Skip to Content

Mennonites and Amish

The Mennonite movement began with the Anabaptists in Germany, Switzerland and Holland in the 16th century. Its key tenet was the concept of adult baptism, and more generally the notion that adult believers should freely choose to involve themselves in their religion rather than being enrolled automatically at birth. Anabaptists and Mennonites faced severe persecution in both Catholic and Protestant countries until they found a safe haven in the Quaker settlements of Pennsylvania. Further Mennonite immigration in the 19th century brought groups to Ohio and Indiana. A wide variety of Mennonite sub-groups are active in the United States.

An ongoing theme of Mennonite life throughout American history has been a refusal to engage in military service, and a resistance to American involvement in wars of all kinds. Mennonite groups shun involvement in American political, social and cultural life to varying degrees and may sometimes administer their own schools. Some conservative Mennonites retain archaic modes of “modest” dress, the women favoring long dresses and bonnets. The employment of modern technologies and conveniences varies widely among Mennonite groups.

The “Amish” people, most numerous in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana (but active all over the United States) are ultra-conservative Mennonites. Most Amish people refuse all modern conveniences, including automobiles, photography, and electricity. Nearly all are of German descent, and many continue to speak German dialects. They dress in clothing reminiscent of the 19th century, and use horses and buggies for transportation. They educate their children only through the typical “eighth-grade” level to keep worldly influences to a minimum.

The Amish represent a unique corner of American life, highly at odds with the prevailing concept of American individualism. Central to Amish belief is their rejection of any form of pride and personal arrogance, their embrace of humility, and a certain level of “going with the flow” in submitting to the will of Jesus. These extremely religious people center their lives on work, faith, family, and community rather than on the self.

Next Section:Other Christian Groups

Religion in America: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.