· Episode 15 ·
Tom Jennings was on his computer a lot and he wasn’t playing games. He was learning about the Amish.
Tom read documents answering the standard questions about the Old Order Amish: Where do most of the Amish live? Why are they against technology? Why do they dress that way? Are they non-violent? What is the role of women in their culture? Are the young people leaving the Amish family and community or staying?
The Amish who Tom met near Humble in Cottonwood County were part of a settlement represented by only two church districts compared to the heavy concentration of Old Order Amish in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Kansas had a population of approximately 1,500 total Amish, including children.
Since Tom had grown up with the convenience of technology, he couldn’t imagine coping without electricity, especially his phone. He was so spoiled he didn’t know it. When there was an emergency, he didn’t give a second thought to responding in his department’s marked SUV at speeds requiring strobe lights and a blaring siren. It was beyond his imagination to use a horse for transportation. But if he had a horse, as big as he was, it would require a reinforced step-ladder in order for him to mount it.
Yes, Tom learned, Amish traditions and rules could make things inconvenient, but the reasoning to the Plain People was pretty clear. In order to keep a strong family, community, and faith, being separate from the modern world was preferred and obedience to the church’s teachings a necessity.
Tom understood why he wouldn’t be accepted by the Amish. The Amish and English really did live in separate worlds. For Tom, finding an Amish friend could develop into a fulfilling personal and cultural relationship. But for the Amish, he represented a potential threat, an outsider who could eventually pull members away from their core values and ethnic identity. That, Tom speculated, was probably one of the reasons the Amish didn’t believe in missionary work, although recently he had heard of a project in Mexico. Being a missionary would expose a Plain Person to a modern world that could contaminate their Amish thinking and lead to rejection of over four hundred years of tradition. It just wasn’t worth the risk. It was a matter of religious survival.
Amish had their identity which included many rules about so many things, including standards about what was permitted and what was not with clothing, grooming, transportation, education, and employment. To what degree the Amish cooperated with governmental authorities was also an issue.
For a moment, Tom considered his identity as a law enforcement officer. Cops were a distinct group with similar customs and traditions. They wore uniforms and drove recognizable vehicles. They carried guns, and when necessary, were trained to shoot and kill people. If you considered the police radio, they even used their own ten-code language. But most of all they identified as being a police family with common traits and goals, especially the belief that their purpose was to serve and protect mankind. This meant respecting and protecting the innocent from deception, oppression, and intimidation. In the line of duty, police officers were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice so that citizens could continue to enjoy liberty, equality, and justice.
Until Tom started researching the Amish, he hadn’t realized their extensive history of being persecuted. He knew that many groups had emigrated from Europe due to religious persecution, he just never pictured the Amish in the same boat with Puritans or Quakers. He learned that in 1737, the first Amish group made an extremely dangerous journey to the U.S. when they sailed on the ship Charming Nancy, later referred to as the “Amish Mayflower”.
At first, Tom thought Anabaptists were against baptism. He couldn’t have been further from the truth. Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they believed scripture: the choice of following Jesus should be a voluntary one.
After reading about the persecution of the Amish in Europe, Tom’s respect for the group grew. When the Amish chose to separate their religion from the state, that decision created powerful enemies for them. Amish persecution by government entities was barbaric. Many were burned at the stake or decapitated, others imprisoned and tortured. The extreme government response to a non-violent group showed how much the growth of independent “radical” groups was feared.
Like Quakers, the Amish were non-violent, peace-loving people. In the face of persecution they chose to immigrate, not fight.
No wonder the Amish had learned to circle their wagons—or buggies—to keep their tightly-knit community closed to outsiders.
It seemed to Tom that the United States was an ideal landing spot for larger groups of Amish, beginning in the mid-1700s, as they mostly settled and stayed. And, despite intermittent prejudicial encounters, the agricultural Amish became well respected far and wide for being good neighbors who were devout, industrious, law-abiding, and fair-minded.
As the world became more modern, especially during the Industrial Revolution, many Amish did leave their church and joined various Mennonite groups. But the Amish who held to their customs, like those in Cottonwood County, remained easily identifiable as Old Order Amish.
Tom considered the Yoders and the Schrocks. They were excellent representatives of the Amish—distinct and separate people—who, he accepted, wouldn’t become close friends but would always be friendly.
For a moment Tom wondered if the Yoders or Schrocks would ever trust him enough to contact him if and when their community was being attacked or threatened by bullies or criminals. He had read stories online how Amish were sometimes the target of discrimination or harassment because of being different, but he had never known of it occurring in Cottonwood County. He decided, it was time for him to ask.
The internet told of offenses against the Amish that included verbal harassment, criminal damage to property, theft of property, and injury as a result of objects being thrown at them when they were pedestrians or while riding in their buggies. One infant had even died in her mother’s arms when a heavy tile was thrown into a buggy by high school age boys out having “fun”. This was unacceptable to Tom. He felt a strong calling to be the Amish Police or at least their guardian.
In Tom’s opinion, the days of Amish persecution should have ended centuries earlier. But it wasn’t clear to him if the Amish welcomed persecution or just accepted it as a consequence of being different. Did acts of persecution make the Amish community stronger? If he could catch a person throwing rocks from a fast moving car at a horse-and-buggy, he’d respond without hesitation. Even though the Plain People might not request a deputy, and they probably wouldn’t cooperate as victims, how could he ignore a criminal offense? Tom still needed to figure out if his enforcement of a law was in any way perceived as disrespectful to the Amish. Was it okay for him to do his duty as long as he wasn’t asked for help? He sure didn’t want to put anyone in a position of being excommunicated or shunned because of his response to a possible hate crime.
He had an idea. The county had a restorative justice program called Victim Offender and Reconciliation Program (VORP). Its goal was to allow offenders and victims an opportunity to meet face-to-face so that each party could better understand the offense and its impact. Tom thought this might be acceptable to Amish leaders because the program focused on recognizing the injustice or violation, not on the authorities punishing the offender.
Would the mixing of cultures be forbidden because it was too personally interactive with English outsiders? Only time would tell. The Amish were in no hurry.
To be continued.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!