The Amish & The Practice of Shunning

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (I Corinthians 5:11-13)

amish2 Every year my family tries to make it up to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania to visit “Amish country.” We love it. Not just the farm air either. We love just about everything about it. It is an early-rising, hard-working, simple lifestyle these folks are living, and it is appealing in so many ways. Every time we visit, usually staying in a cozy bed and breakfast, the discussion almost always comes up, and I get asked the question…again.

“Why can’t we become Amish?”

I’m sure if I thought about it long enough, I could come up with a biblically based, rational reason why we can’t. Like the fact that many Amish are not Christian. But I think the fact that my wife won’t let me grow a beard like that, and we can’t sing in German is a good place to start, don’t you? Besides, the last horse I was on was back in the ‘early ‘70’s, on a old dirt road in Arkansas, way back in the woods, racing my brother back to the farm. We’d just finished watching our favorite western TV series ‘Bonanza.’ I was Little Joe, of course, I can’t remember who he was. It’s a long, embarrassing story. Let’s just say I lost the reins and the horse made a bee-line down the middle of a busy highway back to the farm. It was not pretty.

Anyway, we have great memories of Lancaster county. Lord willing, we’ll make more in the future. One memorable moment I recall was trying to get a photo of some kids riding in the back of a buggy. We were following in our car, windows rolled down so we could hear the ‘clip-clop’ of horses hooves. As you know, the Amish are not partial to having their photo’s taken, something about graven images I do believe. Well, it was a picturesque moment, with the sun just beginning to set. We’re rolling along slowly behind the buggy, with the kids facing us. My wife slowly got her camera ready, waiting for just the right time. I mean, it’s not like the buggy was suddenly going to zoom off or anything.

Well, she kept hesitating to get the picture. She remembered they didn’t like to have their pictures taken. Would she be doing the wrong thing if she went for it? I kept urging her to take it. The picture would be perfect. Look at that landscape, the sun’s setting, those kids look adorable with their straw hats and prayer caps….just take the picture! I tried to encourage her to pull a Nike and ‘just do it’, so I blurted out repeatedly:

“Take the shot! Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em!”

Now remember, our windows are rolled down. I couldn’t tell what the kids were saying, but I’m pretty sure they thought we had a weapon. We got the shot. I just hope we didn’t scar the kids emotionally or anything.

Another great memory of our last Lancaster trip was the night we got shunned eating supper at a real (read non-tourist attraction) Amish home. I don’t know how many Baptist preacher’s have been shunned by the Amish before, but I’ve proudly joined those ranks if there are any.

Ok, it wasn’t a real shunning, but, here’s what happened.

Eli was the owner of the B&B we were staying at. He had graciously arranged for us to be able to visit and eat with an Amish family on their dairy farm. This would be wonderful! We arrived with a couple of other families and were seated by an Amish lady to our tables.

Now if you know anything about the Amish, you know the family eats at the ‘big’ table, and the small table is usually where the ‘shunned’ sit. Well, guess where I was placed? Right, the little table. I remember thinking, “That’s odd. Don’t they like Eli?” Of course, I knew we weren’t actually being shunned, but I did start thinking about the whole business of ‘shunning’ in the Amish community.

Fortunately, later that evening, one of the other guest actually asked about the practice. The hostess explained that basically it meant that the ones shunned did not eat with the rest of the family, and usually, ate at the small table.

Well, I couldn’t resist. I raised my hand and asked with a smile,

“Like this table? Are we being shunned?”

She laughed. Everyone laughed. I suppose you had to be there.

Which brings me to the reason of this post. Shunning. They still practice it in Amish country, and it is based on the passage of Scripture above, I Corinthians 5:11-13. There is such a thing as ecclesiastical jurisdiction which the state has no business sticking their noses in, and, I believe it to be a very sound biblical practice. After all, it’s Scriptural, but we rarely see it practiced in churches today do we? In fact, church discipline as a whole is largely missing altogether.

Matthew Henry said on this passage:

Christians are to avoid familiar converse with all who disgrace the Christian name. Such are only fit companions for their brethren in sin, and to such company they should be left, whenever it is possible to do so.

What are your thoughts on ‘shunning’? Not only in the Amish practice, but as a Christian discipline to be practiced in the church body?