- The Amish are an Anabaptist group that has become well known for its efforts to maintain its separatist agricultural life in small enclaves in the United states, resisting involvement with the state and, more recently, with modern technology.The Amish trace their history to Jacob Amman (b. c. 1644), a Swiss Mennonite leader who called for a strict interpretation of the writings of Menno Simons (the founder of the Mennonites) and of the Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632), a widely acknowledged statement of belief for Men-nonites. The Dordrecht text includes an important paragraph on banning (disfellowshipping) and shunning. As members are expected not to eat, drink, or even converse on nonreligious matters with a banned person, shunning can have severe consequences, even in relations between spouses.Amman's strict interpretation of church discipline eventually led him to place all who disagreed with him under the ban. The harsh feelings so generated resulted in separation between the Amish and other Mennonites, and the schism was never healed. Over time, as Mennonites accommodated in many ways to changes in modern life, other issues intruded to keep the two groups apart.The Amish have attempted to keep the common clothing of the 17th century, as a sign of the life of humility and separation from the world they espouse. Their garb is further distinctive in having no buttons, a fashion adopted out of the memory of the large buttons decorating the uniforms of soldiers that killed many Anabaptists. After marriage, men grow beards (for which there are many biblical precedents) but not mustaches, which are also associated with the military. Women wear bonnets and aprons.After more than a century of persecution in Europe, the Amish migrated to America in the 18th century and largely disappeared from their homeland. They established themselves in Pennsylvania, and as their fellowship grew, expanded to Ohio and Illinois. Being close to major urban areas has made them objects of curiosity, and they have increasingly moved to more isolated regions of North America and, most recently, Central America.There are an estimated 150,000 Amish, of which approximately half are members of the Old Order Mennonite Church. Amish organization is congregationally based, and there are no central headquarters for the various groups. Splits have occurred over accommodations made by some Amish (such as allowing members who work away from their farms to use automobiles). They also periodically find themselves in court in attempts to maintain customs that conflict with local laws.Old Order Amish worship in the homes of the members, with each family hosting the congregation on a rotating basis. The construction of church buildings by some smaller groups has been a source of schism. The Mennonite Information Center, 2209 Millstream Road, Lancaster, PA 17602, has assumed part of the task of interpreting Amish life to the many tourists who visit Lancaster County.Further reading:■ A. Martha Denlinger, Real People: Amish and Mennonites in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000)■ John A. Hoestetler, Amish Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968, 1993)■ Donald B. Kraybill and Carl E Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)■ William R. McGrath, Why We Wear Plain Clothes (Cattolton, Ohio: Amish Mennonite Publication, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.