December 8, 2006 at 10:39 pm #19796
“What If the Amish Were in Charge of the War on Terror?”
Diana Butler Bass
I confess: Over the last 10 days, I did not pay much attention to the Amish school shooting. As the mother of an 8-year old girl, I find school violence stories too painful to follow.
Despite attempts to avoid this particular news, the stories of the Amish practice of forgiveness eventually captivated me. Their practice of forgiveness unfolded in four public acts over the course of a week. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own childrens funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.
As my husband and I talked about the spiritual power of these actions, I commented in an offhanded way, It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition. He looked at me and said passionately, Witness? I dont think so. This went well past witnessing. They werent witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace.
He was right. Their actions not only witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness, but they actively created the conditions in which forgiveness could happen. In the most straightforward way, they embarked on imitating Christ: Father, forgive them; they know not what they do. In acting as Christ, they did not speculate on forgiveness. They forgave. And forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace. We forgive because God forgave us; in forgiving, we participate in Gods dream of reconciliation and shalom.
Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Ladens house (metaphorically, of course, since we didnt know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of The September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief?
What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace?
So, heres my modest proposal. Were five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war.
I cant imagine any other path to true security. And nobody else can figure out what to do to end this insane war. Why not try the Christian practice of forgiveness? If it worked in Lancaster, maybe it will work in Baghdad, too.
Diana Butler Bass is an independent scholar and author. Her latest book, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, is published by Harper San Francisco.December 11, 2006 at 2:40 pm #19797
Excellent article. Thanks.December 11, 2006 at 2:48 pm #19799
that thing where if one them breaks some important rule (sin), they all turn away from him… Letting him stay in the community but not letting anyone talk to him ever again or something like that?
Or was that some other community?December 11, 2006 at 11:19 pm #19801
Don’t know. But that doesn’t sound very Amish. It sounds does sound very old puritan though.December 12, 2006 at 3:46 am #19803
I guess I could have mixed up something. It`s a very “cruel” punishment though. Worse than death IMO.December 12, 2006 at 1:40 pm #19805
No you have it right!! It is what makes humans so complex. Or at least human communities. I live nearby this particular Amish community and how many of them came together and moved on is a testament for all of us.
Yes they are very strict when it comes to being ‘in’ the community and ‘out’. When young adults come of age they are allowed out of the confines of the community to explore the outside world. There was a wonderful documentary film about this recently following the exploits of a handful.
A few got into and busted for drugs. A few used the freedom to taste and then return to their future of marriage, work and children. They are given a choice.
However when you re ‘out’ you are OUT. So it does seem paradoxical to how they acted here. BarryDecember 12, 2006 at 11:38 pm #19807
The biggest difference is that the family of the school shooter felt shame, while the families of the terrorists felt pride.
I too was touched by the Amish reaction. They tore down the school house and built a meadowed park. No longer would the site be remembered as a place of violence, but a place of beauty and peace.
From what I have learned about the culture of terrorists, they would probably have seen any attempt at reconciliation and forgiveness as weakness and it would only have emboldened their actions.
Too bad there are no do-overs in life. It would have been interesting to see what could have happened. And it definitely would have been a life lesson, but I not sure what that lesson would have been.December 13, 2006 at 12:09 am #19809
I think we will find meany changes and conflicts with in religions. I think there will be groups in side cultures and religions that will hold there group accountable to make shure they walk it like they talk it.December 16, 2006 at 9:22 pm #19811
> Excellent article. Thanks. >
Wow. I 2nd that.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.