Being Excommunicated From Amish Society Is A Cold, Brutal, And Heartless Process

What happens when an Amish person leaves the community? Amish churches are notoriously secretive and often do not let in outsiders. When someone leaves the church, it's difficult and sometimes impossible to return. Amish shunning is a longstanding practice in which church members isolate, ignore, or otherwise punish someone for breaking community rules. Amish excommunication is a complicated process that occurs when someone does something that goes against the church's values. While not all shunning results in Amish full-on banishment, contact with friends and loved one is severely restricted for a shunned individual. 

Amish shunning stories are often tragic in nature. Shunned individuals are left isolated with loved ones, often including their parents. The practice has received considerable criticism from outsiders, but the Amish see it as a form of tough love. Amish people believe a person's soul is at risk if they violate the church's values. Whatever you think about Amish people, it's worth your time to familiarize yourself with some of the rules and rituals surrounding excommunication in the Amish church. 

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  • A Person's Shunning Is Publicly Announced And All Church Members Must Then Participate In The Shunning

    Shunning occurs when a member of the church goes against church rules and are therefore considered to be living in a sin. If an Amish community decides to shun an individual, that individual faces some serious repercussions. The shunned person’s name is announced publicly to all members of their church. Every community member is expected to shun the person accordingly, and members who do not participate in shunning could face similar consequences.

    So how do Amish people practice shunning? Rules vary between churches. However, most churches do not allow members to buy or sell with a shunned individual. Church members are also not allowed to sit at the same table or share a meal with a shunned person. Some churches also forbid people from accepting gifts or visiting the homes of a shunned person.

  • Shunning Has A Toll On Interpersonal Relationships And The Shunned's Psyche

    Shunning can take a serious toll on an Amish person’s connection with their community. Close friends, family members, and an ex-member’s parents must participate in shunning. Members who interact inappropriately with a shunned person can face excommunication themselves. Therefore, leaving the Amish church is an extremely difficult decision. It often means you will be estranged from friends and relatives for life.

    Even if the shunned member is not excommunicated for life, the shunning period can cause massive amounts of psychological damage. According to Purdue psychologist Kipling Williams, this form of ostracism causes the person to suffer "the obvious loss of self-esteem and depression, but also physiological symptoms such as ulcers, suppression of the immune system, anxiety, psychosis... and a loss of feeling valued or having any meaningful existence."

  • It Is Very Difficult To Integrate Into Society After Leaving The Amish Church

    If Amish people do not want to repent and return to the church, they may make the decision to leave the community altogether. However, this is no easy task. Most Amish people are only educated through the eighth grade. This makes it difficult to enter the world outside the church and make a living. The organization Mission to Amish People, formed in 2000, tries to help Amish people integrate into the world after leaving the church. They help teens who have left the Amish church by teaching them things like how to open a bank account, how to take the GED, and how to drive and apply for a driver's license.

    Unfortunately, not all who are excommunicated are reached by this program, and many excommunicated Amish people are left to fend for themselves in a foreign world.  

  • Returning To The Church Is Rare And A Highly Emotional Experience

    Shunning does not have to be lifelong. Rules vary, but you can rejoin the Amish church after having been shunned. This, however, is a fairly rare phenomenon. The shunned person must sincerely repent and, if necessary, find a way to make amends for any wrongdoing. If the Bishop of the congregation does not feel the offender did not make a genuine effort to repent or is flaunting their sins, he will make a motion to permanently excommunicate, or Bann, the offender.

    Understandably, the experience is generally very emotional for everyone involved.

  • The Amish Believe The Bible Encourages Shunning

    Shunning has biblical roots. Amish churches cite multiple biblical passages that they interpret as advocating shunning. In the Book of Matthew, for example, a passage advises privately correcting someone who has sinned. If they do not repent, they must be presented publicly before the church. If they still do not repent, the Bible states, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This is quite similar to the process in which someone is shunned in Amish church.

    Corinthians 5:11 can also be viewed as an endorsement of shunning. The passage reads:

    I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler - not even to eat with such a one.

  • Amish Churches Abide By Strict Rules Known As The Ordnung

    Amish churches abide by a regulations known as the Ordnung. Each church has their own specific Ordnung. These are sets of rules regarding behaviors, rituals, rules, and customs one must follow to remain in the Amish church.

    This includes things like bans on specific forms of technology and regulations regarding clothing. Congregations decide on the rules together. Twice a year, an Amish church will get together to debate and update the Ordnung. Violating the Ordnung is a major reason for shunning.