The Mennonites and the Amish : a critique of religious conservatism with special reference to the Old Order Amish in Pennsylvania
Morgan, Eric Raymond
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The concept of religious conservatism is related to the faith of the Anabaptists in early 16Ih century Switzerland, Germany and Holland as developed by the Swiss Brethren, maintained and developed by the Mennonites and Amish in Europe and thence into the USA, especially in Pennsylvania. Tenets of the faith are revealed in these peoples' actualised theology as they have long unyoked themselves from the outside world and formed a free church. The continuity of the faith is traced through a number of Confessions of Faith since 1527. The purity of the redemptive community is ensured by the order or 'ordnung' and its demands are known to those undergoing adult baptism. Different interpretations of the ordnung and the strictness of the ban on sinners have resulted in schisms since Menno Simons and Jacob Ammann. The faith has remained firm in spite of schisms also resulting from reactions to technological changes and pressures from the outside world. Conservative attitudes are revealed in these groups' old-fashioned distinctive simple clothing, hair, beards, head covering and transport. Pacifism and 'gelassenheit', the yielding to God's Will and that of the congregation, add to this distinctiveness and conservatism. The great number of schisms among the Mennonites reveal differences in imposing the 'ban', shunning (or meidung) or excommunication and the degrees of rejection of contemporary material changes (e.g. automobiles, telephones, mains electricity). The most conservative are the 'Old Orders'. The selection of ministers (by the 'lot') and their roles are examined and continuity is emphasised by the practice of feet washing (insisted by Arnrnann) and singing hymns from a mid- 16th century hymnal, the Ausbund. Numerous references from the New Testament are quoted in justification of their religious beliefs within an actualised theology and the relationship between congregations and baptised believers is also addressed in some detail. Their possible future as religious groups may be conjectural in a world so inimical to so many of their beliefs. They remain a powerful witness to His word in spite of their small numbers. Observations of and conversations with many of these people over the past thirty years confirm their personal characteristics outlined in the thesis. Through their religious beliefs, their actualised theology and steadfastness in living their beliefs, they can contribute an understanding of the contemporary world by offering their religious conservatism as exemplifying their belief in witnessing a comer of God's Kingdom. The underlying paradoxes in their lives must, however, be fully appreciated. The thesis is that the nature of their long-held beliefs, discipline and gelassenheit brings fulfilment and a witness to the outside world. Their steadfastness makes acceptable the many paradoxes in their lives, reflecting a need to react constantly to outside pressures without undermining the faith.
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