Getting out the Amish vote

Elecamish_1Pre-Election Day reports about targeted campaigning are enough to make even a political junkie chant, “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!”

Religion News Service’s Article of the Week provides a wry glimpse into just how targeted the presidential campaign has become: Republicans hope to motivate Amish families to vote, based on concerns about abortion and homosexuality.

Sociologist Donald Kraybill, who was a frequent and eloquent critic of UPN’s Amish in the City, is no less concerned about the Republican Party’s Amish in the Swing States reality show: “I think the Republicans have been using the words abortion and gay marriage to frighten the Amish.”

Reporter Rich Preheim provides good background on why campaigning among the Amish may not be the best way to show religious sensitivity:

Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites are members of a Christian movement known as Anabaptism, which emerged out of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th centuries. Some conservative groups, known as Old Orders, have largely avoided political involvement, while many members of others, such as Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Brethren, have become voters and office holders.

“Who’s going to vote them in if we Christians don’t?” said Joel Decker, a member of Starland Hutterite Colony in Gibbon, Minn., who plans on voting in his second presidential election next month.

“I’m ultraconservative in the political arena,” he said.

But other Old Order groups seem to be adhering closer to traditional beliefs. Amos Hoover, an Old Order Mennonite member and historian in Pennsylvania, said he has not seen increased interest in voting in his church.

“We discourage voting and try to take no part,” he said. “We try to pray every Sunday for the government.”

That was echoed by Steve Hofstetter, principal of an Indiana school affiliated with the Beachy Amish, a more progressive Amish branch. “We would pray for those who are voting,” he said. “We vote on our knees.”

What a startling moment: A man happily accepts the description of ultraconservative rather than having it foisted upon him by a reporter.

Preheim’s best detail comes from history professor John Roth, editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review and a history professor at Goshen College:

As a teenager, he campaigned for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. But Richard Nixon’s landslide victory left Roth disillusioned and seeking explanation and comfort.

“When I discovered that there were things in my own (religious) tradition that gave language to my disappointment, I employed them,” said Roth, who has never voted. “I need to keep the outcome of any given political process in perspective. The kingdom of God does not hang in the balance of any earthly election.”

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  • David Layman

    I am a Mennonite living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. While I belong to the moderately conservative “Lancaster Conference,” my inlaws are “Old Order Mennonite,” the group to which Amos Hoover, quoted in the article belongs.

    Firstly, one needs to understand that there is a fundamental difference between the Amish and Old Order Mennonites on cultural and social issues. Amish “push the envelope”: as soon as some new gadget or practice becomes permissable, they will immediately adopt it, sometimes literally overnight.

    In contrast, although the Old Order Mennonites are in some ways more “liberal” (they allow electricity, e.g.), in a deeper sense they are more conservative: change happens more slowly. As a community, they are slower to adopt innovations and permissable practices. So the voting practices of Old Order Mennonites and Amish are not necessarily identical. However, my spouse reported that my brother-in-law (my spouse’s sister’s husband) will be voting. My spouse reported her sister as saying: “I never thought I would be married to someone who votes.”

    My spouse was just with her family yesterday. She reported that the Amish are actually much more cognizant of “the world” than is commonly recognized. Apparently they keep up with pro sports (how??) and are aware of the important players.

    As far as Kraybill and Roth go, they are both notable pacifists (esp. Kraybill, who just was the keynote speaker of a religious anti-war rally in Lancaster), and hardly have the objectivity to pronounce on the legitimacy of the Amish vote.