The Amish and Their Neighbors
Friday, June 3, 2022 • 8:30–10:00 am
A. Papers: Comparative Perspectives on Plain Culture
Amish and Non-Amish Views of Climate change in Ohio
Caroline C. Brock
The majority of farmers believe climate change is occurring; however, there is variability in attitudes and beliefs on how climate change is associated with human activities, will affect local weather patterns, and/if how it will pose a threat to agriculture. Amish operations comprise an increasing share of the rural population and with Ohio in particular. Many Amish believe that humans are incapable of influencing global processes such as climate change since they believe God instead controls such processes. As a result, some Amish give theological explanations for climate change effects such as more frequent and intense storms. Research presented here is based on a mail survey conducted in 2014 with Holmes and Wayne County farmers. The research objectives of this study involved documenting and comparing Amish and non-Amish farmers’ observations and concerns related to specific local weather changes and climate change ideas and how these may have been associated with the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices. Analysis indicates that Amish farmers were less likely than non-Amish to see climate change as something that is occurring now, and they were more likely to not respond to the question, indicating perhaps more resistance to discussing the topic directly. They were also less likely to agree that climate change will harm them, and this lower level of concern was also observed regarding specific potential weather changes that they have observed.
Caroline C. Brock is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She received a PhD in environment and resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has taught a large, writing intensive class every semester since 2012 on Amish communities. Collaborating with researchers at Indiana University and The Ohio State University on grant writing and publications related to Amish and climate change, she has published six jointly authored publications on Amish farmers in the past two years.
Ryan Haden is an associate professor of agronomy at The Ohio State University in Wooster, Ohio. He leads many research projects and field trials exploring soil health and other soil health topics in sustainable cropping systems. He has also explored beliefs and behaviors around climate change for farmers in California, as well as a cross-country comparison study. Over the past six years, he has been part of a team studying the climate change perspectives of Amish and non-Amish farmers in northcentral Ohio.
“I would feel very uncomfortable if I had my legs uncovered”: Old Order Amish and Ultra-Orthodox Women Ideologies and Practices toward Modesty
Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar
This paper focuses on the ideologies and practices of Old Order Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women toward modesty. The central question is what can be learned from the similarities and differences between these communities about the social, cultural, economic, and religious circumstances around modesty. I will demonstrate that the comparison between these communities enables us to better understand ideologies and practices around issues of body and dress, their experiences of being covered and uncovered, and the consequences of these on the agency of the members of strictly religious communities. The methodology employed in this comparative study is qualitative, and drawn from fieldwork from 2011 to 2019 among Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women.
Both communities live among secular, capitalist consumers and cultures where modesty practices are lax, and both respond with a backlash, but they do so differently. The Amish strive to conserve their tradition and maintain the rules they have always had. In contrast, the Ultra-Orthodox increase their requirements and the stringency of their rules in response to the changes around them. By studying Amish and Ultra-Orthodox versions of modesty, we are better able to understand methods of keeping and controlling internal and external boundaries in these communities. It is clear that in both communities, modes of dress and modesty behavior are part of the currency in the cultural and religious capital of the community.
Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar is a senior lecturer at Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel, teaching courses in research methods, communication, religion, and gender. Her doctorate is from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow and a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University. She also received the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies’ Snowden Fellowship. Her most recent research project addresses the tension between religious values and new technologies among Old Order Amish women and Jewish Ultra-Orthodox women.
Profound Encounters: The Love Feast and the Old German Baptist Brethren
The Old German Baptist Brethren form a small but distinctive expression of Plain Christianity representing the largest “Old Order” expression of the Schwarzenau Brethren. They occupy a noteworthy place among the Plain “neighbors” of the Amish. Incontestably Plain in their convictions and lifestyle, they nonetheless express their “plainness” in ways that are simultaneously similar to and yet quite distinctive to other Old Order groups.
One such distinction is their emphasis on a complexity of communal ritual where the emphasis is not so much on the local congregation alone as on the involvement of as many members of the wider Brotherhood as possible. This is particularly evident in their observance of the “love feast occasion,” which constitutes a site of prime spiritual and communal significance for members of the group. The occasion, which takes place over a full weekend of services and communal meals, includes a lengthy service held on the Saturday evening at which are reenacted the central events of Jesus’s last meal with his disciples in Jerusalem, prior to His betrayal and death. Discrete but interlinked elements of this highly structured service involve preparation, footwashing, a communal meal (the Lord’s Supper), an exchange of the holy kiss and then the sharing of the bread and wine of Communion. The deeply symbolic and highly ritualized event constitutes an occurrence in which members experience themselves as renewing their commitment to the central emphases of Brethren teaching, their almost mystical relationship with fellow members and their commitment to God.
The presentation uses an autoethnographic and narrative approach, based in a postpositivist research framework, to describe the author’s attendance at several such love feast occasions among the Old German Baptist Brethren.
Tony Walsh was, until his recent retirement, a member of the academic staff at Maynooth University, County Kildare, Ireland. He continues as director of the Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism at the University and was a Kreider Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Interested in understanding minority experiences through the lens of narrative research, he has engaged in research in Palestine, the UK, Ireland, and the US. He has a particular interest in the experience and culture of the Old German Baptist Brethren.
B. Papers: Diversity in Anabaptist Population Characteristics
Amish Mortality Rates in the 21st Century
Mark W. Dewalt
This presentation will analyze death rates in Amish communities from 2014 through 2021. Currently, the tabulated data on Amish death rates is limited. The most recent research by Stein et al. (2021) studied excess death rates among the Amish and Mennonites from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2020, in Ohio and Pennsylvania. This study documents Amish death rates as reported in The Diary from January 2014 to the present and focuses on the Amish. Previous research by Hamman, Barancik, and Lilienfield (1981) studied mortality patterns among the Old Order Amish of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. This study will also tabulate stillbirths and infant mortality rates.
Mark W. Dewalt is professor emeritus of educational research at Winthrop University and is the former Bank of America Endowed Professor. He received his PhD from the University of Virginia. His publications include Amish Education in the United States and Canada (Rowman and Littlefield, 2006) and articles in Anthropology and Educational Quarterly, Journal of Research in Rural Education, and other journals.
Cheaper by the Dozen: An Analysis of Factors Influencing Amish-Mennonite Family Size
Ben W. Beachy
This presentation will explore the relationships between Amish-Mennonite family size and factors such as parents’ occupations, population density, rurality, and more. Data drawn from over 5,500 families in churches identifying as Amish-Mennonite are included. Beginning as a general review of family composition in these settlements, Beachy highlights trends that describe a familiar conception of Plain family life: most parents waste little time before having their first child, over half bear at least five children, and phenomena such as twins and infant mortalities are relatively common. However, these trends are not rigidly consistent across all areas. By mapping the included families within their settlements, the influence of factors such as geographic density and common occupations can also be studied. Factors typically believed to influence family size might include the spouses’ age at marriage and the relative conservatism of a church community. But analyzing geographic, spatial, and economic aspects of Amish Mennonite areas reveals a second layer of motivating variables beneath the surface.
Ben W. Beachy is pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science at Kent State University. He graduated from The Ohio State University, where he studied religious history and sociolinguistics and gained enthusiasm for archives and document preservation. His article “How to Avoid ‘Unenlightened Sorrow’: A Statistical Analysis of Plain Remarriage” appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of the Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities. He is also deeply interested in the history of Anabaptist nonresistance and interactions with the state.
The Varying Fertilities of the Amish Groups of Holmes County, Ohio
The Amish are well known for their high fertility and large families. Large families were favored because the labor of the family’s children was much valued as a part of the household farm economy. Over the decades, many Amish have transitioned out of agriculture. As well, within the Greater Holmes County, Ohio, settlement several major groups have emerged as the result of disagreements over church discipline and other matters. This study is first to determine the completed fertility of each of five large Holmes County Amish groups (Old Order Amish, New Order Amish, Dan Churches, Stutzman-Troyer Amish, and Hostetler Amish) and look for explanations for the different fertilities. Since the five groups live among one another in the same geographic area and are of uniform ethnic origin, environmental and genetic variables are nullified. Data for this study comes from several sources, including the 2020 edition of the Ohio Amish Directory, Descendants of Peter Hershberger and Elizabeth Yoder, The History and Genealogy of David D. Troyer and Anna Stutzman, and the SAGA-OMII website of the Swiss Anabaptist Genealogical Society of Kidron, Ohio.
Henry Troyer grew up Amish in Holmes County. Choosing to pursue higher education, he eventually earned a PhD from West Virginia University and completed postgraduate studies in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Kansas and the Johns Hopkins University. Retired from a career teaching anatomy at universities in North America, Africa, and Asia, he remains active in research and writing. His recent article “Change and Continuity in Amish Wedding Dates in the Holmes County, Ohio Settlement,” was published in the Summer 2021 issue of the Journal of Plain Anabaptist Communities.
C. Seminar: Increasing Health Care Access for the Plain Community
Health Care Accessibility for Amish in Missouri
Jeanette Harder will share the results of a study of health care accessibility, based on focus groups in eight Amish communities in northeast Missouri. During qualitative interviews, community members shared their varied experiences of seeking health care in Missouri. They also talked about the situations in which they seek health care in neighboring states as well as in Mexico along with their rationale for doing so. Harder will also discuss strategies to increase healthcare accessibility for Amish in Missouri.
Jeanette Harder is professor of social work at Grace Abbott School of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Minimizing Barriers to Care: The Experience of One Pennsylvania Health Care System
Over the past 20 years, a southcentral Pennsylvania health system has focused on removing barriers to care for Plain Community families, reducing out-of-pocket expenses for these patients and providing personalized support as needed. Through this work, the team has learned a lot about what the Plain community considers when choosing providers, what their greatest needs are, and how a large health system can meet those needs while taking care of the population at large. Eshelman and Nolt will share experiences and best practices and invite audience discussion.
Joanne Eshelman is director of Plain Community Relationships for WellSpan Health, leading the health system’s work in improving access to care for Plain Community patients across the eight hospitals and 170 additional patient care locations. Eshelman served as director of community relations and marketing for Ephrata Community Hospital before assuming this role with WellSpan Health in 2013. She holds an undergraduate degree from Elizabethtown College and a graduate degree from West Virginia University.
Lydia Nolt is Plain Community Liaison for WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital. As a member of the Plain Community, Nolt helps Plain Community people understand health care choices, discounts, payment options, and billing. She also helps the hospital staff understand the Plain Community culture, their way of reasoning and thought patterns, and what is acceptable and unacceptable within this culture. Additionally, Nolt is a certified medical interpreter for those who speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
The State and the Amish: A Tale of Three Models
This paper explores the interaction between the American politico-legal system and the Amish minority at federal, state and local levels. It considers, in particular, the way in which authorities approach Amish difference. Qualitative research included semi-structured interviews of American authorities in Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, and a small sample of influential Amish people. Case studies are used to emphasize the relations between American governance and the Amish.
Earlier scholarship has mostly suggested a negotiation model operating between governments and the Amish groups, in which legal disputes are settled through mutual understanding. My research suggests an alternative model at work to bridge the tension between the American democracy and the Amish theocracy. Analysis of empirical data confirmed that the principles established by the founders in the Bill of Rights (1791) attached to the American Constitution (1787) were sufficient to protect the freedom of religion and equality before the law of all American citizens including the Amish sectarian groups. This paper argues that the negotiation model can still operate at the local level, but that there is an alternative, a “Constitutionalism model” that also describes the way the Amish respond to State intervention. A third way appeared when exploring further data and literature: a “hybrid model.” The paper summarizes the three models and shows how they interact, and consequently opens new perspectives in understanding how religious groups with constitutional rights may progressively assimilate into the American democracy.
Frédérique Green is completing her PhD at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Her dissertation is titled “An Analysis of the Dialogical Exchange between the American Politico-Legal System and the Amish.”
Mast v. Fillmore: A Perfect 50th Birthday Present for Yoder
Chris E. Wittstruck
Timeworn clashes between actions based upon fervent religious beliefs and legitimate state interests serve as defining moments of the republic. Polygamy, animal sacrifice, peyote use, yarmulke wearing, military conscription: the circumstances under which First Amendment free exercise of religion claims have arisen are extensive. Nothing introduced the word “Amish” into the mainstream American lexicon more than $5.00 criminal fines issued to three men for failing to allow their children to attend the 9th grade. The May 15, 1972 United States Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 has endured a half-century of criticism from various quarters. This paper will briefly review the salient points of Yoder and discuss its judicial progeny. A variety of “danger flag” cases, such as Board of Education of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687 (1994), a matter involving establishment rather than free exercise, but with eerily similar factual underpinnings to Yoder, will be discussed in the context of whether the exemption sanctioned by the Burger court remains viable. The essay will culminate in a discussion of Amos Mast v. Fillmore County, 594 U.S. ____ (July 2, 2021), decided upon the principles annunciated in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia 593 U.S. ____ (2021), and proffer the opinion that Yoder’s continued longevity is safe and secure, despite potential direct threats.
Chris E. Wittstruck is an attorney practicing in New York State. He is a graduate of Saint John’s University School of Law, Jamaica, New York.
Legal Issues Concerning the Outhouse
The Departments of Public Health of Hardin and Shelby Counties in Ohio and Lenawee County in Michigan have taken Old Order Amish families to court over septic regulation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has raised concerns that these actions may rise to levels of an unconstitutional nature. The same issues have now arisen in Indiana and Minnesota. Altogether, these conflicts have resulted in seven court cases. I was directly involved in the cases in Hardin County, having participated in the negotiations between the court-appointed attorney for the Amish and the health department. Shortly after those cases concluded, I worked closely with attorneys for the Amish in four cases in Shelby County and, as those were finishing up, I was contacted by advocate Tom Bayer for advisement for the case in Lenawee County. In this presentation, I will review the issues involved and the potential impact of a recent US Supreme Court decision.
Jeremy Fryman is a professor in the Business, Criminal Justice and Information Technologies Department at Marion Technical College, Marion, Ohio. He was formerly employed by the Delaware County (Ohio) Engineer.