Discipline in Amish Culture

Baptism into the Amish faith is an intentional, voluntary, adult act that requires a tremendous commitment. In the baptism ceremony, candidates vow to obey God and the church for the rest of their lives. This is an act of submission that binds them under the rules of the Ordnung. Once this commitment has been made, any infraction of those rules is subject to church discipline, whether the infraction is minor (such as using forbidden technology) or major (such as committing adultery).

The discipline process is careful and deliberate and usually begins with a reprimand from a church elder that is intended to bring reconciliation and repentance. If the disobedient member discontinues his infractions, confesses, and repents, all is forgiven, and he remains in good standing in the fold. If he continues in sin or gives up the sin but remains unrepentant, he is put on temporary probation.

During the probationary period, repeated attempts are made to help him see the error of his ways. Elders, friends, and family will talk with him, pray for him, and remind him that he is not living in submission to church authority as he vowed to do when he was baptized. Many attempts are made toward reconciliation, and often this is enough to turn the most stubborn heart toward confession and repentance.

When this is not the case, more drastic steps are taken. If the bishop recommends excommunication, the members will vote. If the vote passes, the person is excommunicated, or put under the ban. In most districts, excommunication is followed by what the Amish call Meidung, or shunning, though the severity of the shunning can vary widely from district to district.

In Their Own Words
“Shunning is usually done with great reluctance and only once there is nothing else left to do. Upon repentance the relationship is restored, and what is in the past stays in the past.”

The practice of shunning is one of the most well-known facets of Amish life. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Though it seems cruel to outsiders, shunning is actually considered to be an act of love, one that is biblically based and done out of concern for the sinner. The Amish stress several key points about shunning:

-Those who have never been baptized into the church are not subject to excommunication or shunning.

-Baptism and its accompanying commitment to honor the Ordnung and submit to the authority of the chuch is made voluntarily, not under duress, and as an adult, not as a child. As such, the candidate accepts from day one that any future infractions of the Ordnung will incur discipline.

-When people are shunned, the door is always open for them to return, as long as they are willing to confess and repent.

-When a person who has been shunned returns to the fold and confesses with a contrite heart, all is forgiven, and the relationship is restored.

Shunning is painful both for the one who is shunned and the ones who are doing the shunning, particularly the closest family members. In its strictest form, called Streng Meidung, members in good standing cannot dine at the same table with those who are shunned, nor can they accept rides or gifts from them or conduct business transactions. When one member of a married couple is shunned, the spouse in good standing may not sleep in the same bed or have marital relations. Conversation is sometimes allowed, but a definite line is drawn between the one who is under the ban and the rest of the community.

Those who have been shunned and eventually leave the church often describe the experience as unspeakably cruel, yet those who have been shunned but eventually repent and return to the fold are often grateful for the experience, saying it was difficult but in the end brought them closer to Christ and the church.

Regardless of how you feel about the topic, the fact remains that shunning is often an effective method for bringing about repentance. When that doesn’t happen, at least it keeps the membership free from those who are not willing to follow the rules. The apostle Paul gives a precedent in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, where he admonishes the Corinthian Christians, “Expel the wicked man from among you.” As Wesner says, shunning is “tough love on a community-wide scale.”

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