Amish - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Amish communities are not entirely self-sufficient. Support for state and local government may be given through voting and paying taxes, but church rules prohibit them from participating in politics as officeholders. They also comply with church rules forbidding military Service and government assistance in the form of insurance or subsidies.

Resistance to compulsory school attendance beyond the eighth grade is perhaps the most controversial issue that has brought the Amish into direct confrontation with state and local authorities recently. Amish in certain communities were subjected to fines and imprisonment because they rejected secondary school education for their children. Finally, the dilemma was resolved in the 1972 Supreme Court decision Wisconsin v. Yoder et al., which found that laws that required Amish children to attend school beyond the elementary level were a violation of their religious convictions. Conflicts Between Amish and mainstream American goals in education were not an issue when one-room schoolhouses were the norm in a primarily rural United States. Today, the change to consolidated schools and to a deemphasis on basic skills has prompted the Amish to establish their own schools. According to Hostetler there are more than seven hundred one- and two-room schools that uphold Amish traditions and lifestyles.

Political Organization. Old Order Amish churches are not organized around a central authority. Rather, the church districts serve as the governing units for each congregation. Men who hold the offices of deacon ( Armen Diener), preacher ( Diener zum Buch), and bishop ( Volle Diener ) are chosen by lot from among the members of the congregation themselves. The three ministers have charge of various aspects of church activities. The bishop performs baptisms and marriages; the preacher assists in the communion service and delivers the bimonthly sermon when asked; the deacon is responsible for distributing funds to the needy. Bishops meet informally to discuss matters pertaining to their congregations, and visiting by congregants also helps maintain bonds between church districts.

Social Control. When a member breaks a moral or church code, the minister presents the question of discipline to the congregation. It is the church community that has the final decision. Shunning (Meidung), an extreme censure placed on violators, requires that no church member engage in social dealings with the individual until the ban is lifted.

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