Excommunication and shunning among Old Order Mennonites

Shunning is a widely-known yet controversial social practice of the Old Order Amish.  How do the Old Order Mennonites, close spiritual cousins of the Amish, approach the matter?  An excerpt on the topic:

“Members who stray from the teachings and practice of the church are reprimanded by the deacon.  Persons who refuse to cooperate with the church may be “set back” from communion.  If they remain stubborn and unyielding to the Ordnung and the counsel of elders, they will face excommunication.  Sometimes a person may continue to attend services but refrain from communion if he or she participates in a forbidden practice.  In the Ontario Conference, a number of persons who smoke tobacco attend worship services, but they do not commune because smoking is a test of membership.  These persons participate in the life of the community but technically are outside the fold.  In eastern Pennsylvania, smoking is “testified against” but is not a test of membership, and hence members who smoke are able to commune.  More serious offenses–owning an automobile or divorcing a spouse–will bring excommunication if the deviants fail to repent.  Mennonites generally do not shun excommunicated members as severely as do the Amish.  Several independent groups of team Mennonites do practice social avoidance, but the larger groups do not.  Nevertheless, excommunicated members will feel the stigma of shame.”

(From On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, by Donald B. Kraybill and Carl Desportes Bowman)

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    1. Shunning is indeed a controversial issue. I would not want to go through such a thing. Just imagine how that must feel so lonely. I suppose the hope is the wrong doer will have time to reflect and consider the error of his/her ways.

      1. Daryl

        Shunning and excommunication are simple issues that are well understood and practiced by the secular world and proper Christians.

        Depending on the severity of the infraction, a sports person who disobeys or breaks the rules, is benched or dropped from the team, the soldier is court marshalled or shot by a firing squad, the employee is suspended or dismissed, the criminal is jailed or executed, the Christian is shunned(under discipline) or excommunicated(disfellowshipped).

        Sports organizations, the military, companies, society and Christianity must have rules and regulations which govern the behavior and conduct of their members in order to prevent chaos, for satan reigns in chaos.

        God is a God of law and order and the Bible is His rule book, His code of conduct and ethics. Rebel or disobey God and there must be consequences, otherwise Christianity becomes a valueless demonic joke.

        1. Diana

          Shunning is emotional abuse

          The practice of shunning of family members who choose to leave the Mennonite faith should be abolished because this is abusive and a non Christian practice. Former members want and need the love and support of family members. I am an LDS mother and adore my children and yes, I would be very saddened if they left our church BUT I would never shun my beloved children. The serenity prayer in the bible would remind me that I should accept things that I am unable to control in life. We do NOT own our children as we do objects. I believe my children have free will to make decisions once they are independent adults. I believe shunning is so far removed from our true role as parents. It is our role to be loving and supportive. We may not embrace or may even hate some of the decisions they make. I would be really saddened if my children left our church, chose to be atheists and excessively tattooed themselves etc, etc, BUT as a loving mother, I would learn to accept them for who they are and strive to nurture our relationships. Let The Lord decide who is worthy to enter Heaven. As mere mortals, we do not have all the spiritual answers. The Good Lord IS ALL KNOWING and HE IS MERCIFUL in His judgments. I hope my message of love and acceptance may soften some hearts and opened some minds. It was not my intent to offend your church members.

          1. Jax


            You can speak idealistically now, but your Mormon (LDS) roots define you and your beliefs. I hope, for both your sake and your childrens, that they do not step away from you church. Honestly that’s not true- I hope every individual does what is best for them. But I give you hope and strength if and when they do to accept them as a true, honest, and real people.

        2. Susan Kelley

          As a Christian how do I shun a person in my life that I have to be close with and around everyday?

      2. Marty Rempel

        Why shun them in the first place? Why not forgive them? Isn’t that a more christian response? What would Jesus do and my guess is shunning would not even cross his mind. It seems positive reinforcement with a loving, caring response would have more success in building a sense of Christian community then does shunning. Shunning is tthe Berlin Wall of religion. It is a failure in diplomacy just as shunning is a failure in theology.

        1. Shelly Kates

          I couldn't agree more

          I think you put that very well, you hit the nail on the head ” what would Jesus do” and while there are consequences for everything in life to shun someone is awful, its rigid unforgiving and painful,and its shameful to me that someone could even treat a loved one so callously.Thank you for posting such a true and meaningful comment.

    2. Marty Rempel

      The “sin” that resulted in the shunning is not as severe as the shunning itself. The group,not the individual is in the wrong. I am sixty and yesterday I discovered my own mother had been excommunicated because my father was unbaptized. The action of that congregation was a group sin against my mother. mennonites have narrow minds

      1. Daryl

        Marty they were not wrong. The Bible quite clearly teaches that a believer is not to be unequally yoked with a non-believer. The fact that your mother was excommunicated indicates that she had been baptized, that she had made a voluntary decision to be obedient to the will of God, yet she rebelled and choose your father over God. She choose the tempory love of a human over the eternal love of God. Seems you have as well, by holding her rebellion as righteous and the Bible as error. Be warned, the rebel and the unbeliever shall not enter the kingdom heaven without repentance.

        1. John A. Powell

          reply to Daryl ,May 8,2012

          it is possible the whole story hasn’t been told..there is Scripture for the ministry to the unGodly by the Godly..your behavior may win the lost to the cause of Christ..you commited to God your union,BUT if the unbeliever wants to leave you are not obligated tyo force them to stay..BUT.. you must remain unmarried until that person dies therefore no chance of reconciliation..look for it in the inerent Word of God…JAP

        2. Marty Rempel


          Daryl, I just read your comment and have to say that your narrow minded and short sighted view of the world is what I most detest about being assoiciated with Mennonites. I now distance myself from this religion because of your type of mind set. People in authority in the church my say they act in the name of God which allows them to do horribly vindictive things. I hope to God and I mean God that most Mennonites have stopped thinking like you. The congregation and leadership that shunned my mother was wrong and will always be wrong because shunning is wrong and the loving god I believe in will back me up, not some ignorant literal dogma that you seem to follow. I hope your mother never reads what you wrote. Its not christian.

        3. Tom Miller

          Do the excommunicated get burried outside or away from other members in good standing

          Do Old order Amish or Mennonite burry excommunicated dead outside the fence of the graveyard or a place away from the body of members in good standing? I hear that is still a practice here in Lancaster Pennsylvania.

          Thank you,
          Tom Miller

    3. Janelle Miller

      Our God is a forgiving God and the Bible teaches us to love and forgive. I don’t understand why there is such a thing called shunning. It makes me sad. I suppose if the offender keeps doing the same thing over and over again, I can understand seperating yourself from them so that they can’t influence those who are babes or easily influenced.

    4. Brandy

      I think shunning is absolutely wrong because not one Christian is perfect or does not sin. We are all sinners and we all make mistakes. Like Christ commanded love your neighbors as yourself so instead of shunning the person forgive them and show them love and have faith that that person will repent. But if they keep repeatedly sinning over and over and not repenting of their ways then its understandable to stop being around that person. But give the person hope and a chance to change their ways.

    5. John A. Powell

      excommunication and shunning..

      there must be rules about what is acceptable to the good order and discipline of any group..If the rules just reflect a desire to CONTROL by the leadership..GET OUT! The unwritten ORDNUNG gives too much authority sometimes to a few individuals or a leader and that is basis for CULT CONTROL..We know what happens then,sex with children, arranged marriage,mass suicide..Jim Jones,and other meglomanics,Hitler,ad nauseum! JAP

      1. Taylor


        You should read again if you didn’t already read the opening remark from Daryl.

    6. Judith


      Non Mennonites and non Amish shun people every day. Family members who have continually abused others in any fashion are cut loose from the fold frequently. It is a survival mechanism. “It only takes one rotten apple to ruin the barrel.” People usually realize they can only take so much. Over the years who has not distanced themselves from a friend or family member who refuses to evolve out of their detrimental ways? Protection and self preservation are strong instincts. Tough love may seem as cruel as shunning. May you be blessed in your life and never feel pushed to these all too common and unfortunate reactions. I have a close friend who is an old order buggy Mennonite. She is upbeat , fun and loves to laugh. I have been to her church. I am sure there are many there who are very strict and rigid especially amoung the older members but feel the parishioners are as diverse as in any church. We are all individuals deep down but many feel the comfort of being part of a group is worth conforming. Finding a group you feel is the closest to your beliefs is the key.

    7. Marty Rempel

      Shunning a Hate Crime

      Your reasoning is faulty. Because others do something never makes a right. so I really don’t care what others are doing I am looking at core values. Tough love and shunning may be on a continuum but shunning is the worst level. It is more like a hate crime. The bad apple analogy is weak. In a christian community people help people period. What would Jesus do is my bottom line and I don’t recall him shunning or ignoring any one. Mennonites and Amish have it all wrong. There is a better way based on love, compassion, decency, humanitary feelings and the basic values of Christianity.

    8. Anita


      I think that most of you who have commented on how bad shunning is, do not understand the whole process of shunning. A shunning happens only after a member is baptized into the church and accepts God as their savior. However, just because a person is shunned, does not mean that person cannot not repent their sins and become a member in good standing again. The whole purpose of shunning is hoping that the person would recognize their sins and ask for forgiveness.

    9. Amish Girl-Rebecca

      It also does not mean you never see that person again or that your love for him/her stop. Usually it is the erring person who makes the choice to leave his family and church and to stay away, not because he is not welcome, but because he is uncomfortable or guilty. There are many aspects of shunning outside people can’t understand. It is also not as extreme or harsh as the books and shows make it sound. At least not in my community. And I agree with Judith, it seems everyone shuns someone in life, not that I think it should be that way, but we’re all human. Let us strive to work together and build each other up, not tear each other down.

    10. Kristine

      I don’t understand

      I don’t understand social shunning. I do understanding not being a full member of the church if one does not follow all the rules of the church. I do not understand why there would be a social consequence. I do not understand why there should be a consequence to interactions outside regular church. As for owning a car to be a sin I do not understand why Jesus who came to us 2000 years ago wishes that everything remain the same as the world of the 1800’s or earlier.