Most Amish look alike to the man on the street. In reality the group is surprisingly diverse. Though tied by a set of core beliefs, the Amish have no national governing body, no pope nor patriarch. The individual congregation, guided by its bishop, decides its own rules and customs. This decentralized approach, along with a widely varying tolerance for progressive ideas, creates many different ‘flavors’ of Amish. Within the 1200-plus congregations in North America you will find:
- Amish that use cell phones and electricity, and Amish that forbid indoor plumbing, toilets, and hot water in the home.
- Amish that practice ‘bundling’–fully-clothed bed courtship–and those that forbid it.
- Amish ‘ballers’. Basketball is a popular sport, as is softball. One Indiana Amishman built an indoor gym onto the side of his shop.
- Amish that smoke cigarettes and cigars. The majority don’t use tobacco, and the practice is generally on the decline.
- Amish that vote. Most avoid politics, but up to 10% do participate in elections, usually local. George Bush felt they could potentially tip Ohio and Pennsylvania to his side in 2004, prompting some unusual meetings with Amish church members.
- Amish sports fans. Members in one equidistant central Illinois community split between the Bears and the Rams.
- All Amish use buggies–except for those that don’t. The ‘Beachy Amish’, a group that splintered off in the 1920’s, have accepted cars and other modern innovations. For this reason they are often considered closer to the more moderate Mennonite groups.
- Buggy paint jobs differ–besides the most common color, black, there are gray, brown, white, and even yellow-colored buggies. Non-black buggies are usually found within the various Pennsylvania settlements.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Congregations differ on beard length, lawnmowers, airplane travel, church-houses, Game Boys, and a host of other issues. It seems the ‘plain people’, in many ways, are not so plain after all.