There’s a good chance you’ve heard the story of a former Amish family who “gifted” one of their underage daughters to a man who provided them financial aid (if not, the details can be found here among many other places).

Over the past several days this bizarre story has gone worldwide (I’ve seen it in Russian, Chinese, and Australian media).

Part of the reason is the shocking nature of the tale. But it no doubt has gotten additional traction since the word “Amish” has been used in numerous reports to describe the couple and/or daughter.

The question of what makes a person Amish can generate much discussion and arguably has more than one answer.

kaplan-stoltzfuses-mug-shots

Lee Kaplan, Daniel Stoltzfus, Savilla Stoltzfus

But if we take the term in its strictest sense, to mean someone who is a member in good standing of an Amish church, then Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, excommunicated over a decade ago, should be considered ex-Amish, and not Amish.

Nonetheless, this generates confusion at best and feeds into negative stereotypes about the Amish at worst (just read through a few comments sections on those articles for examples).

A reporter from the Bucks County Courier Times contacted me yesterday on a story about this which you can read here.

Basically the point was to address the question “Was this family’s behavior typical of the Amish?”

Experts Donald Kraybill and Karen Johnson-Weiner comment on how the couple’s actions do not fit the Amish mold. An excerpt:

Removing their then-underage daughter from the protection of the church community and placing her “at the mercy of a worldly man” violates everything the Amish teach about love and family, said Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor of anthropology at State University of New York, Potsdam, and an expert in Amish family life. “No Amish group would sanction this behavior.”

“Certainly ‘gifting’ one’s 14-year-old daughter to anyone, much less a non-Amish man to whom one owes money, is not in any way Amish behavior,” Johnson-Weiner added.

That might be obvious to regular readers here, but for those with only a passing knowledge of the Amish, this scandal probably only added to misconceptions.

In that way it is not unlike the Amish beard-cutting story of 2011 which also reached an international audience.

The Amish rep is one thing, but what about the children?

The world’s perception of the Amish is one, ultimately lesser, matter. The harm done to the children is another.

Authorities are still investigating the case, in which the Stoltzfuses’ daughter was “given” to Bucks County resident Lee Kaplan at age 14, and bore him two children. Nine other young girls, supposedly also the couple’s daughters, were found living with Kaplan, a former business partner of Daniel Stoltzfus.

There are a number of murky details surrounding the case, which has its roots dating to at least 2003, when the couple were excommunicated from their Lancaster County church.

At one point the Stoltzfuses sued the Amish church. Some reports have even suggested Daniel Stoltzfus was “brainwashed” by Kaplan, with the family describing “cult-like behavior” from Daniel and Savilla after meeting the man.

(UPDATE: This just-published article at Lancaster Online gives the story of the Stoltzfuses’ break from the church in detail, along with comments from a relative)

I have heard that someone from the woman’s family might be taking in the children as their parents’ fate is decided. I’d expect the church and family are going to take care of these girls and hopefully begin to repair whatever damage has been done.