Amish churches place a high value on voluntary adult baptism. The baptismal vows Amish youth make before God and the congregation are viewed as a binding commitment to obey God and the teachings of the church for the rest of their lives. Submission to the authority of the church is a key value in Amish culture.
Members who spurn the advice of elders and refuse to confess their sins face a temporary probation. If their stubbornness does not mellow into repentance, they face excommunication. If a member violates a teaching of the church or challenges its authority, many attempts are usually made to reconcile him or her. However, if reconciliation is not achieved, members of the congregation may vote, based on the recommendation of their leaders, to excommunicate a member.
Shunning typically follows excommunication. Based on biblical teaching, shunning involves rituals that remind the wayward of their sin and seek to bring them back to fellowship. The modes of shunning vary considerably in different communities, affiliations, and families. Although personal communication does not necessarily stop, members are not permitted to receive rides or goods from offenders or to sit with them during meals. Expulsion from the church can lead to a lifetime of estrangement from family and friends. However, those who do fall from grace can always return to the fold if they are willing to confess their wrongs and mend their ways.
These disciplinary practices place great weight on the baptism decision for young people. Only church members can be excommunicated and shunned; those who leave the community before being baptized and joining the church are not subject to church discipline.
Although shunning may sound harsh to modern ears, the Amish faith has two key points of integrity: adult baptism by free choice and an open back door for wayward members who want to return with a contrite heart.
- See pp. 85-87 and 92-96 of chapter 5 and pp. 165-68 of chapter 9 in Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
- See chapters 9 and 11 in Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).