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The Amish Are Not Us

If there's one thing we learned from the Nickel Mines story, it's this: the Amish commitment to forgive is not a small patch tacked onto their fabric of faithfulness. Rather, their commitment to forgive is intricately woven into their lives and their communities-so intricately that it's hard to talk about Amish forgiveness without talking about dozens of other things.

When we first broached the subject of forgiveness with Amish people, we were struck by their reluctance to speak of forgiveness in abstract ways. We did hear forgiveness defined as "letting go of grudges." More frequently, however, we heard responses and stories with forgiveness interspersed with other terms such as love, humility, compassion, submission, and acceptance. The web of words that emerged in these conversations pointed to the holistic, integrated nature of Amish life. Unlike many of their consumer-oriented neighbors, the Amish do not assemble their spirituality piecemeal by personal preference. Rather, Amish spirituality is woven together by a community of saints that stretches back for centuries.

To hear the Amish explain it, the New Testament provides the pattern for their unique form of spirituality. In a certain sense they are right. The Amish take the words of Jesus with utmost seriousness, and members frequently explain their faith by quoting Jesus or other New Testament texts. But the Amish way of life cannot be reduced simply to taking the Bible—or even Jesus—seriously. Rather, Amish spirituality emerges from their particular way of understanding the biblical text, a lens that's been shaped by their pacifistic martyr tradition. With the martyrs hovering nearby, offering admonition and encouragement, the Amish ...

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September 2007

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