The Amish do have a very distinctive children's dress. Boys wear the same clothes as men. The only clothing difference I know of is that many Amish boys go barefoot in the summer. The Amish feel these distinctive, but plain clothes encourage humility and separation from the world. Their clothing is not a costume; it is an expression of their faith.

Hair Cuts

We do not have a great deal of information about Amish hair cuts yet. As far as I can tell, most Amish boys have their hair cut in bangs. Not all boys have their hair cut this way, but it seems quite common. There are differences. The front bangs are cut in a variety of ways. The major differences, however, is the length of the hair at the sides. Some boys have hair over their ears while other boys have shorter cuts. Older boys and men more commonly part their hair in the middle and comb over the side to cover the ears. Here we need more information to confirm the common hair styles. This was a destinctive style for boys. The clothing Amish boys wore was essentially the same as their father's wore. Their hair, however, was styled differently.


The Amish are a fascinating study in economics and one that can only exist in a stable, capotalist free market ecomomy. They have decided for religious reasons to lead a life apart from modern industrial society and pursue an agragrian lifestyle. What is not often mentioned by the Amish is that this only works because they live in the midst of a prosperous industrial society. It is all too obvious that many other societies around the world live in agrarian societies and as a result, abject poverty. Now the Amish do not live in abject poverty, although in money terns they often fall below the monetary povery line. They do this by accepting many free sevices provided by the state: piblic health, medical care, public security, national defense, agricultural resaerch, economic freedom, secure property rights, legal protections, and reliable money-at least until recently. And they have access to the fruits of capitalist society from which they can pick and choose. They pay little in taxes for all these these services as their money income is limited. And they have access to a lucrative market for their produce. This is why the mennoites and Amishg have been successful in America and Canada. Efforts in other countries have ben generally less successful. A community in Mexico has recently collapsed because if the weakness of the rule of law in Mexican society. Another interesting aspect of Amish society is the absence of unemployment. In fact they have a labor shortage. Thus is because the avoidence of electricity and motorized vechicles means a lot more labor has to be spent in daily activities like plowing, garvesting, laundety and much more. Few Americans would accept this added labor burden or the resort to child labor that the Amish have taken. [McLaughlin]


Lifestyle is an aspect that is affected by relgion. All religions have moral precepts and often behvioral instructins unrelated to those moral precepts. Examples here are Jewish and Islamic dietary prohbitions and rejection of artistic depictions. The impact on life styled is affected by the nature and severity of these moral and non-moral instructins as well as the intensity of one's religious convictions. The Amish are Protestant Christians. Their moral convinctions is within the Protestant mainstream. What is dectinctive is these Amish non-moral behaviors and the inteensity of their commitment. Of course there is a complication here. Once a behavior is ordered, regardless of its nature, it becomes a part of a religiomn's morality. Thusthe Amish rejection of much of modern technology takes on a moral aspect. And it is with technology that you mostly see the most obvious differences between the Amish and the outside world as well as within the different orders. he Amish appear closed to outsiders. This is, however, not altogether the case. The Amish are integrated into the wider community economically. This is mosy obvious if you visit Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the American county with the largest concentation of Amish. And there you see their black, horse-drawn buggies in town. And you cn purchase Amish crafts like beautifyl quilts and other products. And the Amish farms supply and depend on the outside market. They are among the most productive in the nation, amd run on asustainanle basis. And their life style is sructured around their view of themselves--the 'Plain People'.

The Devils Playground (2001)

The documentary, "The Devil's Playground", is a fascinating depiction of Amish life. you. Photographs of the Amish are very hard to come by because they don't like to be photographed, but the documentary is an exception to the general rule. The film was directed by Lucy Walker. It dealt with the life of Amish youth in modern America. It was filmed princpally in LaGrange County, Indiana, and in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which are both centers of Amish culture. The Amish were a splinter religious group, originally founded in 1693 in central Europe because they disapproved of infant baptism and insisted that a person couldn't legitimately become a true member of their church until he or she was at least sixteen. At this point they were baptized, joined the Amish church, and swore to live the rest of their lives simply, shunning the ways of the modern world as much as possible. They were severely persecuted in Europe for their views on baptism, and by 1860 had abandoned Europe entirely for life in America. Most of the Amish are hard-working, thrifty, productive farmers, but they have other skills as well such as carpentry, sewing, horse-shoeing, etc. The Amish educate their children in separate schools through the 8th grade and from that point onward discourage further education as leading to "the pride of life". For this reason also they refuse to use electricity, automobiles, cameras, and many other modern conveniences. But they are not so much against modern technology for its own sake (they do make certain compromises with the modern world) as they are determined to avoid aspects of modern culture that would tend to break up their close-knit community with its values of self-reliance and helping each other. The most visible aspect of their essentially rural culture is the horse-drawn buggy--their major means of transportation.


McLaughlin, Dan. "Economic lessons from the Amish," Mises Faily Articles (June 21, 2007).


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Created: 4:34 AM 11/18/2006
Last updated: 8:43 PM 5/24/2020