Greetings from the 2016 Amish Studies Conference at Elizabethtown College! As we’re taking part in this week’s conference, Continuity and Change: 50 Years of Amish Society, we’d like to share an excerpt from the paper we’re presenting. You may recall that we shared portions of this paper in our previous post, in which we discussed our impressions of the Amish visitors to the Creation Museum. If you’re curious to know more about our interviews with the Amish, please let us know in the comments section!
“Dinosaurs in Eden: Fundamentalism and the Plain People”
Each time we visited the Creation Museum, we saw groups of Old Order Amish. We wondered: Have the Amish embraced the young-earth creationism of contemporary fundamentalism? If so, what does this mean for the Amish?
To begin an answer to these questions, we interviewed Amish people. One thought leader among the Amish expressed surprise at our surprise. He reported that neither he nor his wife knows of any Amish adult who has not visited the Creation Museum at least once.
In an August, 2015 interview, Ray Miller and Nathan Yoder, two leaders in the Ohio settlement, agreed, saying that most Amish they know have visited the museum one or more times. They reported that belief in young earth creationism is common among the New Order and the New New Order Amish. Miller observed that “there is no way now in a New Order church that you could go against the idea of dinosaurs on the earth with humans.” Young earth creationism is influencing the Old Order via the New Order. An Old Order Amish bishop confirmed this saying that New Order ideas “infiltrate the Old Order, and this is a real threat to the Old Order.”
Ernest and Orie Lehman, two Amish brothers who organized crews of Amish workers to build AiG’s Ark Encounter, said they are thrilled to build the ark. As one put it, “I almost feel as if we were born for this – this is a culminating experience.” They have visited the museum twice and appreciate the museum’s emphasis on reading the Bible literally and its use of science to explain how everything happened just like the Bible says.
Like the Creation Museum, the Amish have always taken the Bible seriously. They do not believe in evolution, favoring instead the account in Genesis which tells of a creation made in “six [twenty-four-hour] days.” Thus, they reject the idea of an old Earth. And they do see a fundamental tension between the church and the world.
Still, there are differences. The Amish have never mobilized science to prove the Bible, since the Bible stands on its own. They have never been interested in an alternative science to confirm a literal reading of Genesis. Moreover, they teach humility in all things and especially in one’s knowledge of God, God’s will, and the Bible. Finally, they have never focused on Genesis. They have always favored the New Testament and, especially, the teachings of Jesus. Their Confession of Faith attests to this as it grounds its 18 articles in 160 quotations from the Bible. Of those, 133 (83%) are taken from the New Testament whereas just 27 come from the Old Testament.
Following Jesus is the goal of Amish life. Doing that requires obedience not to a set of beliefs grounded in creation science but to the church and to Jesus who calls Christians to suffering and nonresistance. Put simply, as followers of the Prince of Peace, the Amish make terrible culture warriors.
Should we be surprised and concerned to find the Amish not only at the Creation Museum but embracing the arguments of AiG? Yes!
For the Amish to resist the modernism AiG’s young earth creationism, they will need strategies as powerful and purposeful as those they have used against modern technologies and other modern ideologies. Otherwise, they risk losing what is most dear to them: their ability to follow the Prince of Peace, to forgive as God forgives, to love the enemy.