Freedom of Choice

It would seem that growing up Amish would be very restrictive and would not allow for any choices. On the one hand, the Ordnung is quite involved and it takes a long time for a child to learn and understand the details. On the other hand, as with Anabaptists, personal choice is important.

Baptism marks entry into the Amish church. Joining the church is a decision that cannot be made before the age of 16. By this time, a candidate will have been thoroughly drilled in the faith and the Ordnung through school and church attendance. In accord with the philosophy of choice, 16 year olds may leave the community to experience life outside if they so choose (see below).

Any member is free to leave. A member who has left may even be allowed to return within a short time. A member who leaves permanently will, however, be shunned. Shunning means that the person will forever be considered an outsider -- a stranger -- and will not be allowed to participate in the community ever again. All family ties cease to exist. A member may also be shunned if he persistently defies the authority of the Ordnung. It is rare for a member of an Amish community to take this irreversible step.

Rumspringa

People who join the church and then leave face the prospect of shunning, so the decision to join is not to be taken lightly. Once Amish teens turn 16 and before they become church members, they can venture out into the world. During this time -- termed Rumspringa, or "running around" -- the Amish teens live amongst "the English" and are free to behave as they choose, even if that means indulging in such non-Amish things as dancing, drugs and television.

If they choose to return and join the church, they do so with full knowledge of what they are giving up in order to be part of the community. If they do not return, family ties are still viable because they did not break an oath to the church.

The vast majority do return. To learn more about this aspect of Amish life, see "Amish Teens Tested in Devil's Playground" and "Amish Teens Usually Choose Life in the Slow Lane."