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Thursday, September 13, 2012

When it Comes To Shunning, We May Be More Amish Than We Realize

I often hear snide remarks about the Old Order Amish practice of the social ban. We smugly insist the rest of us enlightened Christians would never, ever shun anyone just because they leave the church, blatantly disobey some church teaching, or for any other reason.

But in all fairness, we may be guilty of more shunning than we realize.

For example:

Church Divisions. Rather than working out our differences, members of Christian congregations seem all too prone to just split and go their separate ways, breaking ties and limiting ongoing fellowship and communication. Thus we may effectively “ex-communicate” each other, the “ex” simply meaning we are “no longer” in communion with each other.

Marital Breakups. Even so-called amicable divorces typically result in the severing of family ties, with fathers and mothers erased from family portraits and key family relationships often becoming strained or effectively coming to an end. The Amish, incidentally, have few such breakups.

Family Feuds. I’m aware of all too many cases of husband and wives no longer sharing the same bed and/or no longer even talking to each other except when absolutely necessary. Far too many parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and other relatives I know haven’t been on speaking terms in years. A form of shunning?

Non-Neighboring. How many of us have little or no contact with people up and down our street or with people of different races or faiths across our town, with each of us going our silent, separated ways?

Avoiding Dealing With Offenses.
While we may no longer put people guilty of wrongdoing out of our churches, we often just turn our backs them. Rather than seeking out people who leave us or who violate some moral or Biblical norm, we effectively shun them, treat them as though they no longer existed or no longer mattered. Is that being more loving than the Amish, whose primary aim is to win such persons back?

The list could go on. And the Amish at least tend to shun as a result of some kind of church consensus, one arrived at with leaders chosen from within their congregations, and not just arbitrarily on the basis of an individual member’s grievance or hurt feelings.

It might also be noted that early Anabaptists who practiced some form of social ban against those who abandoned the faith (not all were in full agreement with this practice) defended it as being both a Biblical and a humane alternative to the kinds of church discipline practiced by many 16th century Protestant and Catholic state churches of the time. Thousands who were indicted on charges of heresy--especially Anabaptists--were cruelly tortured, drowned or burned at the stake.

I of course do deplore examples of the misuse of the Amish ban, and fortunately for me, the Amish family and community I grew up didn’t practice it, and I have been loved and accepted by most in spite of my having chosen another church to belong to.
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