Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Odd Panel and Good Questions | Righting America

by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger

Last Thursday, we presented our paper, “Dinosaurs in Eden: Fundamentalism and the Plain People,” at a conference on the Amish (called “Continuity and Change”) at Elizabethtown College. You can find a much-reduced version of that paper in our previous blog entry

Oddly, our paper on the importance of Amish enthusiasm for the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter appeared in a session titled “Amish Homes and Amish Women.” We are still scratching our heads as to why our paper was placed on that panel. Just to be clear, Amish men visit the Creation Museum in as great a number as Amish women and it is Amish men who are building Ark Encounter. Given all that, we wondered if anyone attending our session would be interested in our paper.

To our surprise, the session was packed and attendees were interested in our paper. A good number asked questions. In the course of the Q&A, attendees referred to us as “the fundamentalist group.” We thought that was pretty funny! After a few did that, we invited them just to call us Bill and Sue, which they did.

Some attendees wanted to know why the Amish go to the Creation Museum and whether they might just be going because it is thought to be a “safe” destination for Amish people? Great question! Yes, we agree that many Amish view the Creation Museum in that way. But there is more to it than that, as certain Amish affiliations are starting to incorporate fundamentalist doctrine in their Ordnung (the agreed upon and shared rules of community life) and given that what the Creation Museum and AiG teach contrasts so sharply with what the Amish have believed about the importance and meaning of the teachings of Jesus.

Others wanted to know why we think the Amish are attracted to fundamentalism and the Creation Museum. Another great question! The Amish people we interviewed indicate that Amish Biblicism (their focus on taking the Bible seriously) seems to dovetail well with fundamentalism’s and the Creation Museum’s literal reading of Genesis. That said, the Amish have always focused much more on the teachings of Jesus than on Genesis. Also, the Amish hold to a two-kingdom theology whereby the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world operate according to two very different logics—the former driven by love, forgiveness, and cooperation whereas the latter is all about violence, competition, and individualism. The culture war logic of the Creation Museum can seem to mirror that two-kingdom theology when, in truth, it does not. As we say in the paper, the Amish make terrible culture warriors believing as they do that a primary task of every Christian is to forgive others as God has forgiven them.

A fascinating fact emerged in the course of our Q&A. Karen Johnson-Weiner, who convened our session and who is a great scholar on the Amish, informed us that many Swartzentruber Amish (one of the most conservative or tradition-minded Amish affiliations) believe in a flat Earth. This was news to us, but it makes sense. Indeed, as we point out in our book, these Amish are not alone among Christians who take Ken Ham and the Creation Museum to task for not taking the words of Genesis literally enough!

If you have questions or comments regarding our paper, please let us know on this blog. We’d love to hear from you.