Why don’t Amish serve in the military?

Amish refuse to fight in wars, serve on police forces, or sue in a court of law

amish militaryOne of the founding beliefs of Anabaptism and one which defines the Amish is their adherence to the doctrine of non-resistance.  This belief influences the Amish approach not only to the military but to politics, law enforcement, and litigation.  The Amish belief in non-resistance has deep roots.  Living these convictions in a world which often resorts to violence has not always been easy.

Pacifist or non-resistant?

If asked to describe their beliefs regarding use of force, Amish would likely choose the term “non-resistant” from among a number of synonyms.  “Pacifist”, while it may accurately describe a segment of Amish belief, fails to take in the other forms of non-resistance that Amish condone.

These include refusal to sue in a court of law, or to use coercive force as a member of government (positions which prevent Amish from suing or holding political office).  “Pacifism” implies a particular set of attitudes, primarily regarding war.  Amish abstain from the use of force in all situations.

Roots of non-resistance

The Amish belief in non-resistance is rooted in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “resist not evil, but whoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also”  (Matthew 5:39).  Amish take this admonition quite seriously, and see the violent approach to solving problems as un-Christian.

Amish feel that true Christians should truly turn the other cheek, and take historical inspiration from the actions of their forefathers. One story recounted frequently among Amish is that of Dirk Willems, an early Anabaptist persecuted for his beliefs.

amish nonresistance dirk willems
Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems rescues his pursuer

Fleeing from authorities, Willems crossed a frozen pond, only to have his pursuer crash through to the ice.  Rather than leave his enemy to a certain death and claim his own freedom, he returned to help him onto dry land.  Willems was subsequently executed.

Jacob Hochstetler is another Amishman who, during the French and Indian War, offered an example that resonates today with his many descendants.  Facing an attack by Native Americans, Hochstetler forbade his boys to fire back in defense.  Jacob and two sons were subsequently captured, and his wife, son, and daughter scalped.

Hochstetler chose not to retaliate in the spirit of non-resistance, as he belived it wrong to take human life.  As a result Hochstetler lost his loved ones and his freedom.  While modern Americans might find it hard to understand Hochstetler’s decision,  Amish today take inspiration in the early Amishman’s example, seeing it as how Christ himself would have acted.

Two Kingdoms doctrine

The Amish non-resistant approach is tied up with Christian “Two Kingdoms” doctrine.  Amish follow a very strict interpretation of “two kingdoms” doctrine.

Two Kingdoms doctrine is the belief, held by numerous Christians, that there is a spiritual kingdom with its own set of rules, and a worldly one.  The worldly kingdom and its authorities is seen to be instigated by God.  Amish respect and follow the rules of the worldly kingdom, so long as they don’t interfere with God’s dictates.

Mandatory military service or using force as a police officer, or indirectly as a government official or agent of the state, is in the Amish view un-Christian and in violation of the rules of the spiritual kingdom.

At the same time, Amish do not condemn police officers or military.  They recognize that they are fortunate to live in a country which allows them to practice their religion without persecution by internal or external enemies.  Amish certainly appreciated the response of law enforcement after the Nickel Mines school shooting which took the lives of five Amish schoolgirls.

Amish pray that there is a place in heaven for agents that use force as well.  For that matter, Amish would never presume to know how God will judge His people.

History of Amish non-resistance

Historically, Amish have been persecuted for their non-resistance beliefs.  Outsiders have seen the Amish response as suspect or hypocritical.  Amish issues with military service date back to the Revolutionary War.

At certain times throughout history, Amish have even paid others to stand in for them, or have paid commutation fees to avoid service, a practice that led one historian to call the Amish Civil War experience “not one of their finest hours” (“Military Service and Conscription”, Keim).

hutterite martyr hofer
Michael Hofer was one of two Hutterite brothers killed in a military prison

Amish were persecuted to varying degrees in World Wars I and II, as were members of other non-resistant religious groups, such as Hutterites.  The Amish, as a German-speaking minority who refused to take part in battle against an aggressor Germany, were viewed as particularly suspect and even treasonous. This resulted in vandalism as well as forced service in some cases.

In one particular case, two young Hutterite brothers died in a military prison.  Amish experienced similar trials in some cases.

Some alternative service programs had been set up for Amish and other Conscientious Objectors (COs), but Amish consideredthese less than ideal. These alternative service plans typically had Amish youth working in worldly environments such as urban hospitals.

Amish youth often went away to such service only to return with wives from different faiths, or opting out of Amish baptism.  Not wanting to compromise beliefs or endure persecution, Amish sought an alternative way to fulfill their civic requirements.

Alternative service for Amish during war

The Amish Steering Committee was a body which was formed in 1967 in response to concerns over draft policies and the alternative service arrangement during the Vietnam War.  The Steering Committee successfully lobbied for changes in Amish youth hospital service, facilitating an alternative, more favorable plan that had Amish working on farms in Amish environments to fulfill Alternative Service requirements.

jacob hochstetler amish nonresistance
A plaque commemorating the Northkill Amish settlement and the attack on Jacob Hochstetler's family

Alternative service was much more favorable in Amish eyes to military conscription, though presented its own issues, especially when youth were placed in worldly environments such as city hospitals in order to fulfill alternative service duties.  The widely-read present-day Amish publication Young Companion was started at this time, under the name Ambassador of Peace, as a way of lending support to Old Order youth in alternative service.

Amish hypocrites?

Some disagree with the Amish approach to military service, seeing them as freeloading on the sacrifices of others.   When viewed against the Amish interpretation of Two Kingdoms doctrine, one may also wonder how Amish feel about the law enforcement and military who utilize violent means in order to keep them safe.

Amish do not outwardly condemn these individuals, and in fact rely on and appreciate the protection given to them by law enforcement, for example.

Amish beliefs in non-resistance run deep, with a long history and strong spiritual roots.  Amish non-resistance is manifested not only in times of war, but also in the sphere of everyday life, influencing Amish political participation, openness to using litigation, and interaction with law enforcement.

For further information, see:

“The Amish View of the State”, Paton Yoder;

“Military Service and Conscription”, Albert N. Keim;

“The National Amish Steering Committe”, Marc A. Olshan; found in The Amish and the State, eds. Donald B. Kraybill and Marc A. Olshan

Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War, James O. Lehman, Steven M. Nolt

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher

The Martyrs Mirror, Thieleman J. van Braght

Get the Amish in your inbox

Join 15,000 email subscribers. No spam. 100% free

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    1. Sandy Plymale


      I respect the way Amish believe. But don’t understand why, like you said,”They recognize that they are fortunate to live in a country which allows them to practice their religion without persecution…” So why won’t they celebrate the national holidays such as Memorial Day with the rest of the country? Seems pretty hypocritical when they don’t, especially if they are truly thankful to have the freedoms that they have.

    2. Jim

      I do not agree wit Amish exemtion from military service

      I do not agree with anyone that will not serve this country in the military, for whatever reason if physicaly able. The only reason this country has the freedoms we all enjoy is because of our military preventing hostile countries from coming in and killing us all. I consider religion to be seperate from state. The Amish are freedom parasites that dont even show thier respect for the Americans that died fighting for the life style they have. I do mean lifestyle not religion. If you are a consensus objector of fighting off evil aggressors to our country than move on out.
      I also believe our government also has the obligation to do what it is tasked by the people for the people. That is to only declare war when it is a direct threat to our 50 united states and territories. If our government goes outside of that being the worlds police than I believe we all have the right to consensusly object, but noy for religious reasons. My family has ties all the way to the revolutionary war, and has fought in every war since. I am 20 year retierd Army war verteran as well. I belive in freedom of religion, but I also belive in seperation of religion and state. Religion being your own personal issue, state being United in freedom a way of life our military protects.

      1. Why Amish don't serve

        Jim; I also have served in the military 16 years 9months, upon which I chose to leave after I finally had endured enough from the government and the military “order” of business, Since I have continued my education not only in the classroom to the extent of completing my Doctorate also in the worldly education arena. I have adapted to and accepted the Anabaptist way of life and have chosen to live according to the Amish way f life to the extent that I may while serving a Pastorate within the Methodist structure, my children also by their choosing have adopted this way of life. I feel it would do yourself a true service to read and come to know the Amish prior to passing judgment on them for their beliefs. Did you know they DO NOT accept any Social Security, Food Stamps or any type of social governmental assistance in regards to health care? Did you know they DO NOT place their parents in nursing homes? they take care of them up to the day they leave this earth and return to the Lord. I have come to realize that the United States Government is not exactly the group you want to turn to if you wish to hear the “whole truth” about anything. Yes I too have family that dates back through the years of conflict, police actions and wars on this earth but does that make it right for us to push our beliefs on others? NO. I love my brothers and Sisters in this country but I draw the line when it comes to my children ever participating in Government sponsored essays as they attempt to do in the schools here or any military service of any type, I feel I served enough with my time. So please do not call the Amish free loaders, they are not. Learn about them and you might just find that they are really forgiving, loving, kind people.

    3. John

      Jim. As an active duty officer I must say that I don’t agree with your position. It is the duty of those who serve in the military to protect the constitution of the United States. The Amish do not choose not to fight, it is a fundamental belief in non resistance that they do not fight. This has been a consistent belief that has remained unchanged in their faith as far back as its creation. We are not in a position to judge why they do not fight. Our only position is to protect them from all enemies, foreign and domestic; and to uphold the constitution of the United States. All other positions are irrelevant. Do not forget, it is our duty as soldiers above all things, to prevent war from reaching any citizen living in this country; by force and with our lives if necessary.

      Cdr. John Irby, USN

      1. Patrick Tabor

        Military Service

        Enjoy the Kool-Aide.

    4. Jim

      Reply to replies

      I say let’s do some reality checks: Amish mafia tv show is pretty darn violent, and aggressive. How about this, is there any Amish in any third world country that is not a free people? There may well be, but I have never heard of any. My posting reply to Pastor Jim is not visible any more for whatever reason. But Amish are not freeloaders. They work very hard for themselves. They are however very disrespectful, and live here only because Americans have died, prisoners of war, disabled, lost marriages, and generally suffered to keep this freedom we all enjoy. Amish don’t respect that. They don’t honor verterans day, Memorial Day or our flag of freedom. I say let’s have some Amish move to North Korea, China, Samalia, anywhere in Africa, Russia, etc ….. Let them setup thier communities there, and pull the religion life style of selfserviance there. They live here only because of others who have sacrificed deeply for the freedom they enjoy. The least they could do is honor that fact, or better yet join in the responsibility to protect freedom. If the United States was ever invaded like Poland was by Germany, and soldiers were dieing all around the Amish. While the Amish refuse to help fight off the invaders. The invaders then win, I sure hate it for those poor freedom loving Amish that love thier religion. Oh no they can’t practice that any more – their freedom is gone, To bad they didn’t lift a finger to help protect that beloved freedom they once had. Very well could have made a difference. At least it would show they respect thier own freedom loving farm land.

    5. Jim

      Active duty officer

      How about saying “I am active duty” and leave it at that. This is a public civilian format. Unless regulations have changed rank structure is not authorized in this forum.

      You are correct on all counts of what you said. Your religion is your religion, not mine, not your neighbor, and not the governments. It is your personal right in accordance with our constitution to choose your religion and practice it in your way. You can even choose to not have a religion, that is the glory of our constitution. But, I do not believe that anyone who lives in the United States has the right to claim that he or she will not join in the responsibility to maintain the freedom they enjoy to practice that freedom. Our system has allowed people to claim objection to serving due to their personal religion. I have the right to NOT agree with that. I believe in separate church and state. The state needs all who are able and of age to participate in maintaining the freedom for all who are in that state (United States). Those that are in that state get to practice or choose not to practice a religion of their own. The state cannot force a religion on a person. I believe a personal religion should not be forced on the state. That’s me.

      I may be a little sympathetic to the Amish, if today “Memorial Day” Amish would take a moment and try to remember the millions of people who DIED, were tortured, maimed, wounded, POW, suffered hunger, weather, smells of death, missed children’s births, lost wives or husbands due to being separated years at a time, deployed & TDY, missing children growing up, PCS every two to three years, all personal sacrifices the Amish could not comprehend in the ongoing maintenance of freedom. Amish don’t need to thank a service member. Just remember the personal cost to the state for freedom. Amish freedom of personal religion. Amish don’t. More than anyone Amish should!

      1. Patrick Tabor

        Military Service

        With out fail, everyone that I see that says, “thank you for your service” will look around to make sure everyone sees them saying it. I never say it and won’t say it. What I will do is invite vets into my home, talk to them feed them etc. I have some very dear friends that are vets and many understand “War is a Racket”.

        War Is A Racket

        WAR is a racket. It always has been.

        It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

        A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

        In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

        How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

        Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

        And what is this bill?

        This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

        For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

        Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.

        The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people — not those who fight and pay and die — only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.

        There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

        Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

        Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:

        “And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. . . . War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

        Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war — anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.

        Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.

        Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

        Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war — a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

        Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit — fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

        Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

        But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

        What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

        Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

        Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.

        It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people — who do not profit.

        | Top |


    6. Jim

      P.S. Active duty officer

      Sir, the constitution provides the right to burn the flag. We have served to protect that right to burn, spit, even crap on the flag. I damn sure do not agree with that. I have very right to put that I don’t agree with that on this site. Just as I don’t agree with the religion trumping state. Let it go to far and the crusades all over again. How free do you think we would be if this entire USA was Amish? A nano-second?

      Rank not appropriate signature block

    7. maria

      Wake up

      Folks, wars are bankers wars. People are manipulated into killing for patriotism and the profit margins of the incredibly wealthy and powerful. Dig through hidden history. Find out the truth. Don’t just go along. Wake up.

    8. Manfred

      Hochstetler actually...

      It is interesting to note that after escaping his captivity, Hochstetler actually pleaded with the government for many years to go and use the military to rescue his sons.

    9. AD

      Interactions with Veterans

      I’m curious what Amish people tend to think of veterans. What are some things Amish people have thought when they learned someone is a veteran? Would they look down on that person, pity them, or something? How might learning an English person’s veteran status affect future interactions with them?

    10. Russ

      Indeed the choice to defend oneself or nation is a qood question as a Christian. We all know that God can determine the outcome of any war. In fact He can destroy the enemy even before they attack.

      Jesus indeed did set a higher bar for us to follow in being non violent. My question is if the Amish were attacked in their homes, would they defend themselves?

      Because if u are prepared to defend yourself when attacked, why not defend the Consititution which was given because our forfathers fought for freedom from tyranny.

      If they wouldnt defend themselves in their own homes then they are being consistent to the teachings of Jesus as they see it.

      Interesting topic and one worth giving much thought to.

    11. Agreed

      I am also a veteran myself, and as a millennial learned the hard way to love and respect our country and all the sacrifice that has been paid to make our country what it is now.
      But I could not agree more with the Amish non-violent stance. I’ve been taught that “its either you or the other guy, which will it be? Either you take him out first or he takes you out”. Each time a person takes up arms, each time they hold a weapon to defend themselves they assume the authority of God over life and death. No person has the right to be in charge of another life, period. Even if it means your life.
      Not long ago president Trump had to pull forces out of Portland, OR to REDUCE violence. Why? Shouldn’t he have added more force to overpower the violence instead? That would be a logical. Higher show of force = more policing and more peace. Wrong. In our country, where freedom is such a deep feeling, the more force is exerted to create peace, the more counter-reaction it will face, and it spirals exponentially. That is the concept of de-escalation of force. There are plenty of examples in history where de-escalation of force worked effectively and a situation was unwound. Unfortunately, human nature is for boys to be “mucho”, ego and pride flush to our face when we are in a situation where our values are challenged.
      Try for a change to de-escalate, instead of pulling a gun on someone who is showing signs of willingness to cause you harm. That takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and humility.
      The bible teaches us to view one another as higher than self, if more people had held this belief, if more people learned to control their feelings and childish outbursts, there would be a whole lot less violence both on micro and macro levels.