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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why are Amish stories so popular?

Amish stories are among the most popular fiction for Christian women. With new books by many authors – both established and new, from Beverly Lewis to Amy Clipston – Christian publishers continue to supply a raft of novels for hungry readers.

Beverly Lewis' first Amish fiction book was The Shunning. Published in 1997, it was the first in the Heritage of Lancaster County series. However, two years earlier, Hallmark had entered the Amish story market with its production, Harvest of Fire, starring Patty Duke and Lolita Davidovich. The film went on to win a Primetime Emmy and a Writers Guild of America award. Filmed on location in Iowa, many in the Mennonite community near Iowa City helped out in various ways with the production. The film pointed to incidents of Amish persecution, but its main theme was the cohesiveness of the community.

Amish people make incredible sacrifices to keep their unique community intact, and to limit the influence of the outside world on their children. Those sacrifices include cutting off members who leave (called shunning), ending education in the 8th grade, resisting the use of electricity or owning modern transportation, and maintaining use of the peculiar strain of German that they speak.

The Amish have also endured many types of persecution. In the 1960s, the Iowa government tried to interfere in Amish education by insisting that they hire “state certified” teachers. The Amish community near Oelwein refused, citing the increased cost. It is against Amish principles to go to court against anyone, so they were virtually defenseless. Newspapers, Chambers of Commerce and the Iowa Education Association publicly supported the arrest of Amish parents who wouldn’t comply despite the fact that, at the time, almost no parochial school and only about half of the public schools in the state met that requirement. According to a Donald B. Kraybill, in his book The Amish and the state, at this point the National Council of Churches stepped in and made the point that this was a religious issue. All the while the Amish were being fined thousands daily in court.

The issue in Iowa and other states was resolved at some point because the Amish still operate their one-room schoolhouses in the country. In Wisconsin, the Amish won a big victory due to the support of Christians outside the Amish community who advocated for them. These victories may have paved the way for the home-schooling movement.

Currently, the Amish community in northeast Iowa seems to be thriving. Not reliant on loans, they purchase farms with cash and are expanding into nearby areas. Obviously doing something right, their hard work keeps kids out of trouble and enriches families.

These factors seem to have attracted a great demand among women for Amish stories. They relate to the Amish struggle to educate their children as they see fit, and admire the strong Amish family model. Home-schooling parents have had to fight government interference, in many cases, to establish the “right” to educate their own children
The Amish choice to refuse telephones, computers and televisions may also provide inspiration to parents who wring their hands over the messages bombarding their children through their peers, the media and the Internet.

Amish families hold to a traditional structure where women keep the house, cook, clean, sew and mind the children. Men work with their hands to provide for their families. And, when someone has trouble, the entire community pitches in to help.

In addition to legal woes, the Amish have withstood much criticism and mockery from those who don’t understand their choices. Now that many practicing mainstream Christians are experiencing persecution in courts or ridicule in the media, they can empathize with and look to their Amish brothers and sisters as role models.

Christian books about Amish
* The Amish and the state, by Donald B. Kraybill, pages 98-112


  1. Very interesting Laura. Did you research this, or did you already know all this info? Thanks for sharing, they are an interesting people to be respected.

  2. I researched some of the details. However, I grew up near the Amish community in Iowa that was at the center of the controversy, and I was aware of it. I didn't understand all the details as a child, but our entire community was aware of what was going on. There were some very heated discussions, and the Amish didn't fare well in them. Iowa has a great deal of pride about its education. And, Iowa State Univ is the campus where a Ph.D. was kicked out because he mentioned the words "intelligent design" in passing on a thesis. Iowa's supreme court, in its great wisdom, has also okayed gay marriages.

  3. That is amazing that this is happening in Iowa of all places.