Leaving the Amish

“It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff with nothing but darkness…you don’t know what’s down there.  But you just know you’re gonna jump.”

National Geographic is currently airing “Amish: Out of the Order”, a program about leaving the Amish.  I’ve posted a clip below.  Curious to hear your comments.

I’ll make two of my own:  it’s not made clear, at least in this clip, whether the folks in this piece left before or after baptism.  I suspect it’s a mix of situations.

And: Amish choose non-Amish lives for various reasons, and come from a variety of backgrounds and situations.  Here we are getting a story viewed mainly through the lens of one person’s experience, a gentleman named Mose Gingerich.  Mose is formerly of a Wisconsin Amish community and appeared on the “Amish in the City” program a few years ago.

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    1. Lisa

      I missed the first 5 minutes of last night’s showing on Nat Geo. I’m thinking that this may be what I missed. I found the show very interesting, with no surprises knowing what I know about the Amish. I did notice though that the documentary only included three females – Alice and Sarah and later the great Aunt that left home. The show concentrated on males. I assume that less females leave the Amish than males and perhaps there weren’t more females in Columbia to include in the film. I am curious as to your thoughts on that.

    2. Alice Aber

      I find it interesting that many that have left seek out this Ex Amish comminity. They still want a sense of community. Something most people not born Amish don’t have, at least not in that sense. I also found it interesting that Mose said in the beginning, “Am I going to go to hell for leaving the Amish, yeah probably”. Believing that, why on earth would he stay out there. I would think that to any Christian, Amish included, salvation and going to heaven would be most important in their lives.

      Very interesting, thanks for sharing Erik.
      Blessings, Alice

    3. Alice Aber

      Hey everyone, please vote for Erik’s book, “Success Made Simple” he has slipped down to 11th place as of this writing, I just checked. You can vote by clicking on the vote link at the top of this page.

      You can vote once a day for the next 6 days, please help him out.

      Thanks, Alice

    4. Alice Aber

      Pssst Erik, I plugged your site and book on my blog today, LOL.


    5. Marcus Yoder

      I missed the show. I don’t know the percentage that stay Amish, but both my parents were born Amish, and married in the Amish church. They left the Amish for the Mennonite faith soon after they were married.In my dads family there were 14 children.Of those 7 remained Amish. In my moms family there were 10 children and only 3 remained Amish.Two of the ones who remained Amish died before being adults. Great job Erik. Thanks Marcus Yoder

    6. Hey Lisa, on number of Amish females v. males leaving I don’t have stats here but I believe males do so more often. If I’m able to dig up some numbers or a study I will share.

      Alice, on the “going to hell…probably” statement, I too thought that was a pretty surprising-and dramatic-thing to say.

      I do wonder if you really believe that, then your fear of hell must not be so great, or the idea of returning so distasteful that it overrides it.

    7. Appreciate you sharing Marcus, do you still have a lot of contact with your Amish family?

    8. And Alice thank you for mentioning the voting, every vote helps–looks like a book with a monkey on its cover just hopscotched me into 10th place! 🙂

    9. Alice Aber

      Hi Erik,

      As a Christian, I can not imagine anything on this earth being so distasteful that I would rather go to hell for eternity. But perhaps his faith is not that strong in the first place. Who knows? I just found that very strange.

      No problem on mentioning the voting. I would really like to see you win this. I know it would be quite a feather in your cap. And I think we need to help each other in this world today.

      I didn’t look at the cover of his book, LOL. If its a monkey perhaps he was swinging on a vine? LOL Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      Its a shame it only lets you vote once every 24 hours. If I could vote more in a day I would just sit there for a while and keep clicking the vote button, LOL.

    10. Mose in this clip left after he was baptized, right? I know I have heard or read that somewhere but I am not sure where, that he was baptized even when he was in Amish in the City? Does anyone know for sure?

    11. Alice Aber

      Oh geeze I misread that,,, you are back in 10th, wooo hoooo!! Lets keep it going and get you up to at least 5th. 😉

    12. Lisa

      I took Mose’s hell statement differently. When he said “probably” I felt he was speaking on behalf of the Amish and that Nat Geo gave no further explanation for dramatic effect.

    13. Lisa that seems to be a fair read. In general the clip seemed well-cut for drama, which is of course what television wants “these days”.

      I find myself wondering what a similar documentary on leaving the Amish might look like, say, produced by PBS back in the 1980s. Drier, no doubt (and probably less-viewed).

    14. Alice, on hell, I guess only Mose would know. But again it may have been cut that way, or Mose might have given that answer with the cameras rolling for dramatic effect. Or maybe he really believes that. It has got us (and no doubt others) speculating here and I imagine that is the goal.

    15. Elin, Amish in the City aired in 2004, and I did not recognize Mose here at first–he was much more clean cut and in Amish garb then. I thought he had not joined church at that time, but not sure. In this clip he seems to act as if he is in the Bann though.

    16. Alice Aber

      Not sure I am following you Lisa. Do you mean speaking on behalf of leaving the Amish? Either way, I guess I am cutting to the chase so to speak. Amish are Christians and if he thinks leaving them might cause him to go to hell, then I still stand on my statement. In fact if you think anything you do would cause you to go to hell, why would you do it?

    17. Alice actually you read it right the first time! Monkey is still beating me, I am in 11th place and he is #10.

      I’m sure it is a great book, I just get a kick out of its cover. Maybe I need to put a baboon on a unicycle on the cover of my next Amish book.

      But–I like how you’re thinking–shoot for 5th place! I might need to hire you as my publicist 😉

    18. Alice Aber

      Hahaha Erik, we are just going to have to have Monkey’s vine swing another direction, LOL. I just posted a vote link on my facebook page too. 😉

      You are right about the video clip and a lot of speculation. It could all be for ratings and not exactly what he said at all. Or he could believe it. Who knows? No matter how you look at it, its interesting that it was included and in that way.

    19. Katie Troyer

      Coming from the Amish, I heard preaching almost everytime I went to church that if you leave the Amish, you are going to hell, period! Your eternity is sealed. There is no hope for you to enter heaven. Go and enjoy your worldly life because hell is waiting for you. All I can say is if Mose is lost, it is not because he left the Amish, but because he has not yet been Born Again.

    20. I live about 2 hours from Columbia, MO, and had no idea that’s where many ex-Amish go. Columbia is a BIG college town, home to the MIZZOU Tigers, and so I guess that surprised me a bit, but I’m not sure why. It makes sense because it’s right in the middle of the state and there are Amish communities north and south of there. I recorded the show last night and guess I should’ve waited to comment until I’d seen it, but it doesn’t surprise me a bit that they come together and help one another. I would think the support of those who know what you’re going through would be essential for them. Like everyone else, the “going to Hell” comment surprised me as well. I feel bad for him. Any time religion is a factor in a big decision, there are so many right and wrong answers – for everyone.

      VOTE FOR ERIK! 🙂

    21. anna morris

      I’m sorry but while looking at the segment what I got out of it is… it looks like alot of drinking and smoking. Do ya think thats gonna get you to heaven? please don’t take offfense beacuse it broke my heart when the man said he would probably go to hell for leaving, thats just not true. God came for all, not just the amish but you do have to live for him and not party.

    22. I think Katie Troyer has a good point here too on hearing the “if you leave you are going to hell” admonition. However this is definitely not what all or even most Amish preach to their youth.

      I believe it would be more likely among conservative groups, right Katie? Mose I believe comes from a pretty conservative community.

    23. Eddy A. Flick

      I met an Old Order Amish man last February. He told me the Amish are not the only ones that will go to Heaven. I know others that believe that. I wonder what church these ex-Amish in Columbia Missouri go to?

      My wife and I would like to take in an ex-Amish girl and we would do so if we lived in Columbia.
      I think the girls who leave are more vulnerable than the guys who leave.

    24. Loretta Shumpert

      It comes on Wednesday nights? What time?

    25. Elizabeth

      The clip was a little blue for me. I didn’t see the show. Its the age old controversy. Does “free thinking” make us “free”. I think these kids have the advantage of knowing committment and could use the opportunity to apply free thinking to their committments to a new life. I believe the Amish concepts of God, Family and Community can successfully be applied to the Ex Amish life.

    26. Alice Aber

      Anna,, I do not take offense to any of the posts. And I agree with you that partying is not going to get you into heaven either. The only point I was trying to make was “if a person honestly believes that an action they took, such as leaving the Amish, would send them to hell, then why would they do it?” Any action could be applied to that question, for example, “if you honestly think that drinking would send you to hell, why would you do it?”

      At any rate, I do find all this conversation quite interesting. Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts!

    27. Eli

      That is correct, Erik. Amish leaving from a more conservative background have that “going to hell” drilled into them from youth. There are exceptions, however. That also explains the higher retention rate.
      Many youths do make the adjustment to “English” life without incident or needing help. These are mostly from the regular Amish.

    28. Jason

      Speaking as someone who’s made a less severe transition (leaving the Mennonite church) it’s not hard for me to understand why someone would make that decision.

      Not everyone is motivated primarily by fear. Even if a fear exists, there are those who value things like freedom or experience more. This applies to things other than religion, and it can be bad (eg. an alcoholic who continues to drink even though they know that it’s slowly killing them) or it can be good (eg. someone who hides Jews in their attic even though it may mean their own death.)

      It is very, very hard to shake childhood indoctrination. Some people never do, but still come to the realization that there are more important grounds for decision and action than being afraid of what might come.

    29. Osiah Horst

      I suppose the ratio of boys versus girls leaving the Amish would vary from one community to another. However, I did a survey of the old order Mennonite church of which I am a member, about twenty years ago, covering a twelve year period. At that time we were baptizing 11% more girls than boys. I did not take into consideration the ones that were leaving after baptism but would assume the ratio would be fairly constant. In the circles that I am familiar with, we do not experience that “if you leave you are damned” message although our youth are reminded that there is much in society today that may lead away from faith. We also have believing friends in churches that are not plain, and we accept them as true Christians.

    30. Osiah Horst

      It would seem that the things we learn first are the things we remember longest. My older brother left the Mennonite church but 40 years later, you can still see evidence of the teaching we received from our parents. Today, after our father’s death, my brother is coming to understand a little better and appreciate more some of the things he learned at home even though he is not about to return to old order life. The fact that many ex-Amish form communities of their own is not surprising. After all, one of the things they learned growing up was a strong sense of community, and the support that goes along with that. I think it can be good that not everything learned in childhood can be “shaken of”

    31. Suzanna Laitinen

      Unfortunately, I missed this show last night, and I could kick myself now. I wanted to see how national geographic was going to interpret this, or rather what type of spin they would put on it. Watching this clip and BEFORE reading these comments, I too was taken aback by what Mose said. I too think that if you truly believe doing something is going to land you in hell, then why are you doing it? BUT…Mose also does some double talk too. First he makes that statement, then later says he left the Amish because he wanted to be able to worship God in his own way. So thinking about it, it could definitely have been cut that way for dramatic effect.(Like that never happens, lol!!) Also, alot of what I focused on first was alot of drinking and smoking. Almost all of those being interviewed had a beer and a cigarette. Which can lead one to interpret it as- now that I’m out I’m going to run wild and do all the things that I couldn’t. I think there’s much more to it in a person’s thinking then leaving just to “run amuck” so to speak. Not that they were showing that in what was being said, but rather in what they were doing. However, to watch a regular movie without any type of an Amish twist,and see teen’s or young adults drinking or smoking- you think nothing of it. Almost typical. But yet your mind highlights it in this clip. Dramatic effect? Definitely. But also some stereotyping effect too. It will be interesting to see how they continue this. It would be nice to see some positives. Does anyone know if this episode will be rerun or if it can be viewed over the internet? Thanks for the interesting discussion Erik!

    32. Natteringblonde

      If you saw Mose on Amish in the city a few years back, you know how much it tore him up to leave. He broke down a few times on the show, trying to decide what to do. His mother (my family knows her) has said so many cruel things about him, even in their paper (Plain Interests) I don’t think he ever really knew much love at home. His dad dies when he was young, 12 I think, and she seemed to just need the kids as laborers.

    33. http://toginet.com/podcasts/amishwisdom/?s=amishwisdom

      The show Thursday 22nd of April 2010, about 53 minutes in they talk about Mose! I knew I was not dreaming this up! I remember correctly, he was baptized when he did the show.

    34. Lucy

      “if a person honestly believes that an action they took, such as leaving the Amish, would send them to hell, then why would they do it?”

      Alice, I left a group similar to the Amish that preached that those who left the group would go to hell.There is a fear element but over time it got harder and harder for me to stay.There was so much wrong with the group I left that I had to leave:

      hyprocisy, lies about the beginnings of the group, lies about how the group began, the snobbery, the division between the rich and poor, the arrogant belief that outsiders are much worse & are hell bound, the leaders expected obedience in all things, the leaders’ false gospel, the way people targeted people to convert, the spite people had for those who would not join, the idea that they were the one & only “true church”, the long conventions, the pressure to join the church.

      Another reason why I left was the denial of the trinity and the hurt I felt when I realised how much the leaders had lied about to me.I also left because I had discovered that I was an Anabaptist and that there were others just like me.

      The group I left are known as Two by Twos, Cooneyites, Christian Conventions and once where very Amish like; adult baptism, meetings within homes & barns, non-conformity with the world, no makeup or jewelry, women with long hair & skirts, no TVs. It used to be women had to wear black stockings and could not have a wedding ring.

    35. Alice Aber

      Lucy, obviously at some point you came to not believe you would go to hell for leaving your group. If in fact Mose did state that exactly the way it is portrayed then it appears he still believed if he left he would go to hell.

      I know there are many reasons for leaving such a group and that is not my point at all. I know the decision to leave any group does not come lightly, I have been there myself. But I truly believe the bottom line, if there is something I want to do that would cause me to go to hell, I am not going to do it and I do not care how difficult that makes my life. Life here on earth is temporary but eternal life is forever.

      Please understand I am not putting anyone down for their beliefs and actions, just making and observation.

    36. It would be interesting to see some stats on the number who leave so they can party more freely (which is how the Colombia group hits me) and those who leave seeking a deeper spirituality, which is more the path that “Trouble in Amish Paradise” dealt with. (By the way, I live just a few miles from Ephraim, and chatted with him just a day or two ago.)
      Most of the ex-Amish I know have left to get away from the smoking and drinking that was going on, not to do it more freely. But that is probably more of a comment on who I am than on where most ex-Amish end up.
      So NG doing this documentary is probably a comment on who they are. LOL

    37. Lucy

      Alice when I left the group I did believe that I would go to hell for leaving.It was only a few years afterwards leaving that I realised that this was not true.For me all the other issues became more important than the fear so that I had to leave even when I feared leaving.(note- I never joined the group I was in, I was born into it and expected to join in my teens)

    38. Alice Aber

      Sorry for any misunderstandings Lucy. From the sounds of things you are much better off out of there.

      Blessings, Alice

      1. Anthony

        Where can a christian man find a

        scripture living community ?
        one whom is blessed with being a rancher for 15yrs, hand furnature maker, horseman, trainer, builder of barns, homes,
        one whom has no desire for the digital age or the technology.

        I know how to get great enjoyment from the simple things in life.

        I want to sell my NM horse ranch and belongings and remove himself from the distracting and ever speeding society.

        Iam the man in question, I need only the love of the Lord, Family, of which I have none, yet.
        I seek a kind and accepting and LOVING christian community where there is a non hypocritical, bible grounded Community, that would accept a man from the country, whom lives without much, and wants to rid myself of belongings, and have a wife, possibly children at 50, and live everyday for christ and my family, if the lord blesses me with one.
        Would there be a group of such christians,
        that would welcome a man with alot to offer in skills and tools, in carpentry for 37yrs,masonry for 29yrs concurrent, and an artist, all my life.and the funds to start a family.
        I know ranching, cattle, horses, growing,farming,was a superintendant of building for 10 yrs also
        Iam done living in the digital, age, and running from it fast pace.
        I want a loyal, simple wife, Iam am a simple man at heart,I would welcome, horses,candels,home made foods, prayer, wise men of the word,worship daily.
        How does a man, such as me find such a place, if the Lord wills this? If you dont give God 110% you giving him less than your footbal coach or a client in the city.
        Are there any Amish or partial amish communities,or symilar self sufficient christian folks seeking men with skills and equity and love of christ?
        I pray for replies
        My email is truegrit7777777@gmail.com
        christs blessing to all
        I was born in the wrong century
        I need to find the love
        love of the word and jesus
        love of a non corrupted materialistic wife
        love of my neighbors
        love of my witnesses in christ
        wheres the love everyone talks about
        I have so much love to give, and judge no one, just choose to be with 110% believers in the WORD AND the Son of God
        I dont find the love outside the doors of the catholic, or babtist, or johova, churches.
        The charity, nuruting,sharing,bartering, nursing,witnessing IS ALL LEFT AT THE DOORS OF WESTERN METROPOLITIAN CHURCHS AND does not spill into your home or life once you go home.

        1. Patricia Tiffany

          Anthony, i was wondering if you have found the plain living community you were seeking? Please just be weary of other, not so well known, or reputable, religous sects looking to draw in people with money, that have been known to take advantage of vulnerable belivers,who just want to give their lives to Gods way. Im just saying…

    39. Marcus Yoder

      Hi Erik. Yes we have a reunion on both sides every two years. The Yoder reunion is always in Arthur,Illinois. The Kauffman reunion will be in Middlebury,Indiana in 2012. I live close to Plain City, Ohio, which at one time had A large Amish community. Last month several of my brother’s and sister went to Middlebury,Indiana,to meet some cousin’s for breakfast at the Essenhaus. One of my Amish cousin’s has A cabinet factory that he took us A tour of. I would love to visit with you if ever possible. Thank you Marcus Yoder

    40. Marcus that would be great. I wonder if I met your cabinet shop cousin in N. Indiana the summer I lived there. Not as many cabinet places there per capita (at least not compared to Arthur). I have fond memories of both Middlebury and Arthur, and it’s been too long since I’ve visited both places. Hopefully soon.

    41. Appreciate all the thoughtful comments here. Couple quick replies:

      Mike-Didn’t realize (or remember?) you lived so close to Trouble in Amish Paradise Ephraim. Their story really got a strong reaction last year. Enjoyed meeting them a while back, a very warm family.

      Lucy-I had not heard of the Two by Twos but just read up a bit. Interesting group, seem to be simple-living but very evangelical from what I read.

      Suzanna–Not to ruminate too long on someone’s statements of belief, but I am actually somewhat skeptical Mose believes he is going to hell, deep down.

      I think carrying such a heavy belief around would inevitably result in a deep depression, and Mose doesn’t seem like that at all, but rather a highly functioning business owner/mentor figure. By what I’ve seen I think Mose sees himself in a positive role that is helping others and also bringing personal fulfillment. There is another clip where he elaborates on that.

    42. Old Order Mennonite shunning and baptism

      Osiah-appreciate you sharing an Old Order Mennonite perspective. I know that there are diverse groups under the Old Order Mennonite label but in general I’ve had the impression that social shunning is not as strict as among Amish. It is interesting to hear that the “leave and be damned” message is not prominent in your circle though, I wonder if it is in others.

      I’ve understood the higher boys vs. girls ratio to be at least partially a result of the “boys will be boys”, sowing wild oats, etc factor, that boys will naturally be more adventurous and curious of the world, vs. women perhaps more inclined to seek security.

    43. Jason–I think of some core beliefs I was taught as a kid, and trying to talk me out of some of them would be like trying to convince me up is down. So as you say the idea of not being able to shake what we are indoctrinated with is one to keep in mind. Whether you agree that leaving is a good move or not, it has to take some guts.

    44. Doris Blankenship-Wellman

      Hi Erik,
      What an interesting discussion!! I was so impressed with the documentary that I watched it twice, once at 8 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. One thing that struck me was the typical adolescent spirit of rebellion and wanting to develop, modify or walk away from the family values for awhile. So many adolescents return to the values they grew up with, when they become parents themselves.
      Another issue that caught my attention was the young man who couldn’t get past the physical abuse from his father. He seemed to be saying he was innocent but his father didn’t believe him or his brother, and he was therefore, severely punished. Dysfunction is a disease of extremes and whenever you see extreme rigidity or extreme chaos, you know that families are in for a struggle.
      As a mother of 5, I just couldn’t relate to “shunning” my children and not inviting them in for dinner and homemade pie.
      Living next to Lancaster PA county for over 30 years, I wonder about the hypocrisy of tobacco, which is one of their main crops.
      Thank you all for your info. Doris

    45. Rates of baptism among different Amish groups

      Eli-your comment about the “leave and go to hell” message was interesting and also the bit about it being a possible factor in higher retention among more conservative Amish. When you wrote “regular Amish” I took it to mean, say, Holmes County Old Order vs. Andy Weaver or Swartzentruber (not to imply anyone’s “irregularity” of course 😉 )

      As you might know Andy Weaver Amish have the highest retention rate (97%) according to a study by Hurst and McConnell in the recent Amish Paradox book. They find Old Order to be 86%, New Order at 60%, and estimate Swartzentrubers at 90%.

    46. Marcus Yoder

      My cousin’s cabinet factory is in Nappannee. The name of it is Kountry wood product. He was originally from Tuscola,Illinois, which is close to Arthur.We both have cousin’s from the Arthur and Arcola area that have wood shops. My uncle Elvan Yoder owned and operated Rockhome Gardens for many years. It would be interesting to know if you sold any books to some of my relatives. Thank you Marcus Yoder

    47. Glenda

      I guess I am changing the subject to a smal degree, but after watching this program last night, I was really concerned for these young people. Only one of them left to pursue higher education and he really did not understand the basics of multiplication. I am hoping that the poor use of the english languge may be due to the fact that they did not speak english in their homes? These young people need a lot more support to make this transition. I think Mose is trying to do a good job in what he is doing, but an emphasis on education is really needed if these young people are going to survive. I wonder how many of these young people would return back to the Amish if they had more support. I have to say here that am not advocating for one position or the other (in or out of the Amish family) just that I think these young people are at great risk to make it without an education. It struck me rather that they were leaving one tight community for another tight community without the skills to make it outside of thier family.

    48. Jason

      I don’t think it necessarily leads to depression. People who leave are often scorned as “rebellious” or “reprobate”, even as a child in the church you hear about people who have “hardened their hearts” against the church and God. I believe a lot of people who eventually decide to leave unconsciously adopt those descriptions for themselves. It becomes part of their identity. They are rebelling, there will be consequences, but they are also hardened to it. Their identity as an apostate becomes a sort of armor, a toughness. “Yes, God can send me to hell, but at least I’ll have the satisfaction of making a free choice first.” It leads to a certain grim, yet oddly joyful defiance. These people often turn into great reformers and activists, because having faced their greatest possible fear, they have few others even worth mentioning. They have nothing left to lose, and are going to follow their ideals come what may.

      Mose strikes me as one of those guys, both in his demeanor, and the way he works to help others. So I don’t find his statement insincere or contradictory. And I don’t think he’ll end up depressed. Although some people might find him a little scary and intense. But that’s to be expected from a man who’s contemplated hell, and ultimately said, “So be it.”

    49. Mona Greer

      Found this very interesting….just sorry I missed it….does anyone know if this will be on every week, and if so what stations and day and time…..Thanks Erik, always enjoy your imput on things….

    50. That was really interesting. I would have liked to watch this show if we got the channel. Oh well.