The first Amish fiction I ever read was Beverly Lewis‘s The Shunning some years ago. I don’t think I had heard of Beverly before that, and I am not sure what drew me to the book except for maybe curiosity about the Amish shunning. I enjoyed the book and have read everything of Beverly’s ever since (except for her books for younger people).
There is much about the Amish to admire: their gentleness, their work ethic and industriousness, their sense of family, their willingness to forgive evidenced some years ago after a tragic shooting.
I suppose all of those elements plus a curiosity about them and their ways has driven burgeoning market for Amish fiction in recent years.
At first I thought all these people were just copying Beverly, and out of loyalty to her I didn’t read any others. But I don’t think she would want people to feel that way, and I’m sure she’s not the only one who is knowledgeable about the Amish. I do tend to trust her perspective because of her grandmother’s having been Amish.
I especially appreciate that Beverly makes a distinction between Amish who are believers and those who aren’t. In some of her books, the characters are caught in the system, so to speak, even though it doesn’t satisfy them or meet their needs, and they eventually see the light and come to faith in Christ, and sometimes that costs them. Some leave the Amish for the Mennonites. Other characters have quietly become believers and stay, speaking when and however they can about Christ. And others are in an Amish community that is made of of true believers.
And this is what concerns me about the bulk of Amish fiction. The one Amish-based book I read that wasn’t written by Beverly wasn’t clear on this point: an Englisher with a variety of problems escaped the pressures of modern life to live with the Amish for a while, struggled with faith issues, was told, basically, “Live like us and you’ll catch on eventually.” I don’t know how other authors portray it, but I think we have to be careful not to think of the Amish as just another branch of Christianity. Tim Challies reviewed a book called Growing Up Amish a while back. I’ve not read the book, but I can identify with what was excerpted there. We need to remember that by and large their trust is in their system, their church membership, rather than in Christ, and even for those who are believers, their ideas of what is “worldly” is often determined by the bishop and may be far removed from Scriptural principles. Their communities are shot through with extreme legalism and extreme punishment for stepping outside “the rules.”
I am concerned about the over-romanticizing of our thinking in regard to them. I have a Christian friend who jokes about “running off to join the Amish” when life gets too hectic and pressured. I always want to say, “Are you kidding?” The amount of sheer hard work would do many of us in very quickly, but beyond that, I don’t think actually living among them would be what we think it would be. I think we can still read Amish fiction and I think we can still admire the good characteristics of them, but we need to exercise discernment.