After spending the last 6 months of my 18th year in Mexico, I came home, celebrated my 18th birthday, and started college as a concurrently enrolled high school student. That summer I met, loved, and lost, Andy. Andy was a redheaded Mennonite boy from a tiny town in Pennsylvania. He and several other young adults, from his church district, were serving as missionaries in Augusta, Maine. We fell, hard and fast, and for a few months … I believed I would spend my adult life among the “Plain people” of Pennsylvania.
When summer ended, Andy went home. I was allowed to go with him … to meet his family. They were gracious to me. As I marveled over their lack of a television set, and the challenges of hair that was never cut or styled, they wondered at my pierced ears, short red hair, and blue jeans. They taught me to cut corn from the cob, play horse shoes, and go “Snipe hunting.” They took me to a Mennonite wedding (hard wooden benches, men on one side, women on the other, long sermon, no rings) and to a Revival Meeting in a real tent! It was hot … and not just from the fire and brimstone! In an effort to fit in and show respect, I wore a dress and covered my copper curls with a kerchief. Andy smiled and thanked me. His little sister told me I was beautiful. Mama wasn’t fooled though. I was a worldly woman, set on destroying her little boy, and she wasn’t going to have it! Not long after my return to Maine, I received a “Dear Beth” letter explaining that our worlds were too different, it wouldn’t work, and he wouldn’t go against his mother’s counsel so he was letting me go. (A year later, I was living in Abilene, Texas, and I received another letter. She had changed her mind and he wanted to try again. By then my heart had healed and moved on. I asked him not to come. He didn’t.)
My short venture into the customs and culture of the Plain lifestyle left a strong impression on me though. I loved their simpler lives, modest dress, spiritual emphasis, work ethics, community closeness, and family values! Over the years I have read many books about the Mennonites and the Amish. I’ve learned more of their history, their beliefs, their language, their traditions, etc. And I have found much to admire in that culture! And while I think that the Amish fiction has done much good to acquaint us with that culture … I think it’s unfortunate that it has helped pique an interest that has segued into TV and movies.
A few weeks ago I was looking for something decent to watch on TV (hundreds of satellite channels and it’s still a challenge) and landed on Amish: Out of Order on Nat Geo. It’s a documentary style show about the challenges faced by a group of young adults who have chosen to leave the Amish world and live in the modern one. I found it to be respectful of the Amish beliefs and traditions although it emphasized the fact that these young adults are shunned, totally cut off, from their family and community as a result of their choice. Since that is one of the realities that they face, I didn’t find that objectionable, although it did bother me that the show seems to lean a little heavy to the belief that religious people are pious, intolerant, judgmental, and other unflattering adjectives. The other thing that bothered me about this show was seeing the lifestyle that these young adults (mostly male) have adopted in the modern world. I was appalled by their steady stream of foul language, smoking drinking, and generally reckless behavior.
Yesterday I was once again channel surfing and landed on TLC. I had previously made a conscious choice to avoid the show Breaking Amish because I find even the commercials to be offensive but when it came on yesterday I left it instead of changing the channel. It broke my heart. Rather than a documentary, TLC has taken these 5 young adults, and plopped them into a New York City Reality TV show. By randomly inserting harsh, out of context, scriptures, contrasting modern dress with Amish garb (by making them wear Amish clothing for close up interviews), and encouraging them to speak negatively about their upbringing, the show attempts to cast the Amish faith in a very negative light. Kate wants to be a model so in one scene we see her in a bikini talking about how her father would feel about seeing her that way. In the next she is covered, head to toe, in Plain clothing and kapp, for an interview. The 3 girls go to a “Museum of Sex” where they behave appallingly on camera and ridicule their chaste upbringing. All of them drink, smoke, and swear, like a tribe of junior high children set loose in New York City without adult supervision. It just made me sad.
I guess the things that bothered me most in both of these shows was the way that people of faith are subtly defined as intolerant, judgmental, unreasonable, harsh, etc. and knowing that our culture considers watching the death of innocence as entertainment! Some how the shows manage to imply that these young adults are better off, set free from the bonds of religion, but I don’t see it! They’ve just exchanged a moral bondage for an immoral one. None of them seem particularly happy. And I was aware, as I watched them ridicule their families and communities, that those people still love them and are broken-hearted by their choices!
The day that I watched Amish: Out of Order, a big deal was made of the fact that these young adults are told that if they die in their rebellion (against the Amish faith) they are going to Hell. Their only hope is to return to the Amish, confess their sins, and be restored to the Amish community. I don’t believe that. I believe that the Bible teaches that the only hope any of us have is in Jesus Christ! Rule following, no matter how well intended, does not make us holy! He makes us holy and then we desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him. And living to please and honor Him fills us with the joy that those young rebels are trying to find in all the wrong ways!