A quick look at shunning

Shunning is controversial, but helps uphold Amish society

  • For the Amish, shunning only happens among baptized members. Youth may bend or break rules during Rumspringa, though Amish parents do not necessarily condone or encourage such behavior.   But in practice, some Amish youth buy cars, wear ‘English’ clothes, and so on.
  • If they cross the line too blatantly, they may get a ‘talking-to’, but they won’t be placed under the Ban.  That’s simply not how it works–you cannot shun a non-member.
  • When you are baptized, though, you make an adult commitment and that entails acceptance of the consequences if you violate the church’s Ordnung, which you’ve agreed to follow.
  • Amish communities handle shunning differently. Some are very strict about it.  Others less so.  Typical aspects of shunning include not being able to share a meal at the same table (those in the Bann may eat at a separate table) and not being able to directly transact business with members in good standing.

The burden of social avoidance

Talking with Amish in the Bann, you can often sense the burden.  Some have likened the experience to becoming a ‘non-person’.

The Amish say they shun out of love for the errant member.  They want him to see his mistakes and return to the fold.

Others see shunning as key to the incredible growth the group has experienced.  As a social check, the idea of diminished relationships with your whole social world is a pretty strong motivator.

Today, around 80-90% of Amish children choose to join the church.   The Amish population doubles approximately once every 20 years.

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    1. Are the Amish pressured to be baptized by a certain age? If someone chose not to become baptized, could they stay free of shunning indefinitely?

    2. Is joining Amish church a free choice?

      In theory it’s a free choice. Typically they are baptized in their early to mid 20’s, though it can happen earlier.

      You could probably say pressure exists in the same way that modern American youth deal with pressure from parents to choose a certain career path or marry a particular person, or any of the other subtle social pressures–ie my gang of friends is getting baptized so maybe I should too.

      Also, if you would like to marry an Amish person, you must be baptized–the Amish do not perform marriages between members and non-members. So this all works to subtly ‘pressure’ them to be baptized by a certain age.

      Having said that I wouldn’t want to look at it that way only since it seems a bit cynical–I like to believe that the majority join out of personal conviction, and I imagine that is the case.

      Another interesting bit–when the Persian Gulf War was going on, apparently there was a jump in the number of baptisms, perhaps in fear of a reinstatement of the draft. Odd since the Amish have worked out their conscientious objector status pretty well with the government, and apparently keep a relationship with them through a national organization, called the Amish Steering Committee.

      For those that choose not to be baptized, they are not shunned. In my experience I have seen that they are treated and loved as members of the family. You often come across Amish having a get together on the weekend and a number of cars might be in the driveway. Some of those might belong to the non-baptized adult kids (well, some might belong to the Rumspringa-age kids too, who in certain communities keep a car at home, usually parked behind the barn).

      I always start out meaning to give a more concise reply but somehow always gets carried away. Hope that wasn’t more than you needed to know(:


    3. Thanks Erik for you reply. I like your non-concise version. My parents and I have been reading your blog tonight. You have many interestin posts!

    4. Mary

      You said in theory it’s a free choice and that’s fairly accurate. However, remember this: most Amish believe if you don’t join you will go to hell or if you leave you go to hell , so that would mean it’s fear motivated. So my question is this: do they just join because they are afraid not to? From my experience (I grew up Amish and lived it for 49 years)the answer to the question is “yes.” If that’s the case then they join for the wrong reason.

    5. Amish motivated to be baptized by fear of hell

      I agree Mary the fear motivation is probably not the purest reason to join Church. Some probably join because they want to marry. And others join because of a strong conviction in Anabaptist beliefs as expressed in the Amish church.

      About going to hell–that seems to be a pretty harsh method of motivation–though I am sure that in some instances this fear is used as a lever either implicitly or even explicitly–I am curious, and again I do not mean to pry, but is that what you were told? Or given that impression? This may be stating the obvious, but that does not seem like an easy position to be put in…

      I’d also wonder if using hell as a fear motivator is the case in the majority of situations…as I understand it, in a number of communities shunning occurs up until a member that leaves finds another church that is theologically acceptable to his previous Amish church, say a Mennonite group, and makes the appropriate reparations, upon which the bann is supposed to be lifted…

    6. anita

      I just found this blog today and must say that it is one of the most accurate sources of information about Amish people that I’ve ever come across- Congrats. You must have very close ties; in my experience you just about have to have grown up Amish or be the only one in the family NOT Amish to be able to make some of the distinctions you do. Most of my relatives are still Amish (or some close off-shoot) and I have very mixed feelings about them- I was a child when my parents left the Amish, but can well remember the pain of shunning and seperation from virtually our entire close-knit family. Fortunately, we had a group of friends waiting to help us but it was not an easy road. Thankfully, after more than 20 years, relations with our family have settled into a mostly normal pattern although some awkwardness remains, mostly with my dad’s ultra-conservative mother. There are many things that I can now appreciate about my unique background, not the least of which is being a bilingual American.

    7. Anita thanks a lot; that is very kind of you to say and I have to credit not only my own experience but what Amish friends and acquaintances have taught me as well as great books by writers such as Hostetler, Kraybill, and others, who I feel have done a lot of good work.

      You are in an enviable position as a bilingual person; ‘bilingual American’ is unfortunately an uncommon thing, but understandably so (living a good chunk of the year in Poland, the need for more than one language over here is more evident).

      It was interesting to read how your family has dealt with its situation.

      I’m glad you found the blog and hope to hear more of your insights in future.

    8. Ymina

      Shunning sounds very close to diaspora. My sister is considered diaspora because she married a non-Jew and isn’t living a Chassidic life. My family however will have her over (if she is dressed modestly, long sleeves, long skirt and now that she is married but to a non Jew she has to wear a black headcovering.) but her husband isn’t allowed to join our family for gatherings. I support my sister but I would rather she married a Jew or a man who converted. I can understand and accept why shunning is so important to the Amish- Its what keeps them pure.

    9. Tyler

      Hi, If a Amish boy is not baptized, can he still be shunned for being gay? Tyler.
      P.S., what is the average age for baptism among males and are any of the marriage arranged?

    10. angel

      What percentage of Amish males are shunned these days and are the restrictions more strong than before?

    11. C. U. Later

      Too often shunning is for infractions of the rules than for what the rest of us would call sin. Shunning is turning someone over to the devil so that the soul may be saved. However, it does not seem to really be so concerned about restoration than it is about maintaining “order” within the group. From what I hear, it is a horrid experience to undergo. One Amish man that we know said that it would be better if they had just killed him. They are separated from their families and that hurts them deeply. Often they lose their means of income too. If you want to see a first-hand account, look at “Trouble in Amish Paradise” (http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s2606271.htm), at least for a limited time.

    12. bob

      If you are Amish and Follow the Bible, you will not have any issues being Gay. It is a lifestyle being gay.

      1. Galen


        What a closed minded comment to make Bob. It’s 2011 and clearly you do not know anything about people who are gay.

        1. Galen

          To further my comment, I have met many gay men, who left the Amish community and they knew they were gay since childhood. Not a “lifestyle’ anyone would chose. Who wants to NOT fit in and be cast out by the world and their families??? and these men had a very close relationship with God, yet not so much (anymore) with their immediate families.

    13. Rebecca

      I grew up Amish too. My husband and I left when we found out the truth about baptism by immersion in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The joy and fulfillment we experience in the Spirit filled life, versus a life governed by man made rules, is beyond words! The shunning wasn’t hard for us as we had more family leave at the same time.
      On the subject of joining church by baptism- whether it’s a free choice or pressured- I wanted to be saved at a young age but it wasn’t right to get baptized till I was older, so I was always afraid I’d die and be lost before I was old enough to be baptized. I tried hard to be a good girl and always had guilt hanging on me. So, I agree, fear is what the system’s run on. This comes from wrong doctrinal teaching, and the lack of knowledge on salvation by grace, not works.
      Like your website!

    14. Lue

      My husband and I left the Amish back in 1995 and we were shunned for three years. We lost everyone. What a painfilled time it was for us. In going through that time of shunning my husband and I grew closer to each other and stronger in our faith. After a period of time my husband went back to the Bishop and asked if they would lift the ban and the Bishop said that he didn’t “have in mind to lift it just yet.” After another year or so he finally lifted the ban from us, however, he mentioned to his church people that anyone who wished to still shun us could do so. After that our family started to eat and communicate with us again. To this day, and having grown up with it, I still don’t understand.

    15. I am fascinated with this website. I have many relatives who are amish, i never joined church and have no “ill effects” of doing so. I do know that it does depend on what settlement you were brought up in, I was not in an ultra-conservative church. But, I do have a brother who left after marriage, along with several cousin ( who all left at the same time for another church) and they are shunned to a degree. My brother moved to ohio, i drove my parents there a few months ago and we all ate at the same table and stayed in the same house. My mother even used ( and seemed to like) the air condio0nted rooms, the electric appliances and the phone. My brother even works with some swartzentruber amish and they have no problem with him, but he was asked to leave one job for a new order amish when they learned that he was still officially shunned by his former home church.

      My brother is in a non-plain church, and wa seven visited by the deacon while still in our area who told him to join the mennonites, and he would not be shunned. He was then told he could leave the mennonites and go to the church he is in now, and the amish would not do anything (shunning) to him and the mennonites ( nationwide fellowship) would not “put them out” and it would be so much nicer on my parents.

    16. sammy

      My Mom is amish and they are shunning her because of my sister. If my Mom and I moved to a new area in our state or even to a different state would we be able to join a differnet amish community?

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