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Mennonite) Anabaptists (Amish

Amish Community And Family Life, Stages Of Amish Family Life, Mennonite Families

The Amish and Mennonites stem from the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth-century Reformation. Members of the Anabaptist movement insisted that church membership involve a fully informed adult decision, hence many of them requested a second baptism that symbolically superceded their infant baptism. As a result of this practice their opponents called them rebaptizers or Anabaptists. The first adult baptism was performed in January 1525 in Zurich (Snyder 1995).

In addition to adult baptism the Anabaptists proposed a complete separation of church and state, including refusing to participate in the military or swearing oaths of allegiance; a nonhierarchical church wherein clergy and laity formed a priesthood of believers; and a commitment against any use of force. These beliefs caused Anabaptists to be persecuted, and many died a martyr's death for their faith. An important book for all of the heirs of the Anabaptists is The Bloody Theater; or Martyrs' Mirror by Thieleman van Braght ([1660] 1990). This collection of accounts of persecution, torture, and death, first published in Holland in 1660, continues to be part of the collective memory of the descendents of these people.

For the Anabaptists, the call to discipleship often took precedence over family. There are many stories where men and women willingly gave their lives for the sake of their beliefs and left spouses and children behind to fend for themselves. In the Anabaptist tradition a believer was a follower of Christ first, and loyalty to family took second place (Graber-Miller 2001; Roth 2001).

The Anabaptists produced three groups: the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish. The Mennonites take their name from a Dutch Catholic priest, Menno Simons, who joined the movement in 1530. The earliest groups of Anabaptists were established in Zurich, the cantons of Appenzell, Bern, and St. Gall, and the northern Dutch province of Friesland where Menno lived and worked. The groups in the south were known initially as the Swiss Brethren and later broke into two groups: the Mennonites and the Amish. The faction known as Mennonite had formed alliances with the Dutch Mennonites by the end of sixteenth century (Redekop 1989).

The Amish emerged at the end of the seventeenth century when a young Mennonite minister, Jacob Ammann, became embroiled in a controversy with his fellow ministers in the Alsace, the Palatinate, and the canton of Bern (Meyers 1996). The heart of the argument concerned the degree of discipline that should be applied to a church member who violated accepted standards of behavior. Ammann insisted that the deviant should be excommunicated and subsequently shunned by all other members of the church, including members of the individual's family. When the two sides could not reconcile their differences, a division occurred in 1693, and Ammann and his followers broke away from the larger group of Mennonites. Those who sided with Ammann are now known as the Amish (Nolt 1992).

Because of persecution in Europe many Mennonites fled their homelands and moved east as far as Russia, while others fled west to North America. Although a small number of Mennonites remained in Europe, the majority have emigrated. The first wave of Mennonite migration to North America began in 1683. The Amish began to leave Europe in the 1820s. Many of the so-called Russian Mennonites left the Ukraine in 1874 for new homes in North America (Redekop 1989). The decision to leave Russia followed two problematic pieces of legislation implemented by the government: In 1864 a law required that all schools' primary language of instruction was to be Russian, and in 1871 compulsory military service was introduced. Rather than give up their German language and their pacifist position, the Mennonites decided to emigrate.

No Amish remain in Europe. Today there are nearly 200,000 Amish in North America, with more than 250 communities in twenty U.S. states and the province of Ontario, Canada (Kraybill and Bowman 2001).

In the four centuries since the beginning of the Anabaptist movement there have been many schisms among the Mennonites and they form a continuum from the most conservative, Old Order Mennonites (Scott 1996; Kraybill and Bowman 2001) to progressive groups (Kauffman and Dreidger 1991) that have been almost completely acculturated into the mainstream of society. The various factions of Mennonites are spread throughout the world. The fastest growing membership is in the Southern Hemisphere. Of the estimated 1,203,995 Mennonites worldwide, 702,000 church members can be found in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean Islands, and Central and South America. (Mennonite World Conference 2000).

The discussion of family life will focus on the two largest groups, the Old Order Amish and the most progressive Mennonites. The term Old Order is used to describe the Amish who retain a traditional lifestyle that includes the retention of a dialect of the German language, horse and buggy as primary form of transportation, nineteenth-century dress and hairstyle, and a resistance to organizing human beings in hierarchical organizations. Progressive Mennonites have retained an emphasis on believer's baptism, nonviolence, and the separation of church and state. However, in contrast to the Old Orders they have become increasingly urban, emphasize higher education and employment in professions, and have developed an elaborate denominational bureaucracy (Kauffman and Dreidger 1991).

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects