The land of the free, it turns out, has been rough on people seeking freedom, including evangelicals. Torn between competing visions of freedom, visions we evangelicals helped cast long ago, we wander this way and that, now stumbling, now running, heedless and hesitant, trying like good Americans, like good Christians, just to be free at last. Free indeed.
Not that we usually see ourselves so clearly. But our quandary comes out, sometimes in strange ways—and none stranger than the recent rise of Amish fiction, where earnest romance-writing draws readers into worlds at once familiar and alien. Stories of girls sweating Julys away in layers of dark fabric, boys fumbling for words behind trotting horses, have entranced us by the tens of thousands. One leader of the scribbling pack, Beverly Lewis, has become a New York Times best-selling author with titles like The Englisher and The Brethren. While some evangelicals thrill to visions of a planet Left Behind, others are looking wistfully behind, to a world that's refused to simply go along with it all, the mad dash to freedom be damned.
I used to live among the Amish. I can relate. I was in graduate school then, and my wife and I were living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the parents of two small boys. A few times a week, I drove down aged roads to a university as distant from all the Amish embodied as one could fathom. At least once a week, usually while pushing a stroller or taking a run alongside Amish farms, I was tempted to give up and join in. I mentioned this once to a neighbor, the daughter of an "English" (as the Amish refer to the non-Amish) family that belonged to our large, suburban Presbyterian church. She immediately nodded her head ...1