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The Amish: history, beliefs,
practices, conflicts, etc.

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There is no consensus on exactly where the Amish fit within Christianity:

bulletSome consider them conservative Protestants.

bulletMost Amish would probably consider themselves to be Anabaptists

bulletJ Gordon Melton, head of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, classifies them as part of the European Free-Church Family  along with Mennonites, Brethren Quakers and other denominations.

The Amish movement was founded in Europe by Jacob Amman (~1644 to ~1720 CE), from whom their name is derived. In many ways, it started as a reform group within the Mennonite movement -- an attempt to restore some of the early practices of the Mennonites.

The beliefs and practices of the Amish were based on the writings of the founder of the Mennonite faith, Menno Simons (1496-1561), and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. The Amish who split from Mennonites generally lived in Switzerland and in the southern Rhine river region. During the late 17th century, they separated because of what they perceived as a lack of discipline among the Mennonites. 

Some Amish migrated to the United States, starting in the early 18th century. They initially settled in Pennsylvania. Other waves of immigrants became established in  New York, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri Ohio, and other states.

The faith group has attempted to preserve the elements of late 17th century European rural culture. They try to avoid many of the features of modern society, by developing practices and behaviors which isolate themselves from American culture.

James Hoorman writes about the current status of the Amish movement:

"In America, the Amish hold major doctrines in common, but as the years went by, their practices differed. Today, there are a number of different groups of Amish with the majority affiliated with four orders: Swartzengruber, Old Order, Andy Weaver, and New Order Amish. Old Order Amish are the most common. All the groups operate independently from each other with variations in how they practice their religion and religion dictates how they conduct their daily lives. The Swartzengruber Amish are the most conservative followed by the Old Order Amish. The Andy Weaver are more progressive and the New Order Amish are the most progressive." 2

Membership in the Old Order Amish Mennonite Church and other Amish denominations is not freely available. They may total about 180,000 adults spread across 22 states, including about 45,000 in Ohio and smaller numbers in Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, etc. About 1,500 live in south-western Ontario, in Canada.

Almost all members are born into and raised in the faith. Converts from outside of the Amish communities are rare. Some Amish groups have a very restricted gene pool and are experiencing several inherited disorders.

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletAmish origins in Europe

Their history in the U.S. and Canada

bulletConflicts and problems
bulletThe massacre of the innocents: 2006-OCT-03

bullet Allegations of neglect at Amish puppy mills Part 1 Part 2

bulletBooks and Internet links

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Some books available from the online book store:

Joe Mackall's book is titled "Plain Secrets: An outsider among the Amish." Publisher's Weekly states: "Mackall breathes life into a complex group often idealized or caricatured . . . it is a deeply respectful account that never veers toward sensationalism." In a starred review, Booklist, ALA, comments: "Wonderful and enlightening . . . This is a loving portrait, warts and all, of an often-misunderstood people." Beacon Press (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

book cover Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt, "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy." It describes the remarkable response of the Amish community to a mass shooting of ten young girls in an Amish school in Nickel Mines, PA. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

book cover Donald B. Kraybill, "The Riddle of Amish Culture (Center Books in Anabaptist Studies)." This is an update of a 1989 classic on the Amish culture. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

book cover Misty Griffin, "Tears of the Silenced: A True Crime and an American Tragedy; Severe Child Abuse and Leaving the Amish." It discusses the abuse experiences of a teenage girl in an Amish community who was excommunicated because she reported the abuse to the police. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Material used:

  1. The photograph at the top of this menu was taken, and copyrighted, by Bill Coleman. It is used by permission. His website, Amish Odyssey, is a joy to surf. See:
  2. James J. Hoorman, "Amish & Mennonite Culture History," at:

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Copyright © 2004 to2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally rewritten: 2004-AUG-08
Latest update: 2012-AUG-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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