Missouri Amish Abuse Story

This is a disheartening story (no longer online) which I’ve meant to address, about child abuse in one Amish community.

Four bishops in a Missouri Amish community have been charged with failing to report sexual abuse inflicted by an adult member of the community upon two children.  Clearly there is no moral question that abuse of any kind is a criminal matter, and not one meant to be handled within the bounds of a local Ordnung.  Yet that is apparently how this matter was “resolved”, and authorities are charging the bishops, as people with “responsibility for the care of children”, with neglecting their duty towards the abuse victims.

Occasionally you hear of similar cases of unreported crime in Amish communities.  Yet I’d hardly call covering up crimes standard operating procedure among Amish.  Amish subscribe to a ‘two kingdoms’ theology, seeing a distinction between the spiritual kingdom, and the worldly kingdom of secular government.

Yet, Amish readily submit to the law of the land in areas where the worldly kingdom does not impose itself on the spiritual one.  While Amish have refused to adhere to certain laws which clash with religious beliefs, such as schooling past the 8th grade, or in some instances, on slow-moving-vehicle triangle requirement for carriages, this Missouri case obviously has nothing to do with religious matters.

That true crimes may go unreported in some communities I feel is a reflection on local congregations and not upon Amish society as a whole.  For further reading, this was not long ago addressed on the blog, in a post examining Amish cooperation with law enforcement.

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    1. Clearly there is no moral question that abuse of any kind is a criminal matter, and not one meant to be handled within the bounds of a local Ordnung.

      I disagree.

      From the Amish perspective, there must be a moral question. After all, they refuse on moral grounds to perform those same acts (i.e. judging others in courts and enforcing laws) that the government would fulfill if the crimes were reported. If the Amish refuse to do these acts, why would you think they should blindly hand their own people over to those who do perform these acts?

    2. I respect your ideas, Jacob, and I may be reading into it incorrectly, but the issue is not IF the Amish will handle their own situation (because they will) but it’s HOW they handle it. The abuser(s) will not be locked up and kept away from other helpless victims, which means he’s free to go into the “English” world and continue on with his abuse if he so chooses while his fellow Amish decide his fate or decide to shun him. Not OK.

      While I feel a strong anti-government feeling coming from you (which is fine), the abuser may also receive some badly needed professional help which he wouldn’t receive otherwise. Like it or not, if you live in America there are laws (sometimes rather flawed) that need to be upheld by all, regardless of religion.

      I feel for the victims who may not get the help that they now need because they won’t be allowed “interference”.

    3. I elaborated on my point at my blog, which you can reach by clicking my name.

      My main point is that there is a moral decision to be made before invoking the government to handle a situation. It also seems to me that a consistent pacifist would never wish to invoke the government, since the government always uses force to resolve situations.

      A pacifist who calls the police to report a crime is like a vegetarian eating a hamburger because someone else slaughtered the cattle. If you morally oppose something, you should not assist or ask others to do those things you would not do yourself.

    4. Hi Jacob and Beth, I especially appreciate your comments. I’ve tried to address this issue further in the most recent post. Amish thinking on ‘two kingdoms’ doctrine is paradoxical and may seem inconsistent. I try to address the issue here: https://amishamerica.com/2009/11/follow-up-on-the-missouri-amish-abuse-case.html

    5. Rose

      I am a former-Amish woman and I have a comment on “Yet I’d hardly call covering up crimes standard operating procedure among Amish.”

      Unfortunately, the manner of punishment with which the Amish usually punish offenders of sin (any misbehavior from a dress too pretty to the rape of a child) often presents merely a slap on the wrist for the offenders. Special punishments are not used and as such, punishing of perpetrators is miniscule, unless offenders lie, in which case they are not punished at all.

      Victims are usually blamed, directly or indirectly.

      Offenders are not rehabilitated and are free to molest again and again leaving the Amish form of punishment ineffective as the problem mushrooms and returns in other areas as well.

      Don’t kid yourself; the Amish make it their practise to “cover up crimes,” to use your term. Covering up crimes is a part of the tradition they worship. They may not do it maliciously, but it still frequently ends up being malicious.

    6. Lance

      This is horrible

      Read this first:

      The New Wilmington, PA community has a very bad history with abuse and sexual assaults. Mary Byler’s abuse began here. If you don’t know what happen to Mary, search her name on google. I hope the investigation of this case leads to a deeper investigation that exposes the evil going on there and that help comes to those that need it, both perpetrators and victims.

    7. Denise

      Do not support Amish communities

      I will never support or buy anything to do with the Amish community again. To see what they do when a child or woman reports abuse, is absolutely disgusting. They show up from all over the country in droves to support the men/the abusers! It is appalling. This is just another example of abusers hiding behind their so called “religious beliefs”, “organized religion”, or “religious cult” to get away with abusing children.