Without electricity, telephones or automobiles, people of the Amish religion live alongside the modern world but do not allow it to overwhelm them. They follow many rules designed to keep them separated from the distractions and temptations of the non-Amish world, which they refer to as the English world. Although the basic rules come from a list of written rules, additional, unwritten rules are established for each Amish community.
Ancient Religious Rules
The religious rules of the Amish are found in the Ordnung, an outline of the Amish faith and beliefs. In part, it is a written compilation of religious decisions and related Scriptures from Anabaptist and Mennonite conferences from the 1500s onward. As an offshoot of the Anabaptist religion, the written Ordnung rules include many beliefs common to other Baptists, such as baptism by full immersion in water, reverence for God, belief in the Holy Trinity, and the sacraments of Holy Communion and marriage.
Although the rules of the Amish are based on the precepts of the written Ordnung, a second and just as important part of the Ordnung consists of the unwritten decisions made by the regional Amish leaders, and can vary greatly between Amish communities or sects. In the more traditional, restrictive Old Order sect, for example, Amish are discouraged from working for non-Amish employers. In more progressive sects, however, Amish people frequently find employment in non-Amish businesses. There they may even be permitted to use electricity, telephones and other technology prohibited in Amish businesses or homes.
Social and Family Rules
The Amish are an insular and tight-knit community. Numerous social traditions shape interaction within local communities, although they may vary from one location to another. Common social rules include differing dress codes for unmarried and married people; community work parties to complete large projects such as barns, harvests or quilts; specific activities for dating and marriage; and strong relationships with extended family members. One family rule allows Amish teens a time of freedom from traditional rules, or rumspringa period, when they may sample life in the outside world before deciding whether to join the Amish church.
Who Makes the Rules
The Ordnung is interpreted by several leaders in each Amish community. Generally, local leadership includes a bishop, two or three ministers, and a deacon. All are male and are well respected within the local community. These local leaders are also charged with creating rules regarding topics that are not covered in the Ordnung or the Bible. Therefore, rules regarding various aspects of modern technology, such as rubber tires, gas-powered equipment and machinery, or other technological inventions, may vary widely and can change if the local leaders determine that a change is justified and would be advantageous to the colony. Beachy Amish, for example, are permitted to drive automobiles while Old Order Amish are prohibited from driving.
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