Swartzentruber Amish-Raised Man Shares The Bad Sides Of His Amish Life

The Post Bulletin has a story on a man named Eddie Swartzentruber, who has been providing the perspective of someone who left a strict Swartzentruber Amish community. He’s using social media to share his former life and answer questions about the Amish on the TikTok platform.

I find the article of interest in that it does give a look at Amish life from one person’s view. It’s an overwhelmingly negative depiction, from what we get in the article.

However, somewhat in contrast to the tone of the article, his actual TikToks feel a lot more upbeat and positive. Eddie is likable and funny, and I enjoy listening to him. He offers some interesting details of his life when he was in the community, and answers some quite specific questions. Some answers are meant to be humorous with Eddie in essence winking at you, others are given straight. Some examples:

Note: the TikTok video embeds in this post have been removed. If you’d like to see which videos I’m referring too, check Eddie’s channel @eddieswartzentruber_1996 for the videos referenced below.

[see “can Amish have a watch?” video]

[see “Amish spoon” video]

That said, he is presenting the Swartzentruber Amish experience – or “a” Swartzentruber Amish experience. Having watched to a good number of his videos, some of the answers he gives to questions are more universal (“How many years do you go to school?”) while a lot reflect an experience in a very traditional Amish upbringing.

Swartzentruber Amish buggy. Photo: Don Burke

He’s giving his perspective. I think it’s to some degree educational on the one hand. But on the other does something of a disservice if he is explicitly or implicitly framing his depiction of life as the way “the” Amish do things.

A bleak portrayal…with a smile

I don’t exactly blame him; that’s what he grew up in and what he knows. But he also knows there are less strict Amish out there, as seen by this anecdote:

Swartzentruber said his own church, his namesake Swartzentruber church, was one of the most strict and uncompromising towards change. He recalls the moment when he made his decision to break from the Amish community.

He and his brother were riding in a fore cart, an open-air buggy with two horses hooked to the front. Both were exposed to the elements on a miserably cold day. His hand froze. He was 12.

It was hard not to look enviously upon other nearby Amish communities that had more relaxed rules toward convenience and innovation.

“We thought the St. Charles Amish were so cool, because they got a triangle in the back of their buggy. They also had a door to get in, in the winter time. And they had a glass on the front, which I thought that’d be so awesome (to protect from the cold wind).”

I don’t see that he addresses this point in a video anywhere. Maybe he does, but I can’t find it after watching a good number of videos, and scanning the rest of the titles.

[see “what do you mean no freedom?” video]

There is also the account of being warned that not joining the Amish means going to hell:

Swartzentruber said he felt a desperate urge to explore the wider world. But the Amish church exerts a powerful force through its teachings that hedge in community and conformity among congregants.

Children are taught from an early age that they will roast in the pit of hell when they die if they ever leave the community. And for the first five years after leaving the Amish, Swartzentruber had trouble going to sleep at night.

“My mom would always say, ‘The end of the world could come for you in the middle of the night,’” he said.

This type of thing is awful, and it’s not the first time people from the Swartzentruber Amish have described hearing this sort of thing growing up. But presenting it as “the” Amish way of teaching children is not great.

But that’s also on the Post Bulletin, for not including basic context that Amish groups can be different, which is not hard to discover – and even suggested by Eddie in the anecdote above.

[see “what was so terrible about being Amish that made you want to leave?” video]

He also presents “the Amish” as something like a mind-control cult (in the video “What was so terrible about being Amish that made you want to leave?”). That said, much of what he says is done with a sense of humor and not in a self-pitying way. The article notes how he closes each video with a winning smile. It’s easy to see why he’s grown an audience.

To take another example, there is this bit:

Do his parents still love him despite leaving the Amish? Love is not part of the Amish lexicon, Swartzentruber says in one video.

That sounds horrible, but I am pretty certain many Amish would disagree that “love is not part” of their lexicon. I wasn’t sure if he was suggesting that they literally don’t say “I love you”. But the way this is presented in the article suggests that Amish parents don’t love their children. I did watch the corresponding video and Eddie is talking specifically about not hearing “I love you ” spoken. That is different from not being loved, however.

[see “Do the amish parents tell there kids they love them?” video]

Finally, and this is the wording of the article again (which we can assume is derived from the depiction in the videos):

Life in an Amish community was often miserable. No matter how much he might search the Bible, in many situations he could find no satisfactory answers for why the Amish in Harmony lived like they did.

The problem is with the premise. I see this assumption made by outsiders all the time. “Where in the Bible does it ban electricity?”, things like that. Amish material lifestyle is not a Biblically-dictated one. They look to the Bible for a model for living via Jesus’ example and teachings, for instance in the Sermon on the Mount, and of course the Ten Commandments.

But restrictions different Amish groups place on technology represent attempts to regulate what they see as damaging outside worldly influences – damaging to family, church and community. Different Amish end up in different places as far as this goes. Some more restrictive, some less so. They’re not deriving this from certain verses in the Bible, but from experience and observation.

[see “What is the reasoning for crazy Amish rules.” video]

And it should be said that these restrictions do also represent adherence and respect for tradition, which overlaps to some extent with this first rationale. No doubt some groups’ and churches’ balance tips too far in favor of strict adherence to material tradition. But it’s not the whole story on why the many and varied Amish churches and communities choose to live as they do.

Interesting and entertaining videos about a piece of the Amish world

I don’t want to continue picking everything apart, I’ll just end by saying that these accounts of people who’ve left an Amish upbringing are usually interesting in a behind-the-scenes, tell-all sort of way. It’s easy to see why they get clicks. When you had a bad experience and come from the strictest group, there are a lot of stories you can share that will be readily consumed by the public.

Of course, he has every right to share his story. But if one person’s or Amish group’s experience is framed as the way “the Amish” in general do things, then that’s not great. That also applies when an individual’s story is presented and allowed to stand that way implicitly, especially when alleging something serious like depicting abuse as widespread.

All that said, people like Eddie’s experiences can open a window into what might be more common practices in a given group or community. So I don’t think I’d go to him for an understanding of how “the Amish” do all things. But to get a picture, in short clips of less than one minute, of one person’s experience in a strict group (and maybe as representative of common practice in a given group) I think it has value.

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    20 Comments

    1. Karen M

      Leaving Amish

      you know, I think most people who estrange from their family or community like to portray the entity in an awful light in order to justify their reasons for leaving. While Eddie is likable enough, I think he is dishonest by lumping all Amish together under this horrible rule. I grew up with the Amish due to my Father’s business as a farrier and blacksmith. I still have Amish friends to this day. Not one of them has ever expressed the desire to leave. They act lovingly towards their children and each other and seem genuinely happy and content.

    2. Rebecca Mast

      I’ve watched a few of his videos and in my experience, he is pretty spot on in a few that I’ve seen. I’ve never even once heard anyone in the Old Order say I love you, give a hug or even show any affection towards a spouse nor child. I’m not saying there aren’t some who do. It’s just not the norm. They show “love” in different ways. Ask any former Amish who have left the fold if their families believe they’re going to heaven. I would say 90 percent or more will say their family believes they are going to hell. This is the reality whether we like to believe it or not. I know some are so hurt and broken because of it they suffer with depression, alcohol and drug abuse and so much more. It’s incredibly sad.

      1. FRANK V VATTELANA

        WHAT A SORRIFUL LIFE TO LIVE

        JESUS WARNED US ABOUT THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS OF HIS DAY AND SPOKE ABOUT HOW THEY WOULD RECEIVE THE GREATER DAMNATION FOR LEADING PEOPLE ASTRAY. THE AMISH BELIEVE IN WORKS FOR SALVATION MUCH LIKE THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES. THE ONLY LOVE I SEE SHOWN IS WHEN THEY HAVE A YOUNG CHILD. THEIR WIVES MUST FEEL TERRIBLY ALONE AND YEARN FOR PHYSICAL TOUCH AND WORDS OF AFFECTION.

    3. Miss Eddie

      I agree!

      I agree, that the Amish have rules but they have to follow if they’re going to be in the Amish faith, and those rules differ between church and districts. I have Amish friends also, that do not express any desire whatsoever to leave the Amish. However, my Amish lady friend always ask me questions about my church, what I believe, my address the way I dress, etc. She is very curious and sincere, but she’s not asking me so she can leave the Amish. The Swartzentruber Amish , from what I’ve read, are very strict. I don’t know if everything that I read is true, but I do know that they are stricter than the other Amish churches.

      1. Miss Eddie

        Typos ugh

        Sorry for the typos in my comment, I spoke my message and it changes my words! Also she doesn’t always ask me for my address, because she already has it lol.

    4. The Amish that I am the closest to, in friendship, are “Troyer Amish,” which broke off from the Swartzentrubers about a hundred years ago. They are very, very conservative, but take some pride in the fact that they “are not Swartzentrubers!” Because of the S’trubers extreme aversion to modern technology and intermingling with us “English,” they are often not so well-off financially, and have very hard lives, physically.

      My Amish friends have helped me to realize that they conform to the rules because “that’s just how we do,” because they value a “dying to self, and living for Christ…and community/church.” They will not stay and fight with elders with whom they disagree–they’ll leave home, shop, barn and land to move to a new place where they are in agreement. They express a living faith in Jesus Christ–but realize that it is their conformity to the Ordnung that keeps their families, churches, communities intact and strong. We English value individuality and personal expression; Amish value corporate good and cooperation in order to be protected and to provide for everyone in the community.

      While it is true that the harshness of some Swartzentruber communities, coupled with their secrecy, can protect abusers, molesters, bullies, and power-mad leaders, that is not the norm in many, many conservative Amish communities. I know, personally, many happy, contented, romantic Amish families that struggle with all of the same issues we English do–finances, unfulfilled dreams, selfishness, health problems, greed, bad tempers, weakness–yet, all in all, they are content and happy in their churches and communities and families. They also take delight in children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, romantic couples, the natural world around them, success in business, travel, visiting families and friends, worshipping in church.

      Not all things that look strange and awful to outsiders feel that way to the folks on the inside who reap the benefits from bearing with the limitations.

    5. Central Virginian

      Lacks Broad Perspective

      Interesting, it seems to be geared more to entertainment than to present an in depth perspective. There are likely people who grew up in Baptist, Morman, or any other culture, who had unhappy experiences and could make similar comments about their experiences. It would be helpful if his posts began with “Schwarzentruber Amish ….” so viewers would be alerted that there are multiple Amish cultures.

    6. John J. Keim

      Swartzentruber Amish

      Well I for one, grew up in the Old Order Amish, back in the 50’s and 60’s. My brother just older than me, left home when he was 16 years years old. I remember my mom and dad went and bought him back home. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. My brother and my dad arguing in the front yard about why my didn’t want to stay Amish anymore. It got pretty heated at one point. I think most of the had gathered around them this point, and finally dad said to my brother, I would much rather bury 6 feet under right here in my front yard then see you go out into the world. I was 13 years old at the time and thought was the cruelest thing a father could ever say to his child. Needless to say, I myself developed enough courage to leave 6 years later. I made the mistake of getting baptized before I left, because if ever went to visit I wouldn’t be allowed eat with my parents.

      I did visit my parents once before they passed away. The main why I didn’t visit before, is because I had signed up to go in the Army, and I was coming from duty station in Colorado Springs, Co to my new duty station near Augusta, Ga. So I decided to visit them. It was on a Sunday afternoon, but they weren’t home from church yet. I needed to get going and as I was going down the road near our farm, I passed them. So I decided to stop and say hi. Right away my started preaching to me how I was going to hell and my mom just balling her eyes out. I told dad I don’t need this crap and drove off. 17 years later was the first and only time I ever saw them alive after that.

      I have nine brothers and three sisters. Only three of brothers stayed Amish, and all three of my sisters stayed Amish.

      Our community wasn’t quite like the Swartzentruber Amish, but pretty darn close.

      I can never recall my ever saying, “I love you” to any of us. We never got hugs either.

      I can still remember the big two story farm house lived in. Since there were a lot of us boys, we would have to sleep three of us to a bed, and in the winter, we didn’t have any heat upstairs and sometimes it got as cold as 20 degrees in our bedroom.

      There are a lot more negative things I could say about my upbringing, but I don’t think this is proper place to write a novel. lol

      1. John J. Keim

        Swartzentruber Amish

        You all forgive me for my grammatical errors. Thank you.

    7. David Stear

      Eddie Swartzentruber pointed out things that he sees are drawbacks to being Amish, at least the Swartzentruber variety and that might be understandable–it would be interesting to know if he can talk about aspects of Amish life that he finds useful and worth keeping, sort of a “pros and cons” balance sheet. Many Americans like the Amish because they consider them basically a charmingly old-fashioned people, not that they themselves would live their lifestyle but it is enough to know that there are some people who “live that way”. Religion is for the most part a minor consideration inasmuch as it is not necessarily religion that draws in the tourists to Lancaster County, PA or Holmes County, Ohio. There is a mystique about the Amish and many Americans like putting them on a pedestal because of it.

    8. J.O.B.

      Some people do videos like this in part for fame and money. They can be dramatic for entertainment value.

      Some use social media to vent their anger about things. In this case, he obviously has an axe to grind against the Amish.

      Maybe he had a negative childhood. So I understand if he is doing this to vent.

      At the same-time, just because you disagree with the Amish lifestyle, doesn’t make it right to bash your own family and others publicly.

      Many rules the Amish have really are based on the Bible and to protect their value system.

      The rules exist as an attempt to protect and maintain focus on faith, family, and community.

      They may not always articulate the reason for the rules very well, but the Bible does play a role.

    9. David Stear

      More thoughts

      The thought occurred to me that if all of us or at least most, lived approximately an Amish way of life, especially a Swartzentruber one, it would undoubtedly be impossible for such a society, on a large scale, to exist. At best, urban life might resemble something akin to Colonial Williamsburg; at worst it would be utter chaos given the fact that 330 millions of Americans would be expected to use horse and buggies for local point A to point B travel, coal and wood burning stoves would create horrible pollution plus rapid depletion of trees making global warming even worse. Lack of birth control would lead to millions of unwanted children and an overpopulation problem far worse than exists now. Yet the Amish, at least on the surface, are a people who make things work because they do all these things as a way of life and that they should be a peculiar people as that is what Christians are enjoined to be. The one outstanding ideal that the Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers hold out to the world for universal adoption is pacifism which I think, unlike an “old-fashioned” lifestyle, is entirely within reach for all or as John Lennon once said, “war is over, if you want it”.

    10. Paula

      Love

      What an EXCELLENT article & replies!!!
      I grew up in not an Amish family, but a very strict German family. I never heard the words “I love you” & a hug until I moved out of the house at 19. It was awkward & really, unnecessary, for I knew always that I was loved. And in return I had to say I love you back. And a new tradition was born.

      I spent time with the Keim family from Holmes County. Their son Levi wanted me to take him to a bar. I said “Levi, you aren’t missing anything. You stay right here.” His mother overheard us & smiled. Levi made me a pitchfork. When he gave it to me he said. Miss Paula, why are the English so fascinated by us? I said “because we know that you have the right idea of being humble & living simply, even if its hard work”. That’s when Mattie talked to me about joining the Amish. It was a dream put forth to me that I had to decline…though my heart broke. I am too much of this world. So even though I believe in living simply & modestly, & I would mind if no one told me they loved me…I chose to love them from afar in this crazy world that I was born into. But I admire them so much with their strength of living among, but not with us. I was Catholic & then Southern Baptist with fire & brimstone. I was the Sunday School teacher to teenagers who were told every Sunday & Wednesday that they are loved. I feel for this Swartenruber who lost his way & went to the world to disparage, in essence, all Amish. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

    11. Eddie

      My problem is that Eddie is on TikTok; the most influencing popular site for young brains of mush to consume.
      But maybe he is aware of that.
      Numerous young Amish have made comments about ‘ Eddie’ on various Amish blogs.
      A few are worried about the Mothers of kids like Eddie. I stated that as a Christian we should pray for the comfort of all Mothers who have pain inside of their children who have gone astray.

    12. Eunice Bontreger

      Former Amish from liberal Northern Indiana Community

      This entire article is an object lesson on, “don’t position yourself as an expert on something that you have no personal experience in”. You’re absolutely right that the Amish overall have varying ways of doing things. What you cannot know because of your lack of experience, is what degree of truth lies behind his assertions of widespread abuse. Having experienced the abuse he’s talking about, as well as knowing how many of my hundreds of still Amish friends and family have or still are experiencing that same abuse, it’s extremely frustrating to see another person who doesn’t actually know anything about it, cast doubt on his (and others’) actual lived experience. It’s not an easy thing to speak up about. It’s even harder when speaking up costs you an entire life that you is the only world you have ever known. Harder still, when speaking up is met with only skepticism, criticism, and minimization of your actual lived experiences. Like somehow, your preconceived ideas of a world you have never lived in, is more valid and true than his (and other Amish’s) actual lived experience of that world. Please stop. Don’t make hard things harder than they already are. Speak on things you actually know. This is not one of them.

      1. Hi Eunice, so would it then be a good idea to go completely the other way, and depict all Amish as abusers?

        I am seeing critiques in your comment that seem to have little connection to what I actually said. Unfortunately this is not the first one like this.

        I had a simple point here in this post, that a lot seem to have missed (willingly or not).

        I thought Eddie was doing a disservice to other Amish because he was speaking in a way that seemed to suggest his experience was “the” Amish way of doing things.

        TikTok viewers with little to no other knowledge on the Amish then take Eddie’s life stories as “the way the Amish do things”.

        For that matter, I think TikTok is a poor medium to discuss Amish topics for exactly this reason. It’s too short a medium to be able to discuss a not-simple topic like the Amish in any depth.

        Eddie has a powerful platform (and good for him), and I think it would be worth him making this point.

        And apparently Eddie also took my point to heart, since in his next news interview this point was made repeatedly – not all Amish are the same (you can read it for yourself here: https://www.startribune.com/whats-it-like-to-be-amish-minnesota-man-answers-all-on-tiktok/600204215/).

        Sorry, despite people wanting to use the “don’t position yourself as an expert on something that you have no personal experience in” argument against me (you are not the first), I don’t need to be a member of the group to point that out.

        And it involves *no* “minimizing” of anyone’s individual experience. If you think that is what I was doing here, then you really missed the point.

        Of course we shouldn’t minimize anyone’s individual experience.

        However you should also be careful your individual experience doesn’t get maximized to everyone else. Other individuals have the right to their own experiences and stories as well.

        1. ANNETTE PATRICIA KASTNER

          Uphill Battle

          Erik,
          Really good explanation, and encouraging that you noted Eddie perhaps took your point to heart. Your website and Youtube vids are a treasure of balanced and accurate information about the Amish community, especially for folks who harbored “larger than life” and stereotypical ideas about the culture. So much info on media, social and mainstream, is at best sensationalized for shock value and at worst nothing but inaccurate misinformation. Sadly that’s where most folks get their information about everything.

          1. Thank you Annette, well put. I appreciate that.

      2. John Patton

        Experience

        I don’t need to eat human flesh to know that cannibalism is not my cup of tea. I do not need to live in a conservative Amish community to empathize with someone who has experienced abuse within that community.
        Everything in the human experience have common threads that we all can relate to if we are honest and truly put yourself into someone else’s shoes. I know what it feels like to experience; rejection, dejection, abandonment, verbal abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, political and religious dogma, mob mentality, group think,and everything and anything that any other human have or can experience, so I respectfully disagree with you. Nothing personal but I do not want to recap my life to prove a point. I have lived it all and thank my creator for every moment no matter how horrible. It is what and who I am and I would never ask my creator why he formed me this way. I know that everything has worked toward who and what I am today. We can neither create nor destroy one atom. Nor do we have control over anything outside of our own mind. “Life is what happens when we are making other plans”.

        1. ANNETTE PATRICIA KASTNER

          Difficult Life

          Sounds like you’ve been through a lot; I hope you will find healing and happiness. Sounds like thoughts expressed in your comment are a reflection of your experience. You might consider that there isn’t proof that Eddie’s experiences are he describes them, and his presentation does indicate the possiblity he is exploiting the Amish community to further his notoriety.

          Your cannabilism example seems a bit extreme and unpleasant concept to use as an analogy in this discussion.