Four years ago this October, gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV entered the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Penn., took hostages, and eventually shot ten girls ages 6 to 13, killing five of them before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The forgiveness offered by the community was widely admired, and curiosity about the Amish way of life skyrocketed. Evangelical Christians have a heightened interest in Amish spirituality, hoping its insights can deepen their own faith.
The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World (Jossey-Bass) is the second collaborative effort from Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher, authors of the 2007 book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Redeemed a Tragedy. Their follow-up provides a detailed exploration of Amish spirituality, which places a high premium on discipline, patience, and simplicity. Randall L. Frame, director of marketing and communications at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University, spoke with Weaver-Zercher, professor of American religious history at Messiah College, about the strengths and weaknesses of the Amish way of life.
What is your own history and relationship with the Amish?
Like my coauthors, I was raised in an Anabaptist-related church in a region with a large Amish population. The Amish were different from us, obviously, but because they were so much a part of my cultural landscape, I didn't find them particularly strange or exotic. It was only after I moved to areas of the country where there were no Amish people that I came to appreciate both the uniqueness of the Amish way and the hold that Amish people have on outsiders' imaginations. This fascination remains at the heart of my interest ...