Amish & Polygamy: Do They Practice It?

Can Amish men have more than one wife? Can Amish women have more than one husband? The answer to both those questions is a resounding “no”. And if you know the Amish, the answer might seem obvious here. But some people do wonder about this, and I have a couple of ideas as to why some outsiders land on this misconception.

Short answer: Do Amish practice polygamy? The answer is no. Amish have never endorsed polygamy. Sometimes people confuse the Amish with other groups. However, there is one interesting example of polygamy in Anabaptist history.

Even though the Amish do not practice polygamy, there is an interesting wrinkle in Anabaptist history worth looking at, where polygamy actually was a part of at least one group’s belief system. More on that below.

Amish Polygamy? Where this idea comes from

I hear this question or suggestion more often from people that are not from the United States. Usually they have heard something about Amish people, and other religious groups in the US, but don’t know much about this vast topic at all.

I think this is mainly a case of mixing up religious groups, and having a poor understanding of those groups to begin with.

They’ve typically heard something about the Latter-Day Saints Church of the past and they conflate that group with the Amish of today. They might see that the Amish have large families, dress in traditional clothing, and adhere to a conservative Christian belief system. These outwardly-visible characteristics have historically applied to the LDS church as well, thus leading to confusion.

Old photo of Salt Lake City Mormon Temple under construction in the 1880s
The Amish do not practice polygamy, nor have they ever done so in their history

Of course, plural marriage is not the policy of the LDS church (Mormon church) nowadays, either, and that hasn’t been the case for a long time (leaving aside the small offshoot Fundamentalist LDS groups where it remains).

But I think people simply don’t really know the difference sometimes, and the Amish get mixed up with Mormons – or rather, with that group’s outdated polygamist practices – when viewed from far outside the culture.

Amish have never endorsed polygamy

So to repeat, the Amish do not have more than one wife, or husband. Polygamy is not permitted according to Amish beliefs. And “Amish Polygamists” have never existed in their history.

It has always been one man and one woman – that’s the only acceptable form of marriage in the Amish church. Other relationships, more-or-less now accepted in mainstream society – live-in couples, marriages between divorced people – as well as homosexual relationships and gay marriage, are not condoned in Amish communities, either.

Anabaptist Polygamy – A Historical Example

Now, that said, there is one thing worth mentioning here. There was a small group worth mentioning within the larger Anabaptist movement in the 1500s. The Amish emerged from this wider movement in the late 1600s. We still use the word “Anabaptist” today as a blanket term to describe Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and some related groups.

So looking way back into history, there was a radical group of Anabaptists who took over the city of Münster in present -day Germany. Briefly, from the years 1534 to 1535, they held power in that city. And this group had a number of unusual practices, not endorsed by other Anabaptists. One of those practices was in fact polygamy, promoting the idea that men should take multiple wives.

Citizens brought before an Anabaptist leader during the Münster rebellion
The short-lived Münster Anabaptists were a radical outlier group within the larger movement. Leader John of Leiden made polygamy compulsory, and took 16 wives

This group was denounced by other Anabaptist people. Menno Simons, who became an important leader among the Anabaptists, and from whom we get the term Mennonites, denounced this group.

They were not considered to be representative of the Anabaptist movement. Another example of how their practices conflicted with mainstream Anabaptist belief: they forcibly made people convert to Anabaptism within the city of Münster.

This practice goes against the concept of non-violence, which is a core tenet of Anabaptism. So you had a brief period of time in a larger Anabaptist history in which there was a small radical group, which practiced polygamy.

That practice and that group’s power essentially ended when the leaders were captured and imprisoned, and executed. So there is a distant historical association with a radical cousin group of the Amish – one which existed over 150 years before the Amish even emerged within the movement.

Amish marriage: one man, one woman

I don’t think this little-known example of the Münster Anabaptist group is why most people might make false connections between the Amish and polygamy. But perhaps there is some historical tie here that people might associate with the Amish – even though this wasn’t technically even an Amish group. So it’s worth noting from a historical point of view.

Amish couple sitting and watching an event, seen from behind
Marriage in the Amish church has always been between one man and one woman. Photo: Jim Halverson

But again, for those wondering “do Amish believe in polygamy?” – the Amish are not polygamists, and never have been. For the Amish, marriage has always meant just one thing – one man and one woman.

Related topics

What if you’re Amish and gay?

What do the Amish think about homosexuality? How do gay people get by in Amish society? Can you even be both gay and Amish? The short answer is that Amish do not accept homosexuality, considering it a sin. For more on how people with same-sex attraction in Amish society get by, check out our article on gay Amish.

Can Amish marry non-Amish?

For the Amish, only baptized members can be married within the Amish church. It has happened more than once that an outsider (non-Amish person) has joined the Amish church and married a “native” Amish person.

Amish & Sexuality

How are sexual transgressions like premarital sex and adultery handled in the Amish church? Do Amish receive sex education? Does sexual abuse happen in Amish communities? Read more on Amish sexuality.

Do Amish divorce?

Amish do not sanction divorce. It is grounds for excommunication. That noted it may still happen on rare occasions. Amish couple may also separate. Amish marriages are not perfect and Amish married couples experience many of the same challenges which non-Amish couples do. More on Amish divorce.

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