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The Amish

Conflicts and problems: internal & external

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Conflicts and problems:

bulletBehavioral rules: Since arriving in North America, there have occasionally been disputes within the Amish community. Some members wanted to:
bulletConstruct churches and hold meetings there rather than in homes.
bulletEducate their children beyond the elementary grades.
bulletAllow their clothes to include buttons or pockets.
bulletVote or become involved in public life.
bulletTheological disputes: There have also been disagreements in beliefs and religious practices:
bullet"Stream" baptism: Baptisms had traditionally been held in individual homes. In the mid-19th century, some Amish wanted to follow the tradition of Jesus who was baptized in the Jordan river. They had candidates kneel in a river while the bishop poured water over their head. After much debate, the church decided to accept both methods as valid. Stream baptism was phased out around 1910.
bulletUniversalism: The concept that all persons would be eventually "saved," Nobody would spend eternity being tortured in Hell.
bulletHell: Whether it exists as a place where people are eternally punished.
bulletEducation: The Amish's insistence on terminating formal schooling after the 8th grade conflicted with many state's laws which require children to remain in school until their mid-teens. Some Amish avoided this problem by migrating from Pennsylvania to other states, like Missouri, which had more relaxed laws. A ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1972 (Wisconsin v. Yoder) recognized their right to limit education of their children.
bulletAccidents: Highway accidents between motor vehicles and Amish black horse and buggies are a concern to many. Horse-drawn vehicles generally travel between five and eight miles an hour. Some Amish are reluctant to mount a slow-moving-vehicle sign on the back of their buggies. In some states, they line the back of their buggies with reflective tape as an alternative to a sign.
bulletPolio: There was an outbreak of polio in 1979 among Amish in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin Missouri and Canada. The North American population of Amish was essentially unvaccinated against polio at the time. The spread of the disease was halted by an emergency vaccination campaign. This was the last significant outbreak of the disease in the U.S.
bulletGenetic diseases: Some Amish groups have a very limited gene pool. For example, the vast majority of Amish in Lancaster County, PA, are descendents of about 200 Swiss citizens who emigrated in the mid 1700s. Because they traditionally do not marry outsiders and because few outsiders have joined the order, the "community has been essentially a closed genetic population for more than 12 generations." Thus, intermarriage has brought to the fore certain genetic mutations that were present in the initial genetic pool (as they are in any population), making the Amish host to several inherited disorders." 5 These include dwarfism, mental retardation and a large group of metabolic disorders. One in 200 have glutaric aciduria type I; they are born healthy, but can experience permanent neurological damage when a mild illness strikes. From 1988 to 2002, the Clinic for Special Children in Lancaster County, PA, has "encountered 39 heritable disorders among the Amish and 23 among the Mennonites.....For 18 of the disorders seen regularly at the clinic, the incidences are high, approximately 1/250 to 1/500 births" 6

There are two obvious ways to reduce the incidence of these genetic diseases towards levels experienced in the general population:
bulletA massive influx of converts to the Amish faith by outsiders.
bulletArtificial insemination using sperm donated by non-Amish.
bulletTesting of Amish adults for genetic diseases and persuading any that test positive to refrain from having children.
Unfortunately, all of these paths are probably unacceptable -- and perhaps offensive -- to the Amish. And so, the genetic diseases will probably increase in frequency over time.
bulletTV reality show: On 2004-JAN-18, UPN , and CBS (who oversees UPN) announced a new reality show called "Amish in the City." The show involved five Amish men and women, aged 18 to 24. They were matched up with six "mainstream young adults" chosen by UPN who were not told in advance that their housemates were Amish. They lived together in a house in the Hollywood Hills. The creators insisted that the program will be "totally respectful" and is "not intended to insult." However, the show would appear to violate one of the fundamental practices of the Amish, the prohibition of graven images, including pictures, movies, or TV images.

"...a campaign to stop the show has been started by lawmakers, rural groups, Pennsylvania Dutch tourism officials and representatives of the Amish....The 'Center for Rural Strategies,' a nonprofit organization based in Whitesburg, Ky., has helped organize opposition to the Amish show." Its president, Dee Davis, said: "Once again Viacom has created a reality show where rural people were going to be these curios...Viacom's got plenty of ways to make money without ridiculing rural people." (Viacom owns CBS and UPN.) 1,2,3

Representative Joe Pitts organized a campaign against the show, sight unseen.
Joseph Yoder, an Amish cultural historian, said that he was opposed to the "whole thing of televising the Amish and putting Amish people on TV [because] they're trying to stay separated from the world."

"During the [initial] episode, the Amish begin to experience unfamiliar technologies, from the mundane (escalators, parking meters) to the advanced (airplanes), and new foods, including sushi and avocados. Together, all of the roommates visit scenic Los Angeles destinations, including an emotional first-time visit to the ocean for some of the Amish and a spectacular rooftop view of the downtown skyline." 7

The show was shown to a group of TV critics who "seemed unoffended." The first episode was shown on 2004-JUL-28, the ninth and last was on SEP-15. A description of each episode is available online. 8
bulletMassacre of school children: Three girls were murdered in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on 2006-OCT-03 by a lone gunman. Seven more were wounded; of these, two died later in hospital, and one is not expected to live. More details

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lisa de Moraes, "Reality TV Goes Amish -- and Amiss," 2004-JAN-19, at:& http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  2. Rob Moll, "Amish in the City: Has Reality TV Gone too Far?," Christianity Today, 2004-JAN-19. Online at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  3. Bernard Weinraub, "UPN Show Is Called Insensitive to Amish," New York Times, 2004-MAR-4, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  4. "Amish teens tested in Devil's Playground: Documentary reveals youths' experiments with 'English' life," NPR, 2002-MAY-30, at: http://www.npr.org/
  5. Melissa Hendricks, "A doctor who makes barn calls," at: http://www.jhu.edu/
  6. D. Holmes Morton, et al., "Pediatric Medicine and the Genetic Disorders of the Amish and Mennonite People of Pennsylvania." American Journal of Medical Genetics Part C (Semin. Med. Genet.) 121C:517 (2003). Online at: http://www.clinicforspecialchildren.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  7. Wade Paulsen, "UPN releases 'Amish in the City' contestant details, screens premiere for TV critics group,"  Reality TV World, 2004-JUL-22, at: http://www.realitytvworld.com/
  8. "Amish in the city: Episode Guide," TV.com, at: http://www.tv.com/

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Copyright 1996 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-OCT-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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