Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

"Es Sind Zween Weg": Singing Amish Children into the Faith Community (1)

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

"Es Sind Zween Weg": Singing Amish Children into the Faith Community (1)

Article excerpt


The world's largest Amish settlement straddles Ohio's Wayne and Holmes counties. The majority of the Amish prefer an agrarian lifestyle of steady, hard work, preserving a community-oriented, Reformation-era theocracy. The Amish are a "plain" people who define themselves by their differences from the dominant culture. Associating in small groups of 25 to 40 families, "districts," or "affiliations" within geographical areas known as "settlements," they biannually decide by vote of adult members how to modify the rules of behavior (Ordnung). Seeking to be faithful to biblical directives, the members commit themselves to live simply by accepting or rejecting specific technological advances which they believe will enhance or disturb community life. People who break the rules are subject to shunning (Meidung), the primary purpose of which is to bring the transgressor to repentance.

An Amish adult's primary function is to prepare children for heaven by shaping an attitude of "yieldedness" (Gelassenheit) to God. Through vigilant contact, parents teach their children to respect and submit to authority, to work cheerfully, and to be kind to and to help others. Singing is one way parents transmit their cultural values. They sing lullabies, Amish church hymns, and songs to children from infancy. This paper analyzes several Amish nursery songs and investigates their role in Amish children's socialization.


The Amish present a classic case of traditionalist resistance to assimilation. The tradition dates from 1525 when rebaptizers (Anabaptists) broke with the Swiss Brethren led by the priest-reformer Ulrich Zwingli (Klassen 1973, 3). These "Radical Reformers," headed by another priest named Menno Simons, held that adult baptism into a community of believers met God's requirements as set forth in Christian Scripture (Keeney 1968, 14). The Anabaptists grounded their "distinctive knowledge and language of God" in a salvation history (Heilsgeschicht), but they did not have a theology (Oyer 1996, 281). As Robert Friedmann explained, the Anabaptists practiced "an existential not a theological Christianity, where witnessing [by lifestyle] comes before arguing. Anabaptists have a church of order and not so much a church of doctrines" (Friedmann 1950, 24). To the Amish, belief is only real when embodied in a community of believers.

In 1693, a further division occurred between the "Mennonites," those aligned with Menno Simmons, and a group of dissenters led by the preacher/tailor Jacob Amman, who would become known as the "Amish." Disagreements centered on how often to hold communion, whether to practice the ritual of foot washing, and the proper extent of church discipline, particularly whether the shunning of unrepentant, erring members was too severe (Baecher 1996, 48-9).

Choosing the simple peasant life, Amman's group rallied around the scripture-based practice of social avoidance (Meidung). Early Anabaptist writers described a threefold purpose for Meidung: to bring the sinner to repentance, to protect the rest of the community from possible contagion, and to maintain the community's reputation (Keeney 1968, 159). The Amish based their "purer" fellowship on the core values of pacifism, i.e., non-violent non-resistance, and separation from the world in obedience to God by means of voluntary adult baptism (Hostetler and Huntington 1992, 8-13). These choices left them open to further persecution. Like the Hebrews, enduring persecution sharply defined their uniqueness and solidified their identity. As Jean Seguy asserted, "Persecution did not arise out of occasional circumstances; it sprang from ontological necessity" (1982, 35). Being at odds with those around them assured the Amish of their faithfulness to their bible's separation mandate.


Mennonites first ventured to America by 1640, but nothing is known of their fate. Puritan colonies rejected Mennonite settlement. …

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